Five questions South Carolina must answer during bye week after loss to Texas A&M

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South Carolina’s bye week has mercifully arrived.

After getting downright dominated during Saturday’s 44-14 loss at Texas A&M, the Gamecocks are a battered and beaten bunch that, despite their struggles, still have a shot at bowl eligibility.

But after a dismal showing in southeast Texas, questions abound. Shane Beamer and his group (4-4 overall) need to answer these queries during their down time next week:

What’s the future of Marcus Satterfield’s play-calling?

I’ve largely avoided slamming offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield this season just given the newness of it all. There’s a time and place for bashing and there’s always going to be some level of growing pains with a new staff, system and everything that comes with that.

Saturday, though, was a disaster.

The Gamecocks recorded just 15 yards of offense through three quarters. It wasn’t until just over nine minutes remained in the game that South Carolina found its first third-down conversion of the night. That simply can’t happen.

Maybe the offensive issues aren’t play-calling. Maybe they are. Regardless, South Carolina has to do something. If Beamer is going to shake up the play-calling responsibilities, it’d make sense to do so during the open week.

What’s up with Kevin Harris?

Kevin Harris finished last season with over 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns against a 10-game, Southeastern Conference-only schedule.

Battling bumps, bruises, illness and an offseason back procedure, the SEC’s reigning rushing king has been one of the bigger disappointments across the league, let alone just in Columbia.

Harris finished Saturday’s game with just two carries for zero yards. Beamer had noted in recent days that Harris was banged up after the Vanderbilt game, but it’s hard to fathom a year ago that his numbers would be where they are at present.

The Gamecocks have options at running back — Juju McDowell and ZaQuandre White chief among them — but Harris is the best player on this offense and it can’t click without his help.

Who wants to stop the run?

I’ll preface this with the fact South Carolina’s defense has been far ahead of schedule. Clayton White deserves a load of credit for his work and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a pay raise at the end of this season.

That said, South Carolina has been noticeably susceptible against the run this fall and Saturday was no exception. Texas A&M finished the night with 290 yards on the ground, while the tailback tandem of Devon Achane and Isaiah Spiller ran for 154 and 102 yards, respectively.

The Gamecocks are hurting without Sherrod Greene at linebacker. That’s part of the equation. But against the back end of the schedule that includes teams like Florida, Auburn and Clemson — all of whom run the ball with certain degrees of success — South Carolina has to find ways to be more effective against the run.

How can South Carolina fix its offensive line?

South Carolina’s offensive line has been maligned of late and rightfully so. Even with the mobile Luke Doty at quarterback, the Gamecocks front-five struggled to keep him upright before a foot injury ended his season.

Saturday, USC’s offensive line was manhandled. Texas A&M finished with two quarterback hurries, three sacks and seven tackles for a loss and blew the Gamecocks off the ball just about every snap.

If Satterfield is public enemy No. 1 on South Carolina message board, offensive line coach Greg Adkins might be a close second. Fair or not, Adkins has been a scapegoat for the problems up front after inheriting a group that had more than 100 appearances among its projected starters.

To Adkins’ and Beamer’s credit, USC has made an effort to mix up the line combinations both by design and due to a handful of injuries. Premises aside, it shows a willingness to adapt and correct.

South Carolina’s offense has a wealth of issues, but if it can’t block, it can’t do much of anything. The Gamecocks have to get better up front if they’re to somehow steal a pair of wins and get to a bowl game.

Will South Carolina make a bowl game?

This isn’t so much a bye week question as it is a rest-of-the-season deal. However, nights like Saturday don’t exactly inspire confidence that South Carolina can reach the postseason.

USC’s final four opponents include Florida, Missouri, Auburn and Clemson. On paper, the Gamecocks should be outmatched by everyone except maybe Eli Drinkwitz’s group in the other Columbia. Despite that, Florida, Auburn and Clemson have had their share of struggles this fall.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — getting this South Carolina team to a bowl game ought to put Shane Beamer in the discussion for SEC Coach of the Year. If I had to predict, the Gamecocks maybe get one more win this year. Two more, though, would be a massive coup for a team that won just a pair of games a year ago.

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