COLUMBIA — Coach Will Muschamp realizes it was Alabama.
Former safety Will Muschamp doesn’t care.
“We were really poor in the secondary,” he said after South Carolina's 47-23 loss to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday. “We’ve got to go back and really look at some things we need to do.
“They’ve got some good players, but I think we do, too. We certainly didn’t play that way.”
Alabama has one of the best quarterbacks in the country and a fleet of some of the best wide receivers. The Tide was expected to feast on a talented but young Gamecocks secondary, as it is expected to do on nearly every other secondary in the country.
Yet Muschamp, a former safety at Georgia, won’t accept that excuse. The Gamecocks were drilled to limit the Alabama's receivers in space, finish tackles and break up completions.
They didn’t, to the tune of 495 passing yards.
“You stare at the quarterback, you’re going to watch him complete passes. And we had guys doing that,” Muschamp said. “There wasn’t anything vertical that hurt us down the field, it was all intermediate throws, RPO slants and just getting guys down in space.”
It wasn't just Alabama. USC's secondary had the same problems in a season-opening loss to North Carolina. The Gamecocks can't afford to do the same against Missouri and Kentucky over the next two weeks.
Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant is third in the SEC in passing yardage. Kentucky had to retool its offense when starting QB Terry Wilson wrecked his knee, going with dropback passer Sawyer Smith.
The Gamecocks are ranked 13th among the 14 SEC teams in pass defense and have given up 132 more yards through the air than the next-lowest team.
Either the secondary gets shored up quickly or the Gamecocks are staring at a 1-4 record going into an Oct. 12 matchup at Georgia.
Examining the key issues in South Carolina's game against Alabama, and new ones that arose.
“I think we’ve played with good effort,” safety J.T. Ibe said. “We need to improve on our discipline and our focus on technique and alignment.”
Muschamp mentioned perhaps shifting some personnel. Junior Jamyest Williams is a natural at nickel, but with the emergence of freshman Jammie Robinson and sophomore R.J. Roderick, he’s started at safety the last two games.
Williams plays hard and is a tremendous athlete, but he also stands 5-foot-8. Quarterbacks see him as a target in the Gamecocks’ back end.
“We’ll look at doing the best we can with what we’ve got,” Muschamp said. “That’s just kind of where we are. We need to get a little more confidence back there.”
He said the same thing last year and came into this year with a new plan. Jaycee Horn would stick at corner (he has), with Israel Mukuamu on the other side (he’s started the last two at corner after beginning the year at safety). Robinson has ceded to Roderick at nickel the last two games, with Ibe playing safety with Williams.
As a group, it’s supposed to be the unit with the most upside among the entire team.
It needs to live up to it before the season’s lost.
Hilinski earns SEC honor
USC quarterback Ryan Hilinski was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday.
Hilinski was 36-of-57 for 324 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama in just his second career start. The 57 pass attempts were the second-most in school history, while the 36 completions were third.
Hilinski and Todd Ellis are the only two freshmen in program history to throw for at least 300 yards against an SEC opponent.
USC-Kentucky at night
The Gamecocks' game hosting Kentucky on Sept. 28 will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network.