Published September 4, 2012 - 10:00am
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That’s the number of combined passes South Carolina’s starting wide receivers caught at Vanderbilt last week, a result of shoddy play-calling, sub-par blocking up front and shaky confidence in the passing game. Seldom was Ace Sanders, D.L. Moore and Bruce Ellington even targeted, instead Connor Shaw dumped off check downs to Marcus Lattimore and rifled one down the seam to tight end Justice Cunningham.
Throughout fall practice, head coach Steve Spurrier raved about Shaw’s grasp of the zone-read offense, presence in the pocket and the big-play potential of South Carolina’s pint-sized receiving corps. Instead, viewers got a dose of reality quickly in Nashville in the form of Shaw scrambling for yardage within a few seconds of taking the snap thanks to holes at the line of scrimmage and receivers creating little separation down the field.
South Carolina’s coaching staff knew things would be different, tougher perhaps, but no one could’ve guessed life without Alshon Jeffery would be this difficult.
No doubt Vanderbilt’s defense, notably its front four and secondary, is one of the SEC’s better units. Last season under James Franklin, the Commodores improved in nearly every statistical category defensively and lost by a combined 13 points to Georgia, Arkansas and Florida.
But South Carolina fans — and the national media — expected more from the Gamecock offense in the opener. Coming off a record-setting 11-win season, Spurrier’s group flexed its highest-ever preseason ranking and anticipated the return of Heisman-caliber running back Marcus Lattimore to an offense that flourished under Shaw in the second half of 2011.
Lattimore delivered his usual effort after an early fumble with 110 yards and two touchdowns, but couldn’t alter how bad South Carolina looked offensively. Shaw rushed 14 times for 92 yards, but only half of those carries were by design. It would be unwise for the Gamecocks to eliminate their quarterback’s threat to run, but Shaw’s constant need to scramble on passing plays is a recipe for disaster for a Top 10 team with little depth at quarterback.
Spurrier says Shaw’s status for Saturday’s home opener against East Carolina is still at a “wait and see” junction. He’s being held out of practice until at least Thursday and will be re-evaluated by team personnel prior to the game. If he can’t go, Dylan Thompson is penciled in to take over under center, a liability at best at this point of his young career. The zone-read attack won’t change, but Thompson is more of a natural passer while Shaw prefers the use of his legs for yardage.
To touch on play-calling, I thought South Carolina’s plan was vanilla at best. It almost looked as if the Gamecocks were afraid to lose, which was somewhat understandable considering a loss would’ve put South Carolina behind the eight ball in the SEC East. But still, to take few chances or “shots” down the field with top-notch speed on the outside was disheartening.
Expect Spurrier to air-it-out a bit more this weekend in Columbia whether it’s Shaw or Thompson at quarterback. Senior running back Kenny Miles, the team’s supposed second option, needs to be implemented as well after playing just four snaps at Vanderbilt. Sometimes, Gamecock coaches talk big on utilizing talent during the week and when Saturday rolls around, it’s back to Lattimore and ignoring the others.
That’ll need to change the rest of the season for South Carolina to stay injury free and have a shot in the East.