COLUMBIA, S.C. – Continuity is key to quality offensive line play.
According to South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, the offensive line and secondary need to be the “most closely tied units” on any football team, not just this one.
“Generally, if there’s a mistake, the other band is playing and that’s not good,” he said. “You’ve got to be in communication and understanding leverage and shades and how different people play you. That communication is critical.”
Since inserting Malik Young at right tackle against Texas A&M, South Carolina’s starting offensive line has gone unchanged: left tackle Mason Zandi, left guard Zack Bailey, center Alan Knott and right guard Cory Helms.
Three games, that’s one heck of a streak, considering the Gamecocks had four different offensive line groups to start the season.
“I think our ability to have our starting five start three games, that’s huge,” Zandi said. “We always talk about cohesion up front. Zack and I have great communication. Sometimes, we don’t have to speak to one another – a tap on the hip and he knows exactly what I’m talking about. If you can do that, that’s huge.
“That’s what’s happening with Cory and Malik now and, of course, Alan is the general of it all. I think the cohesion up front and having the set five has helped us.”
On Saturday nights, they’ll face a Tennessee defense that is 11th among SEC teams, giving up an average of 215.3 yards per game. South Carolina, the worst run offense in the league, is fresh off a season-high 194 yards rushing against Massachusetts.
Rico Dowdle ran 16 times for 87 yards against the Minutemen. David Williams had 15 carries for 69 yards and 2 touchdowns. Toss in A.J. Turner, who leads the team with 300 yards, and the Gamecocks have an intriguing trio of running backs.
“If you’ve got (three) backs that are playing well,” Zandi said, “Most teams focus on having one back playing well, but if you’ve got two backs playing well and hitting their stride – I think Dave had two touchdowns on Saturday, that’s huge for him. That’s huge.
“With (Williams and Dowdle) playing well, I think it’s a high probability that we’ll be productive up front.”
For the running backs, it also helps to have a quarterback who’s capable of finding receivers that can get open in the downfield passing game, which hasn’t always been the case this season.
“I really think it opens the run game a ton,” Turner said. “Taking shots downfield and us completing passes, it really opens up the run game. David Williams had a great game versus UMass on Saturday, Rico did, too. I think that’s part of Jake (Bentley) taking shots downfield and us just making plays.”
More plays could be available on the ground when the Vols blow into town.
“If the line comes out and everybody does what they’re supposed to do, I think we can have a great game,” Williams said.