South Carolina’s 2019 season got off on the wrong foot with in the opening loss to North Carolina, and it has been off track ever since. The Gamecocks mess of a season has, aside from an upset at Georgia, gotten worse week by week. Now they sit at 4-7 with their rival and national title contending Clemson Tigers coming to town this week. The issues are plentiful, and fixing them won’t be easy, nor will it happen in 2019.
Dissecting The 2019 Gamecocks Mess
The Gamecocks’ main issue is the same as it has been for the past few years, inconsistency. This team has shown at times it has the talent to compete with anyone, and that it has play makers on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, Coach Will Muschamp’s program has yet to show that they can play at a high level week in and week out. Injuries, depth of talent, play calling, and schedule are all factors to the Gamecocks mess in 2019, but inconsistency is the prominent problem inside the program. It is hard to know which version of South Carolina will show up on a given Saturday, although the bad version starting to rear its ugly head more often than not.
Six Days Out of Seven
There has been a lot of talk about Muschamp’s job security the last few weeks. Accessing his impact on the program is multi layered process, factoring in more than just wins and losses. All accounts are that the head man is a great program leader six days out of the week. The team has not had any off the field issues to speak of; he is clearly bringing in high character kids to Columbia. The team’s GPA has risen in each of the last three semesters, with the last two of those being the highest GPA for the football program in school history.
Muschamp has also done a good job raising the Gamecocks profile in the recruiting world. South Carolina is getting noticed by more of the higher ranked prospect in each class, and has even managed to bring a few to campus. This coach and his staff are relentless on the recruiting trail, and those efforts have begun to pay off with some of the talent coming to Columbia. The new facilities have been praised by recruits, former players, and national analysts since it opened. Muschamp was an integral part of the idea process in creating the brilliant new facility.
That Seventh Day
Here comes the rub. While it seems there are a lot of factors in the coach’s favor as to how this program has been run on his watch, it is game days that matter. In short, Muschamp’s teams have not been good enough on Saturdays. The performances have been anywhere from putrid to puzzling. The same team that went to Athens and won the physical battle with the 3rd ranked Bulldogs, got manhandled at the line of scrimmage by Appalachian State. An offense that put up 400+ yards on Alabama and Florida, couldn’t mount a meaningful drive in either of the last two ball games.
The defense has looked stout, physical, and explosive at times. However they also allowed a struggling Tennessee offense to pile up big play after big play in an embarrassing defeat. Third downs have also been an issue on both sides of the ball. There hasn’t been a game all season where both sides of the ball played at a high level simultaneously. A coach can run the cleanest and most respected program in the nation, but if the results on game day are as erratic as they have been in 2019, that begins to matter less and less. Muschamp may be reaching that tipping point in Columbia.
Next Man Up
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. South Carolina is dealing with an unusual amount of injuries to key players. It’s a recurring theme, and an increasingly painful one. It was the defense that was crippled late last season by an abundance of injuries. The Gamecocks mess in 2019 has been compounded by the offense losing players left and right. Wideouts Shi Smith and Bryan Edwards have both missed games with injury. The same can be said for starters Rico Dowdle, Tavien Feaster, and Dylan Wonnum. The talent entering the program lately may have taken a step forward, but this season’s injuries have shown that not all of those players are ready to step up when called.
While Smith was out over the past few weeks, the Gamecocks relied heavily on their star senior Edwards. To no one’s surprise, he delivered, but his teammates have done little to help. He missed this last weekend’s dismal loss to Texas A&M, and the offense looked lost without him. The depth of this receiving corps has provided next to nothing this season, except far too many drops.
Injuries have become too prominent a theme during Muschamp’s tenure, just as it was in Gainesville. Whether it is practice efforts, training and recovery, or some other outside factor, losing so many players each season is not a good habit to have. This team that has routinely been without multiple front line players each week. Unfortunately, the readiness of those stepping up has not been good enough. In 2018 it was the defense that was too beat up to stop anyone at season’s end. This time around it is the offense that has been so crippled with injuries they can barely muster a drive around campus.
Sitting a 4-7 it is hard to find too many bright spots, but there have been some. Edwards came back for his senior season and now has his name atop the South Carolina record books. He now has the most career catches and receiving yards in school history. The senior has played with a toughness, determination, and effort level that few across the country can match. Dowdle was having his best season before an injury sidelined him, but he has not played as well upon returning. Feaster was also playing great football, as the rushing attack was rolling early in the year. That tandem was playing very well before the injuries hit. Since then, the younger tailbacks have not been able to step in and play at the same level.
Defensively the Gamecocks have been solid most of the year aside from a few contests. Javon Kinlaw and Aaron Sterling have both performed at a high level along the defensive line. Kinlaw has been at an All-American level, despite the team’s struggles. Sophomore Ernest Jones has the makings of a All –SEC linebacker, and he leads the team in tackles. Freshman Jammie Robinson has also shown flashes of what he can become at safety. There have been some things to get excited about, just not enough.
Run It Back
There has been a lot of talk about the future of this program as the 2019 season has progressed. In all likelihood Muschamp will be back in 2020. His head scratching and large buyout makes it difficult to make a move this off-season. If that is the case, there has to be changes made to the staff, this program can not stand pat. The offense needs new ideas and a tangible identity. They have had neither this season. A long look at the workload and recovery of the players is also needed to help combat the mounting injuries. The Gamecocks mess of a 2019 campaign is almost over. Moving forward, there are plenty of questions to be answered before next year.