South Carolina football had a dismal 2019 season. Here are three things they could do to make 2020 successful enough to contend in the SEC.
Every human being has had one moment in their life that they wish they could forget entirely. If South Carolina coach Will Muschamp was asked to name such a moment, the Gamecocks’ 2019 campaign would be a ripe candidate.
It would be a strong statement considering the fact that “Boom’s” stormy head coaching career has featured plenty of nominees for this honor: at Florida, it was the infamous “fire Muschamp” chant that echoed from the UF student section during a humiliating loss to Missouri in 2013. Then the following year it was a blown lead and resultant overtime loss to a hit-or-miss South Carolina team that sealed Coach Boom’s dismissal from his role as the Gators’ head coach.
Fast forward six years and Muschamp heads that very same Gamecock squad. While there have been bright spots such as a 9-4 season in 2017 and three straight wins over Tennessee, Muschamp’s time with the garnet and black has been up and down.
Humiliating thrashings in bowl games to the likes of South Florida and Virginia. Losing the 2018 Florida game in the same way he lost on the opposite sideline four years earlier. These lowlights pale in comparison to the year 2019.
Onlookers in Columbia were optimistic for a team that included senior quarterback Jake Bentley, a loaded backfield that included Rico Dowdle and turncoat Tavien Feaster and a defense anchored by ruthless hitters like Javon Kinlaw and DJ Wonnum.
At the end of the third quarter in the season opener against North Carolina, things looked just fine. The Gamecocks led 20-9 and Jake Bentley looked confident as he had over 100 passing yards and a nice touchdown strike to his credit. It looked as though the Gamecocks would start the decade’s final season on a high note with a nice neutral-site win.
Then the wheels fell off.
Bentley began failing to connect with his receivers on a succession of fourth-quarter three and outs. Meanwhile, Tar Heel freshman quarterback Sam Howell took charge of the game, leading his Heels to a 24-20 advantage late in the tilt. Bentley and Co. managed to reach the red zone in the final minute, but the embattled field general could not connect for the score and the Gamecocks had surrendered another painful come from behind loss.
To add insult to injury, Bentley injured his foot during postgame, the extent of the malady would terminate his 2019 campaign. His true freshman heir Ryan Hilinski looked as though he would save the day with an impressive shredding of badly outmanned Charleston Southern, and some confident NFL-caliber throws in an otherwise forgettable loss to Alabama. This hope began to fade with an inexplicable drubbing at the hands of a barely-better Missouri team owing to the spread of the injury bug, and with the exception of a strange upset over third-ranked Georgia, hair-pulling losses marked by blown halftime leads were par for Carolina’s course.
When it came time for the 2019 Palmetto Bowl, many South Carolina faithful had checked out on the team ahead of the matchup with a Clemson program at the peak of its history. Before the season, a look at SC’s murder’s row of a schedule made a 4-8 record a disheartening possibility, miscues and missed time rendered that mark a reality.
Will Muschamp knows full well that only a $18 million dollar buyout kept from having to empty his office in Columbia. The 48-year-old took swift action to try to correct his programs faults, demoting embattled offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon to receivers coach and parting ways with quarterbacks coach Dan Werner.
In both men’s stead will be Mike Bobo, the former Georgia OC known for training the likes of Matthew Stafford, David Greene and Aaron Murray. Bobo was both a quarterback and teammate of Muschamp at Georgia in the 1990s, and the now 45-year-old still holds several Dawg passing records. Adding quarterback coaching to his coordinator duties gives Bobo direct direct oversight over the Carolina signal-callers. Fans are hoping he can mold Hilinski or incoming freshman Luke Doty into the Gamecocks’ version of a Lawrence or Burrow.
The offensive side of the ball will need some tweaking if the Gamecocks are to compete, top targets Bryan Edwards and Kyle Markway won’t be with the team in the new decade and SC needs to replace them something fierce.
The offensive side of the ball isn’t the only area with spacious improvement potential, heroes must also emerge defensively, and the team has got to find a way to stop imploding when they are ahead.
We will take a look at three things the Gamecocks must do to have a fighting chance in 2020.