Gamecocks offensive line has potential to succeed in 2022

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Kickoff is just around the corner for second-year head coach Shane Beamer and the South Carolina Gamecocks, as the state flagship institution will commence their No. 115 season on September 3rd, 2022 at Williams-Brice Stadium at 7:00 p.m. in Columbia against competitive underdog Georgia State in just 67 days.

The clock is ticking…

The Panthers finished 8-5 last season under Shawn Elliott during his No. 5 season at the helm in the capital city of the Peach State, and the Sun Belt program in only their eleventh season of existence should present a healthy challenge for the Gamecocks for their season opener.

One group of players that will certainly need to be prepared for trench warfare both against the Atlanta-based program and their other 11 opponents is South Carolina’s offensive line.

While the Gamecocks return plenty of experience at the position, vast improvements will need to be made for South Carolina to have hope of improving on their seven-game win total from last fall.

Room For Improvement

South Carolina finished near the bottom of the NCAA in several pertinent statistical categories in 2021 under offensive line coach Greg Adkins, including tackles for loss allowed and sacks allowed, two measures that directly reflect the performance of the offensive line.

South Carolina finished No. 99 in the NCAA and No. 12 in the Southeastern Conference for tackles for loss allowed, giving up 6.46 per game.

Meanwhile, South Carolina finished No. 79 in sacks allowed per game, allowing 2.38 per contest and 31 overall opponent sacks. Other SEC teams feasted for 223 total negative yards for the Gamecocks.

However, fans may be surprised about who ranked below South Carolina in this category, especially in the midst of a premature winning season of a Gamecocks program that was in complete rebuild mode under first-year head coach Shane Beamer in Fall 2021.

Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU, Alabama, and Tennessee each finished worse than the Gamecocks.

While not all penalties are attributed to offensive line units, it seems like South Carolina and several other college football teams are frequently being called for false starts and other game-management-related penalties on the offensive side of the ball.

The Gamecocks didn’t finish so badly in this category, especially considering, again, that South Carolina was in complete rebuild mode. The Gamecocks were No. 62 in the NCAA for fewest penalties, and they drew fewer per game, totaling No. 59, drawing 5.85 per contest. That’s a figure that finished No. 7 in the SEC.

Meanwhile, the total yardage of those called penalties paints a completely different picture. South Carolina finished No. 43 in the nation with 45.9 penalty yards per game, with only three conference rivals finishing better than the Gamecocks in the category.

A Deeper Look

With an FCS transfer portal prospect and graduate assistant sharing snaps at quarterback in the form of Jason Brown and Zeb Noland, South Carolina wasn’t expected to finish near the top of the conference or nation in passing, and the Gamecocks only mustered 201.2 yards per contest, good for No. 95 in the nation.

Fans may be surprised to hear the overall finish of South Carolina’s rushing attack, though, which included the likes of Kevin Harris, ZaQuandre White, Juju McDowell, and Marshawn Lloyd.

The Gamecocks were No. 93 in the nation in rushing yards, with only Vanderbilt, LSU, and Mississippi State behind South Carolina in the SEC in terms of “running the rock.”

What does this all mean, especially heading into 2022?

South Carolina’s unit didn’t completely click in 2021, but the Gamecocks got the job done, finishing 7-6, drubbing rival North Carolina 38-21 in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on December 30th, with Shane Beamer winning (ironically) the Steve Spurrier First-Year Head Coach of the Year Award and besting expectations from all national media, including CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, who pinned the Gamecocks for two wins last season. Nice one, Dennis…

Beamer heavily roasted the CBS personality following South Carolina’s bowl win.

The blocking wasn’t the best to start things out. Struggles were to be expected against top defenses against Georgia and Kentucky, especially with a hobbled Luke Doty playing at quarterback for the Gamecocks. The four-star recruit was hardly so-so and beat out by a graduate assistant and a player with zero offers, but he was battling an injury throughout the season.

