COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina is going through some “spring cleaning” in the middle of December.
At least, that’s how senior Mason Zandi described the way the Gamecocks have opened bowl practices, spending the first four practices focused on themselves and player development.
“You go through the season and you get banged up, some guys may have not performed like you would them to, some guys performed better than you would like them to,” Zandi said. “You look back and you reorganize things and maybe a little bit of restructure and you get the wheels turning for the next season.”
In other words, South Carolina spent the first half of December going through what coach Will Muschamp called “quality control work” for his staff before moving on to game planning for South Florida and the Dec. 29 Birmingham Bowl. The Gamecocks coaches spent time in self-study with the regular season in the past and players going through finals.
When the Gamecocks hit the practice field Thursday, they hit and they hit some more. Many players said it felt a lot like the start of fall camp and offensive lineman Zack Bailey said “we are just beating each other up, which is a good thing.”
“My expectation with coach Boom is always expect the unexpected,” tight end K.C. Crosby said. “You really expect the physicality, you expect the tough practices, but he is still going to take care of you. We expected these practices.”
The focus was on what Muschamp said was “the most glaring issue” from the coaches’ quality control study: USC’s ability to run the ball consistently and stop the run on defense.
Crosby said the discussion centers on becoming a more physical team on both sides of the ball, a theme dating back to preseason camp. Offensively, the Gamecocks talked about the desire to run the ball even when their opponent knows it is coming.
“Same concepts, just being more physical and making people do what you want to do,” Crosby said. “If we want to run the same play four times in a row and get yards, we should be able to because that’s how physical we want to be.”
Muschamp rattled off South Carolina’s run schemes from inside zone to power to counter last week, noting what the Gamecocks run is widely used in college football. It boils down, he said, to the need for improvement and better execution to up the level of play in the run game, which ranked No. 106 in the nation in rushing yards per game.
Bailey said there might be some slight changes made in blocking schemes, while junior offensive lineman Cory Helms indicated part of the improvement process comes down to being assignment-sound.
The other part remains physicality, Helms said.
“I think if we can do that,” he said, “there will be a lot of improvements.”
Running back David Williams said Muschamp is having one-on-one meetings with every player to discuss what they need to work on and do better moving into season as part of the self-study process.
But on the field, the Gamecocks are finding out the clear result of what coaches saw on film after spending a few practices focusing on building toward the future before getting USF prep started.
“I think we have been physical, but I think (Muschamp) sees we can more,” Williams said. “That’s our main objective this week.”