PUTTING A FINGER on what ails the South Carolina offense is akin to attempting to understand how the country’s economy has collapsed. Any number of reasons come to mind.
For the sake of argument, let’s limit the number of factors involved in USC’s offensive foibles to four and examine each:
Steve Spurrier’s offense has lost its effectiveness;
USC is operating with a quarterback who has difficulty making decisions on the fly;
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The Gamecocks line is incapable of providing a surge from the line of scrimmage;
The offense is sorely lacking in big playmakers.
Before arriving at USC, never has Spurrier’s offense suffered through a prolonged lack of production. None of his 15 teams at Duke and Florida was as anemic as his four at USC. If this season’s averages hold up, Spurrier will have had his four lowest career scoring outputs at USC, his four lowest passing totals and four of his five lowest outputs in total yards.
None of that seems to bother Spurrier, who is adamant that he has not lost confidence in the offense and its schemes. Despite the trend nationwide to operate out of the spread offense with a dual-threat quarterback, Spurrier has stuck to the offense that revolutionized the game at Florida in the early ‘90s.
“We feel like we have a good plan every week,” Spurrier said Monday. “We’re just not getting it quite executed for a variety of reasons. It’s capable. It’s very capable.”
To his credit, Spurrier has added a few wrinkles to the offense, such as the short dish-off pass to the running back that was used several times against Wofford. Also, should Stephen Garcia get the start this week against Alabama-Birmingham, the offense could take on a different look.
“We’re still always looking for new plays,” Spurrier said. “If Stephen Garcia starts playing, he’s a lot better runner than our other quarterbacks. You might see a little bit different scheme stuff there. But, we’re OK in attempting to do what is best for our team.”
The problem with playing Garcia is no one — not even Spurrier — can expect him to make sound decisions until he gains experience. Garcia, a redshirt freshman, missed the spring game and has three plays of experience this season against Georgia.
Chris Smelley is playing in his third season under Spurrier and his inability to make good decisions has tested the patience of the Head Ball Coach.
USC settled for field goals against Wofford three times, and on two of those occasions, better decision-making by Smelley could have resulted in touchdowns. On one play, Smelley did not spot tight end Weslye Saunders open in the back of the end zone. Another time, Smelley threw to the wrong receiver.
“That’s ifs and buts,” Spurrier said. “That’s bad coaching on my part that I can’t get Chris to hit the open guy or to throw to the guy we should have. ... That’s poor coaching that I can’t get him to see him. That’s what I get upset about. I don’t get upset if we have a (bad) play on, and he’s got nowhere to throw it.”
Not all of the offense’s problems fall on Smelley’s shoulders. USC’s line play was solid against Georgia but otherwise has been inept. USC’s quarterbacks have been sacked 13 times in four games to rank last in the SEC.
USC twice faced first-and-goal against Wofford and twice settled for field goals. Needing 4 yards on one series, USC managed two yards on three consecutive running plays.
Unfortunately, USC does not have the kind of offensive line that fires off the ball and pushes any defensive line around, even Wofford’s. If you want to see an offensive line that shoves the defense off the ball, watch Alabama or Georgia. USC’s is geared toward pass blocking and protecting the quarterback, which has not worked either.
Of course, even with big holes provided by the line, USC does not have a big-time running back to charge through them. Even with plenty of time to throw, USC quarterbacks do not have a single big-time receiver to throw to since Kenny McKinley was sidelined two weeks ago.
“I wish in my fourth year we had a proven quarterback and one we all rally around and go with,” Spurrier said. “I wish the pass protection was a lot better. Hopefully, some day we’ll have a lineman drafted. ...
“As you know, the offenses I’ve coached have been quarterback and wide-receiver driven. Those guys get to be the star players. But our receivers haven’t developed.”
Garcia is the one top-level quarterback recruit Spurrier has hooked, and his off-field incidents still outnumber his on-field big plays. Running backs Eric Baker and Brian Maddox were highly touted recruits in the 2007 class who have not panned out.
Perhaps the most sought-after wide receiver recruits under Spurrier were O.J. Murdock in the 2005 class and Chris Culliver in the 2007 class. Murdock is no longer with the program and Culliver is a safety on defense. Of the 2007 receiving corps, which some services rated as the best in the nation, only Dion LeCorn has played significantly.
The result is an offense lacking star quality and has nowhere to turn when a big play needs to be made.
“We’re recruiting the best players we can,” Spurrier said. “We try to plug them in and let them go play and try our best to coach them up. But, I can’t block for them. I can’t throw for them or catch for them.”
What Spurrier can do is fiddle with the lineup, tinker with schemes and hope the offense begins to click. He insists this team is different from a season ago when USC digressed over the final weeks.
This team, and particularly this offense, will improve as the season progresses. At least that is what Spurrier believes.
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