Here are five things we know about the Gamecocks, who are 3-0 heading into Saturday’s game against Auburn (3-0).
1. Marcus Lattimore will get most of workload in the running game this year.
After finishing last in SEC rushing last year, USC is fifth with 595 yards. True freshman Lattimore has breathed life into the rushing attack with 333 yards, second in the league. Yardage-wise, the offense has been balanced with 582 passing yards.
The team has 127 rushing attempts, compared with 49 completions on 72 tries. Lattimore has 70 of those carries, scoring five touchdowns.
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The team will try to get some carries for Kenny Miles and Brian Maddox, each with fewer than 10 carries on the year.
Head coach Steve Spurrier this week said: “You have to do what you do best to try and win the game. We're not as good throwing as we have been running, but we throw successfully at times. I shouldn't say that we're completely a running team ... We'll try to take care of the ball better when we are throwing and give ourselves the best chance without the big mistakes that we had last week.”
2. Stephen Garcia will be the starting quarterback all year barring injury or a major meltdown.
Spurrier so far is sticking with Garcia’s experience and toughness over the potential of true freshman Connor Shaw. Garcia was solid through two games, then had mixed results against Furman (two touchdown passes, two interceptions).
Garcia (41-60-2) has seen the bulk of the snaps so far over Shaw (8-10-0), who didn’t see the field against Georgia.
“We've got two quarterbacks we think can play well,” Spurrier said. “We're going into the ballpark with two ready to play. I'll say Connor (Shaw) will play some this week. I thought he'd play against Georgia, but we got into a running game. We have both ready to play. Connor will see some action somewhere.”
3. The defense is very good and will be key to the team's success.
The Gamecocks are limiting opponents to 12.7 points per game, with the rush defense leading the way. South Carolina’s rush defense is tops in the SEC and sixth in the nation (59.7 yards per game allowed). The pass defense still has work to do (267.7 ypg).
USC also is tops in the SEC in red-zone defense, allowing just six field goals in the 11 times opponents have reached the red zone.
“Our defense has tightened up and played good run and pass defense down there,” Spurrier said. “Hopefully we can keep the other team kicking field goals. If you can do that you have a lot of chances to win games. If we score touchdowns and the other team scores field goals, that's a huge difference.”
The Gamecocks have 11 sacks and three interceptions so far. Defensive back DeVonte Holloman has a team-high 20 tackles. Defensive end Devin Taylor and tackle Travian Robertson have two sacks apiece.
Last year’s top tackler, linebacker Shaq Wilson, returns this week against Auburn.
4. The offensive line is still a work in progress, and the lack of depth could be problematic if USC has injury issues down the stretch.
Injuries have already slowed Terrence Campbell, Rokevious Watkins and Hutch Eckerson. The team’s top backups are true freshmen (A.J. Cann and Cody Gibson).
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott remained optimistic this week that his players will perform Saturday despite being banged up.
“We’re going to get a good effort out of them,” he said. “They don’t have an option. I don’t know who it will be, but they will go out there Saturday night and give it their all.”
After earning some kudos in the team’s win over Georgia, Spurrier wasn’t as pleased with the line’s effort against Furman.
“We have to line up and try to control the line of scrimmage and not get pushed around,” Spurrier said. “Some of our guys got pushed around by those Furman guys. I didn’t realize how tough they were until I watched the tape of some of our guys trying to block them. So we’d better come with a lot meaner attitude than some of our linemen did last week.”
5. Alshon Jeffery is an elite talent. Now the Gamecocks need someone to step up to complement him.
Jeffery, the Gamecocks’ sophomore standout, is tied for the SEC lead in catches with 19 and is second in the conference in yards with 102 per game.
His supporting cast, however, hasn’t offered a ton of support. Jeffery has caught more than twice as many passes as his closest teammate. In fact, the Gamecocks’ second-, third- and fourth-leading receivers can’t match Jeffery’s combined total.
“We need to get some of the other receivers more involved,” Spurrier said.
Seven Gamecock wide receivers have caught passes this season. The six not named Alshon Jeffery have combined for 19 catches and 190 yards.
The Gamecocks are ninth in the SEC and 84th in the country in passing offense.
“We haven’t completed it a lot in the past couple games,” Spurrier Jr. said. “(Defenses) will probably shade to (Jeffery) a little more each game, so we’ll probably start throwing it another direction this week some. We will have something a little different for (Auburn) this week. Hopefully, two or three guys can really get in the mix outside of Alshon. That’d be great.”