When Will Muschamp considers his team’s offensive struggles in the second half this season, he rattles off a host of problems that need to be corrected.
From turnovers to poor field position to struggles in the passing game, South Carolina has struggled after halftime, blowing leads and not producing enough points to finish games strongly and secure victories.
“We’re not getting the production we need, especially in the second half,” Muschamp said Tuesday. “I don’t think that it’s one thing, it’s multiple things.”
The Gamecocks, 3-5 and 2-4 in the SEC, led Tennessee at halftime last week before losing 41-21. Two weeks ago, they carried a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter before losing to Florida 38-27. They hope to stop that trend Saturday night against Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m., SEC Network).
In eight games this season, South Carolina has been outscored 131-89 in the second half. Take out the 72-10 win over Charleston Southern and the Gamecocks have been outscored 124-61 against Power-5 teams. Florida and Tennessee outscored South Carolina 52-17 in the second half in the past two weeks.
The Gamecocks have been careless with the ball in the second half and have struggled on third down. They have 10 turnovers against Power-5 teams, seven in the second half, including two each in losses to North Carolina, Alabama and Missouri.
They have struggled all season on third down, converting just 32 percent, 31 percent in the second half. Though they are 8-of-16 on fourth down, they are just 4-of-10 in the second half.
Against Tennessee, South Carolina couldn’t get anything going offensively in the second half, getting shut out for the first time this season. The Gamecocks led 21-17 at the half but its first three drives of the second half were three-and-outs and featured four penalties. They gained two first downs on their next possession but turned the ball over after failing to convert on fourth-and-2. Their first possession of the fourth quarter was a three-and-out that ended with a blocked punt for a touchdown.
A big part of the problem, Muschamp says, is South Carolina’s inefficiency in the passing game. Freshman Ryan Hilinski has completed just 59 percent of his passes and thrown only eight touchdown passes since taking over for injured starter Jake Bentley after the season opener. After getting off to a solid start, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes in losses to Missouri, Florida and Tennessee and has thrown for more than 200 yards only once in the last five games.
Muschamp reiterates that the struggles in the passing game are not all Hilinski’s fault.
“I think we have been ineffective consistently throwing the football. That goes to multiple areas, protection, route running, accuracy with the football. It’s not one thing. It’s multiple things,” he said.
“We are trying to correct and trying to get it right. I thought we got off to a great start last week; there were some things we did do positive.”
A big problem has been injuries up front. Right tackle Dylan Wonnum has missed the last four games with an injury and has been replaced by true freshman Jaylen Nichols. The Gamecocks also have a redshirt freshman at left guard in Jovaughn Gwyn and redshirt sophomore Jordan Rhodes at left guard. They lost left tackle Sadarius Hutcherson for part of the game against Kentucky.
Hilinski has been sacked six times in the past two games and has been under almost constant pressure. Muschamp says youth up front has led to protection problems.
“It’s hard what we are asking some of these guys to do,” he said.
Though backup quarterback Dakereon Joyner could play at times — he has been hampered by a hamstring injury — Muschamp said he has no plans to make a change at quarterback or change the offense.
“It’s hard to install a whole new concept, especially with some youth we have on the offensive line,” he said. “Just continue to try to narrow down things we feel comfortable with and the quarterback feels comfortable with to be successful. I thought we did some good things the other night, I thought we made some improvement. It’s not where we want, but we have made some strides and we have to continue to do so.”
The Gamecocks must also continue to run the ball. They ran the ball well against Kentucky, Georgia and Florida but had only 78 yards rushing at Tennessee and only 19 in the loss at Missouri.
“Our formula is not going to be very successful throwing the ball 50 times right now,” he said.
South Carolina also must do a better job making adjustments in the second half, Muschamp said.
“Obviously, we can do a better job as coaches making some adjustments and helping our guys and putting them in better situations to execute better to get more production,” he said.