COLUMBIA, S.C. — Will Muschamp held strongly to many beliefs when he walked off the field last Saturday night in Starkville, Miss. First was the clear notion his team was “whipped” on both sides of the ball.
But the South Carolina coach also stood by a belief that only a portion of the game reflected his team.
“The first half wasn’t indicative of who we are,” Muschamp said.
For the second straight week, the Gamecocks failed to score in the first half. So the South Carolina coach set out on a mission to find answers for another sleepy start by the Gamecocks.
“We asked the guys, ‘What was it? Was it something on the trip? Something we ate?’” Muschamp said. “We are going to figure some things out to get out of the gate quicker.”
There were not a lot of answers given, junior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said, leading up to Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET meeting with East Carolina on SEC Network.
Two games into the 2016 season, the Gamecocks (1-1) are the only FBS team that has not scored in the first half. They are one of four without an offensive touchdown, while the other three have all kicked field goals. They have been shut out 34-0 by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State before halftime.
The search for answers to the first-half woes had Muschamp and his staff talking through pregame routines Sunday. They talked about what was being done during the day leading into the two night games USC has played so far, but came to the conclusion the issue lies more on the field.
“We felt like it was more execution, putting our guys in better spots to be successful,” Muschamp said. “And that’s on us as coaches.”
The issues against Vanderbilt came primarily on offense. The Gamecocks hamstrung themselves with penalties, turnovers and three-and-outs before waking up in the second half to erase a 10-0 deficit and win 13-10. But when the same issues carried over into the next week at Mississippi State, a 24-0 hole was too much for the Gamecocks to overcome.
“We all see it, including us,” offensive lineman Zack Bailey said. “That’s our biggest goal right now. When we get out there, it’s time to go. Don’t wait until later.”
The defense, which was strong against Vanderbilt, joined the struggles last Saturday. Missed tackles and poor execution plagued the Gamecocks in a defensive performance Muschamp called “lifeless.”
“We just got out there didn’t perform,” senior linebacker T.J. Holloman said. “The game plan was perfect. We just beat ourselves. We fell out of our gaps and we didn’t do the things we were coached to do.”
The Gamecocks got back to work on tackling with added intensity this week. Allen-Williams said he feels the defense can set the tone and give the offense momentum, while senior Mason Zandi and the offensive line know a lot comes back to winning up front early.
Zandi, who many praised this week as a leader, said the need to start fast has to come from preparation.
“We’ve gotta hit the practice field fast,” he said. “We’ve gotta be in the meeting rooms fast. Coming into the building with enthusiasm and excitement to get things done.”
Whether Muschamp and the Gamecocks found answers and a remedy to the lackluster starts will be seen Saturday. Maybe it will just take being in front of home fans for the first time in 2016.
“We have been going through this too hard to go out and lay an egg like that on the field,” Allen-Williams said. “And to go out and miss so many plays. It was disappointing, but we are ready to move on and get ready for East Carolina.”