By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
New South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon wants to be aggressive, using his new fast-paced offense to push force the tempo, put pressure on the defense and put points on the board.
That is who he is and what he wants the Gamecock offense to exemplify in his first season at OC.
"In order to score points you have to try to score points and I think that's going to be my mindset as far as going out there and calling it," said McClendon, the former wide receivers coach who is now running the Gamecock offense. "Sometimes I might need to get reeled back a little bit and I'm OK with that. But I want to make sure we go out there and be aggressive in everything we do."
The Gamecocks averaged just 24.2 points per game last season, 12th in the SEC. "We have to score more than that," McClendon said.
To do that, he has to have an effective running game, which was a weakness last year as the Gamecocks were also 12th in the SEC with just 122.2 rushing yards per game. Improving the running game will be a major focus in training camp, which began Friday with the first of 23 preseason practices.
"We have to run the ball at a high level," McClendon said after practice Friday. "At the end of the day, running the ball efficiently and effectively, it goes beyond important as far as being a good offense. That's what you have to be able to do. That is a focus, making sure everyone understands the run game from the quarterback out and doing whatever we can to have the pin last.
"We have to be able to get in the right play at the right times and have the ability to have answers for anything the defense might throw at us on run plays."
South Carolina returns its top four running backs from last season but only one of them rushed for more than 500 yards. Junior A.J. Turner led the way with 531 while transfer Ty'Son Williams added 471. Junior Rico Dowdle, who began the season as the starter, rushed for just 251 yards while battling injuries, including a broken leg that cost him five games. Mon Denson added 152 yards in a backup role.
While the Gamecocks will likely use at least three backs again this season, they need to keep Dowdle, who shined as a freshman, healthy. Part of his focus during the offseason has been working on hydration and other ways to prevent injuries. The Gamecocks hope he can return to his lead-back role.
"A lot of that stuff has to do with Rico, or any individual," McClendon said. "Some of the stuff you can't help. That just kinda comes with it. Sometimes you get that buzzard luck. But a lot of times, there is different stuff you can do as far as preventing injuries and that's the thing I think he has made the biggest step in.
"Some guys play early and they have never really had to learn to do all the stuff off the field to maintain themselves at this level. Him being two years into it, you are kinda seeing how much it's a balancing thing. I think that has helped him a lot."
Dowdle and Turner split playing time two years ago and Williams, a transfer from North Carolina, joined the trio last season. The three will continue to battle for carries throughout training camp.
"Guys who earn it are the guys who are going to get it," McClendon said. "We have guys who have played so it's going to be a really fun competition throughout fall camp."
"It’s up to the coaches where they want to put us on the depth chart. But we control what we do every day, and that’s going out there and competing," Williams said. “We’re trying to compete every day. That’s one thing we can control. We can’t control anything else. We’re just going to compete every day and go from there.”
With the return of starting quarterback Jake Bentley and a deep and talented receiving corp, McClendon knows there are high expectations for the offense this season. And he knows there will be intense pressure for the Gamecock offense to produce more than it did last year.
He's ready for that pressure.
"That's what comes with it," he said. "To be honest with you, if I'm not comfortable being in that position and our players are not comfortable being in that position, it's not going to be very good. We can't focus on a bunch of that stuff. The only thing we can focus on is going out there and being our best that day.
"We have to do a great job of ignoring the noise, what is being written, what is being said. … We just have to go out there and be ready to focus on getting better that day. … That's where our focus better be if we are going to improve at all. That's all we are talking about."