COLUMBIA — Jake Bentley doesn’t want to see Parker White this year.
Fallout between the two pals and former roommates? Did one cut the line in front of the other when it was steak night? Starting QB pulling rank over starting PK?
Nah. If Bentley doesn’t see White during games, it means South Carolina isn’t depending on him to kick field goals. He can still get a couple every now and then, but nothing too strenuous.
“I love Parker and I have full confidence that he will make it if he has to, but I’d rather us get it in there,” the Gamecocks’ senior quarterback said. “He still gets to kick it, he’s just kicking for one point instead of three.”
The Gamecocks had 57 possessions in the red zone last year. They scored on 43, which isn’t terrible.
But USC wants and needs more after far too many of those possessions inside the 20-yard line featured no threat to run the ball and relied on receiver Deebo Samuel to work his magic. Samuel is gone and USC’s offense certainly appreciates White, but they don’t want to see him jogging onto the field except for PATs.
“I don’t even look at that stat that says red-zone scoring, which means you kick a bunch of field goals,” quarterbacks coach Dan Werner said. “I look at how many times we scored touchdowns, and we weren’t close to where we want to be.”
USC had 32 touchdowns in its 57 trips inside the red zone. The percentage is good but not great. Werner and Will Muschamp say that scoring touchdowns 70 percent of the time would lead the country, so they want their number to be at least 70 percent.
What are they doing to get there?
Establish a running game
Nothing against Rico Dowdle, A.J. Turner, Mon Denson or the departed Ty’Son Williams, but none of them offered a consistent threat to run in a touchdown.
“You just can say execution,” Denson said. “Everybody wasn’t on the same page. That’s probably the main issue.”
Offensive line coach Eric Wolford didn’t want to share any details regarding what USC will do differently this season, but he agreed the Gamecocks need to run the ball better. To that point, USC has added former Clemson running back Tavien Feaster, one of the top transfers in the country.
Protect the ball
There were a few times last year the Gamecocks were in the red zone and ran out the clock instead of trying to score.
There were far too many times outside of those that they reached the red zone and got no points.
"We spend a lot of time in the red zone, regardless of how we've done,” Muschamp said. “It's something that is one of our core five items in playing to win, is playing well in the red zone and understanding that we've got to get points 100 percent of the time, and 70 percent of the time we need to score touchdowns.”
There were eight turnovers in the red zone last season. Interceptions and fumbles are never good but there are levels of bad, and USC’s were the worst.
“We've got to take better care of the ball. We're 6-0 when we won the turnover margin last year and 1-6 when we didn't,” Muschamp said. “It's the most important stat there is.”
The Gamecocks have harped on it, worked on it, lived by it through offseason drills and two weeks of preseason camp. Muschamp, Werner and the players say it’s going well, but all added the caveat that nothing counts until Aug. 31 when USC plays North Carolina in Charlotte, the site of the Gamecocks' last game — a 28-0 loss to Virginia in the Belk Bowl.
So the Gamecocks are immediately under the microscope. And the test doesn’t end for the entire fall — USC began last season scoring touchdowns in its first five red-zone appearances.
Nobody remembers the beginning.