COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The bye week has come and goes, but the questions surrounding the South Carolina Gamecocks don't seem to be going anywhere.
Following a 28-14 loss to Georgia, Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp declared that all positions were open as his team prepared to evaluate how to end the current three-game losing skid they're on.
Among the things the Gamecocks will look to improve is their offensive performance. USC averages 14 points per game while their opponents put up 20 per game. One of the possibilities that could come to fruition is having freshman quarterback Jake Bentley start against UMass.
"We are making decisions on what we think is best for our football team and right now, leaving camp, Perry (Orth) and Brandon (McIlwain) were ahead of Jake after training camp was over,' Muschamp said. "As you continue to work through the season, we aren't having the production we need to have offensively. It's not all on the quarterback, but at each position, you have to constantly evaluate and make the changes that will make our football team better. We have a good plan heading into Saturday. Obviously, we aren't going to disclose that until Saturday. Leaving training camp those guys were ahead of (Bentley). As we have continued to work and meet and practice and the reps continue to add up, we've tried to evaluate the situation on what's best for our football team. We're not going to make a change for sake of making a change. That doesn't make any sense. We are going to make a change if we feel like it's going to help benefit our football team, and those are the decision we have to make as a staff."
Combined, Orth and McIlwain are 113-of-190 passing for 1,228 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, South Carolina's run game hasn't been as effective as the coaching staff would like. Through six games, the USC running backs have combined for one 100-yard rushing performance (A.J. Turner vs. Texas A&M). With the offense struggling, the Gamecocks have to find other ways to put points on the board and Muschamp is looking for special teams to provide a spark. But even finding someone to return punts has been an issue for USC.
"We've obviously had our struggles," Muschamp admitted. "Going back to the spring, we were constantly putting our guys under duress. We catch punts every single day, every practice. Bryan McClendon does a great job coaching those guys; obviously not what we want as far as the results we have gotten but as far as the different drills that we do. I think that I've seen and have been exposed to and Coleman (Hutzler) our special teams coordinator, and Bryan has done this for a long time, as far as coaching. Putting those guys under the best tracking the ball and understanding where the tip of the ball is and if the ball's going to turn over if it's not going to turn over or if it's going to dead flight. You're catching the ball above our eyes as far as being able to see it in. We're coaching all of the right things, but sometimes it's a little different when you get out there and 11 guys are running at you."
Defensively, the Gamecocks have answered the bell. USC has held opponents to just 20 points per game and they'll have a chance to improve that number against the Minutemen. UMass is currently ranked 123rd in total offense in the country (four spots ahead of South Carolina), but they average just under 20 points per game.
Although sophomore Andrew Ford is the team's leading passer, the Gamecocks could see Ross Comis start at quarterback for UMass. The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore is 28-of-63 passing for 370 yards and a touchdown. Leading the UMass rushing attack is sophomore Marquis Young, who has racked up 544 yards and three touchdowns on 119 carries.
However, South Carolina should not count their chickens before they hatch with this UMass team. Earlier this season, the Minutemen gave Mississippi State quite the scare. The Minutemen led the Bulldogs 14-13 at the half before eventually falling to the Dan Mullen's squad 47-35.
"This is a football team where it was a 10-7 football game going into the fourth quarter in The Swamp against Florida and (they) led Mississippi State at halftime, a team that beat us,' Muschamp noted. "So (we've had) great preparation from our guys this week. I think we had a good open week."
South Carolina will host UMass at noon Saturday. The game can be seen on the SEC Network.