South Carolina’s opponent in Week 6 is themselves. The bye week brings opportunities for the Gamecocks offense to answer questions. The break comes at a welcomed time as injuries have mounted and young players look to catch their breath. However, momentum is not on the Gamecocks’ side after a 21-point loss at Tennessee. Fans are demanding answers from Shane Beamer and first-year offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains. Offensive coaches and players will look to address issues on the offensive line, playing to the strengths of the offense as a whole, pass-catching playmakers, and personnel groupings.
Bye Week Questions for the Gamecocks Offense
South Carolina’s offensive line has been the sore spot of the offense all season. After giving up nine sacks and 18 pressures in Week 1, the line had only one way to go: up. Improvements have been made, but there is still a long way to go. Offensive line coach, Lonnie Teasley, made some adjustments to insert freshmen into the starting lineup. Injuries have plagued this group and other veterans have dropped off the map. Redshirt junior Trai Jones was a projected starter but has not appeared on the two-deep after the preseason.
Injuries to Jaylen Nichols (during the spring game), Cason Henry (Week 1), and freshman Markee Anderson (preseason) have cost the coaching staff the ability to rotate more guys into place. Another reserve, Ni Mansell, also had a season-ending injury a few weeks ago. Then, starter Jakai Moore was banged up and missed time leading into Week 5. As the injuries continue to occur, coaches can’t promote competition in practice to push the starters and field scout teams. Nevertheless, adjustments must be made to protect Spencer Rattler and open holes in the run game. Right tackle has been a particular point of contention as no one who has played that position has had any success. Transfer Sidney Fugar and tenured started Tyshawn Wannamaker have both struggled. Coaches may look to slide Moore out to tackle with Trovon Baugh proving himself inside at guard.
To Balance or Not to Balance
Traditionally, finding a balance between passing and running on offense is the best strategy for success. When coaches keep opposing defenses guessing, offenses can attack more efficiently. However, with the struggles on the offensive line and the lack of productivity from running backs, the passing game is the best option. Coaches shouldn’t look to abandon the run, but over five games the Gamecocks are averaging just over 75 yards per game on the ground and 2.3 yards per carry. Carolina has found success running for touchdowns when in striking distance. They have seven rushing touchdowns to nine passing.
However, the Gamecocks are moving the ball much more through the air at 272 yards per game. Interestingly enough, the play count is similar. Carolina has run the ball 133 times and passed 139. The balance of play calls does not align with productivity. Coaches have to keep defenses honest, of course, but placing emphasis on highlighting Rattler, Xavier Legette, and, hopefully, Juice Wells needs to become more of a focus.
The Juice is Worth the Squeeze
Injuries on the offensive line have piled up, but the most impactful injury was to All-SEC caliber wide receiver Wells. After a preseason injury, Wells played limited snaps in the first two weeks of the season. He had just one catch for five yards. He was the most dynamic pass catcher for the Gamecocks in 2022 and is poised to be dominant this year. In Week 3, he returned to action with a bang as he caught two passes on the opening drive against number 1 ranked Georgia. The second catch was an elusive catch and run that resulted in a touchdown and another foot injury for Wells.
Word from inside the building is that he could return after the bye week against Florida and boost the Gamecocks offense. Wells’ return, even at 50% health or a limited snap count, has the ability to take this offense to the next level. With the emergence of Legette as a top receiver nationally, defenses will not be able to shut down both receivers at once.
Option Number Three
Behind Wells and Legette, productivity in the receiver group has to be found. Third option Ahmarean Brown has been hampered by a hamstring injury that has limited his best strength, and speed. Getting him healthy over the bye week will help the Gamecocks offense. O’Mega Blake was the talk of the preseason at the receiver spot but has been largely inconsistent in games. If he can be reliable week after week, that could make a major impact as well. In the slot, Luke Doty and Eddie Lewis have shown flashes of ability to win battles with defenders, but both can become more polished in their attention to detail and get more consistent separation.
Finally, freshman phenom Nyck Harbor is the talk of every Gamecock football fan. As the nation’s number one athlete out of high school, the five-star freshman has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. He was not an early enrollee, he was sidelined by an injury for two weeks during fall camp, and he is playing a position, at receiver, that he has never played before. Fans have to be patient in looking for results from Harbor. He has to learn how to play the game at this position at the SEC level.
With that being said, it doesn’t take much understanding to show off speed and size at 6’5” and 240 pounds. Harbor runs a 10.3 100-meter dash and will have a legitimate shot to compete in the Olympics in the future. This explains why there is a lack of patience in wanting to see him get more involved. As the season progresses, it is likely he will get more opportunities.
Less Than Expected
The Gamecocks offense can use the bye week to experiment with personnel groupings. Carolina brought in two highly sought-after tight ends via the transfer portal. It was widely believed prior to the season that both would see significant action and get their fair share of targets. Trey Knox has 17 catches and Josh Simon has eight of his own through five games. This projects 60 catches between the two players at the end of the year. This number is about what the expectation was for the talented duo, but the perception is that they have been less productive than anticipated.
Knox has had the lion’s share of snaps and has had a few untimely penalties and drops that have painted his performance in a negative light. Simon, a longer, leaner player, has done more with less in terms of playing time. Simon still needs more snaps, but maybe not at the expense of Knox.
Using 12 personnel (two tight ends and one running back) is the solution to multiple problems for the Gamecocks. For one, more tight ends mean more blocking in many cases. On running plays, this puts seven players blocking up front instead of just five offensive linemen. In passing situations, one or both tight ends can block, the running back can block, or one or more of the three can chip and release to catch a pass. This personnel grouping also allows for two receivers to still run routes.
The biggest strength of two tight ends for Carolina is attacking more over the middle of the field. This was a major deficiency against Tennessee in Week 5. Receivers could not get open out wide and the running game was a non-factor with the exception of one play. Attacking the middle of the field would have been exposing a wide-open area.
Trust Beamer’s Resumé
Over the last two years at South Carolina, Beamer has done well in answering questions. The Gamecocks offense has come out stronger after a bye week. Teams, under Beamer, have consistently improved as the season moved along. This year, the hardest stretch of South Carolina’s schedule (which is listed as one of the toughest in the country by many outlets) is over. They now face several “middle of the pack” SEC teams and look forward to a four-game stretch of games at home in November. The opportunities and wins are still in front of them if they can find some answers.
Stay tuned for a follow-up, “Bye Week Questions for the Gamecocks Defense.”