Gamecocks winning games the old-school way

Running game, defense have become staples of USC’s unprecedented run of success

jkendall@thestate.comOctober 10, 2012 

South Carolina Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore (21) looks for room to run in the second quarter of their game against Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC.


John Chavis will coach against Steve Spurrier’s offense for the 17th time on Saturday, but he might not recognize what he sees.

Chavis is LSU’s defensive coordinator, but he made his name during a 19-year stint at Tennessee, where he matched wits with Spurrier’s Florida offenses from 1990-2001 in what were annually the SEC East’s most entertaining games. Those were different times, though.

Spurrier has shelved the Fun ‘N’ Gun for an old-school approach and is one of several high-profile coaches around the country to buck the national trend of fast-paced, high-flying offensive football.

“There’s certainly always a place for running and ball control,” Spurrier said. “Right now, our style’s been pretty good the last two years with a running quarterback and not throwing over 20, 25 times a game as a way of doing things.”

While West Virginia and Oregon are riding record-breaking offenses to lofty rankings and national acclaim, No. 3 South Carolina is making the case for a different approach. Count Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly as one of those in Carolina’s camp.

“When I came to Notre Dame, having lived in that world of trying to outscore opponents, I felt the best blueprint we could put together here for a national championship was through our defense,” Kelly said. “When you play the game (with a fast-paced offense), you are susceptible to off days, and you’re going to get beat.”

Kelly got the Notre Dame job in part because of his offensive success at Cincinnati but has the Irish 5-0 and ranked No. 7 with the nation’s second-best scoring defense and 61st scoring offense.

“The blueprint here is not to try to outscore people and turn it into a track meet,” Kelly said. “It’s to control the line of scrimmage, to play great defense, to be great in the special teams. It’s just a choice of the way I want our program to evolve.”

It has become Spurrier’s motto, too. On Saturday, the Gamecocks beat Georgia 35-7 while attempting 10 passes, the fewest in Spurrier’s career as a head coach.

“You can see the statistics, Marcus (Lattimore) carries over 20 times, we’re in pretty good shape,” Spurrier said. “We’ve won them all. So if we can get him his 25 carries, play good defense, the odds are pretty good for us.”

In the Upstate of the South Carolina, offensive coordinator Chad Morris has invigorated the Tigers with an offense that strives to run 80 plays per game. The Tigers are 13th in the country in scoring but 71st in points allowed. Spurrier has made several references to the Clemson offense when talking about his own team this year.

“Sometimes you forget that when you run 85 plays, the other guy might run 85, too,” Spurrier said.

Alabama’s Nick Saban, perhaps anticipating a BCS title game matchup against Oregon or West Virginia, has even gone so far as to question the safety and fairness of the fast-paced, no-huddle offense.

“Is this what we want football to be?” Saban asked. “I think that the way people are going no-huddle right now, that at some point in time we should look at how fast we allow games to go in terms of player safety. You can’t substitute defensive players, you go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive, and they’re snapping the ball as fast as they can and you look out there and all your players are walking around and can’t even get lined up.”

South Carolina’s throwback offense is fifth in the SEC in scoring (36.3 points per game) and sixth in the conference in yards (406.2 per game), while the Tigers are fourth in the league in points allowed (12.8 per game) and second in yards allowed (221 per game).

“They’re just real sound,” Spurrier said of Chavis’ defenses. “Most good defenses are real sound. Who knows how this one will turn out, but if we’ve got a chance to beat them, our defense has to play well.”

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