Musical chairs?

With South Carolina struggling to get into any kind of rhythm last Thursday against Vanderbilt, offensive line coach Shawn Elliott was forced to make some changes on the line. The changes helped guide Carolina to a late game-winning drive in a 17-13 win over the Commodores. Will the changes stick this week?

When your offense rushes for 205 yards and just two sacks with your back-up quarterback in the game against a conference foe you would normally be proud of your offensive line. That is unless you have Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore in the backfield. Shaw and Lattimore constantly bailed out an offensive line that had a very sub-par performance.

Carolina threw just 15 passes against Vanderbilt last Thursday night, but head coach Steve Spurrier said they called just as many more pass plays that turned into Connor Shaw runs. Some were because Shaw tucked the ball and took off too early, but most were due to pressure from the Commodore defense.

"Yall saw the game, you know where we messed up at," center T.J. Johnson said Wednesday. "That's stuff that we keep inside; it's not something we're going to share with everybody. There's a lot of room for improvement, let's just say that."

Johnson's frustration was shared by defensive line coach Shawn Elliott, but he blames some of the problem on youth, particularly in the case of redshirt freshman Brandon Shell.

"You've got to understand that you're going to go through some growing pains with guys that haven't stepped on the field before," Elliott said. "I think that's what happened the other night, but I can assure you they're going to step out there and they're going to bust their butt in practice every day and they're going to go out there this Saturday and be better than they were last (Thursday)."

According to Elliott, Shell looked like a fourth-year veteran on the field and at other times looked like a kid playing in his first collegiate game. Elliott, who has never been one to hold his tongue, was very blunt about why Shell left late in the game and was replaced by Cody Gibson. It wasn't the ankle that has given Shell problems during fall camp and it wasn't the humidity after the downpour early in the game.

"He came out of the game because he needed to come out of the game the other night," Elliott said bluntly. "That was a decision Coach (Spurrier) and I made so we pulled him."

After back-up quarterback Dylan Thompson ran for a nine-yard gain early in the third quarter to set up a second-and-one, Vanderbilt defense end Walker May blew around Shell like he wasn't moving and hammered Thompson from behind. That was all Elliott had to see.

"He gave up a sack there in the third quarter and I wasn't pleased about it," Elliott said. "I said ‘man, I could go in there and do that' so we gave somebody else another chance."

That somebody turned out to be Gibson, who battled Mike Matulis for the starting job at tackle all four, a continuation of a battle that raged all of last season when Kyle Nunn went down to injury. Matulis won the battle and Gibson was relegated to the bench. When Shell was struggling, Elliott brought Gibson in for Matulis and moved Matulis over to the spot occupied by Shell protecting Shaw's blindside the remainder of the game.

It was Matulis and Gibson that were protecting the outside when Carolina went on its game-winning scoring series.

"I made the statement earlier that I expected big things from Cody Gibson," Elliott said. "When he stepped in there he had an opportunity to go play and win an SEC ball game. I thought he did exceptionally well."

Though Shell is still listed as the starter at left tackle heading into the ECU game, Elliott would not comment on whether Shell will start or if he goes with the combination of Matulis and Gibson.

"You'll know when they step out there," Elliott said.

Though the outside struggled at times keeping the Vanderbilt ends from rushing upfield, Elliott was pleased with the performance of his interior players, guards A.J. Cann and Ronald Patrick, and Johnson at center.

"I think they did pretty well," Elliott said. "A.J. played a really strong game along with T.J. Ronald at times was cramping there in the fourth and gave up a little pressure. They all could get better and we expect them to get better. We all have to get better as a group."

With Vandy in the rearview mirror, the focus lies squarely on the East Carolina defensive line. The Pirates visit Columbia Saturday after a 35-13 win in their season opener against FCS opponent Appalachian State.

"They're kind of an odd-front team," Elliott said. "They run a lot of schemes, a lot of blitz schemes, a lot of movement. You have to be sound on your assignments with these guys."

The base defense for ECU is the 3-4, something that is not traditionally run by many schools. Georgia is really the only other school on the schedule that runs the 3-4 as a base defense. For Johnson it presents a challenge that the more traditional 4-3 defense does not present him.

"The biggest challenge is that I've got a guy right on top of me," Johnson said. "That's the obvious challenge. As soon as I snap the ball I have to handle that guy."

The 3-4 look is really more of an advantage for South Carolina than a disadvantage. The last two years Lattimore has had a field day against Georgia running the zone-read, a play that has become South Carolina's bread-and-butter play.

"When I came here everybody said you probably couldn't run it," Elliott said. "It was something they were already doing and we could make it a little bit better and I think we've done that. I think we can do it a lot better and we still have work to do."

Regardless of who starts where on Saturday, the key is improvement. The old cliché says that teams will make their biggest week-to-week improvement between the first and second game of the season.

"That's what the coaches have been saying all week so we're going to see where we're at in week two," Johnson said.

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