After South Carolina finally made some big plays in its passing game, Steve Spurrier has an idea how to get to the Gamecocks’ tailbacks to break off a few long runs.
While quarterback Chris Smelley and several receivers revived the downfield passing attack Saturday in the Gamecocks’ 31-24 win at Mississippi, the running game sputtered.
USC rushed 35 times for 78 yards — a 2.2 yards-per-carry average that includes the three times Smelley was sacked. Mike Davis and Bobby Wallace averaged 3.8 yards per carry, with the longest run a 16-yard gain by Davis.
Spurrier believes the tailbacks would be better off if they left the spinning to ballerinas and carousels.
“I wish we could teach our guys to put one foot on the ground and try to juke a guy and hit it full speed,” Spurrier said Sunday. “If you’re going to go all the way, you’ve got to take a quick stick-step and go. And for some reason our guys want to go out there and start spinning around.”
Spurrier pointed to a Davis run late against Ole Miss as an example when the senior from Columbia would have been better off trying to make a man miss.
“We got Mike one-on-one with the safety there late in the game,” he said. “He goes in there and makes that spin move, gets tackled and falls forward.”
“Now Mike had some good runs, also. But maybe in open field, we’re just not as elusive as we would hope to be,” Spurrier added. “And Bobby Wallace did that spin move once, also. He wasn’t quite as much in the open field as Mike on that one in the fourth quarter.”
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USC is 99th among 119 teams nationally in rushing offense with 114.8 yards per game — nearly identical to last season when the Gamecocks finished last in the SEC and 101st in the country with 113.7 rushing yards per game.
Spurrier is considering making changes to USC’s short-yardage package after Davis was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 with 1:21 remaining at Oxford. Spurrier said handing off to a tailback lined up several yards deep in the backfield might not be sound short-yardage strategy.
“We’ve just not had a lot of success doing that,” Spurrier said. “I hate to sneak it every time. Eventually, they’re going to put about four big dudes between the tackles and challenge you to sneak it. So we’ve got to find some new plays on third-and-1.”
Despite USC’s inability to salt Saturday’s game away on offense, the Gamecocks lead the SEC in third-down conversions, making 46.9 percent and are tied for second with a 66.7 percent (6 of 9) conversion rate on fourth downs.
But Spurrier would prefer to see a little more shake — and less spin — from his tailbacks.
“It’s hard to teach a running back how to run,” Spurrier said. “He either sort of naturally does it or not.”
Davis (19 carries for 73 yards) and Wallace (five carries for 19) were the only backs to touch the ball against the Rebels. Eric Baker is considered the Gamecocks’ most elusive back, but Spurrier said the 5-foot-11, 188-pound freshman is still learning the offense and is not as strong blocking blitzing linebackers as Davis.
So coaches likely will stick with Davis, and encourage him to skip the spin cycle.
“Mike had a good game,” Spurrier said. “We just wish sometimes we had a little more breakaway threat back there.”
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.