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South Carolina’s coaching staff is making adjustments.
After torching Eastern Illinois’ defense for 5.6 yards per touch in the season opener, USC slowed against an East Carolina defense that loaded the box against the Gamecocks last week in Greenville, North Carolina.
So how can South Carolina adjust to stiff pressure from No. 2 Georgia at 7 p.m. Saturday in Athens? The answer is layered.
“We’ve got to be able to execute our offense no matter what the defense is doing,” head coach Shane Beamer said Tuesday. “It’s not like we got out there on Saturday and were like, ‘Oh my god, they’re doing this how do we how do we adjust?’ It’s this guy here, a guy there and we’ve got to be more consistent.”
The Gamecocks offense boasts as talented a backfield as there is in the Southeastern Conference. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart sang its praises during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference.
Smart lauded the Gamecock quartet of Kevin Harris, MarShawn Lloyd, ZaQuandre White and Juju McDowell for their complementary running styles and the mismatches they create. Each has varying abilities, but all four can shoulder a heavy load.
“Kevin Harris ran through us last year and was really hard to tackle,” Smart said, running through his mental list. “You know what MarShawn Lloyd is — he’s a tremendous one-cut runner. And then you’ve got ZaQuandre White and (Juju) McDowell are great players. I’m sitting there like, ‘Man, they’ve got some good backs.’ “
Last Saturday, the Gamecocks rushing attack slogged out of the gate. East Carolina mixed up its blitz packages, sending more defenders than could be blocked or simply selling out to try and reach quarterback Zeb Noland before he could reel back and hit a striding receiver downfield.
Noland, to his credit, connected on 2 of his 3 throws of 20-plus yards per SEC StatCat. One of those incompletions also came on an overturned touchdown pass to receiver Josh Vann in the back right corner of the end zone.
“At the end of the game they just started heating us up zero pressure,” offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said Wednesday. “So they were always bringing one more than we could get then we could protect. We saw that and were just taking shots downfield and Josh was making plays.”
South Carolina’s running backs — most notably McDowell — also adjusted. In the win over ECU, the Gamecocks averaged a meager 1.7 yards per touch between the tackles. Outside the tackles, though, USC averaged 6.6 yards per carry to the right side and 5.5 yards per carry to the left, per SEC StatCat.
Riding McDowell through the tail end of Saturday’s win, the minute, but fearless freshman recorded 71 yards on 11 carries — all of which came in the second half. McDowell was also well above the team’s averages, recording a 6.5 yards per touch to the left of tackle and an other-worldly 10.67 yards per carry outside of right tackle.
“I feel — not comfortable because I never want to get complacent — but I’m proud of the position that I’m in, especially being surrounded by the caliber of backs that we have in our running back room,” McDowell said postgame. “So I take it as quite the accomplishment being able to step on the field with those guys.”
On Saturday, South Carolina ought to face another heavy-blitzing, high-pressure scheme from Smart and Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.
Defensive tackle Jordan Davis is a legitimate first round prospect in next year’s NFL draft. Combine Davis with Travon Walker, Jalen Carter and Devonte Wyatt on the defensive line and linebackers Nolan Smith, Adam Anderson, Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker and Georgia currently ranks as the No. 1 defense in America through two weeks.
“They’re a challenge for us at every single position offensively,” Satterfield said. “So, to answer your question, it’s going to be a great challenge.”
The Gamecocks will look to spring a second upset in as many trips to Athens. Against East Carolina, it was McDowell and the second-half run game that allowed South Carolina to escape with a win.
This week, USC should face another loaded box between the hedges at Sanford Stadium. It’ll fall on everyone to find a way to establish an offensive flow.