Having finished a successful second season at South Carolina, Will Muschamp had a choice to make about his team’s future. He fired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper after the regular season to seek more production on that side of the ball. Did that require a complete overhaul, or tweaking of aspects of what the Gamecocks already were doing?
Friday, Muschamp made his choice, opting for a tune-up instead of an engine rebuild. Wide receiver coach Bryan McClendon served as interim OC for the Outback Bowl victory over Michigan, and now takes over the role permanently. Dan Werner, most recently an analyst with Alabama, joins the staff as quarterback coach.
It’s a daring move for Muschamp, whose primary flaw to this point in his head coaching career has been the inability to develop even an average offense in any of his six seasons at Florida and South Carolina. If he hasn’t been able to find the right answer when hiring three different men with track records as play-callers in college and pro football, why would someone with virtually no experience in the role seem any more likely to succeed?
“The command he had with our staff, our players, was outstanding. The leadership ability he has, as a coordinator and future head coach, is obvious to me,” Muschamp said in announcing the move.
McClendon showed something while calling the game against Michigan that Roper hadn’t with any reliability – meaningful adjustments that generated production. After struggling to block the Wolverines on runs inside the tackles, the Gamecocks went to a more perimeter-focused run scheme and changed to slide protections on passes rather than try to win one-on-one battles with Michigan’s superior linemen. The 23 consecutive points South Carolina scored to close the win weren’t solely a result of those adjustments, but they clearly played a part in the improved performance in the second half.
Players praised McClendon after the win for being different in his game-day approach than Roper had been. Tight end Hayden Hurst alluded to “shot plays” that were perceived as possible game-breakers that would be worked on, then not called in game situations for whatever reasons.
The biggest difference in having McClendon calling the plays? “What we said we were going to run in practice, we did,” quarterback Jake Bentley said.
While McClendon will be new to the role of play-caller, the Werner hire gives him a valuable resource with extensive experience. Werner has been OC for Ole Miss twice, as well as Miami. His ability to fill in whatever blanks McClendon might have in game-planning or preparation reduce the risk factor of an inexperienced hire a great deal. He also gives South Carolina a continuity safety net should McClendon attract attention for a possible head-coaching job in the future.
“We will tweak and change what we do based on what our players do best. Bryan’s committed to doing that,” Muschamp said.
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