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Spurrier, Gamecocks' Offense More Conservative In 2013

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Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

As spring practice starts to gain steam, South Carolina is getting a good look at the team’s strengths and weaknesses. In attempting to expand upon those strengths and account for the weaknesses, the Gamecocks could establish themselves as a serious SEC title game contender.

To take the SEC East, however, will be no easy task. But after back-to-back 11-win seasons, South Carolina certainly has a shot if the team addresses those causes for concern and builds upon what they do best.

So what are those areas of strength and weakness?

Steve Spurrier has a long-established and well-deserved reputation as an excellent developer of college quarterbacks. Oddly, though, quarterback Connor Shaw is not the typical Spurrier protégé.

Shaw’s greatest strength is his ability to run the ball. Unlike the usual Spurrier quarterbacks of the past who were pocket passers, Shaw is emblematic of football’s new breed of play callers.

As a dual threat under center, Shaw offers South Carolina an offense that’s more about ball control than a high octane passing attack. The senior makes good decisions behind the line of scrimmage. When passes aren’t there, Shaw tucks the ball and picks up positive yardage rather than risk a tough throw.

Beyond that, designed runs for the quarterback keep defenses guessing and reliably get the Gamecocks forward progress. Better still, that running option allows for clock management. South Carolina can control the ball and keep opposing offenses off the field. While the Gamecock defense stays fresh on the sideline, an opponent’s defense can be worn down by runs and short passes that slowly march the South Carolina offense downfield.

Again, when you think of a prototypical Steve Spurrier offense, secondaries quiver. With Shaw, however, Spurrier has developed a more refined and controlled offense. The creativity in play designs is still present, but the offense moves at a much more deliberate pace.

The benefit is an ability to control the clock, limit turnovers and manage field position. With a defense as sound as South Carolina’s, an offense that wears down opponents only adds to the Gamecocks’ ability to control a game.

However, South Carolina could really use a playmaker. The Gamecocks lack a player with the ability to bust the sort of big play that can lead to a quick score and put pressure on an opponent.

Marcus Lattimore always had the potential to be South Carolina’s star offensive player, and when he was healthy he could certainly break big runs. Unfortunately, injuries limited his impact and he’s now headed for the NFL. So South Carolina must look elsewhere for that player.

Mike Davis did a good job filling in for the injured Lattimore. With Kenny Miles graduated, it will be Davis who stands in as the primary ball-carrier for the Gamecocks. While he stepped up as a freshman, Davis likely projects as reliable workhorse rather than a running back with big play potential. That isn’t to say he can’t bust a big run, but Davis’ skills are more in line with a reliable between the tackles runner than a speedster looking to break a big gain by getting around the edge.

Incoming freshman David Williams is a highly touted recruit who can offer another option at running back. However, he too is more of an all-around back than a big play type player.

Ace Sanders might have been an option in terms of a playmaker. But he, like Lattimore, opted for early entry into the NFL draft. As a result, wide receiver is a position of great uncertainty for South Carolina.

Bruce Ellington, the dual-sport star, emerges as the Gamecocks’ most explosive passing target. While no one can doubt the athleticism of the combination basketball and football player, he has yet to establish himself as a top SEC-caliber receiver. For all his potential, Ellington will need to have sure hands and improve upon his route running to provide the Gamecocks with a legitimate downfield threat.

Again, South Carolina won’t have the stereotypical Steve Spurrier offense. Instead, the Gamecocks will trade breaking big plays for being able to consistently grab small chunks of yardage. While that type of offense is good for ball control, in order to put up points on the stout defenses of the SEC, South Carolina will need a playmaker to emerge on offense. If that sort of big play threat develops, then the Gamecocks will be a true threat to take the SEC title. If it doesn’t, then a lot of hard-fought, close, low-scoring coin-flip games are in store for the Gamecocks.