Will Muschamp plans to make changes to his offensive line after Saturday’s 24-20 loss to North Carolina and is still evaluating other positions, including quarterback Jake Bentley.
The Gamecocks returned to practice Sunday after the devastating season-opening loss. South Carolina led 20-9 in the fourth quarter but lost after giving up two long fourth-quarter drives on defense and failing to capitalize on three late opportunities to win the game.
“Obviously disappointed. We had our opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them,” Muschamp said Sunday night.
Bentley struggled, completing just 16 of 30 passes for 142 yards and throwing two fourth-quarter interceptions. The senior quarterback was under duress for much of the game, however, because of protection issues and poor play by the offensive line. The Gamecocks return three starters up front but have two new starters in center Hank Manos and right guard Eric Douglas.
Muschamp said Sunday night the coaching staff was looking at making changes to the offensive line.
“We are going to look at some different combinations. We shuffled some guys around,” he said. “We had too much penetration.
“I thought we were inconsistent in the run game. At times we were effective, we got a hat on a hat. … Past that, we need to improve offensively.”
South Carolina managed just 270 yards of total offense and did not score in the fourth quarter. Muschamp said the offensive problems were not all Bentley’s fault.
“He needs to throw the ball better [but] I think there were some protection issues, there were a couple of routes that we did not run correctly,” he said. “We didn’t play particularly well at the receiver position either.
“It’s not all on one person. I know everybody wants to blame one guy for it, but that’s not the case. He needs to play better at that position but we need to play better around him, and we didn’t do that.”
Muschamp stopped short of saying he would replace Bentley with freshman backup Ryan Hilinski.
“We’re evaluating everything right now, and we’ll know more as we go forward,” he said. “We’re going to meet again tonight as a staff and we’ll move through that. There are a lot of variables involved with that. It wasn’t all one person, I can assure you of that.”
Muschamp said much of Bentley’s struggles were due to problems on the offensive line and at receiver.
“He had to move around. There is no doubt we didn’t do a good enough job, we weren’t as firm as we needed to be in the middle of the line and that’s where we got a lot of push back, which creates issues, especially when you step up in the pocket,” he said. “You don’t have much of a lane to be able to step up. And we had some routes that were not correct down the field. There were play downs the field that he’s anticipating someone coming open and the guy instead of running a bender, he stays vertical down the field.
“There were some things that happened that aren’t Jake Bentley’s fault. We’ll evaluate that moving forward.”
There could also be changes on defense, where the Gamecocks struggled with tackling and gave up several big plays in the second half. North Carolina had 483 yards of total offense, much of it on two fourth-quarter drives that each covered more than 90 yards.
Muschamp said South Carolina had 18 missed tackles that led to more than 100 yards after contact.
“When you miss tackles in space, it creates explosive runs … and that’s unacceptable,” he said.
North Carolina freshman Sam Howell, making his first career start, threw for 245 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Gamecock secondary gave up two touchdown passes and a long third-down pass late in the game. Muschamp said there could be changes in the secondary. They expect to get senior safety J.T. Ibe and senior corner A.J. Turner back this week after both missed Saturday’s game.
“We need to work on some things on the back end and some personnel issues, and we will continue to work through that as well,” he said.