The offensive line for tenth-ranked South Carolina has been highly scrutinized all season, as they have every season in the Spurrier era. Despite sporting the SEC's second-best running team and in the top half of the league in sacks given up, the offensive line has come under some pressure, mainly their ability to pass block long enough for quarterback Connor Shaw to find receivers downfield.
"At times they're pitiful and at times they're decent," offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. "It's all relative to what down and distance it is, play-action, or things of that nature. We've got to improve on that to be a better passing team."
It's no coincidence that the struggles began when the Gamecocks lost senior tackle Kyle Nunn to a back injury. Due to a blood clot in his leg a few weeks after the back injury, Nunn has been shut down for the season. When Nunn went down, the offensive line had to play some musical chairs. Rokevious Watkins was forced to move to the other tackle position to replace Nunn, and redshirt freshman Cody Gibson took over for Watkins on the right side.4
"When Kyle got hurt, you take a guy that's played right tackle all year and you move him to left tackle, and you bring Cody Gibson in to play right tackle who has not had a lot of reps with it," Elliott said.
To add on to the loss of Nunn, Watkins was injured during the Navy game and was held out of practice all week prior to the Auburn game. That injury really messed things up prior to what would eventually be the only loss of the season to this point.
"The week that it happened Rokevious gets a concussion so he doesn't practice all week," Elliott said. "So T.J. Johnson lined up at left guard, A.J. Cann at left tackle, and T.J. Ford playing center so we were in kind of disarray at that point. We're coming around, everybody is getting more familiar with what they're doing now and we're starting to pick things up a little bit better."
Watkins, since moving from the right side to the left side, has had some struggles but is coming along nicely. Elliott used the illustration of someone that is right-handed writing with their left hand. They can do it, but it's not always pretty and it takes some time to adjust.
"It takes some practice," Elliott said. "He's done a pretty good job at it. Of course he could do a better job of it. I think the more reps he gets at it the better he will become. We're just trying to go through that process right now. We hope he's going to be more successful this Saturday."
Meanwhile, Gibson went from redshirt freshman in 2010 to being thrust into action when SEC play really began to heat up. The learning curve was all but gone at that point and things were pretty difficult from the beginning.
"Sure it is, for a redshirt freshman," Elliott said. "Same thing with A.J. Cann early on. When you get put inside early on you get hit a little more. Cody is on the edge and third and ten and the defensive end is three feet away from you and he says I'm fixing to come around you. He just has to get valuable reps, he's got to be confident in what he's doing, and it will come around. He's playing better. He's not playing great by any stretch but he'll get better."
It was Gibson who very well could have made the play of the season at this point in the season. With the Gamecocks clinging to a 7-3 lead over Tennessee, Shaw was picked off by Prentiss Waggner, who seemed primed to take it back to the house and give the Vols the lead and all the momentum. All he had to do was beat Shaw, but a hustling Watkins from one side forced Waggner to cut left where he was drilled by Gibson at the two yard line. Two plays later D.J. Swearinger picked off a Justin Worley pass to set up a 20-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that sealed the win for the Gamecocks.
"A guy doesn't quit in this day and age when a lot of guys turn around and says this is going for about a 60-yard touchdown," Elliott said with pride. "I was just so proud of him for just hustling down there and getting him. To tell you the truth, if you look at both tackles on that play, Rokevious is the one that turns him back into Cody. Rok is busting his tail coming from the left side and Cody is doing the exact same thing, and then they meet down there at the two yard line. I tell you, I was thrilled to death after that interception occurred."
Offensive line continues to progress
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