AFTER A PRESASON with nothing to obsess over other than, “Who will play and who won’t?” South Carolina fans are happy today to have on-field issues to analyze.
And they are ecstatic to have these kind of numbers to talk about: 225 yards passing, 224 yards rushing, five players who rushed for more than 20 yards and four wide receivers who gained more than 20 yards through the air. Not to mention those 41 points.
The Gamecocks’ no-huddle offense was a hit Thursday night as USC thumped Southern Miss 41-13 in the season opener for both teams.
“I don’t think either team huddled all night,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “I didn’t see a huddle. Did you guys see a huddle? When has that last happened at Williams-Brice Stadium? Y’all may have seen a first. I sort of like that. It gives you extra time. It’s a good way to go because it gives you time. The games may be four hours long, but it worked out very well.”
Boy, did it. USC rolled up 25 first downs, more than in all but one game last year, and its 41 points were its most in more than two seasons.
The main difference between the debut performance of the 2010 Gamecocks and the 2009 version that finished 11th in the SEC in scoring? A ground game.
USC rushed for more yards than it did in every game last year but one. In fact, the Gamecocks’ total Thursday was higher than their combined total against Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida last season.
“I think that’s what we need to get going this year, is the rushing game,” quarterback Stephen Garcia said. “If we can run the ball, it’s going to be very hard to beat us.”
Garcia contributed 38 of those rushing yards, including two touchdowns — delivering a big hit on one and absorbing one on the other.
“That’s the type of quarterback we need,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said of Garcia’s toughness. “That’s the type of players we need.”
USC fans knew Jeffery could play, a fact he emphasized Thursday with another game of more than 100 yards receiving, but they were relying only on hope in the cases of freshmen Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders.
That hope was rewarded early and often. Lattimore was in the game for the first play and got his first carry on the second series. He didn’t put up amazing numbers — 54 yards on 14 carries and 21 yards on two catches — but he ran hard, often breaking tackles that turned a potential 2- or 3-yard loss into a 2- or 3-yard gain. Sanders, on the other hand, got his yards in chunks, most of them on a 53-yard reverse that set up a touchdown in the second quarter.
Throw in Stephon Gilmore looking dangerous out of the Wild Cock formation — one 14-yard rush and one incomplete pass — and the Gamecocks have more playmakers on offense than at any time in Spurrier’s tenure.
Now for a sobering number: Southern Miss finished 80th in NCAA in defense last year and probably is headed for a similar finish this season.
Georgia’s defense wasn’t great last season, either, but the Bulldogs have changed defensive coordinators and schemes, switching from a 4-3 to a more aggressive 3-4. But there’s always next week to worry about the Bulldogs. For now, USC fans can rest easy knowing their offense looks like it’s on the right track.