COLUMBIA, S.C.—South Carolina was trailing Central Florida 10-0 on the road at halftime, with starting quarterback Connor Shaw on the bench with a sprained shoulder.
So what does South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier do?
He scraps the zone-read offense out of the shotgun, puts backup quarterback Dylan Thompson under center in the I formation and runs power football in the second half, resulting in four consecutive touchdowns and ultimately a 28-25 victory.
Now 11 years and nine college seasons removed from his glory days at Florida, Spurrier isn't afraid to change. It explains why he's still coaching and winning at age 68 after 23 seasons as a head coach in college football.
"That's what you try to do," Spurrier said. "You try to play to the strengths of your players. Don't ask them to do something they aren't capable of."
At South Carolina, that has meant a seemingly radical departure from Spurrier's philosophy that had its origins at Duke and carried on to his prolific years at Florida where the Gators won a national championship and seven Southeastern Conference titles.
"Steve was ahead of the curve in utilizing the multiple passing game of getting all five of his players into the passing offense," said CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson. "While Steve was throwing pocket passes involving five receivers, most of college football was still half rolling and sending two guys out and keeping their fullback and tight end in. Steve was ahead of the curve and visionary in that way."
In Spurrier's last season at Florida in 2001, the Gators averaged 43.8 points per game, 527.5 yards in total offense, including 405.2 passing, and finished 10-2.
Last season at South Carolina, the Gamecocks averaged 31.5 points per game, 376.5 yards in total offense and 238.1 yards passing while finishing 11-2.
The numbers were similar the previous season when the Gamecocks also finished 11-2.
"I have no doubt that Steve Spurrier would love to throw the football all over the yard and throw it 50 times for 500 yards every game like we used to in some of those offenses at Florida," said Jesse Palmer, an ESPN college football color analyst and a former quarterback under Spurrier. "I give him a lot of credit because I think he has been able to put his ego aside. These last several years, I think he just realizes and understands what it's going to take to win games at South Carolina."
Palmer said the shift in philosophy comes down to a difference in talent at the skill positions.
"The problem he has run into at South Carolina has been that he has not been able to recruit the talent at the skill positions like we had at Florida," he said. "We always had some NFL receivers on the field. It seems like every year we had guys who were getting drafted. It was never ending. he hasn't had the consistency and the depth at wide receiver. He certainly hasn't had the same talent at quarterback since he's been at South Carolina."
The numbers make Palmer's point.
In 12 seasons at Florida, Spurrier had 44 players on offense alone who made NFL rosters. That included 15 wide receivers and eight quarterbacks.
In eight seasons at South Carolina, the Gamecocks have produced 10 players on offense who have made NFL rosters, including four wide receivers and no quarterbacks.
That doesn't mean South Carolina hasn't been able to draw talent, it just seems most of it has been on the defensive end.
Under Spurrier, South Carolina has had 16 defensive players make NFL rosters, and the current team has a sure thing in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
"He has recruited well," Danielson said. "He sold the players in South Carolina that you can have an attitude and you can be chippy and you can be proud to play at South Carolina. You don't have to go somewhere else. You can play in bowl games and you can compete. One of the things about Steve is that he doesn't back down from anybody, and a lot of players like that style."
At South Carolina, that has resulted in a style that relies on good defense and being successful running the football.
Not that Florida was poor in either area.
Florida's defensive coordinators under Spurrier included Charlie Strong, Bob Stoops and Ron Zook, all of whom excelled at putting good defenses on the field.
"A lot of times when you have a defense that gets the ball back quickly, that helps your offensive numbers," Spurrier said. "My last year at Florida, we were No. 1 in the SEC in defense."
And on offense, despite all the attention afforded the Florida passing game, the Gators also ran the ball effectively.
"Steve has never gotten away from the belief that you have to run the football," Danielson said. "Even in his heyday at Florida, in the second half he pounded you with the run. He carved you up with the pass then put you away with the run."
This year, Spurrier's team at South Carolina remains very much a work in progress.
The defense has struggled, allowing 25.8 points and 365 yards in total offense per game.
However, that makes South Carolina's start on offense doubly impressive.
The Gamecocks (4-1) have gotten off to the fastest start in total offense in recorded school history, averaging 476.4 yards per game. The school began keeping total offense stats in 1962.
Even so, the offense is ever evolving, and looks radically different depending on whom is at quarterback.
If Shaw is in the game, South Carolina will operate mostly out of the shotgun and run the zone read.
With Thompson in the game, the Gamecocks are likely to be more of a quarterback-under-center, I-formation team featuring a downhill running game and play-action passing.
Right now, Shaw is the starter, but his propensity to run and take hits while trying to earn the extra yard almost guarantees that the Gamecocks will need both quarterbacks to make it through the season.
"You just try to do whatever your players can do best," Spurrier said. "Simple as that."
However it plays out, Palmer says Spurrier will get the most out of the Gamecocks.
"There are a lot of coaches who for years try to fit a square peg into a round hole," he said. "I think coach tried to do that his first couple years at South Carolina. He figured out it wasn't going to work and he has made the appropriate changes. Here they are, a perennial contender the last three years in the SEC and he has a shot at competing for the conference championship this year."
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes obtained first hand.
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