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What's Ailing the Gamecocks, and What Can Be Done

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Chris Trotman

The following is a discussion of what have emerged as problem areas for South Carolina over the past two games, with some consideration to whether or not it's likely that we'll see improvement in the area.

--Field position. One thing that's hurt South Carolina lately has been field position. In short, we've started lots of drives deep in our own territory, and our opponents have started lots of drives around midfield. I'm not just talking about the drives Florida started on our goal line due to turnovers. I'm also talking about all the drives they started around midfield after short punts from Tyler Hull or long kickoff returns. One such drive was Florida's opener of the third quarter, which led to a game-clinching TD. Some of the problem here owes to too many three-and-outs by the offense, leading to us punting from deep on our side of the field. That's an issue all unto itself. However, special teams play is also playing a role. It's been atrocious in almost every phase, particularly against Florida. There are some things we can't change. Hull is never going to measure up to Florida's punter. (Where did they get that guy? He was awesome.) I wish we still had someone like Spencer Lanning around, but we're not very good at the position right now. Hull is average at best, and the guys behind him are bad. Honestly, I've been pleasantly surprised by Hull, given my low expectations early in the season. What we could change is kickoff strategy. Basically, our strategy right now is to kickoff to around the five-yard line on the left side of the field and then to pin the returner inside the 15. This worked well against poor competition, but against teams with good return units, it's been a disaster. A lot of returns have come to midfield, and we've only just prevented a couple from going to the house, which will probably happen sooner or later if we keep it up this way. Cordarelle Patterson and Sammy Watkins are licking their chops, no doubt. The coaches have talked about putting more starters on the coverage units, but I think we should just try to kick out the back of the end zone. Adam Yates can do it, and we've seen him do it. We're choosing not to. Doing the same thing over and over again while hoping for a different result is the definition of stupid.

--Passing game. There are multiple problems in our passing game right now, and the problems in the running game mostly go back to passing, because teams are selling out to stop the run against us and we're not able to counter. Some of the problems aren't going to go away. We don't have a jump ball receiver. D.L. Moore sure isn't it, and if the coaches thought Shaq Roland was ready, I think we would have seen more of him by now. The truth is that we're not great at receiver this year. We knew this would be a problem coming into the year. The Georgia game was deceptively promising, but now we've paid for our flaws at the position. At QB, Shaw might start playing a little better, particularly considering that part of his issue seems to be confidence and that he plays with much gusto at home, but he probably is what he is for the time being. What I do think we could do differently is to try harder to base our passing game around what we do have. Shaw seems most comfortable when he's rolling out, probably partially because that allows him to see the field better, and because it gives him the option to run. More of that, please. It seems to work well every time. Moreover, I'd like to see us go back to using the jumbo sets with multiple tight ends more often. We used that a fair amount early on but went away from it. It gives us more blocking in the running game, and it also gives Shaw some bigger targets, which we need. Jerrell Adams is seeing the field more now, and that needs to continue. Lastly, we're running too many deep routes. It oftentimes seems like we're sending three or four guys deep, with maybe the running back serving as the only checkdown. We need an intermediate route, too, say a TE coming across the middle. Shaw's options right now are to hit the tailback for two yards or to hit one our speedsters for 30 yards. We need something in between that works.

--Running game. As said, the running game will open up if we get better passing the ball. However, there are some things we can do additionally to help out Marcus Lattimore and company. Most importantly, we need to run the ball on the edges more often. Last season, we got plenty of yards and kept defenses on their toes with sweeps, but we're not running those as often this year. Why? This is one area where it's fantastic to have a bunch of little burners at receiver. I'd also like to see more sprint option. We used this play well against LSU on one drive, and then we never used it again. Our run game is predictable right now. It's up the gut out of the zone read or up the gut out of the I. We need to be more creative, particularly against good defenses.

--Defensive turnovers. The defense played great against Florida, but it didn't force any game-changing plays. Think of all the plays we blew up early in the game. All the times Clowney ran free in the backfield. Think of Victor Hampton's near interception deep in Gators territory. We need to turn some of those plays into not only a stop but also a fumble or an interception. The offense needs some help right now, and while it's hard to blame too much on the defense, this is one area where it could improve.