South Carolina looks for improvement from revamped offense
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina now gets to see if changes on offense the Gamecocks have made since last fall will translate into wins.
The Gamecocks open the season Saturday night against No. 16 Tennessee. They lost five of their final six games last fall to finish 4-8, mainly because of their sputtering offense that was able to produce just one touchdown in its last 12 quarters.
So Will Muschamp hired his third offensive coordinator in five seasons in ex-Colorado State coach Mike Bobo to charge up the attack with the goal crystal clear.
“Scoring points,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to be more productive.”
South Carolina will have new starters at quarterback, tailback, tight end and two of three receiver spots.
Muschamp said last season’s problems took a toll on the entire team, leading to lackluster showings in losses to Appalachian State, Texas A&M and Clemson in November where the Gamecocks were outscored 88-24.
“We lost a lot of confidence which not only affects your offense, it affects your football team,” Muschamp said. “It affects everything.”
Along with Bobo, new quarterback Collin Hill also transferred in from Colorado State and will make his first South Carolina start Saturday night.
Kevin Harris or Deshaun Fenwick will start at tailback after the departure of last year’s leading rushers in seniors Tavien Feaster and Rico Dowdle.
Senior Nick Muse will open at tight end with redshirt freshman Keveon Mullins getting the call in a two tight end alignment.
At receiver, Xavier Legette and one-time quarterback Dakereon Joyner are newcomers at two starting spots along with senior Shi Smith, who is expected to take over the big-play role held by last year’s top wideout, Bryan Edwards.
Hill said South Carolina is versatile and will do many things on offense.
“We definitely have a lot of guys who can make plays in the tight end room, receiver room,” Hill said. “My job is just to try and get us in the right plays, the right protections and get it to a guy who can make a play.”
Muschamp, who begins his fifth season, thought he had the right combination before. He called on his former Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper when Muschamp took the Gamecocks job after the 2015 season.
But two years later, Roper was out after South Carolina averaged just 24 points a game (12th in the SEC) and receivers coach McClendon was promoted with the promise of more firepower.
Again, things flamed out — and a change was made — as South Carolina averaged 22.4 points a game last season, also 12th in the 14-team SEC.
The uptick is apparent in practice, South Carolina junior cornerback Jaycee Horn said.
“It’s been real different this camp, they’ve been giving us a lot of competition,” Horn said of the offense. “I feel like this offense is very explosive and one play can go the distance.”
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has been friends with Bobo since both worked on Georgia’s staff. Pruitt said Bobo is as competitive on the field as he is on the golf course or shooting pool.
“He wants to win in everything that he does,” Pruitt said. “He’s going to have a great game plan. His kids are going to play hard. They’ll play together, so it will be a challenge for us.”
Muschamp said the offense struggled a year ago in several key areas, including production when reaching the opponents’ 20-yard line and yards per pass play (7 yards) which he called “horrible.”
He’s been pleased with Bobo’s plan and how well players have taken to it.
“We’ve had more success offensively in a fall camp than we have had in a long time here,” Muschamp said.
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this report.
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