COLUMBIA — It’s a team game, so it’s a team win, team loss, team accomplishment or team failure.
Nobody wants to single out a specific problem or individual, so they say the same thing.
“I’m just going to leave it as we need to run the ball better,” South Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford said.
Any time a football team doesn’t consistently move the ball on the ground, it’s either the running backs or the offensive line. That guy didn’t hit the hole quick enough, or the hole wasn’t big enough.
The Gamecocks didn’t consistently move the ball on the ground last year. They haven’t done it well the past three years.
If it’s a running back’s responsibility to reward his offensive linemen by taking them out to eat or give them postseason gifts, USC’s backs might pop for a sack of peanuts and the linemen might refuse to accept, since they didn’t earn it.
It’s group effort and group fault. No sense discussing injuries or personnel shifts because everything has to be better.
Whether the problem was the backs, the blocking or the scheme, left tackle Sadarius Hutcherson had the best answer.
“We’re going to be better this year.”
The Gamecocks are blessed with returning experience along the offensive front, although most of it is switching positions. Only right tackle Dylan Wonnum returns at his 2018 spot.
Hutcherson switched to left tackle from right guard while Donell Stanley heads to left guard after spending last season at center. Redshirt freshman center Hank Manos is a “returning starter” in the most basic sense, as his only start last year was at center in the Belk Bowl, and redshirt sophomore Eric Douglas appears to be the best option at right guard.
The position changes shouldn’t matter due to Wolford’s method of cross-training his players, which has served USC well in past seasons. It’s a trick he learned from two years with the San Francisco 49ers; on an NFL Sunday, a team will probably only dress seven linemen.
“Five start, so you got two guys that can play a lot of spots,” Wolford said. “You always make sure you have your best player on the field and you don’t have a weak link somewhere.”
All of USC’s linemen can play all other spots, which takes care of the depth. And the Gamecocks will have nine to 10 dressed linemen every game, just in case.
But what about the running backs? They’re as culpable as the others.
Again, blame is on everyone.
“Last year, we had 56 opportunities in the red zone and 13 times, we walked away with no points, eight of them being on turnovers, five on downs,” coach Will Muschamp said with clear exasperation.
Traditional red-zone offense, particularly within the 5-yard line, screams to get behind a stacked line and smash-mouth the rock into the end zone. The Gamecocks tried doing that an awful lot.
It didn’t work an awful lot. The word was out that the Gamecocks had no real threat of running it in, leaving several of their touchdowns to nifty catches from Deebo Samuel or some other kind of magic.
The non-production from the running game was reason enough to want to get better. Not having Samuel this year only adds to the urgency.
All backs, linemen and coaches have embraced that without harping on how bad it was in 2018.
“At the end of the day, we need to win more football games. We felt like there were some games there that we should have just played better,” Wolford said. “Secondly, we obviously want to continue to focus on being able to run the ball better, specifically in those SEC games. I feel like we’ve made some progress there and I like where we’ve headed.”