South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp may have been brought in to rejuvenate the Gamecock defense, but many fans had high hopes for the offense as well, particularly with the introduction of freshmen Brandon McIlwain and Bryan Edwards. Thus far, the defense has impressed, but the offense has regressed from last season, averaging just 14.2 points per game, down from 21.9 in 2015.
The Gamecocks couldn't get anything going yet again Saturday night, managing just 10 points against a Kentucky team that had allowed at least 42 in each of its first three games. South Carolina avoided turnovers, but the offense found pay dirt just once, and eight of the team's 11 drives ended in punts.
Brandon McIlwain wasn't able to throw the ball consistently against a porous Wildcat secondary, as the early-enrollee completed just 50 percent of his passes for under six yards per attempt. The former four-star recruit was also sacked four times as the offensive line broke down in front of him.
"We're all frustrated," senior left tackle Mason Zandi said. "As an offensive line, we need to give him more time."
The running lanes that David Williams found last week against ECU just weren't there Saturday, as the junior was held under four yards per carry, just like A.J. Turner, who scored South Carolina's only touchdown.
Despite the struggles, the offensive players seem to believe that they're close to putting it all together, and Zandi ensured that his team would put in the work.
"We're going to come to work tomorrow morning, and we're going to prepare harder, we're going to practice harder, we're going to do everything so much harder than we already did," Zandi said.
Sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst echoed the sentiment that the Gamecocks aren't as far away as the score may indicate.
"I know you guys probably don't see it from the outside looking in, but we're putting some consistent drives together," Hurst said. "Building off tonight, I know we didn't put it together in the end, but it's just positive to see that."
Muschamp's lack of trust in the offense may be best represented by his decisions on three separate plays through the game. Three times, the Gamecocks had fourth and short right around midfield, and each time, Muschamp sent Sean Kelly onto the field to punt the ball away. The strategy worked, as South Carolina got the ball back each time, but it took away a potential conversion and scoring drive from the struggling offense.
"We punted the ball and got the ball back with plenty of time to score a touchdown," Muschamp said of the fourth quarter punt on South Carolina's second-to-last drive. "So what we did worked."
The Gamecocks may not have it any easier next week when they take on Texas A&M, who has standout defensive lineman Myles Garrett on its stellar defense, but they will be in the familiar confines of Williams-Brice Stadium, where they scored the most points of any of their games so far this season.