I know it smacks of coachspeak to refer to the games that fall after a bye week as a fresh start or a new season, but it’s kind of true. Off weeks can help teams get healthy, refine technique, settle personnel debates, and otherwise hit the reset button. Of course, there’s only so much you can do with that time off, and a team like South Carolina simply has too many problems to tackle in such a short span. But every bye week gives rise to at least some optimism that things might not just be different when the team re-takes the field, but better.
So, what might we see when the Gamecocks square off against Florida this Saturday? Most of the chatter has been swirling around the quarterback position, which seems as unsettled as ever despite eight games in the books. Zeb Noland got a minor surgical procedure on his knee and Jason Brown finally got some SEC snaps against Texas A&M, but coach Shane Beamer seems insistent that Noland will be ready to go and is still firmly in the mix.
It’s here I’d like to take a moment and acknowledge something: Zeb Noland is one tough SOB. He has, quite literally, put his body on the line for this program when he could have just committed to a life on the sidelines in the graduate assistant role he originally came here for. I’m grateful for his contributions and they aren’t lost on me, especially with this quarterback room being as empty as it is.
However, I know I’m not alone in wanting to see more from Brown, and really, the coaches in general. Confidence in this offensive staff could not possibly be any lower than it is right now — which, given that this is a fan base coming off five years of Will Muschamp, says a lot — and continuing to run Noland out feels like either a pig-headed idea at best or waving a white flag at worst.
Now, we aren’t there every day at practice. Maybe Noland really is the best possible option for South Carolina, and Brown is nowhere near ready to assume the mantle. But I also know that Noland is a one-year rental, while Brown actually has eligibility — and therefore a future here. I’m not saying the Gamecocks should concede 2021 and start building with an eye on subsequent seasons, but to put it bluntly, Noland doesn’t have the ability to lead USC to wins right now. There’s no tradeoff in play, where declining to develop Brown and sticking with Noland will deliver this team to a bowl appearance and is therefore worth it.
Of course, if you want to get really blunt, you could make the argument that South Carolina’s quarterbacks are essentially interchangeable right now, thanks to the porous offensive line that allows defenders into the backfield immediately after the snap. Unless Brown is the second coming of a player like Michael Vick or Tim Tebow — quarterbacks with elite scrambling ability who could create, improvise, and consistently make something out of nothing — there’s probably not much he can do to elevate this offense out of the muck. South Carolina’s skill talent needs to turn in better performances, too — while the line sticks out like a sore thumb, there’s plenty of critique to go around.
But I think for the fans, it’s important to see the coaching staff at least try to make some adjustments, which we don’t have much evidence of happening so far this season. If the Gamecocks come out the gate against Florida with the same personnel in the same configurations running the same plays, folks will be very restless indeed — and I don’t know how well that would speak to Beamer’s desire to compete. Eight games is a pretty solid body of work to confirm that something isn’t working, and while the Gamecocks couldn’t magically enroll five-star players over the bye week, this offense still has enough talent to amass more than 15 yards through three quarters. Will we see a new commitment to doing something different? Win or lose, that alone could tell us a lot about the Beamer era.