New South Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Bobo got only about a week to work with his new group before the coronavirus wiped out the rest of spring practice.
But after just five practices, Bobo had a pretty good idea what he wants out of the Gamecocks’ offense.
After 13 years as a play-caller — eight as an offensive coordinator at Georgia and five as head coach at Colorado State — Bobo’s approach is no secret. He wants a balanced attack that is highly efficient and effective. His idea of a perfect game?
Rushing for more than 200 yards per game and passing for more than 300.
“That’s a really, really good game,” he said during spring practice. “We played Kentucky one year and didn’t punt, went 10-for-10 on third down. That was a pretty good game.”
Bobo’s mission in those five practice sessions was to learn his personnel, create an offensive identity and begin to install the offense.
“We have to create an identity — who we are and who we are going to be,” he said. “That identity comes in spring practice and your summer workouts and then fall camp. You base your identity around your personnel.”
While the Gamecocks return six starters on offense, including starting quarterback Ryan Hilinski, it lost some key players from 2019, including receiver Bryan Edwards, one of the top pass-catchers in school history, and three veteran running backs. With Hilinski forced into action as a freshman after the season-ending injury to veteran Jake Bentley, South Carolina struggled offensively, averaging just 22 points, 372 yards per game and just 5.2 yards per play — all numbers Bobo says need to improve dramatically.
South Carolina will be relying on some key newcomers and some young players to step up in 2020.
Here’s a look at five players to watch in Bobo’s new offense.
After splitting time between backup quarterback and receiver last season, Joyner is a full-time receiver now and figures to be a big part of the offense. He spent the limited spring practice learning to play the slot and could be a valuable asset as both a runner and pass catcher.
He impressed both Bobo and Muschamp early in spring practice.
“DK Joyner has shown toughness,” Bobo said. “He’s learning how to play the position and how to run routes and not be as robotic when you are thinking about running the route and how to run it. I think he’s going to get better as time goes on.”
“We are really pleased with where he was,” Muschamp added.
Joyner will bring a unique skillset to the position. As a former quarterback — one who has played at the collegiate level — he can read defenses, which should help with his route running, and can throw the ball, giving the offense another threat in the passing game. He also is a fast, explosive runner who can make defenders miss and produce big plays, giving the offense an option for short passes and jet sweeps designed to produce long runs.
His play and skillset is already drawing comparisons to one of South Carolina’s greatest playmakers — NFL rookie Deebo Samuel.
“I think I’m explosive, I know I’m explosive,” the confident Joyner said. “With the ball in my hands, I’m electric, I think everybody knows that, I just have to get the basics down, the route-running and stuff like that. Once I get that down, I think it will be over with.”
He was starting to make strides in spring practice.
“The first couple of days, it was his first time as a receiver, so we were getting the best of him and picking at him a little bit,” defensive back Jaycee Horn said. “But the next couple of days, he stepped it up with his route running. It’s like he’s starting to get the gist of it. I feel like he is going to be a major help in our passing game.”
Bobo says running back is the one position where freshmen can make an immediate impact. He recalls pushing former Georgia head coach Mark Richt to play freshman Knowshon Moreno, the year before Moreno became a star for the Bulldogs.
“Running back is a position you can tell pretty quick if the guy has got it,” Bobo said.
No one turned more heads in the spring more than freshman MarShawn Lloyd, a four-star recruit and one of the top-five high school running backs in the country last season.
“He stepped on the field and we noticed right away he was a great player,” senior defensive lineman Keir Thomas said. “I heard a couple of oohs and aahs when he was out there.”
Senior defensive end Aaron Sterling found out early on how talented Lloyd is.
“In the backfield, I had a chance, but he did a little spin move and got up out of there. I could have had him, but you got to let him practice,” Sterling said with a laugh. “He’s going to be something special.”
At 5-9 and 212 pounds, Lloyd is both fast and powerful and gives the Gamecocks the type of elusive, explosive runner Muschamp has been clamoring for the past four seasons. Some believe he could be South Carolina’s best back since Marcus Lattimore and Muschamp insists he will play right away.
