Will Muschamp’s early offensive struggles at South Carolina might look familiar to SEC fans.
Two years after Muschamp’s tenure as Florida coach ended due to poor offensive performance, his South Carolina attack sits last in the Southeastern Conference and 124th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Muschamp said no one played well offensively in a 17-10 loss at Kentucky last week and are working to improve things this Saturday for No. 9 Texas A&M (4-0, 2-0 SEC).
“It goes back to what you do well. And that’s what we’re searching for on offensive right now,” the coach said Tuesday.
The Aggies could make that difficult, especially after a 45-24 victory over then No. 17 Arkansas. Texas A&M has given up just 16 points a game this year, trailing only Florida and Alabama among SEC teams.
It has been a mix of inexperience, mistakes and injuries that have waylaid South Carolina’s offense. The Gamecocks (2-2, 1-2) played without two of their better receivers in Deebo Samuel and Randrecous Davis in a 17-10 loss at Kentucky last week. It was also the first true road start for freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain, who enrolled in January.
McIlwain, who has not thrown an interception in 91 pass attempts this season, passed for 177 yards while completing 15 of 30 passes. The Gamecocks were tied at 10-all entering the fourth quarter, but managed only 36 yards on 15 plays in the final period.
South Carolina’s chances ended when McIlwain was sacked for a 19-yard loss on fourth-and-17 at the Kentucky 35.
“We went back and looked at it and it was all mental mistakes,” receiver Terry Googer said. “We know we can fix it.”
There’s little to fix right now for Texas A&M, which started 4-0 for the third straight season. Both those years, though, the Aggies finished 4-5 after their hot starts.
“We have a little bit of a different feel this year than last year and two years ago,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.
Two years ago, Muschamp was searching for offensive answers in his fourth season as Florida’s coach. Instead, the Gators floundered at 113th nationally in total offense and Florida let Muschamp go.
Muschamp got a second SEC chance at South Carolina last December and hired Kurt Roper, his offensive leader the final Florida season.
Muschamp said in the spring the Gamecocks had enough good players to compete for an SEC Eastern Division title. But there’s been little evidence of that early on.
“We can beat a lot of teams. We have the talent to play at a very high level,” tailback A.J. Turner said. “We just have to do the right things and cut down on the mistakes.”
Those include errors by McIlwain. Turner detailed one play in the fourth quarter where McIlwain kept the ball on a zone read instead of handing off to a running back on what Turner thought would’ve gone for a touchdown. Instead McIlwain managed just a short gain.
“We got to come together. We’ve got to shake it off,” Turner said. “We can’t be worried about being frustrated, being upset about what’s happening. We’ve just got to work through it.”
Receiver Davis remains out along with offensive line starters Donnell Stanley and Blake Muschamp said McIlwain has played well overall and will start against Texas A&M.
McIlwain, who Muschamp has prevented from speaking with media, has held up well, according to his teammates. Googer said the freshman remains positive and upbeat and “keeps leading us.”
Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said McIlwain’s baseball background — he was considered a high-round Major League Baseball draft pick before choosing college football — means he knows how to put the past in the past. “If you strikeout, you can’t go up next at bat thinking about the strikeout,” Allen-Williams said. “You’ve got to look forward. That’s what he does.”
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