South Carolina Football Offseason Autopsy: Part 1, Grading the offense

South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
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South Carolina Football
South Carolina football running back Mario Anderson during his 75-yard touchdown run against Tennessee this season. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports /

South Carolina Football Offseason Autopsy:
Grading the Running Backs

C-. Mario Anderson and the Carolina running backs had a weird year in 2023. Most of the time, they weren’t given much of a chance to succeed by a struggling offensive line, but other than Anderson, none of the other backs contributed consistently. DK Joyner had some good goal line looks (some from the wildcat quarterback position), and he and Juju McDowell both caught a handful of passes. The unit got much better at blitz pickup as the year progressed, but that was probably the only sure sign of growth this season. An above-average effort from Mario Anderson with the ball in his hands (860 total yards in 9 starts) bumps this grade up a bit.. Offense. South Carolina Gamecocks. RUNNING BACKS

South Carolina football averaged only 85 yards on the ground per game this fall. That is abysmal and was ranked 126th out of 130 teams in the country this season. Four air raid (or pseudo-air raid) teams were the only offenses ranked lower than the Gamecocks in rushing yards per game.

The situation was even bleaker early in the season before Mario Anderson emerged as a legitimate threat. Nothing was working for the Gamecocks behind their struggling offensive line unit, but the running backs weren’t necessarily doing their part, either, though one could argue that wasn’t their fault.

DK Joyner was bulked up and moved to the position out of necessity when his best role was as a hybrid receiver and wildcat quarterback. Juju McDowell is a 170-pound scatback who should be used situationally. Djay Braswell was a true freshman. Even Anderson was a question mark coming into the season after moving up from the Division-II level.

Frankly, the biggest problem with the running back group was the fact that the roster should have never gotten into the position it did with no experienced, every-down running backs on the team. All of the backs (other than maybe Braswell, who could have used a redshirt) could have played a role in the offense if utilized correctly. Instead, Anderson had to be overworked at times, and Joyner, McDowell, and Braswell were put in unfair situations.

Joyner had some good goal line carries, but other than that, Anderson was the only real threat on the ground this season. Joyner, Braswell, and McDowell all averaged less than 2.5 yards per carry. Even when Xavier Legette lined up in the backfield to try to help out when Joyner and McDowell were injured, Carolina couldn’t run the ball.

On the positive end of things, the Gamecock running backs did a pretty good job in the passing game. Outside of some Anderson drops, the unit caught the ball out of the backfield decently well (three backs with over 100 yards receiving) and they all seemed to get better in pass protection.

Mario Anderson logged 860 yards of total offense in nine starts but would have had even more if the coaching staff had played him sooner and/or if the offensive line held up better.

If Anderson decides to make a run at the NFL, the Gamecocks could be in trouble next season at the running back position, no matter how much the offensive line improves.