At halftime of ABC’s broadcast of the South Carolina-Central Florida game, sideline reporter Tom Luginbill recounted an interesting conversation he had during the week with Knights coach George O’Leary.
“We have to leave the skinny (defensive) kids in and rush the passer,” O’Leary told Luginbill, adding, “If those skinny kids stay in and South Carolina runs the ball, those skinny kids will be skid marks.”
Final score: Mike Davis 167, Skinny Kids 0.
Not that the skinny kids didn’t have their moment in the sun. In the first half, Davis, the Gamecocks’ 215-pound sophomore tailback, had five carries for 17 yards and every South Carolina run came out of the shotgun formation.
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The Gamecocks then flip-flopped their game plan after halftime, ditching their traditional zone read run game and moving quarterback Dylan Thompson under center in the I-formation.
After Davis rushed twice for 18 out of the I-formation on the first two plays of the second half, color analyst Brian Griese said, O’Leary “better get the skinny kids out quickly.”
In the final 30 minutes of the game, South Carolina ran the ball 24 times out of the I-formation, averaging 6.95 yards per carry on those plays. All three of Davis’ touchdowns came out of that formation.
Asked by play-by-play announcer Tom Pasch why the game plan wasn’t to run the ball over the Knights in the first half, Griese replied, “That’s not what Steve Spurrier is all about.”
Guards Ronald Patrick and A.J. Cann blocked most of the plays beautifully, with Patrick pulling when the play went to the left and Cann pulling when it went to the right. Fullback Connor McLaurin also made almost every block he was assigned and was given a game ball.
“When (the Knights) started to see that ball get run down their throat, you could slowly see the air coming out of this team,” Luginbill said during the broadcast.
The Gamecocks finished with 225 yards rushing and have had between 220 and 228 team rushing yards in every game this season. Davis had a career-high 167 now leads the SEC with 127 yards per game.
“Mike Davis reminds me of a young Trent Richardson,” Luginbill said. “He’s got that same low, powerful base with that ability to jump cut and then immediately get moving forward.”
Luginbill also believes Davis is better than Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and LSU’s Jeremy Hill, he said during the game.
Other observations from The State’s review of The Tape include:
• Prior to settling into the I-formation, the Gamecocks showed some wrinkles in their zone read, including putting wide receiver Bruce Ellington in motion as an option on an end around and adding a WR screen option that essentially makes the play a version of the triple-option. One play resembled the old Wing-T as Ellington and Davis crossed in front of the quarterback and either could have gotten the ball.
• The linebackers and spurs are hurting South Carolina in pass coverage. Not only did the Knights throw a ton of slant routes through wide open lanes in the middle where linebackers might have made an impact, but also spurs Sharrod Golightly and Jordan Diggs were slow to recognize their pass coverage responsibilities repeatedly.
The recognition was so poor that it might have been the reason UCF called the wide receiver pass that Jimmy Legree intercepted in the third quarter. Diggs had the responsibility for the intended receiver and immediately let him go to chase Jeff Godfrey on the other side of the field. When Legree saw that, he immediately turned and sprinted back toward the receiver and was able to get the interception thanks to a terrible pass by Godfrey.
“I kind of saw the back sneaking out real, real late, and I knew the spur was supposed to take him and he didn’t,” Legree said after the game. “I just had to make up for the spur.”
When the linebackers got more depth, T.J. Holloman made an interception in the middle of the field in the fourth quarter that helped save the win.
The Gamecocks were in a deep zone on both the 73-yard passing touchdown and 79-yard passing play in the fourth quarter, but they executed it poorly both times. On the touchdown, cornerback Victor Hampton, safety Brison Williams and spur Sharrod Golightly all were underneath Rannell Hall when he caught the ball in the middle of the field. On the 79-yard play, Williams had the deep responsibility but moved forward after the receiver moved past Ahmad Christian.
“I have no idea why (Williams) was biting on that route,” Griese said.
• Kelcy Quarles is not making enough impact. He finished the game with one sack and rarely showed up making a play against the Knights, who gave him several chances by running Storm Johnson inside the tackles. Johnson finished with 16 carries for 64 yards. (Of Johnson’s first 51 yards, 43 came after contact, according to ESPN’s broadcast.)
• The good and bad of Victor Hampton. In the second quarter, Hampton made a key interception by making an aggressive play and “jumping” a route. In the fourth quarter, he made the same type of play, guessing on a route and jumping in front of Ranell Hall on the goal line. The problem was, Hampton had a safety ready to cover the route he bit on and Hall made a double move and was wide open in the end zone for a touchdown.
“That’s a selfish move,” Griese said after the touchdown.
• Jadeveon Clowney didn’t have a tackle in the second half.
• Connor Shaw might be healthy today if center Cody Waldrop’s helmet hadn’t come off. On the play Shaw was hurt, he started right and then reversed field when there was no room. Waldrop, who initially was behind the play, lost his helmet while blocking