Home Sports TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Gamecocks forced to adjust offense after losing three tight ends

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Gamecocks forced to adjust offense after losing three tight ends

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Gamecocks forced to adjust offense after losing three tight ends

Both teams playing in Friday’s TspanxSlspanyer Gspantor Bowl (TIAA Bank Field, 3:30 p.m., ESPN) have had to scramble to develop contingency plans to replace tight ends who either opted out to begin preparing for the NFL Draft or entered the transfer portal. 

No. 21 Notre Dame (8-4) lost perhaps the nation’s best at the position when leading receiver Michspanel Mspanyer announced he would not play in the bowl game. 

But the offensive coaching staff for No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) is having to replace three tight ends and coach Shane Beamer said on Monday after the team’s first bowl practice at Ponte Vedra High School that it’s a challenge for an offense that has frequently utilized two tight-end sets and used tight ends in the running game.

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Gone to the portal are starter Jspanheim Bell of Lake City (who eventually signed with Florida State) and Austin Stogner, who transferred to South Carolina from Oklahoma with quarterback Spencer Rattler, but decided to return to the Sooners. 

Bell was third on the team in receiving with 25 receptions for 231 yards and two touchdowns but was also second in rushing with 275 yards and three touchdowns. Stogner caught 20 passes for 210 yards and one score. 

As if that wasn’t enough, junior Traevon Kenion announced he was leaving football for personal reasons. That left graduate senior Nate Adkins, a transfer from East Tennessee State, as the only tight end on the roster who has caught a pass from scrimmage this season. 

Adkins caught eight passes for 90 yards. He had 33 receptions for 357 yards in 2021 when he was second-team All-SoCon at ETSU, so he’s had experience being targeted, and delivering the mail. 

But Beamer said it’s unrealistic to think the team can run its standard two-tight formations or put a heavy burden on Adkins. 

Gamecocks will ‘get creative’ 

“There’s four tight ends who played in the Clemson game and three of them aren’t here right now,” Beamer said on Monday at Ponte Vedra High School after the Gamecocks held their first bowl practice of the week. “To say we’re going to be able to do two tight end sets is very irresponsible … and to think we’re going to be able to play Nate Adkins every single play of the game.” 

Beamer said the team’s bowl preparation in Columbia, S.C., included using players at other positions in pass patterns normally used by tight ends and admitted that the offensive staff — which lost coordinator Marcus Satterfield to Nebraska — will have to “get creative.” 

“It limits what you can do, if anything, out of two tight sets because we don’t have a second tight end,” he said. “So that changes things. Then again, everything that we installed and put in offensively we try to do conceptually, where multiple guys can do multiple things. You may see the same plays but with different people doing it.” 

South Carolina running back Juju McDowell stretches with his teammates at Ponte Vedra High School on Dec. 26 before the Gamecocks conducted their first practice of TaxSlayer Gator Bowl week.

One example might be found by digging deep into the box score of the Gamecocks’ 38-27 victory at Vanderbilt on Nov. 5. The key play in South Carolina’s final touchdown drive was a 16-yard pass from punter Kai Kroeger to 6-foot-5, 295-pounder junior defensive tackle Tonka Hemingway on a fake field goal. Hemingway lined up as a tight wing on the right side. 

Earlier in the season, Hemingway ran for a two-point conversion after South Carolina’s first touchdown against South Carolina State. 

Irish TEs lack experience 

While Notre Dame lost a consensus All-American at tight end, Beamer is operating under the assumption that whoever replaces Mayer will be solid. The only player on the depth chart for the Irish entering the Gator Bowl who has caught a pass this season is freshman Holden Staes, who has one reception for 11 yards. Staes was the No. 7 tight end nationally coming out of high school by espn.com and Mitchell Evans, a sophomore, was ranked 12th at that position in the nation. 

“I’d say they’re all good,” Beamer said. “Every single year it seems like Notre Dame’s got a big NFL prototype tight end and obviously [Mayer] was a real productive guy and a weapon in their passing game. That’s certainly a big loss for them. But they’ve got capable tight ends for sure. We don’t have bodies right now. They’ve got the bodies at tight end. They just don’t have the experience that maybe the other guy did.” 

Gamecocks found a way last year 

Beamer pointed out that his staff has adapted in bowl games before. 

Last year in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against North Carolina — after the Gamecocks became the first team since Utah State in 2014 to win games with four starting quarterbacks — Dakereon Joyner started at quarterback after playing wide receiver all season. He completed 9 of 9 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown to earn game MVP honors in a 38-21 victory, and fifth-year senior Zeb Noland was 3 of 6 for 82 yards and another score. 

The first two running backs on the depth chart, ZaQuandre White and MarShawn Lloyd, were injured and couldn’t play against the Tar Heels. Kevin Harris came off the bench to gain 182 yards and score once, and Juju McDowell (who will start against Notre Dame) added another score. 

“We were in a bind at last year’s bowl game,” he said. “We didn’t have a couple of running backs and didn’t have a couple of quarterbacks, some guys out with COVID … all kinds of stuff last year. So, find a way.” 

However, tight end won’t be the only position the Gamecocks will be lacking for depth. Wide receiver Josh Vann (18 receptions, 296 yards, three TDs) won’t play because of a knee injury he sustained against Clemson and Jalen Brooks (33 for 504 yards, one score) is “doubtful,” according to Beamer, because of some unspecified off-field issues. 

The Gamecocks’ leading receiver is junior Antwane Wells (63 receptions for 898 yards and six TDs).  

Howard back in uniform 

Jackson High School graduate Grayson Howard was back on a football field 44 days after the Tigers’ season ended in the playoffs with a loss to Riverside. 

Howard, a four-star linebacker, signed with South Carolina last week and since he’s enrolling in January, he was able to participate in bowl practice — but can’t play against Notre Dame. 

He didn’t seem to care. He was out there with his new teammates, wearing No. 27 and looking very much at home. 

“He’s out here,” Beamer said. “We gave him the option and he’s a football player, man. He just wanted to come out here and practice.”  

Play-calling by committee? 

Loggains won’t be calling plays in the bowl game and Beamer said he’s not saying who will. 

He’ll only go as far as to say it will be “a group effort.” 

“The staff is putting the game plan together,” he said. “The play caling part is a little overrated in the sense that you’ve decided on a lot of what you’re doing during the week and during the prep. Obviously you’ve got to have a feel for calling plays on game day … but we’ve got good coaches on offense and good players. It’s up to us to put together a good plan.” 


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