South Carolina Football: Can Offense Carry Gamecocks in SEC Play?
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COLUMBIA, S.C.—Apparently, South Carolina's woes on defense aren't something the Gamecocks are going to fix overnight.
If that's the case, the burden of winning may fall on the offense, and there are indications that this year's group is up to the task.
Through three games, the Gamecocks (2-1) are averaging 30.6 points and 479.7 yards in total offense per game. That yardage is split almost evenly between run and pass, and the play-calling is at about 60-percent run.
The scoring is approximately what the Gamecocks averaged a year ago, but the total offense is more than 100 yards better.
Asked if this has the potential to be his best offensive team in his nine years at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier didn't bite on that one.
"I hate to say that," he said. "Some of these guys can't take praise. They'll think they've got it made.
"Let's just say we have some potential because we have a big, strong offensive line. We've got probably as much experience as any in the conference. We should sort of dominate the line of scrimmage."
Tailback Mike Davis has been the main beneficiary of that offensive line. Davis has rushed for 341 yards and three touchdowns and is averaging an impressive 7.6 yards per carry.
The Gamecocks averaged 138.5 yards rushing as a team last season. This year, they're averaging 224.7.
The passing game is also better.
Quarterback Connor Shaw has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 661 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.
As a team, the Gamecock are averaging 255 yards per game compared to 238.1 last season.
South Carolina's wide receivers have stepped up in a big way.
Nick Jones, who caught 12 passes all of last season, has emerged as the team leader with 11 for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Bruce Ellington, the teams' top returning wide receiver, was hampered by a hamstring injury the first two games, but he has 10 receptions and is coming off a career-high eight-reception game in South Carolina's 35-25 victory over Vanderbilt.
In all, 14 players have caught a pass this season.
"We've got a lot of guys who worked hard over the summer and it's showing on the field," Ellington said. "Mike Davis is having a great year. Connor's doing really well, and all our receivers are catching the ball. The chemistry we've got is really good, and we're just going to get better."
The Gamecocks also have been slightly more aggressive in stretching the field with the long ball. Seven of South Carolina's receivers have had at least one catch for more than 20 yards.
"We're calling a few more, but a lot of times (Shaw) doesn't throw it," Spurrier said. "He doesn't think they're open, and I guess he's right on some of them. At times, I wish he would chuck a few more deep ones down there."
Although Spurrier is pleased with the Gamecocks' progress offensively, he knows a three-game sample isn't much to go on.
He wants to see more.
"We can do a lot better," he said. "We don't have a lot of possessions. We've only had about nine or 10 possessions a game, and we've scored touchdowns on about half of them. But still we can do better. We can play a lot better offensively."
The only way for the Gamecocks to get more possessions is for the defense to make more stops. Until then, South Carolina's offense needs to continue to operate at optimum efficiency.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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