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Early Takeaways from the Start of the Will Muschamp Era at South Carolina

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With the 1/3 of the season over, both positives and negatives can be drawn from the beginning of the Muschamp era. What does the Gamecocks' 2-2 (1-2 SEC) start tell us about South Carolina?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

When South Carolina hired Will Muschamp prior to this season, there was a sense of reasonable optimism coming from the fanbase. However, a rough start in SEC play rises new concerns and delays that same optimism. For Gamecock fans, the best thing to do is relax and not panic...yet. With all of the struggles, there are some things to be excited about. The 2017 recruiting class, led by talented players such as 4-star cornerback Jamyest Williams, is very bright. With that being said, there is still the majority of the 2016 season still to play and it doesn't get any easier.

Offensive Woes

The harsh reality is that the Gamecocks rank 119th nationally in total offense and are only putting up 14.3 points a game. Their season high came in week 3 against East Carolina at home in which they put up 20 points. The biggest concern now is scoring touchdowns.

It looks as if Muschamp has found his quarterback moving forward: freshman Brandon McIlwain. Through the first four games, he has completed 47 of 91 attempts (51.6%) for 533 yards, two touchdowns, and the most exciting statistic: zero INTs. He also is third on the team in rushing with 40 carries for 91 yards and two scores. His two top targets are freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards (17 rec, 223 yds) and sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst (19 rec, 212 yds), but neither have found the end zone.

As a team, South Carolina is averaging 90.8 rushing yards per game. They are led by running back A.J. Turner; the freshman has carried the ball 47 times for 157 yards and one touchdown, but that's a mere 3.3 yards per carry.

Playing to the Strengths

By no means is the defense setting the world on fire, but they are keeping South Carolina in games. It can be argued that defense is the reason why the Gamecocks won at Vanderbilt in the season opener. They are only giving up 17.3 points per contest in which three out of the first four games featured conference opponents. Carolina ranks 3rd in the SEC in total tackles with 315, to go along with 9.0 sacks and four interceptions. Senior defensive lineman Darius English has 4.0 of those sacks and ranks second in that department.

Improvements

Statistically, South Carolina has the worst offensive in the SEC and one of the worst in the country. To take less pressure off the defense, the offense must become more effective. The good news is that the skill players are young..but the bad news is that the skill players are young. First, the Gamecocks have to become more assertive on the ground. A.J. Turner must become more efficient and raise his 3.3 yard per carry average. McIlwain must become consistent and the receivers need to find the endzone. In the SEC, a good defense is an advantage, but scoring is what wins games.

Moving Forward

Unfortunately, the schedule doesn't get much easier for the youth of Carolina. They have a five game homestand, but three of those are against currently ranked teams (#9 Texas A&M, #25 Georgia, #11 Tennessee) and another one is against Massachusetts, a team that played Mississippi State tough for most of the game). Slowly but surely, the young players will begin to mature, but it's going to be a tough stretch. There is no certainty of a bowl game this year unless South Carolina is able to score the ball and play consistently good defense.