Ron Morris

Morris: Cock 'n' Fire gang still can't shoot straight

South Carolina sophomore quarterback No. 5 Stephen Garcia is brought down by Vanderbilt defensive tackle No. 59 Adam Smotherman  for a seven yard loss with Vanderbilt defensive end No. 42 Tim Fugger assisting on the play.
South Carolina sophomore quarterback No. 5 Stephen Garcia is brought down by Vanderbilt defensive tackle No. 59 Adam Smotherman for a seven yard loss with Vanderbilt defensive end No. 42 Tim Fugger assisting on the play.

OK, EIGHT WEEKS is enough. The verdict is in: This South Carolina offense continues to be a major work in progress.

Forget the fact that USC defeated Vanderbilt 14-10 Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium. What was glaringly obvious is that the Gamecocks won because of their defense and suffered through yet another hit-and-mostly miss performance from their offense.

Do not be fooled by USC's 431 yards of total offense, or Stephen Garcia's 312 yards passing or Kenny Miles 102 yards rushing or even Alshon Jeffrey's 161 yards receiving.

These numbers tell the true story: USC had the ball 13 times. It moved the ball for significant yardage three times. Bottom line, it scored two touchdowns. That is why Steve Spurrier shook his head when asked afterward if he was pleased with his offense.

"Goodness no, goodness no," Spurrier said. "We had to punt eight times. We did have (431) yards? That's amazing. It didn't feel like it. It felt like we were getting stuffed and stuffed. We couldn't make many third downs."

USC converted six of 16 third-downs.

"It was a struggle. It was a struggle," Spurrier said. "We hit some big passes and they didn't. That's probably the difference right there."

Let's get the positives out of the way first. USC parlayed three huge passing plays into two touchdowns, or just enough to defeat a Vanderbilt team that surrendered 16 points in a loss to Army.

Those three game-changing plays will be shown on replays throughout the week, and they were impressive. The first came in the second quarter when Garcia connected with D.L. Moore on a 35-yard touchdown.

Then, with USC taking possession of the ball to start the fourth quarter at its 1, Garcia hit Tori Gurley on a 43-yard bomb down the left sideline. Six plays later, facing a third-and-20 from the Vanderbilt 43, Garcia and Jeffrey teamed for a touchdown.

That play alone should provide hope for this struggling offense. It was a perfectly designed post pattern with Garcia's throw leading Jeffrey over the middle of the field. The immensely talented Jeffrey got behind the Vanderbilt defender and raced to the end zone.

Jeffrey represents the only significant difference to the USC offense since it opened the season in sputtering mode during a 7-3 victory against North Carolina State. Jeffrey's emergence gives USC its one big-play threat.

The only consistent part of Spurrier's Cock 'n' Fire offense was the firing part of USC shooting itself in the foot.

Let's recap the first half, although you might want to refrain from reading the gory details to the kids:

- The first series was undermined by holding penalties and a false start.

- Yet another holding penalty torpedoed the next series.

- Garcia fumbled a low snap from center out of the shotgun formation, and Vanderbilt mercifully declined an illegal motion penalty by USC on this series.

- Hallelujah! USC ran four consecutive plays that resulted in yardage gained, including the 35-yard TD to Moore.

- An illegal procedure penalty and a sack of Garcia netted a loss of eight yards on this series.

- USC moved out from the shadows of its own end zone in the waning minutes of the half, but stalled on downs.

By my calculations, USC's first six possessions resulted in four disasters, one touchdown and one drive of some respectability.

The second half was not much better until a 99-yard drive that included the big passes to Gurley and Jeffrey that saved the day. Unfortunately, many fans had already departed for either the State Fair across the street or the comfort of their living rooms.

Those who remained in their seats occasionally booed USC's offense. They obviously were not fooled by USC's gaudy numbers. They, no doubt, realized USC's offense must kick things into another gear if it expects to win against the remainder of its schedule.

Garcia knows that.

"We've got to play much better to beat Tennessee," Garcia said. "We've got to get a lot better."

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