There are several theories about which tweak to the South Carolina offense might have the most impact in 2018, with the most frequent suggestions being a faster pace and the addition of run-pass option plays.
Senior quarterback Michael Scarnecchia has a different view.
“The way we take more risks, throwing more deep balls,” Scarnecchia said when asked about the biggest difference between a Gamecock offense coordinated by Bryan McClendon and the one coordinated the last two years by Kurt Roper. “We were more cautious on throwing deep balls down the field, but I think we’re getting more of the green light if we see the look we want or the matchup we want, we’re like, ‘Hey take it, especially if it’s first or second down.’ ”
First-year quarterbacks coach Dan Werner confirmed Scarnecchia’s suggestion.
“It’s very important because we want to stretch the defense,” Werner said. “We want to make sure they understand they have to cover the whole field. That’s going to be a huge part of our offense.”
South Carolina was a respectable sixth in the SEC last year in pass completions of 10 or more yards with 108, but when that distance was extended, the Gamecocks’ ranking fell precipitously. On completions of 20 or more yards, South Carolina was 10th in the league with 38 and the team completed only 14 passes of 30 or more yards, which also ranked 10th in the conference. (Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown had more catches for 40 or more yards, eight, than all the Gamecocks combined, five.)
McClendon and Werner have beaten into the heads of their quarterbacks this offseason and during the start of training camp that those numbers will change in 2018.
“If (receivers) have a one-on-one, (McClendon) wants us to throw it. If we don’t throw it, that’s going to be a minus for us,” starting quarterback Jake Bentley said. “That’s a mindset I love. To attack a defense you have to throw it deep. The more you do that, the more chances you have to score.”
Philosophy is only part of the reason McClendon and Werner are preaching aggressive downfield passing attempts. Personnel is the other. With wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards on the outside, it would verge on coaching malpractice not to try to push the ball down the field, Werner believes.
“The guys we have out there, I tell Jake, ‘You just have to get it out there and they’ll make a play for you,’ ” Werner said. “I think he’s bought into that. I don’t know how it went last year, but I feel really good about it right now.”
Edwards, a 6-foot-3 junior, had 64 catches for 793 yards last year. He caught one pass of longer than 40 yards. Samuel, a 6-foot senior, averaged 16.7 yards per catch last year before suffering a season-ending injury in the third game.
“We have the athletic ability on the outside to take those shots because I know with our guys, they are not just 50-50 balls,” Scarnecchia said. “They usually come down with it, so our coaches are like, ‘Hey, with the ability we have, take those shots.’ ”
Taking the shots is the easy part, though. It’s connecting that’s more difficult. There’s no secret behind being a consistent deep passer, Werner said.
“It’s not like you coach it. You’ve got it or you don’t,” he said. “Our guys have done a good job and with the receivers we have.”
Bentley called the deep ball “all timing,” and said the quarterbacks and receivers worked on them extensively during their player-run practices in the summer.
“I love throwing it deep. That’s one thing I take pride in,” Bentley said. “We have to complete them though. If we are throwing them deep and not completing them, (head coach Will) Muschamp may pull it back a little bit.”