Gamecock mailbag: Will South Carolina make ‘real improvement’ on offense this year?

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Believe it or not, South Carolina is above .500 heading into late October.

The Gamecocks haven’t exactly been world beaters, but under a first-year head coach in Shane Beamer, USC has handled business against the teams it should have.

So what all does that mean? Let’s dive into some of your questions after this week’s wild 21-20 win over Vanderbilt.

When will we see some real improvement on offense? Not just lip service. — Todd S.

Now seven games into the season, it’s fair to wonder what’s gone wrong with the offense this fall.

I’ve tried to remain optimistic. It’s a first-year system with a first-year coordinator, and that brings with it levels of growing pains. But if you look around college football, not every program in its inaugural run with coordinators or coaches have had those issues.

Tennessee currently ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference in total offense under first-year head coach Josh Huepel. Auburn, which has a new coach in Bryan Harsin, also ranks sixth in the conference in total offense after ranking ninth a season ago.

At some point, South Carolina is going to be what it is. I’d argue we’ve reached that juncture. The Gamecocks have been OK running the ball. The passing game has shown spurts but not gotten there. It may not ever get there in 2021.

Tuesday’s bombshell from Beamer that Luke Doty will be out for the season further complicates things. Zeb Noland had been solid in his place, but we haven’t really seen him in SEC competition short of a few plays against Georgia.

It’s not fair to start calling for heads — in this case, offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield — but it’s getting close to a boiling point as to whether this unit can get rolling without some staff changes heading into next season.

I may sound like a Green Bay Packers fan, and I am not. But why didn’t you kick the field goal in the first half? Why did you go for it on 4th down with 4 yards… yes yards not inches. Why not take the points? — Lois H.

South Carolina has been aggressive this year on fourth down and, largely, I’ve agreed with it. Saturday wasn’t one of those days.

The play Lois is referring to is when South Carolina took over on the Vanderbilt 20-yard line courtesy of a Jordan Strachan interception. The Gamecocks eventually stalled out at the Commodores 13-yard line when they couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-3.

Common knowledge would state to take the points. South Carolina led 14-3 and a Parker White kick would’ve put the Gamecocks up 14. That said, South Carolina ranks second in the Southeastern Conference with 15 fourth-down attempts, though it’s only completed seven of those.

The biggest problem on this play wasn’t necessarily the attempt, but the play call. South Carolina threw short of the sticks to Xavier Legette, resulting a one-yard loss. That can’t happen.

All things considered, though, I like the try. Against a Vanderbilt team you should be able to outmatch at most positions and go for the kill shot early.

YEAH! WTH are you gonna do about our absentee O Line!!! How long are you gonna make excuses before you honestly admit we have definitive O line problems. For the love of mankind just be HONEST!!!!!! — Scott T.

Scott must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed yesterday. Jokes aside, there’s been ample frustration about the offensive line this year and rightfully so.

Some of that comes with a new scheme and system, but the Gamecocks still brought back more than 100 appearances among its starters.

The biggest problem here is the lack of improvement in the run game. The Gamecocks haven’t scored better than 58.1 out of 100 or worse than 52.1 in run blocking since the East Carolina game in Week 2, per Pro Football Focus. Differently put, nothing has changed dramatically.

The pass blocking, by contrast, has improved some of late. South Carolina cratered with a grade of 19.3 against then-No. 2 Georgia in Week 3, but has responded with marks of 72.9 and 64.5 against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, respectively.

To Beamer’s credit, the Gamecocks have mixed in some new names up front. Jazston Turnetine and Vershon Lee have seen upticks in their chances of late. That’s come, in part, due to injuries, but at least South Carolina is trying something different.

South Carolina faces a Texas A&M defense on Saturday that sits fifth in the SEC in run defense and eighth in pass rushing, per PFF. The Gamecocks can’t afford another down week up front if they hope to spring an upset in College Station.

Ben’s Best

A quick mea culpa because I totally forgot to include a ranking at the bottom of last week’s mailbag (I know that’s what y’all are coming here for).

Anyways, with Ed Orgeron out at LSU, there’s been plenty of debate over what’s the best job in college football. Here’s my top five with a few honorable mentions.

  1. Alabama

  2. Texas

  3. Oklahoma

  4. Ohio State

  5. LSU

Honorable mentions

  • Southern California

  • Georgia

  • Notre Dame

  • Clemson

  • Penn State

  • Miami

Note: Questions have been edited for clarity and length

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