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October 12, 2012

Morris: Shaw’s skills pressure D

COACHES TALK about it all the time, the one-man advantage defenses have over offenses. With a quarterback who does not run the ball, the defense matches its 11 players against the offense of 10.

COACHES TALK about it all the time, the one-man advantage defenses have over offenses. With a quarterback who does not run the ball, the defense matches its 11 players against the offense of 10.

That is, unless your quarterback can carry the ball like Connor Shaw, who serves as a second running back in the South Carolina backfield.

“Usually, those other defensive coaches like quarterbacks (who) don’t run,” Steve Spurrier says. “That’s one less guy you’ve got to account for. It certainly helps our offense — (Shaw’s) ability to run.”

And how.

In recent years, Vince Young of Texas and Cam Newton of Auburn have led their teams to national championships by eliminating a defense’s one-man advantage. Now comes Shaw, whose ability to dodge defenders and gain yardage with his feet has caused much consternation around the SEC.

“He brings a dual-threat to the table,” says Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter. “He is an acclaimed passer, and I think he keeps his eyes downfield as all good passers do.

“But it is his escape-ability and ability to continue plays with his legs — both on design and/or on the ad lib or on the scramble — that makes him a very dangerous dual-threat player.”

Now that USC has gone to a run-based offense, Marcus Lattimore continues to be its focal point. He ranks sixth in the SEC with 92 yards rushing per game, primarily as a between-the-tackles ball carrier who makes hay by turning losses and 1-yard gains into 5- and 6-yard bursts.

Then there is Shaw. USC calls for Shaw to run the ball in three different manners, and he has become adept at each. Out of the read-option attack, Shaw can pull the ball out of the belly of Lattimore and keep it himself. Shaw seems to find the secondary best when running the quarterback draw. Then, he manages to gain chunks of yardage when scrambling out of the pocket.

His first-quarter performance against Georgia was textbook dual-threat quarterbacking. In addition to completing 5-of-7 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the quarter, Shaw ran four times for 45 yards.

It is worth examining the runs because it gives you an idea of what defenses are dealing with in Shaw. On USC’s first possession, USC faced a second-and-9 at the Georgia 29 when Shaw dropped back to pass, then escaped the pocket to run for 9 yards and a first down.

On USC’s next possession, USC faced a third-and-6 at its 35 when Shaw again scrambled and gained 8 yards.

Then on USC’s third possession, USC had a second-and-6 at its 19 when Shaw ran a quarterback draw for 15 yards. Finally, on the next play — a first-and-10 at the 34 — Shaw kept the ball on the read option for 13 yards.

All totaled, Shaw ran one time out of the read option, once on a quarterback draw and twice on scrambles. All four runs resulted in first downs. The totality was enough of a mix to keep the Georgia defense wondering what was coming next from Shaw.

What makes Shaw’s running accomplishments extraordinary is that he is running all of this out of a Spurrier-led offense. For most of his coaching career, Spurrier directed a drop-back passing attack that seldom called for the quarterback to run with the ball.

Since sacks count against a quarterback’s running totals in college, Spurrier’s quarterbacks rarely finished a game or a season with positive yards rushing. Of his 12 squads at Florida, only the 1992 club managed positive yards, and that was 21 on 97 carries.

Spurrier instituted the same drop-back passing scheme in his first three seasons at USC with the exception of 2006 when Syvelle Newton took over at quarterback for seven games. USC changed its attack to allow Newton to run the ball.

Then Stephen Garcia arrived, and he proved to be a tough runner, sometimes too much so. Spurrier occasionally criticized Garcia for quickly tucking and running with the ball instead of throwing it.

When Shaw supplanted Garcia a season ago and the read option became an integral part of USC’s offense, Spurrier adapted to the idea of a quarterback as a runner.

“There’s certainly always a place for running and ball control,” Spurrier says. “Right now, our style’s been pretty good the last two years with a running quarterback and not throwing over 20, 25 times a game as a way of doing things.”

Shaw has positioned himself to be one of the top runners in USC history. He needs 29 yards against LSU on Saturday to become the 40th USC player to reach 1,000 career yards rushing.

Shaw is likely to reach that milestone. Perhaps more importantly, Shaw’s ability to run the ball Saturday will eliminate LSU’s one-man advantage on defense.

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