COLUMBIA — While the wins have been nice this season for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, the film sessions after the game have been painful.
It’s been tough viewing for the coach who revolutionized football in the Southeastern Conference with his passing attack at Florida in the 1990s.
In five games this season, Spurrier’s No. 14 Gamecocks have failed to complete at least 15 passes. They just keep running, even after losing all-SEC performer Marcus Lattimore to a knee injury last month.
“Up the middle, up the middle for one yard, two yards and stuff like that,” Spurrier said. “I don’t like watching it, either, to tell you the truth.”
But Spurrier often finds his most success at South Carolina when he throws the least. After completing just seven passes in last week’s 17-12 win over Florida, Spurrier recalled his first victory over the Gators in 2005, when then quarterback Blake Mitchell went 7 of 17 in a 30-22 win.
“Some games it works out like that. Tim Tebow only completed two last week, and they won, so we’re way ahead of those guys,” Spurrier said, talking about the fellow Heisman Trophy winning QB from Florida who now plays for the Denver Broncos.
In 18 of Spurrier’s 82 games at South Carolina, his team has completed less than 15 passes. Spurrier has won 16 of those games. Five of them have come this season, and South Carolina has won four.
Much of Spurrier’s success with the Gamecocks has been adapting his offense to whatever he has handy.
This season may be the best example of his adjustments. South Carolina came into the year with a seasoned senior quarterback in Stephen Garcia who was expected to at least be steady behind center. But Garcia threw nine interceptions in five games before being benched and eventually kicked off the team for violating rules. Then came the Lattimore injury, which has prompted Spurrier to lean on sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw as a runner even more. Shaw had more rushing attempts than passing attempts last week.
“Connor, yeah, he’s learning. Drop-back passing is something he hadn’t really done a whole bunch of until he got here. He really throws a pretty pass,” Spurrier said.
Shaw sometimes decides to run when he could wait another second or two for a receiver to come open. But Spurrier is impressed with his quarterback’s fearlessness. Shaw has had to sit out snaps in the past two days after taking vicious hits while running.
“We’ve got to get the ball out. We’ve had trouble the last few games just getting it out there, so that’s what we’re working on – pass protection and telling Connor, when you’ve got some open land out there, throw it, get it out,” Spurrier said.
Perhaps no one has been hurt by the quarterback troubles than all-SEC receiver Alshon Jeffery. The junior came into the season with 11 games with more than 100 yards receiving, but his best game this season is 92 yards in the season opener against East Carolina. In the past four games, Jeffery has averaged just 19 yards receiving.
Spurrier hasn’t talked to Jeffery about his future. He was considered a first round lock before the season started if he came out for the 2012 NFL Draft, but his stock may have dropped as his catches dried up.
“We always feel that if a player’s going to be a first-round pick, he should go, he should leave. And if he’s not going to be a first-rounder, statistics say he should stay,” Spurrier said.
Whether or not Jeffery returns, South Carolina’s offense should get a boost next season as Shaw gets more practices under his belt, a core of young receivers get more experience and Lattimore returns along with freshman tailback Shon Carson, who also injured his knee, and freshman running back Brandon Wilds, who has shoulder the load in the backfield since Lattimore was hurt.
‘’Next year, it’s going to be real scary,” Lattimore said. “Brandon Wilds is playing real well. Going to have Shon back, and I’ll be back. Backfield is just going to be scary.”