COLUMBIA, S.C. — Mason Zandi vowed there would be no “oh me’s” after South Carolina lost to Kentucky on Saturday. It was one of the many strong sentiments expressed by the senior leader, who talked about manning up, taking a loss like a man and fixing offensive issues.
But his final response really told the story after South Carolina scored only 10 points against a Kentucky defense that had allowed 43.7 points per game before Saturday.
“Give credit to those guys, obviously, they won,” Zandi said. “But I don’t think they were as good as they showed out there (Saturday).”
That leaves one other option to explain the outcome.
South Carolina’s offense ranks second-to-last in points per game (14.3) and is tied for the fewest touchdowns after four games (6) in the FBS. Florida International, the lone school with fewer points per game, fired coach Ron Turner on Sunday.
The offensive woes were highlighted in the 17-10 loss to Kentucky, which had given up at least 500 yards of offense to its first three opponents. The Gamecocks had just 268, struggling particularly to run the ball against a highly suspect UK run defense.
Freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain was 15-of-30 passing for 177 yards, with 13 carries for 11 yards in his second start. The fact that McIlwain is a freshman was glaringly apparent many times, such as when he skipped a pass off the turf to open the game, but South Carolina’s issues extend beyond the quarterback position.
Injuries to wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Randrecous Davis hamper an already-thin position. The offensive line is down a pair of starters and has been inconsistent at best.
“It’s not always going to be very pretty for us right now,” Muschamp said in his Sunday teleconference. “I said that at the beginning of the season. There are a lot of things happening right now that we tried to foreshadow going into the year.”
South Carolina had just 42 yards after four drives Saturday. It was the third slow start this season, harkening back to games at Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. The fifth drive had signs of life and an encouraging sign as USC overcame a first-and-20 with a long run after the catch by tight end Hayden Hurst on the second-down play.
“To be completely honest, I know you guys probably don’t see it from the outside looking in, but we were putting some consistent drives together tonight,” Hurst said. “Building off of that. I know we didn’t get it done tonight in the end. It’s just positive to see that.
“We are putting stuff together, and it doesn’t look as crazy.”
South Carolina’s coaches spent time Sunday looking over ways to improve with the current personnel with Texas A&M coming to town Saturday (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network). They also looked at possible personnel changes to jump-start an offense that ranks in the bottom 5 nationally in total offense and rushing offense.
Zandi said it was hard to put a finger on what makes the South Carolina offense go on some drives, while it stalls on most. Hurst pointed to experience being the missing piece. Both sounded optimistic and determined at points. So did Muschamp, who believes a lot of progress has been made on offense.
“It’s hard in the passing game to get any continuity with guys missing time,” Muschamp said. “It’s frustrating, especially with a freshman quarterback. It’s different if you’ve had a guy who has played for three years back there.
“But that’s where we are. We have to figure out a way to make it work. That’s what we have to do as coaches — give our guys a better opportunity to be successful.”
Much of the necessary improvement will have to come on the field from an execution standpoint. “Really lacked execution” was one of the first things Muschamp said postgame Saturday.
“We are right there,” Zandi said. “I think our run game is right there. I think we can pass pretty well. We are right on the edge. It’s a matter of taking that step.”
That step, Zandi said, had to start with coming to work Sunday morning.
“We are going to prepare harder,” Zandi said. “We are going to do everything so much harder than we did. That’s the only way I can really explain it. We don’t have time to hang our heads. Nothing like that. Come in (Sunday) and work.”