Gamecocks Ready to Take to the Air
By Matthew Osborne
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Despite losing Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina should be more proficient through the air this fall.
Frequently noted for his theatrical antics on the sidelines and his controversial quotes at press conferences, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has also garnered a reputation for being one of the premiere offensive minds in the country.
While serving as the head coach at the University of Florida in the 90’s, Spurrier’s patented “Fun ‘n’ Gun” offense allowed the Gators to become the first team in NCAA history to score at least 500 points in four consecutive seasons.
Although success in the passing game hasn’t always been as easy to come by at South Carolina, the Gamecocks have still produced a handful of quality players in the passing game during his tenure, including wide receivers Sidney Rice and Alshon Jeffery.
With Jeffery deciding to enter his name into the 2012 NFL Draft, there have been a lot of questions surrounding the South Carolina passing attack, and how they would be able to replace their dynamic playmaker out wide. Even with Jeffery, the Gamecocks finished just 95th in the nation in passing offense last season, thanks in part to a seemingly constant shuffling at the quarterback position.
That shuffling under center is a thing of the past, however, as junior Connor Shaw is the unquestioned leader of this Gamecock offense.
Shaw, who became the full-time starter six games into last season, experienced his share of ups and downs last year, but finished his sophomore campaign with 1,448 yards, 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He was also a big factor in the ground game, rushing for an additional 525 yards and eight scores.
While Shaw was a productive and efficient player on the field last season, the Gamecock coaching staff lessened the burden on his shoulder by placing a large emphasis on the ground attack.
Even with the loss of their best wide receiver, look for the Gamecocks to air it out a little more often this fall. It will also help that the offense can focus their attention on catering to one quarterback’s skill set.
“It’s way better now because I know I can focus on what I need to do for Connor instead of worrying about what I need to do for Connor and what I need to do to help Stephen (Garcia) at the same time,” wide receiver Ace Sanders commented at SEC Media Days.
Shaw will have no shortage of weapons at his disposal. While Jeffery has served in the role as the big-bodied, red zone target in the past, South Carolina is looking for any of their unproven, yet talented, wide receivers to step up and produce.
Junior DeAngelo Smith has spent the past two seasons waiting in the wings behind Jeffery, but has been touted as the star of each of the past two spring practices. He will team with senior D.L. Moore and incoming freshman Shaq Roland to give the Gamecocks a trio of tall, athletic playmakers on the perimeter.
Spurrier will also be looking for big plays out of diminutive slot receivers Ace Sanders and Damiere Byrd, both of whom possess exceptional speed.
In Sanders’ mind, the talent at receiver is there. Now, it’s simply a matter of going out and getting it done when it counts.
“With the talent of Alshon, it’s going to be hard to stumble across,” Sanders said about the loss of the Jeffery. “I’m looking for us to step up as a group, to help out Connor and help him as much as we can.”
As for the quarterback, Shaw does not appear to be worried about the receivers he has to work with.
“We’re going to miss [Jeffery]. We have a lot of guys who can step in though – Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington, D.L. Moore have to really step up.”
With star RB Marcus Lattimore expected to be 100% healthy for the start of fall camp, the Gamecocks will certainly have their opportunities to do some damage through the air this fall. Even without their star wide receiver, this Gamecock team should improve upon last season’s sub-par passing numbers.