IF THERE WAS one thing to glean from the South Carolina and Clemson season-opening football games, it was the stark contrasts between the offenses.
One was a well-oiled machine. The other a sputtering clunker. One was as balanced as a tight-rope walker. The other more like the overweight kid who bogs down one end of the teeter-totter. One was exciting to the point of being electrifying. The other was dull, dreadfully dull.
Clemsons offense produced 28 first downs and 528 yards in a thrilling, 26-19 victory against Auburn. USCs offense produced 17 first downs and 272 yards in a 17-13 bore-fest victory against Vanderbilt.
What is most surprising about the startling differences in the two attacks is that Clemsons was under the direction of an offensive coordinator (Chad Morris) with 16 years of high school experience and two at the college level, and USCs was orchestrated by a head coach (Steve Spurrier) who rightfully earned a reputation over the years as one of the masterminds of offensive football.
What also is mystifying about the two performances is that both teams entered their respective games with similar strengths and weaknesses.
In Connor Shaw, USC has a junior quarterback with nine starts entering the season. In Tajh Boyd, Clemson has a junior quarterback with 14 starts.
USC has a Heisman Trophy candidate in junior running back Marcus Lattimore, who returns from knee surgery with more than 2,000 career yards rushing and 27 touchdowns. Clemson has an outstanding running back in redshirt junior Andre Ellington, whose career numbers include 2,300 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.
Both teams also played season openers without their star receiver from a season ago. Alshon Jeffery matriculated from USC to the NFL as a second-round pick. Sammy Watkins, the reigning ACC offensive rookie of the year, was suspended for Clemsons opening two games.
Amazingly enough, both teams also rolled out offensive lines with similar experience, or lack thereof. USCs two starters with significant experience included center T.J. Johnson (40 starts) and A.J. Cann (13). Clemsons two starters with significant experience included Dalton Freeman (36) and Brandon Thomas (10).
Yet with all the similarities, the two offenses looked nothing alike.
Clemson rattled off an eye-opening 87 plays by never huddling, rushing to the line of scrimmage and snapping the ball with precision. Boyd looked as if he could make all the throws and his 24-of-34 passing performance would have been much better had his receivers not dropped five passes.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins stepped in and played like Watkins with a school-record 13 receptions that totaled 119 yards. Andre Ellington provided balance to the attack with 231 yards rushing.
Auburn often looked befuddled trying to figure whether Clemson was going to run or pass on any given play. Clemson counted 18 plays of 10 or more yards with a long of 68. By comparison, USC managed 10 plays of 10 or more yards with a long of 29.
Mind you, both these offenses played against quality SEC defenses. Yet Clemson had seven drives that took nine or more plays, and USC had three. Clemson had five drives that covered 66 or more yards, and USC had two.
A USC insider told me prior to the game that USCs passing game looked as sharp during the preseason as any of Spurriers teams here. That sharpness never made it to the opening game as USC completed 7-of-15 passes for 62 yards, the lowest totals in Spurriers college coaching career.
Of those seven completions, three went to receivers. Lattimore, who netted 110 yards rushing, also was USCs leading receiver with three catches for 21 yards. It was difficult to discern whether USC is without quality receivers, Shaw could not make the throws or a combination thereof.
Shaw had a gutsy performance that produced 92 yards rushing, but you have to wonder if the one-two running combination of Lattimore and Shaw has taken balance out of the offense. At least a season ago, USC had the threat of a jump-ball toss to Jeffery.
You could rightfully argue that one game does not make a season, and things could change dramatically in weeks to come. You also could argue that it does not matter what the offenses do because games are won with defense. USC has one of the nations top defenses and will win many games because of it. Clemsons defense remains a work in progress.
But these opening games were hardly anomalies. USC has passed for fewer than 100 yards three times in its past seven games. The Gamecocks offense struggled a season ago in wins against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Florida and Nebraska, as well as in losses to Auburn and Arkansas.
USC managed 400 or more yards of offense in four games a season ago, including games against Navy and The Citadel. By contrast, Clemsons offense produced 400 or more yards in 10 games and had 399 in another.
Yes, the openers represented only one game for each team. But in that one game, Clemsons offense looked as if it could be improved over a season ago. USCs offense looked like more of the same.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)