USC pursuing polished offensive line play

file/mct The Gamecocks’ offensive line, coached by Shawn Elliott, has allowed 13 sacks this season, second most in the Southeastern Conference.

COLUMBIA — After South Carolina’s Sept. 15 win over Alabama-Birmingham, offensive line coach Shawn Elliott was furious about his unit’s play, calling it “pitiful.” He liked how the line responded to his challenges in the next week’s win over Missouri.

But the group is far from a polished product. One of the more frustrating parts of the Missouri game and last week’s win at Kentucky for coach Steve Spurrier was the Gamecocks’ inability to punch the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line.

Against Missouri, USC had third and goal from the 1, and quarterback Connor Shaw was stuffed on back-to-back runs. The same thing happened at Kentucky — third and goal at the 1, two Shaw runs and zero points to show for it.

That said, Missouri had just one sack, though Kentucky got three. The Gamecocks have allowed 13 sacks this season, second most in the Southeastern Conference. They ran 39 times for 144 yards against Missouri and 48 times for 200 yards against Kentucky. Their 4.3 yards per carry ranks 10th in the SEC and their 171 yards per game ranks ninth.

“We’re not dominating as we hope we can,” Spurrier said. “The line played OK, though (at Kentucky) at times we had some decent holes, but at times, well, you guys can watch it. If we push those guys backward, it makes the running lanes pretty easy, but when they’re pushing us backward, it’s a little more difficult. But it’s difficult for a lot of offensive lines to dominate the other teams, it seems like nowadays.

“We’re still not as good as we should be, as far as assignments, guys going the wrong ways. So hopefully we can get our assignments a lot better. These guys are big, strong guys. They should be able to play very well. We haven’t hit our peak yet in the offensive line.”

This week, USC faces Georgia, which ranks ninth in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game (147.8). USC should get right tackle Mike Matulis back for this game. He missed the Kentucky game because of a shoulder sprain. Brandon Shell (Goose Creek) started in his place.

“I still don’t feel like as an offensive line that we’ve played great in a game yet,” said center T.J. Johnson. “We played decent against Missouri.”

Georgia ranks No. 10 in the SEC in yards allowed per game (370). While the Bulldogs are seventh in points allowed (22 per game), they surrendered 44 in last week’s win over Tennessee, though one touchdown came on an interception return. The Volunteers gained 478 yards and lost a 51-44 shootout.

Georgia had all its defensive starters last week for the first time, as free safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree returned from four-game suspensions. The Bulldogs also have outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who could be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft. So the Gamecocks aren’t taking Georgia’s defense lightly, despite its less-than-impressive stats.

“I don’t ever look at stats,” Johnson said. “I think from watching Georgia’s defense on film, I think they look very good.”

Spurrier said he thinks Georgia’s defensive struggles stem from its fast-scoring offense.

“You score fast, then your defense has to play a lot more than what we do,” he said.

Georgia ranks No. 78 nationally with a 29:05 average time of possession per game, which means its defense is on the field for an average of 30:55. Those numbers for USC: 29:35 and 30:25. But Tennessee did possess the ball for 33:01. If you go by total snaps, Georgia’s defense has played the second most of the SEC teams who have played five games, and its offense has played the third-fewest snaps among those teams.

Senior defensive tackle Byron Jerideau is starting for the first time this season, and he seems to be looking forward to absorbing the atmosphere Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium for the meeting of sixth-ranked USC and fifth-ranked Georgia. Of every game in USC history, only the trip to Miami in 1987 had a lower combined ranking between the two teams (10).

“Some people say it’s one of the biggest games in Williams-Brice history,” said Jerideau, who is from Green Pond. “We’re excited. Some people don’t want to let it get to them, but me personally, I’m excited. Williams-Brice is going to be rocking.”