After practice Sunday evening, Donell Stanley gathered South Carolina’s offensive line in the team meeting room at the Long Family Football Operations Center.
Though the group had been through team meetings and an intense practice after South Carolina’s 24-20 loss to North Carolina on Saturday, Stanley wanted to deliver an additional message.
“We brought them in and told them, we need to lead the team. We have to play better, we have to communicate, we have to do the little things, we have to be more disciplined,” Stanley, a sixth-year senior, said. “That’s the message I wanted to get across to them. I think we are going to take it to heart and we are going to get this thing right.”
The offensive line, which had two new starters at center and right guard, struggled against the Tar Heels, allowing three sacks and struggling in the running and passing game in the second half. Quarterback Jake Bentley, who threw two fourth-quarter interceptions, was under pressure most of the game before suffering a broken foot on a sack on the final play of the game.
Head coach Will Muschamp made changes to the offensive line on Tuesday, moving Stanley back to center and inserting 330-pound sophomore Jordan Rhodes at left guard. Either sophomore Eric Douglas, who started against North Carolina, or redshirt freshman Jovaughn Gwyn will start at right guard in the home opener Saturday against Charleston Southern.
“We got too much push in the middle,” Muschamp said of the offensive line’s play against North Carolina. “That made it very difficult to step up in the pocket, difficult to get the ball going further down the field, which we had planned to do going into the game. It throws you off rhythm as far as the routes and things like that are concerned in the passing game, as well as in the running game.
“We ran the ball well in the first half. In the second half … we didn't have much production running the football. A lot of it was some issues inside."
Bentley and Stanley both said most of the problems were due to lack of communication. Redshirt freshman Hank Manos made his second career start at center, while Douglas started for the first time. They joined three returning starters in Stanley and tackles Sadarius Hutcherson and Dylan Wonnum.
The offensive line had six penalties in the game, including several false starts.
“We just had a lot of miscommunications and playing out of position,” Stanley said. “We’ve got to communicate across all five guys and it wasn’t getting done. We just weren’t playing very well. It’s uncharacteristic of us and we have to be better than that.”
Rhodes, who appeared in four games last year, is considered “a mauler” inside but has struggled with consistency. Stanley believes he can develop into a good player with more experience.
“Jordan is a strong guy. He’s got the potential to play, it’s more of a mental thing with him,” Stanley said. “If we can get him going and build up his confidence I think he will be good for us. … I think once he feels that success, especailly in a game situation, it will motivate him to do it consistently.”
Gwyn, a 305-pound freshman from Charlotte, missed last season and spring practice with a foot injury. He competed for a starting spot at guard in training camp and the coaching staff has been anxious to get him on the field.
“We need to get Jovaughn Gwyn more snaps there at right guard,” Muschamp said Tuesday.
The offensive line will face an even greater challenge Saturday with freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski replacing Bentley as the starter. Having Stanley back at center should help. A three-year starter, he played center last season after spending most of his career at guard.
“Especially me being at center, I am going to help him out with the calls and stuff but I trust the guy,” Stanley said. “We brought him for a reason — to play. With him being a freshman, I don’t see him no different than Jake. He is going to go out there and do his thing and do what we practice.”
Stanley is also helping his teammates get over the devastating season-opening loss.
“We just have to move on,” he said. “Right now we are in a dark spot, and we all know it. But we are at the beginning of the season and we have a lot of football to play. We could sit back and moan and feel sorry for ourselves but we are moving on and it’s going to take every guy in that locker room.”