Five Keys to Success in 2010: Number One, Offensive Line Play and Health

The conclusion of our series on the 2010 Gamecocks' keys to success shouldn't surprise you: offensive line play will be the single biggest issue confronting the team this season. While I've pointed out an improved running game and better quarterback play as two of the other keys to success, it's arguable that both of those issues are more fundamentally issues with our line play. Indeed, last year's team's skill position play was more than serviceable when the line did its job. The Clemson Tigers game gave us a glimpse of what we could look like with good pass protection and run blocking. Stephen Garcia, Kenny Miles, Marcus Lattimore, Jarvis Giles, Brian Maddox, Tori Gurley, Alshon Jeffery, and Weslye Saunders give us the pieces we need to succeed in terms of our skills position play. All too often, though, the line failed to do its part of the job, undermining potentially successful drives by allowing sacks, committing penalties, and generally being error-prone. This has been an issue for all of Steve Spurrier's teams, and it remains one this season.

Pass protection was the line's biggest issue. Former line coach Eric Wolford promised that run blocking would improve for a year ago, and it's fair to say it did. While one might fault our coaches for not utilizing it enough or in the proper situations, our run game was generally effective other than against the really great run-defending teams, such as the Alabama Crimson Tide. Our pass protection, though, remained fairly pitiful. We were one of the most sacked teams in football, and while that's partially owing to how often we passed, the number is also mitigated by the fact that Garcia evaded more than a few sacks with his legs. True, he probably could have evaded even more if he could have been more judicious in getting rid of the ball, but that doesn't change the fact that he often had little pocket to speak of and was quickly in the position of having to run for his life. This has to get better if we are to transition to having a truly elite passing game. There's no other reason that we shouldn't have one, as we have an experienced QB and arguably the best receiving corps in the conference, at least if Saunders is eligible.

In addition to worrying about its play in the first place, we also have to worry about depth. There have been indications out of pre-season camp that our main rotation is playing quite well and is ready to take the next step under new coach Shawn Elliott. The problem, though, could end up being that we're dangerously thin. We only have a handful of linemen that are ready for SEC play, and if key players go down with injuries, we could be put into the position of having to play true freshmen. That's not a good position to be in in this conference, and unfortunately, a season in which your offensive line escapes injury is quite a rarity.

That sums up our "Keys to Success" series. If you think we missed anything, talk about it in the comments thread.

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