A few minutes after Steve Spurrier took his quarterbacks to task for a poor performance in Saturday’s scrimmage, a South Carolina sports information official read the stats from the closed session.
The Gamecocks’ quarterbacks combined to complete 25 of 42 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Good numbers — but not good enough for Spurrier.
A couple of days after praising freshman Connor Shaw’s showing this preseason, Spurrier said all of the quarterbacks were “equally ineffective” Saturday and suggested his team could be in for another mediocre season if the quarterbacks don’t improve.
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“They all should play better. And, hopefully, we can get ’em there. Hopefully, they understand that’s not good enough,” Spurrier said. “We might beat some of those down-the-line teams. But we’re not going to beat very good teams unless our quarterback play’s solid. It doesn’t have to be super. It just has to be solid.”
Spurrier’s main gripe was quarterbacks holding the ball too long, an Achilles’ heel last season when Stephen Garcia was sacked 37 times.
That holding pattern did not result in sacks Saturday, but threw off the offense’s timing and allowed defenders to knock down several passes.
“Our guys just won’t throw the ball on time. They just wait,” Spurrier said. “So we’ll work on it, and work on it and work on it, like we’ve been doing, and hopefully they’ll get the ball out of their hands a little quicker.”
Garcia, who took the first snaps Saturday after Shaw had the honors in Thursday’s scrimmage, was 7-of-14 passing for 76 yards and a touchdown, a 10-yarder to tight end Weslye Saunders.
Shaw, who enrolled in January after graduating from high school early, was 13-of-20 for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Shaw had a 4-yard scoring strike to tight end Justice Cunningham and a 13-yarder to Lamar Scruggs.
The Gamecocks emphasized the passing game Saturday, with the backs totaling 33 yards on 16 carries. And though the passing numbers looked good on paper, freshman receiver Ace Sanders said it was not a stellar day for the offense.
“We were moving a little slow. We made a couple of bad plays here and there, but that’s what practice is for, to fix this stuff that we did wrong,” Sanders said. “All in all, I’d say it was a pretty average day for us.”
Assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said his unit corrected a lot of mental errors after missing 57 assignments in about 80 plays Thursday.
“I haven’t seen a real physical practice this year. But I hope that’ll come when we turn the lights on,” Johnson said. “But it was much improved over the other day from a standpoint of game operations, kids getting lined up, not busting checks.”
As the clock clicks down on the Gamecocks’ Sept. 2 opener against Southern Miss, Spurrier hopes for a similar breakthrough from his quarterbacks, none of whom was available to the media following the scrimmage.
The sixth-year USC coach said he is not ready to name a starter. At this point, Spurrier would like one of them to demonstrate he’s studying the playbook after leaving the stadium each evening.
“I don’t know what they think about all night. We encourage them to keep drawing up the ball plays and they’ll know where everybody is, and I don’t think we’re doing it,” he said. “We’ve got to reinforce them trying to learn the plays. I mean, they don’t know where X is, they don’t know where this guy is — Z’s over here. It’s a challenge for me and (quarterback) coach (G.A.) Mangus. But he’s working hard with ’em, so hopefully we get ’em smarter.”