Josh Kendall

How much ‘speedball’ will South Carolina play in 2017?

Kurt Roper explains how USC's game plan evolved on offense

South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper looks back at how much the offense was trying to do in 2016.
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South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper looks back at how much the offense was trying to do in 2016.

South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper wants Jake Bentley to see what he’s shooting at in his second season as the Gamecocks quarterback.

“There are two theories,” Roper said. “Sometimes it’s ready, shoot, aim. I’m more of a ready, aim, shoot guy.”

As the Gamecocks search for ways this spring to improve an offense that was last in the SEC in scoring and 13th in yardage last season, it’s clear they don’t see a full-time allegiance to the hurry-up, no-huddle offense as the answer.

“I like to know where they are before we just come running off the ball,” Roper said. “I think tempo has a place in football and it stresses the defense, but I don’t want it to be 100 percent tempo. I want the quarterback to know what is going on and identify things and the offensive line to identify things.”

The Gamecocks will be better equipped to do that in 2017 for multiple reasons, Roper believes. Not only is South Carolina entering its second season in a new offensive system but unlike last year, the Gamecocks have identified their starting quarterback and he has six games of experience. Add to that the hope that South Carolina’s surrounding offensive personnel – players like Deebo Samuel, Rico Dowdle and Bryan Edwards – will be more consistently healthy and available, and Bentley believes this year’s offense can be “explosive.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean blazing fast.

“I don’t think we’ll use it all the time, but I definitely think it’s something we can use to give defenses a different look to really help us,” Bentley said of an up-tempo offense. “When we go faster, it puts stress on me, but it also puts stress on the defense.”

Last year, the Gamecocks were 106th in the country in adjusted pace of play, according to analysis by Bill Connelly of SBNation.com. They were 83rd nationally in plays with 877. By comparison, national leader Clemson ran 1,220 offensive plays. (The Tigers played 15 games to South Carolina’s 13 and averaged 81.3 plays per game compared to the Gamecocks’ 67.5.)

“When we did it, I thought it worked pretty well, but the whole year we were just learning with a bunch of young guys,” Bentley said.

South Carolina devotes 8-10 scrimmage snaps to up-tempo offense each spring practice in a session called “speedball,” Bentley said.

“Usually it goes pretty well for us,” he said. “We have plays we know we can get in and out of pretty quickly. We need to get more of those and use those to attack the defense. You don’t get to see as much but then again the defense can’t do as much when we go fast. You’re not really getting any of the exotic blitzes or anything like that. You get some coverage tells and enough information to execute the play.”

South Carolina’s biggest offensive handicap last season was its limited ability to use multiple formations due to inexperience. Now that Roper has an offense that can be more varied, he’s not eager to sacrifice that ability simply for more speed.

“We would like to manipulate our formations a little more to create some confusion and if you’re doing that, you’re not just lining up, going, lining up, going,” he said.

Tight end K.C. Crosby, who is a fan of up-tempo, expects his team to “more advanced” in its use this year.

“We will be more skilled at it this year,” he said. “We will be able to do it when we want to. We might go slow and then – Bam! – catch you by going fast.”

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