East Carolina was a nice notch on the belt, and South Carolina did enough to win that one. And everyone wants to complain about Vanderbilt, but a win is a win, is a win. Tennessee, on the other hand, was perhaps the worst performance of the season.

Some may point to Texas A&M, but let’s look back on that game. The Gamecocks’ 44-14 loss provided brim to firestone for the program, winning three of their last five games against Auburn, Florida, and North Carolina. You or I couldn’t have dreamed of a better South Carolina finish in 2021.

Statistics are statistics, but this unit fell nicely into place in the 2021 finale, and if the Gamecocks could’ve gotten past Missouri on the road on November 13th, we’d be looking at a (gasp) 8-5 finish in Beamer’s first year.

And just as Shane Beamer said, South Carolina was basically running the same play time and time again in those three shining victories over the Gators, Tigers, and Tar Heels, the Gamecocks utilizing up-the-middle, smashmouth football with a three-headed attack of their favorite backs in the rotation.

The Gamecocks were supposed to be overpowered by schools that media and fans across the United States thought would easily vanquish South Carolina, but Shane Beamer didn’t seem to give that much thought.

Fitting Into The Larger Puzzle

It’s a team effort, but a huge part of that was the big boys on the offensive line that paved the way for the Gamecocks. Watching South Carolina’s efforts against Florida, Auburn, and North Carolina was a treat for Gamecocks’ fans that were starved of a bowl berth for two consecutive seasons before the arrival of the hall of famer’s son from Norman, Oklahoma.

Now, a cool-minded and in-tune coach in Greg Adkins that has been popular with Gamecocks’ prospects on recent official visits will have a chance to lead a highly experienced group as they enter the gulag of the Southeastern Conference.

Seven student-athletes who started at least six games last fall return, including center Eric Douglas and guard Jovaughn Gwyn. Then, Tyshawn Wannamaker, Jaylen Nichols, Jakai Moore, Jazston Turnetine, and Dylan Wonnum give the Gamecocks plenty of options to mix it up at the tackles.

The group wasn’t completely reliable in 2021, but you’ve got to remember that South Carolina was leaving a trainwreck known as the Will Muschamp era and establishing new schemes and gameplans.

Not only that, but limited options at quarterback certainly didn’t help. I commend Zeb Noland and Jason Brown’s tireless efforts at the position, but these two simply don’t offer the talent of Spencer Rattler, who will provide more mobility, spin, and throwing strength, at the position.

You simply can’t ignore a rising junior that has posted 4,595 yards and 40 touchdowns at a school the caliber of the Oklahoma Sooners that’s also fleet on the feet and complete throws on the fly. While he’s by no means perfect, he’s perhaps the highest-regarded signal-caller to ever be recruited to the Gamecocks.

Not only that, but there’s the return of Josh Vann and Juju McDowell and a myriad of transfer portal phenoms to choose from, like Wake Forest-leading rusher Christian Beal-Smith, top five Sun Belt wide receiver Corey Rucker, FCS All-American Antwane Wells, IMG Academy product Lovasea Carroll at running back from Georgia, and Rattler’s teammate Austin Stogner from Oklahoma.

You simply can’t compare this season’s roster to last, and the Gamecocks still made the most of their opportunities then. I’m not expecting a national championship, but let me pose you this question: when has South Carolina ever had a quarterback prospect the caliber of Spencer Rattler and this much talent on offense?

I’m predicting an 8-4 season, as my last year, 5-7 mark was just off the dot. Beamer will pull two upsets that nobody saw coming, but with this caliber talent, could South Carolina be the sleeper no one was expecting?

This quite possibly isn’t the most talented Gamecocks’ team, and it’s only Beamer’s second season, but it’s going to be a hot second before South Carolina returns this much experience in the trenches or quarterback, as many members of the veteran-filled offensive line unit will be off to the National Football League and other professional career fields following this fall in Columbia.



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