“He’s a one-cut runner who gets the ball north and south,” he said. “He’s got a lower center of running ability so there are not a lot of soft spots to hit. He’s a very intelligent guy who works extremely hard. I’ve been very pleased.”
So has Bobo, who heaped praise on his freshman back during spring practice.
“MarShawn has a chance to be a special back,” he said. “He’s very diligent about how he approaches everyday. He comes with the right mindset. He’s sitting in coach [Bobby] Bentley’s meeting room 30 minutes before the other guys get there. He wants to learn and he wants to be ready.”
The Gamecocks found another intriguing playmaker last year in Legette, who played in 11 games with three starts as a freshman. With three of its top four pass catchers (Edwards, tight end Kyle Markway and running back Rico Dowdle) gone, the Gamecocks need receivers to pair with senior Shi Smith and junior Josh Vann.
Legette showed last year he can handle the role and has plenty of upside. Though he caught just nine passes for 80 yards, he scored a 20-yard touchdown against Vanderbilt and caught eight passes in two games when the receiving corp was decimated by injuries late in the season.
“Xavier was key contributor for us,” Muschamp said. “He’s going to be a really good football player.”
Bobo was impressed with Legette in spring practice.
“He has practiced every single day, showed toughness,” Bobo said. “He’s a raw receiver, he’s learning how to control his body right now, but he has the skillset and I think he can play in this league and be a productive guy.”
Legette worked hard during the offseason — “I come and get on the jugs machine just about every night” — and is focused on being a consistent threat. He believes he could take a big step from last season.
“When Bryan got hurt, I felt like it was all on me,” Legette said during spring practice. “And then when Shi got hurt, I really had to step my feet in the door and progress forward.
“I feel like I did alright. It could have been a better season, though. If I would have made the catches that I had the opportunity to make and I would have made plays, I feel like it would have been good.”
Lloyd is not the only running back who shined in spring practice. Sophomore Deshaun Fenwick also took a step forward and looks like he could challenge Lloyd for playing time.
“Deshaun Fenwick was playing his best ball the first five days of spring,” Muschamp said.
The Gamecocks graduated four senior running backs last year and had just three scholarship backs in spring practice with sophomore Kevin Harris joining Lloyd and Fenwick. Freshman Rashad Amos and junior-college transfer ZaQuandre White are scheduled to join the group when the team returns to campus.
Fenwick and Harris both saw limited playing time last year, and Fenwick shined in the two games in which he got extensive playing time, rushing for more than 100 yards in both games.
At 6-1, 230, Fenwick could give the Gamecocks a big back to pair with Lloyd. He impressed Bobo with his physical style in spring practice.
“He’s a big, good-looking guy and he’s running physical and has shown some toughness in the competition, block drills that coach Muschamp puts them through,” Bobo said. “… He’s got good hands and he’s a smart kid. I am really, really pleased with him.”
Bobo used a lot of two-back formations at Colorado State and plans to implement a similar system at South Carolina. And he may have brought the second back with him.
Adam Prentice, a 6-0, 245-pound fullback/H-back, was Bobo’s “RoboCop” at Colorado State, a versatile, multi-dimensional player who could block and catch the ball as well as run it. He is expected to play a similar role for the Gamecocks.
“Adam Prentice brings a different dimension to our offense a little bit with a two-back look. That will be good for us,” Muschamp said.
“Quite frankly, a lot of teams don’t defend the two-back running game anymore because they’re defending spread, and it’s something teams don’t practice all the time,” Bobo said. “… A guy like Prentice was a little bit more than a sixth lineman. He could do a lot of stuff. He could play a wing for us. He could insert, he could catch the ball.”
A grad transfer from Fresno, Calif., Prentice had a sixth year of eligibility and decided to follow Bobo to South Carolina to play against the top competition in the country.
“From the outside, this is the top-tier level football. You know, you want to be able to prove yourself and show people what you can do at the top level,” he said.
He believes he can have a big impact on Bobo’s offense, as both a leader and teacher and a contributor on the field.
“I believe in the offense and the system that he runs,” Prentice said. “I believe it can be very effective. I think it’s proven to be effective when we were at CSU and I think it’s going to be effective here.”