COLUMBIA — Will Muschamp again said he needed to fix it, giving no hint that the solution he's looking for may not exist.
Of course South Carolina’s football coach was going to say the running game needed major renovations after it mustered a pitiful 21 yards on 27 carries in a 20-15 loss to Appalachian State. He said it after disastrous losses to Missouri and Tennessee, too.
If it couldn’t be repaired then, there’s scarce hope it can be repaired now. But what else could he say, with two games left and a chance to still turn the season around, however unlikely that chance is?
“We need to be more creative in the run game, we need to look at some different personnel groupings, some different formations to get to the same runs that we’ve been very effective with this season,” Muschamp said Sunday night. “Kind of moving forward, that’s what we’ve settled in on the things we’ve got to be able to do because that’s got to be part of what we do at this time.”
In football terms, it was easy to see the failure. The Gamecocks were playing without their second- and third-most productive receivers as Shi Smith (hamstring) and Josh Vann (hand) were out. Then top wideout Bryan Edwards tweaked his knee and stayed out most of the first half.
Chavis Dawkins was the only other receiver who could remotely be called a starter, and he was hurt in the first quarter as well. Quarterback Ryan Hilinski couldn’t just throw to tight end Kyle Markway all the time, and the other receivers dropped seven passes.
The Gamecocks had to run. Appalachian State knew it. The Mountaineers lined up eight defenders near the line and smashed Rico Dowdle, Deshaun Fenwick and Kevin Harris into the chilly turf.
“I think their defensive coordinator did a great job. They obviously loaded the box, I feel like the whole game,” Dowdle said. “They wanted it more than we wanted it. Simple as that.”
With no receivers to help him out and the pass protection non-existent, Hilinski threw the ball 57 times. He’s thrown at least 50 passes in three games this year. All of them were losses.
Muschamp repeated that execution is a result of the coaches not putting players in the right position to succeed. “It’s on us,” he mentioned one more time.
He said the Gamecocks have to run the ball.
He also said there’s no wand to wave or button to push to magically fix the problems with running the ball. Receiver health should help (Edwards and Smith are expected back this week) but it doesn’t cure the illness.
“If it’s blocking the same run game, that’s not as hard. We’ve got to get to it some different ways, create some window dressing and do some different things to create more illusion for the defense,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to be more creative.”
They did that in their upset win over Georgia and in the loss to Florida, working in a simple delay draw for Tavien Feaster. Feaster broke loose for 175 yards against Florida and then 80 against Tennessee.
The play was designed for him and he missed the Appalachian State game with a strained groin. He is questionable for Texas A&M on Saturday, so that’s one more option off the table.
The Gamecocks can limit the penalties, try to roll out Hilinski to avoid pressure, mix in the runners they do have. But are they going to discover and prepare an entirely new scheme in less than a week?
That seems as unlikely as winning their final two games.