Josh Kendall

New QBs coach hopes RPOs boost lagging South Carolina offense

South Carolina’s new quarterbacks coach is veteran enough to remember “the old days” of college football.

Dan Werner has been coaching football full time since 1990, back when “the quarterback gets in the huddle and we call ‘Right 46 Power O’ and he knows all I have to do is turn around and hand it off,” Werner said.

Things are different now, and that’s part of the reason Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp hired Werner in the offseason. The former Ole Miss offensive coordinator brings a wealth of knowledge in college football’s newest trend, run-pass option plays.

“Every single time we call a play, the quarterback is going to have some decision to make whether it’s one, two, three, sometime four different decisions depending on what the defense is giving us,” Werner said. “The key really is the decision-making by the quarterback because we have to decide, ‘Is this a ball that I am going to hand off because the box is soft and we can hand it off or are they loading it and now where do I (throw) the ball?’ ”

Those decisions can be made before the snap or immediately after the snap, Werner said, and that means a lot more responsibility for starting quarterback Jake Bentley.

“That’s kind of been (Werner’s) big thing coming in, really dissecting the RPO and really getting us to understand the ins and outs of everything of when to throw it, when to hand it off, what looks are best for what RPOs,” Bentley said. “Getting to pick his brain in that aspect has been great.”

The Gamecocks’ hope is that more use of RPO plays, in addition to a faster pace, will jump-start an offense that finished 12th in the SEC last year in yards (337.1 per game) and points (24.2 per game).

Werner coordinated the 2016 Ole Miss offense that led the SEC in passing (314.9 yards per game) and was third in the league in total yards (464.3 per game) and fourth in points (32.6 per game). In 2017, he was an offensive analyst at Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide incorporate more RPO schemes.

He started learning the system “about 10 years ago,” he said.

“I was a pro-style guy, and I realized that trying to line up in I-formation and trying to run an isolation play into an eight-man box just wasn’t getting it anymore. So I started studying different people who were doing it and I could see that that was sort of the trend and was lucky enough to get around some good people and learned it,” he said. “Then we have tweaked it as we’ve gone along, and we’ll always continue to tweak it.”

During a year off for coaching, Werner traveled to visit with as many teams using RPOs as he could, he said.

“You had all the way from the spread teams that were running pass every single down to the ones who were going run every single down with the quarterback running it,” he said. “I wanted to sort of formulate my own little plan. I wanted to get a mix. I still wanted a pro-style passing attack but the spread style run stuff. Then RPOs just started coming along. It just sort of evolved into what it is now.”