Will Muschamp must find an effective offensive coordinator. Can he do so?

Will Muschamp
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports

When asked what lesson he learned from his four-year tenure at Florida, Will Muschamp consistently has cited one thing: “We didn’t score enough points.”

He’s also maintained that, had he hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator earlier in his Florida tenure than in his final season, he likely still would have been there. That’s why Roper was hired to serve as OC and quarterback coach when Muschamp got the South Carolina job.

But two seasons in, Muschamp’s thoughts have changed. Roper is out, effective immediately, with co-coordinator Bryan McClendon slated to call plays against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.

Muschamp could have stuck by Roper for a third season in Columbia. South Carolina won eight games, and a contract extension and raise for Muschamp are being worked on. At Florida, he went through three offensive coordinators, three line coaches and four receivers coaches in four years. Wanting to avoid that kind of constant staff churn would be an understandable sentiment.

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Had Muschamp wanted to keep Roper, there were viable excuses that could be used to justify it. Star wide receiver Deebo Samuel, easily the Gamecocks’ most dangerous playmaker, was lost to injury in the third game of the season. Samuel is tied for the team touchdown lead with six despite missing nine full games. Starting tailback Rico Dowdle was injured in the opener against NC State, attempted to play through it with diminished effectiveness, then was lost for the rest of the regular season a few weeks later. At one point of the season, three starting offensive linemen missed multiple games with injuries. Unreliable kicking resulted in some drives that should have produced points coming up empty.

Still, Muschamp made the correct decision that a change was needed. Last season, Roper took over a disastrous situation. There was no established skill talent of consequence at any position. His quarterback options were a senior walk-on or two true freshmen, one of whom wasn’t there for spring football. The offensive line’s performance was subpar as well. Finishing 104th in total offense was understandable under the circumstances.

But 2017 was different. Jake Bentley was locked in as the starting quarterback, virtually all the skill-position production returned and talented freshmen Shi Smith and OrTre Smith were added to the receiving group. Despite all that, South Carolina sits 109th in total offense.

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Seven times this season, the Gamecocks scored zero points in the first quarter. South Carolina has scored 44 offensive points in the first quarter; SEC East champ Georgia had scored more than that in the first quarter five games into the season.

There wasn’t a time where Roper’s unit came out with something unexpected, whether it was new formations, tempo or just spotting a weakness and exploiting it ruthlessly.

Against Clemson, a team with an obvious talent edge on defense, Roper demonstrated zero creativity. There were no misdirections, gadget plays or any sign of recognition that South Carolina was not going to be able to run base plays and score enough to win. The result: another zero-point first quarter, 10 first downs and 207 total yards.

For Gamecocks fans, it was the last straw. Muschamp evidently felt the same.

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