The Gamecock football team’s performance in its season-opening loss to North Carolina left the team and fans disappointed, with many quickly placing the blame on the offensive line.
Head coach Shane Beamer jumped to the defense of his players Tuesday during his weekly media availability where he told critics to get their “shots in now” because the unit would get better.
“They're the easy targets to get,” Beamer said. “When they start playing their (butt) off as this year goes throughout the season, make sure you're giving them credit, too.”
The criticism came after the line allowed nine sacks to a UNC team that one season ago recorded just 17 all year.
The line also struggled to establish its run game. The Gamecocks failed to get anything going on the ground, rushing for -2 yards in the game on 31 attempts.
“I don't think anyone's more disappointed or embarrassed than the 20 guys in the room,” graduate offensive lineman Nick Gargiulo said. “We pride ourselves on competing and being a focal point for the team, and that obviously didn't happen on Saturday.”
Gargiulo said that part of the reason why the line struggled on Saturday was because the team failed to play up to its level.
“We weren't good with technique,” Gargiulo said. “We weren't good with fundamentals. We weren't good with things we prepared for, and it was on display.”
However, it was only week one, and Beamer and Gargiulo said the line will get better as the season progresses.
“One week happened,” Gargiulo said. “The season's three months long, and we're going to do everything we can to correct it and come back as a better unit on Saturday.”
Redshirt junior offensive lineman Vershon Lee said the team spent much of Tuesday’s practice working together on fixing what the team saw on film.
“(The loss) motivates you a lot,” Lee said. “It makes you want to look at film, check everything, figure out stuff that you definitely need to work on that you probably didn't see before, and just going to practice and work on different things.”
The line is still working on finalizing things personnel wise, which can be another contributing factor to early season struggles, Beamer said. Injuries and roster departures have changed the unit across the depth chart.
Eric Douglas, Jovaughn Gwyn and Darius Rush left for the NFL, and throughout spring and fall practices, injuries have affected the group. The team was not spared Saturday, as redshirt freshman offensive lineman and starter Cason Henry went down with an injury in the loss.
“We lost three starters off last year's offensive line. So we've got a lot of new faces, and it's five guys that have to come together,” Beamer said. “It just doesn't happen like that, particularly when you have injuries like we've had.”
Lee said the linemen need to stay together after a tough game like Saturday’s to improve as a group.
“It's just going over the whole room in general,” Lee said. “Staying close as a unit, not, after a bad performance, separating, but just continuously growing together with your brothers and getting stronger.”
The line will get a chance for some redemption this week when the team welcomes Furman to Williams-Brice Stadium for the home opener.
The Gamecocks are not taking Furman lightly, Beamer said. The Paladins are the sixth ranked FCS team in the coaches' poll and finished last season with 31 sacks.
“We have to be a lot better against a really, really good Furman team,” Beamer said. “Now, if you actually study the game of football and know what you're talking about and watch football, you know (that) this is a hell of a football team coming in here this weekend.”
Beamer, Lee and Gargiulo all said to be successful against Furman, the offensive line would have to play better fundamentally all around.
“I'd like to play more cohesive as a unit,” Gargiulo said. "I would like to protect the quarterback, to be frank, and I'd just like to see continued growth from the room.”