South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore
Although the Southeastern Conference is packed with powerhouse programs virtually across the board, one team’s offense whose arrow could be pointing up for 2011 is Steve Spurrier’s defending SEC East champion Gamecocks.
Regardless of one’s opinion the polarizing head coach, Spurrier has put together a competitive offense that could emerge as one of college football’s finest in 2011.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia has demonstrated gradual on-field improvement over his first three seasons in Columbia. Although he posted two consecutive clunkers in last year’s SEC Championship against national champ Auburn as well as the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 against Florida State, Gamecock Nation is more concerned with Garcia’s off-field troubles.
The Lutz, FL native is currently suspended indefinitely for multiple incidents, most recently alcohol-related insolence, and did not participate in spring drills. But the embattled senior has owned up to past misdeeds, and seems likely to right the ship given that this will be his last season that will be heavily scrutinized by NFL scouts.
If Garcia remains in Spurrier’s doghouse, then sophomore signal caller Connor Shaw will provide a somewhat reliable albeit unspectacular substitute. His experience may be limited to 33 total passes in game action, but Coach Spurrier isn’t afraid to move forward with the developing Shaw if Garcia’s suspension isn’t lifted.
Assuming Garcia does return to the huddle with a clear head, he has the benefit of returning starters at key positions, a battle-tested coach who has enjoyed recent success in an ultra-competitive conference, as well as an influx of promising recruits who should facilitate moving the chains in 2011.
Returning for his junior season will be Biletnikoff Award finalist Alshon Jeffery. Already deemed to have a future in the National Football League, Jeffery will continue to build on his already impressive college resume. As a sophomore, he caught 88 balls for over 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns. Incoming four-star freshman wideout Damiere Byrd (Erial, NJ) delivers a rare combination of speed, quickness and toughness which should translate well at the college level.
Redshirt sophomore DeAngelo Smith showcased his talent in the spring game with four catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns, and seems certain to emerge as the No. 2 wideout for the Gamecocks come fall. Another certainty of this program’s offense is the ascendance of the South Carolina running game.
Running back Marcus Lattimore proved he can be an every-down back based on gutsy performances against Florida (40 carries, 212 yards, 3 TDs) and Georgia (37 carries, 182 yards, 2 TDs), and his 19 total touchdowns also indicates the sophomore has a nose for the end zone. The emergence of Lattimore in the Gamecock backfield coupled with Spurrier’s unpredictable play-calling provides a combination that will keep opposing defenses on their heels provided injuries don’t befall the South Carolina offense.
If Lattimore pulls up lame, junior Kenny Miles displayed something of a return to form in the Garnet and Black spring game on Apr. 10 when he rushed six times for 43 yards and a touchdown, and added three catches for 35 yards as well. Miles fell to third on the RB depth chart in 2010, but looks to have earned more playing time moving forward with this impressive performance.