Morris: Slice ‘n’ Dice offense carves up opposition

rmorris@thestate.comOctober 14, 2013 

Ron Morris


— This South Carolina offense is nothing like those high-powered attacks Steve Spurrier orchestrated at Florida in the 1990s, but it might be as efficient.

Ten times USC possessed the ball Saturday at Razorback Stadium. Eight times it scored in the Gamecocks 52-7 rout of Arkansas. USC fumbled away another opportunity to score at the Arkansas 12-yard line and was forced to punt once.

Call it the Slice ’n’ Dice offense, for USC has carved up opposing defenses in the first half of the season to the tune of 35 points and 487 yards per game. Those are the kinds of numbers — or greater — Spurrier teams put up when he introduced the Fun ’n’ Gun attack to college football at Florida.

Only the offense’s name was expected to change when Spurrier migrated to USC, but the Cock ’n’ Fire never seemed to discharge consistently enough. Finally, over the past few seasons USC’s attack has morphed into a conglomeration of the downfield passing game, spread attack and read-option.

Now it is clicking.

Opposing defenses never seem to know what is coming next from the USC offense, whether it be the deep ball from quarterback Connor Shaw to Damiere Byrd, which went 45 yards for a third-quarter touchdown or the power running of Mike Davis, who rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown.

Or, it could be Shaw taking off on a scramble out of the pocket, which he did in the third quarter for 10 yards and a touchdown. Or, it could be wide receiver Bruce Ellington freeing himself in the end zone, which he did twice for touchdowns. Or, it could be any one of nine receivers who caught a pass Saturday.

“It feels great,” Davis said of the offense’s ability to move the ball. “Sometimes, you don’t have to just depend on one guy, and the other guys step up and go for a long touchdown. ... Everybody on the team has confidence in each other.”

There is no doubting that the offense’s foundation is a veteran line.

“They battled throughout the day. They’re kind of the unsung heroes,” Shaw said. “We’ve got a lot of experience up front, and we rely on those guys a lot, and they played well.”

Those guys, left to right, include Corey Robinson, A.J. Cann, Clayton Stadnik, Ronald Patrick and Brandon Shell. They stand an average of 6-foot-4 and weigh an average of 315 pounds, but it is not their mass that makes them so valuable. They clear holes for Davis and they protect Shaw, plain and simple.

Davis leads the SEC in rushing and has topped 100 yards in five games this season. Shaw and his backup, Dylan Thompson, have been sacked 10 times in six games.

With those kind of weapons, the offense has produced some eye-popping numbers. Over the past 10 quarters of play, USC has scored on 18 of 24 possessions, not including those when it ran out the clock. The 18 scores included 15 touchdowns and three field goals.

What USC seems to do best is get the ball, then mix runs and passes well enough to play a superb game of keep-away. USC ran 89 plays Saturday to 37 for Arkansas, keeping possession of the ball for an incredible 43:25 of the 60-minute contest.

With scoring drives against Arkansas of 75, 79 and 80 yards, USC has 16 touchdown drives of 75 or more yards this season. USC had scoring drives Saturday that included 13, 11, 12, 15 and 12 plays. As a result, the Gamecocks are averaging 24 first downs per game.

The season statistics do not give a good sense of USC’s balance on offense. The numbers — 262 rushing attempts to 176 passing attempts — are skewed because USC generally has built first-half leads, then attempted to run out the clock by sitting on the ball after halftime.

A better indication of the balance was Saturday’s first half. In building a 24-7 cushion, USC produced 254 yards of offense by running the ball 22 times and throwing it 25 times.

The lead would have been greater had Shaw and Davis handled an exchange better and not lost a fumble deep in Arkansas territory. The fumble served as an example of how the only thing that seems capable of stopping USC’s offense these days is the USC offense.

“I think so,” Shaw said when asked if USC’s offense is hitting on all cylinders. “But I still think we haven’t played our best. I had that careless turnover in the red zone. I still think we can eliminate some mistakes and get better each week.”

That, surely, is a scary thought to upcoming opponents.

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