Offensive Line Will Determine Gamecocks' Fate
For all the strengths and weaknesses of the 2013 South Carolina Gamecocks, there is no bigger question mark than the offensive line.
If the front five proves to be a strength, then the Gamecocks are a legitimate threat to win the SEC and earn an opportunity to play for a national championship. If the quality of South Carolina’s blocking is hit or miss, then the Gamecocks’ win-loss record will likely be too blemished to contend for any sort of title.
Unfortunately, recent history suggests that the offensive line will once again be marked by inconsistent play. Last season, South Carolina gave up 38 sacks. That’s nearly three sacks for every game played.
A porous offensive line puts pressure on the offensive backfield.
South Carolina’s quarterbacks were on the receiving end of all those sacks. Conner Shaw’s inclination to run combined with that lack of pass protection meant that the Gamecock quarterback took a lot of hits. Dylan Thompson isn’t so inclined to run out of the pocket, but his lack of mobility means that he’s a sitting duck for defenders that the blockers can’t contain.
The running game also suffered due to the offensive line struggles. When healthy, Marcus Lattimore was skilled enough to cope with less than perfect blocking. With Lattimore gone, the burden of trying to balance the offense with a ground attack falls to sophomore Mike Davis.
Davis is a fine rusher, but he doesn’t yet look like the kind of running back who can create something from nothing. If the offensive line can’t open lanes for him to run through, Davis might not have enough experience and athleticism to get positive yards from suboptimal blocking. Difficulties in the running game would put greater pressure on the quarterbacks.
When both the passing and running game are put behind the eight-ball by insufficient blocking, even a South Carolina defense that boasts the country’s best player isn’t enough to win against top opponents.
The Gamecocks return four starters on the offensive line. That’s good in the sense that they have experience, but bad given that they’re the same guys who were so inconsistent last season. Another hiccup might come from the fact that the one new face is at the center position.
Cody Waldrop is a promising player, but the freshman center will be thrown into the fire so to speak. If he suffers from a learning curve, a matchup against Georgia in the second week of the season could cause serious problems.
As of right now, it’s hard to know how the offensive line will shake out. It could be inconsistent once again. However, it could just as easily prove to be a stout unit if the upperclassmen have improved and Waldrop adjust quickly.
Whichever of those two scenarios plays out will determine the success of failure of South Carolina’s season.