COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier saw exactly what he wanted out of his offense – and there was hardly a downfield pass in sight.
Spurrier, the grinning, visor-tossing mastermind of the “Fun-n-Gun” during his national championship days at Florida, has forged a new formula to succeed with the Gamecocks. That’s on the ground with a relentless, effective rushing game fueled by a deep, experienced offensive line.
“Offense did some good things, ran the ball,” Spurrier said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “Came out and ran it, ran it, ran it.”
Mike Davis, who rushed for 1,183 yards a season ago, carried just three times while backups Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and David Williams combined for 96 yards on 16 carries. Wilds and Carson each had a short touchdown run.
Spurrier has used the formula to go 11-2 the past three years, and the Gamecocks are the preseason favorites to win the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
Not all the offensive news was good. Starting right guard Mike Matulis had to be helped off the field with a left knee sprain. Spurrier said the team would wait to see how severe the injury was and whether it would keep the junior on the sideline when the Gamecocks open up against Texas A&M on Aug. 28.
Matulis, who missed last season with a right shoulder injury, was part of a group considered among the best offensive lines in the SEC. Tackles Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell and left guard A.J. Cann have a combined 83 career starts the past three years. Perhaps that’s why Spurrier sounds as happy about the ground game as he used to about throwing nearly every down with the Gators.
“Yeah, they played well today,’ Spurrier said of the offensive line. “They were tired of getting pushed around a little bit.”
That should serve Davis and the rest of the backs well. Davis was one of the SEC’s top runners last fall but wore down because of injuries late in the season. He gained 100 yards or more in seven of South Carolina’s first nine games, but combined for only 135 in the final four.
“The front five has gotten a lot of push,” Wilds said. “We’re an older group, so everybody knows the plays and we can click as one.”
If Matulis can’t go, Spurrier said centers Clayton Stadnik and Cody Waldrop would be the most likely fill-ins.
A strong offensive line and run game should also ease any worries over how senior Dylan Thompson will do in his first-time role as starting quarterback.
Thompson, as he did a week ago in the opening summer scrimmage, played sparingly, although Spurrier said Thompson was confident and on target during his brief time at work.
“We’ve got to keep him healthy,” Spurrier said. “But Dylan’s ready to have a big year, I believe.”
Thompson, the backup to Connor Shaw the past three seasons, is considered more of the drop-back, downfield passer who thrived in Spurrier’s pass-first Florida schemes.
That should mean more opportunities for South Carolina receivers.
“Dylan’s not really that much of a runner as Connor is, and we really have to stay on our toes as far as Dylan because he can check to different plays,” said receiver Damiere Byrd, second on the team last year with 33 catches for 575 yards.
Still, don’t look for Thompson to open things up too much, not with a talented runner like Davis and an offensive line finding its mean streak.
Spurrier was disappointed a week back when a rebuilt defensive line – last year’s playmakers in Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton are gone – found gap after gap to bottle up things.
The offensive linemen’s success this time came from a more physical approach that Spurrier hopes they’ll carry throughout the regular season.
“The offensive guys had a little bit better attitude,” he said. “They knew that we needed to run the ball.”
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