Where do you start a 2013 South Carolina Football Preview? Of course, it has to start with Coach Steve Spurrier.
Steven O. Spurrier has always considered himself to be a goal-oriented coach. And in the past two seasons, his Gamecocks have reached some very unique milestones the program. But one elusive goal remains: win the SEC.Despite the Gamecocks losing key players in Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, Spurrier once again has his team in a position to be a legitimate contender. Spurrier has built a balanced roster, though the Gamecocks may not be the most talented team in the SEC at every position. Still, he always seems to find sufficient talent, picking players that best fit his schemes.
2013 South Carolina Football Preview
Despite coming off an injury-riddled season, quarterback Connor Shaw is a perfect example of this. The Gamecocks’ gritty senior is a game manager, and a tough one at that. Shaw’s focus seems to be on doing whatever he can do to help his team. Expect Spurrier to shuffle quarterbacks (because he just can’t help himself in doing so) and Dylan Thompson will see some playing time, but Shaw’s experience will be very important in SEC play.
But once again, Spurrier has every player in his pro-style offense for a reason, so it comes as no surprise that the Gamecocks heavy run attack benefits Shaw so well. What was seemingly once a pass-happy Spurrier at Florida has found balance on the ground at South Carolina (though if you go back at look at his Florida teams, they were very good on the ground as well).
Marcus Lattimore’s decision to risk no further collegiate injuries and make a go of it in the NFL opens the door for Mike Davis, but Spurrier says the result will be the same.
At only 5’9″, many wonder if Davis has the size to be an elite running back. But Davis tips the scales at 215 pounds, and again the point must be driven home that every player on this team serves a very specific purpose in Spurrier’s grand vision.
For Davis, that purpose will be opening passing lanes for his quarterback. The epitome of a workhorse, Davis will look to pound the ball up the middle and grind out yardage so Shaw can drop back on play-action and sling the ball downfield.
When Shaw does drop back, he will have a diversified receiving corps that creates mismatches on almost every play. Much like the Patriot’s offense did with their two tight end set, the Gamecocks have found two physically gifted tight ends in Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams.
Anderson is already a great player in his own right, and his size and catching ability make him a prototypical receiver for a run-first offense. Not only will he serve as a security blanket to Shaw, but his unique skill set will also require the attention of multiple defenders, making life easier for his fellow receivers as well as his quarterback. No one likes this more than fellow tight end Jerell Adams who will benefit from opportunity as defenses focus on Anderson. (Recruits say the Gamecocks run two tight end sets 59 percent of the time.)
With great tight ends and a great back, the two tight end set will again be a challenge to solve because the Gamecocks can run almost an entire offense out of this one set. But if South Carolina needs to air the ball out, receiver Bruce Ellington can also make plays happen.
Providing the Gamecocks with a much-needed element of speed, Ellington is an athletic receiver. He will also be used frequently in screens where the bigger tight ends will be able to block and give the speed specialist room to get into the open field. Once again, Ellington complements the big tight ends as well as everyone on the team.
Considering that South Carolina’s offense is built to chip away at defenses and run clock, it’s easy to see why the Gamecock’s defense is always able to make explosive plays; they are usually very well rested.
Like the Johnny Manziel of defense, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been touted as the best defensive player in the land this season, and many draft analysts project him as the number one pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The hype is well-deserved. Clowney has also been a cornerstone to a defense averaging surrendering at or just under 350 yards per game in their last 5 seasons. Clowney will see double teams against him all season. He’s simply a once a decade kind of player that’s not only hard to prepare for, but is physically intimidating to players because of his bone-crushing hitting ability. Any parent of an opposing offensive player is lying if they say they’re not nervous that Jadeveon Clowney is on the field.
One drawback for the Gamecocks, the defense only returns five starters, but that includes both corners Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. The big question for the Gamecocks comes at linebacker with new starters suiting up in 2013. How will this group fare against SEC East running games? How that question is answered will make a big difference in just how good the Gamecocks season can be.
We see the Gamecocks challenging as a legitimate threat to get to Atlanta to face the Crimson Tide. Can they edge Georgia and Florida to get there for a rare SEC Championship Game appearance? We’ll see.
Thanks for reading our 2013 South Carolina Football Preview. Tomorrow we examine the Vanderbilt Commodores.
—Special to the Capstone Report By Alex DeRemer.