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Coach's offense is a misfire so far at USC

IF THERE WAS anything South Carolina fans expected when Steve Spurrier came aboard four seasons ago it was a wide-open offense, his team’s ability to pitch the ball around the ball yard as he likes to say. The transformation from the Fun ’N Gun at Florida to the Cock ’N Fire at USC was certain to be as smooth as one of his quarterback’s deliveries.

It has not happened.

Only one of Spurrier’s three USC offenses has produced consistent excitement, and the most electrifying part of that 2006 attack was the wild scrambles of quarterback Syvelle Newton. Quarterback Blake Mitchell’s passing in the other two seasons was sporadic at best.

The reality is that his USC offenses have been among the worst in Spurrier’s 18 seasons as a head coach. With a quarterback who will make his first college start on Thursday against N.C. State and only one premier wide receiver, there are no guarantees Spurrier’s latest offense will be any different.

“We won’t know until we go play against somebody other than ourselves to find out,” Spurrier said Sunday.

Aside from redshirt junior Tommy Beecher at quarterback, Spurrier pointed to experience as a factor that could play in USC’s favor. He mentioned Kenny McKinley at wide receiver, Mike Davis at running back and Justin Sorensen at right tackle as players who bring experience to the offense.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the unit is relatively inexperienced. McKinley has started 31 games in his career, Sorensen 18 and Davis 14. That is 63 cumulative starts. The remaining eight players on offense have a total of 32 starting assignments. Compare that to the USC defense, which counts 131 career starts among its starters.

Still, Spurrier has to believe he has a higher level of talent across the board with this offense. He is quick to note that USC has not had an offensive lineman drafted in his three seasons here.

“But we’re going to have some,” said Spurrier, who saw 10 offensive linemen drafted into the NFL during his 12 seasons at Florida.

NFL scouts have had few reasons to hang around USC each spring. The only players to be drafted from Spurrier’s offenses the past three seasons were wide receiver Sidney Rice in the second round by Minnesota in 2007 and running back Cory Boyd in the seventh round by Tampa Bay this past spring.

At Florida, Spurrier provided a pipeline of offensive players to the NFL.

There is little doubt the biggest difference between Spurrier’s offenses at Florida and those at USC is the talent level. At Florida, Spurrier was the master of finding mismatches for defenses and exploiting them with a load of receivers who could not be accounted for. By contrast, his three USC teams have featured one go-to receiver.

Seven of Spurrier’s offenses at Florida led the SEC in scoring and seven led in passing. Four were the best in the SEC in total offense. Even at Duke, two of his three teams led the ACC in scoring and all three led the league in passing and total offense.

His offenses at USC pale in comparison to those at Duke and Florida.

“It’s a combination of a little bit of everything, a little bit of everything, pass protection, quarterback play,” Spurrier said. “I would say those are the two main things. Then, every now and then, we’ve got everybody covered.”

His USC teams have averaged 221, 251 and 258 yards passing, the three lowest numbers for his 18 teams as coach. USC has averaged 23.7, 26.6 and 26.1 points, with only the 1992 Florida team (24 ppg.) among Spurrier’s lowest scoring. That same ’92 team averaged 390 yards total offense to rank among his poorest with USC teams in 2005 (316 yards), 2007 (372 yards) and 2006 (395 yards).

Interestingly enough, the only one of Spurrier’s offenses at USC that showed any kind of consistency was the 2006 squad that relied heavily on the running ability of Newton. Spurrier abandoned much of his offense that season because of Newton, and USC ranked third in the SEC in total offense and fourth in passing.

“Yes, you look back and you try to figure out how you can make it better,” Spurrier said. “So, we’ve tried to do that. But we’ve got a good plan. We’ve got a good plan in place.”

The heart of that plan is to have better players. USC should have its best offensive line under Spurrier. There is every reason to believe its receivers will develop into a solid corps. Its running backs appear to be stable, and its quarterback should be smart enough to quickly figure out how to run the offense to Spurrier’s liking.

Then maybe USC fans will finally get to see the Cock ’N Fire after all.