Against Missouri, South Carolina’s offense and Kurt Roper got a little weird.
The true success of the Gamecocks will likely be set by players and base plays that are heavily repped and well executed, but that doesn’t mean a little extra can’t spice things up.
Two of the most glaring curveballs the Gamecocks ran out were looks with three tight ends or two running backs, something USC didn’t do last season and something that really isn’t built into the fabric of most current offenses.
USC went three-tight at least four times. The first looked like a simple inside zone run trying to get away from the Gamecocks goal line, and the wide blocking surface created enough of a seam for a 6-yard Rico Dowdle run. Early in the third quarter, South Carolina went back to it on third and short, but went against type and called a rollout pass (Jake Bentley saw space and then just scrambled for the conversion).
The Gamecocks later used the look to create a wide hole to convert a third and short, and on the goal line in the fourth quarter, Hayden Hurst came out of that formation to run for a touchdown on a sweep.
Roper followed one of those three-tight looks by sending out seldom-used tailback Mon Denson. The role he was in for: lead blocker.
USC has gotten a lot of mileage from running receiver Deebo Samuel on jet sweeps, and the staff tried to use it with tailback A.J. Turner. He lined up just behind one tackle or out wide and broke runs (that were listed as passes) for 9 and 6 yards, powering through a tackler both times (South Carolina also tipped the play to a degree with a little-used receiver on the field).
“What a fantastic run he made on their sideline,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said.
Those quirky plays won’t be the difference every game, but it’s notable to see USC’s offense grow and change as pieces settle into place.
Big plays from Missouri
South Carolina’s defense prides itself on making opponents snap it again over and over. Going into the Missouri game, controlling those big plays was at a premium.
The success was mixed.
The Gamecocks allowed four passes of 20 yards or longer and four runs of 15 yards or longer. The common theme was the Mizzou defense stretching out USC’s defense (Muschamp said 15-yard passes will happen) and missed tackles, but it’s worth looking at a few of them.
61-yard TD pass: This is a pop pass Mizzou likes, one that forces the defense to commit with run blocking and then hits a tight end in the seam when a defender vacates. The Gamecocks got caught in a corner blitz, pulling the boundary safety out.
Muschamp said someone didn’t carry the vertical route, which usually describes linebacker coverage. T.J. Brunson jumped up into the play.
38-yard sideline pass: Muschamp said Jamarcus King had “an eye control issue.” King seems to lose a step and allows separation. After that, it’s a good pass to the sideline and very good catch.
27-yard pass over the middle: Brunson steps up to get into the rush. D.J. Smith is behind the tight end on an in-breaking route and can’t get hands on him, leading to more run after catch.
25-yard run: The Gamecocks slide a linebacker to the edge and a safety a little closer. The safety follows the TE across the formation, reducing the back end help when the back breaks through.
20-yard run: Seven USC players start dropping back on the draw play, as the tackles start pass blocking to draw the ends outside. The three interior linemen block the defensive tackle and linebacker in the middle. One missed tackle in space and surge add 10 yards.
After not getting a carry in his first game at USC, Ty’Son Williams had a team-high 79 yards. The biggest highlight was the 32-yard run in the fourth that probably should have been a 33-yard touchdown, and it’s a play built on great vision.
The call is a counter run to the left, with Samuel running a jet sweep to pull defenders toward the sideline. That had all but one or two defenders flowing to the play side.
Williams went into the designated hole, but suddenly bounced back and then up decisively. He’d gone about 18 yards before veering out again, moving around his blocker and away from a pair of trailing defenders.
BONUS: For the love of inside zone
Inside zone is not a play that impresses most fans.
In the most basic terms, it’s not too much to look at. Linemen step to the play side, form double teams, move defensive linemen and slide down to the next level. There’s a whole lot of tricks, intricacies and add-ons, but at it’s heart, it’s about pushing folks around.
At times, it’s called predictable and lamented when it doesn’t work. In truth, if you can’t run inside zone, a low-downside, moderately high-upside run, it’s more about how things are being done and who’s doing it than any call.
“The inside zone is a base run for us,” Muschamp said. “That’s something our guys believe in. We get the double teams. That’s a run that wears on a defense as the game goes. And that’s something we feel very comfortable running. When you’ve got Ty’Son and Rico, that’s their most comfortable run.”