Discussion: Look at the chart of starts above. This was the most stable offensive line in recent memory. Coach Shawn Elliott liked to keep his best players on the field and didn’t use playing time as a carrot to push his players. Based on that and the rushing numbers the team put up, many fans and commentators have said that the offensive line has had a breakout season. Those observers are wrong.
To be sure this line has played better than many before it, but to think all of the problems have been solved is a mistake. The achilles heel of Spurrier’s offenses at South Carolina has been poor offensive line play. Several of the Spurrier teams could have had bigger seasons with better line play. More linemen and better linemen have been recruited and a third offensive line coach is now guiding the unit. It seems that Coach Elliott is making progress, but there is much more to do.
Marcus Lattimore had a huge season. His rushing numbers are the kinds of things that make offensive lines look good, and that is what many people are focusing on when they talk about line improvement. The truth of the matter is that Marcus often dodged or broke tackles in the backfield. Brian Maddox and Kenny Miles, two running backs who don’t quite have Lattimore’s ability to break tackles in the backfield, were significantly less productive with the same offensive line.
The Gamecocks rushing offense finished 8th in the conference, which was a big improvement from 12th of the last few years. They were 60th in the nation. That’s improvement, but that’s not good. The Gamecocks also finished 77th in the country and 9th in the conference in sacks allowed. Even as Stephen Garcia became more adept at getting rid of the ball quickly and on time, the line continued to surrender 2.15 sacks per game.
Grade: C. Before you think that this grade is too low, keep in mind that the last couple of years this unit would have gotten a D- or an F. They have improved, and they are competent, but they are not the road clearing type of line that can take over a game. If they improve as much from this year to next as they have from last year to this one, they may grow into that type of line. Until that happens they look like a B+ line because they have an A+ running back, but they are, in reality, a steadily improving C line.
Glancing Ahead: As many as four players who started this year could be back for next year’s line. Add to that a good recruiting class that was mostly redshirted, and next year looks good. Shawn Elliott’s continued presence should also lead to improved line play. Expect this unit to get a B or better rating this time next year.