South Carolina Football: Should (Can?) Steve Spurrier Air It out More in 2012?
You would think as Steve Spurrier gets further into his career at South Carolina, that the aerial attack would get better and better.
Well, the run game has taken over the past two seasons thanks to a guy named Marcus Lattimore.
All Steve Spurrier wants to do is win, so he'll go with what works.
This season, though, might be Spurrier's return to the air as the quarterback situation seems to finally have its man in Connor Shaw. The Gamecocks prospered under Shaw at the end of 2011 and more time as the clear-cut starter should give Steve Spurrier's offense a chance to throw the ball.
Here are a few reasons why Steve Spurrier should, and can, air it out more in 2012.
No. 1: Connor Shaw Returns as Starter
The main reason the Gamecocks should air it out more this season is the guy who wears No. 14 for the Gamecocks.
Connor Shaw took over the starting job for South Carolina, for good, in 2011 for the Kentucky game and never looked back. The offense struggled at times, but really prospered under Shaw's leadership the last three games of the season.
Shaw went 41-of-55 for 657 yards with eight touchdowns to only one interception in wins over The Citadel, Clemson and Nebraska. This is an average of 74.5 percent completion percentage over those three games with 219 yards per game as well.
Connor Shaw also is a dual-threat option for the Gamecocks with his speed from the quarterback position. Shaw rushed for a total of 239 yards in those three games with a rushing touchdown in each of those games. His ability to keep the play alive with his feet allows plays to develop if the protection breaks down from his offensive line.
South Carolina had an unstable quarterback situation for 2012 when Stephen Garcia was expected to run the show in 2011. Former quarterback Stephen Garcia's mishaps ended up benefiting Connor Shaw with on-the-job training in 2011.
This upcoming season now has high hopes, and the big reason why is Connor Shaw.
No. 2: The Return of Marcus Lattimore and a Deep Group of Running Backs
You may ask why Marcus Lattimore's return to health and a strong group of running backs means an increased air attack from the Gamecocks?
Steve Spurrier's best offenses at Florida always seemed to have a strong running game behind it. Players like Eric Rhett and Fred Taylor really added to the "Fun and Gun" offense Spurrier is known for.
The South Carolina running game, led by Lattimore, can bring in defenses who expect the Gamecocks to try and control the game on the ground. A heavy dose of Lattimore, Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles will keep pounding away hoping to break the spirits of the opposing defense.
This is when Spurrier will go to the air.
A strong running game can usually open up the passing game for any offense. Expect the Gamecocks to utilize what works in 2012 behind Lattimore and company, but this should help South Carolina attack the air a bit more.
The soft hands of Lattimore, Wilds, Miles and others can help catching the ball out of the backfield as well. Lattimore played in only seven games due to injury in 2011, but had 19 catches for 182 yards with one touchdown. In 2010, Lattimore had 29 catches for 412 yards with two touchdowns.
He is certainly a threat and a mismatch for linebackers out in the open. Look for the Gamecocks to utilize their running backs on the ground and through the air in 2012.
No. 3: Better Talent on the Offensive Line
You're only as good as your offensive line.
South Carolina has finally turned the corner with its offensive line.
This group has been the bane of Steve Spurrier's existence at South Carolina time and time again. The potential was always there for his offenses to explode, but inconsistent offensive line play definitely limited what the Gamecocks could do.
Recruiting has turned it up a notch, and South Carolina finally has some offensive lineman that can compete with the best of the SEC. The Gamecocks projected depth chart for 2012 list four offensive linemen with game experience, including senior T.J. Johnson at the center position. Johnson and A.J. Cann started all 13 games for the Gamecocks last year, with Mike Matulis picking up three starts at the end of the season.
The Gamecocks do lose several talented veterans from last year's team in Rokevious Watkins, Terrence Campbell and Kyle Nunn, but new names to step in their place are freshman Brandon Shell, freshman Kyle Harris and senior Kaleb Broome.
Offensive line is such a critical position in the passing game. There needs to be people capable of holding their blocks long enough for the quarterback to read through his progressions. Spurrier's offense is about giving his quarterback time to throw to "spots" on the field. If the quarterback doesn't have time, then there's no chance for the passing game to take off.
Look for South Carolina's offensive line to play a major role in the increased passing attack for the Gamecocks in 2012.
No. 4: Balanced Group of WR's and TE's
One of the more popular questions among Gamecock fans this offseason is, "Who will replace Alshon Jeffery?"
The answer to this question is by using a balanced attack of wide receivers and tight ends. South Carolina has several different types of players at both positions that can give you a variety of looks on offense. This group should give the Gamecocks more options now that they all need to step up and replace Alshon Jeffery.
At the wide receiver position, South Carolina has small, speedy receivers like Ace Sanders, Damiere Byrd and Bruce Ellington. All three players posses breakaway speed and can be used a variety of ways including reverses and in the "Wildcat" formation.
There are also taller possession-type receivers like Shamier Jeffery, K.J. Brent and D.L. Moore. Don't forget about Mr. Football Shaq Roland, along with other incoming freshmen Jody Fuller and Kwinton Smith. All four players were 4-star recruits for the Gamecocks and have a potential to play right away.
The tight end position has undergone a tremendous transformation in the past year. South Carolina has the steady senior in Justice Cunninghman. Cunningham can provide good hands and blocking skills at the tight end position and also work as an H-Back for the Gamecocks. Last year saw the emergence of freshman Rory Anderson, now a sophomore, when he scored three touchdowns on eight catches and averaged 23.5 yards per catch.
South Carolina redshirted Drew Owens last year, who suffered a knee injury in the spring game, and welcomed true freshman Kelvin Rainey in January. 2011 signee Jerrell Adams enrolled for the Maymester at South Carolina and brings another athletic big body to the tight end position.
These tight ends are athletic enough to create mismatches when lined up against a safety or a linebacker. They also have the ability to flex out and line up on the outside as well.
If you're looking for height, the Gamecocks have it. If you're looking for speed, the Gamecocks have it. This offense will look to utilize this two groups this year to jump-start a passing game that was lacking in 2011.