COLUMBIA, SC — If you’re one of those people who has found yourself wondering where Steve Spurrier’s old Fun ‘N Gun offense from the Florida days went, the answer is nowhere.
South Carolina’s offense, which hit a 65-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the game during Thursday night’s 27-10 win over North Carolina, still looks at times like stuff right out of Florida’s 1990s offense. The concept on the first touchdown pass is called “Mills,” and you can see examples of it in the Gators’ old playbooks.
Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw said after the game that South Carolina used its opening two running plays to establish the coverage the Tar Heels would play against certain formations. When Mike Davis gained 17 yards on his first two runs, it helped the Gamecocks’ cause by making both North Carolina safeties – Tre Boston and Dominique Green – very aware of the run. (Boston was 6 yards away from the line of scrimmage and moving forward when the ball was snapped on the second play of the game, and Davis still managed to run for 12 yards.)
On the third play, the Gamecocks called “Mills” and got the quarters coverages they wanted. Quarters is a zone defense that makes the four defensive backs responsible for equal parts of the field divided vertically. A defense with a single safety deep on the play would have forced an audible from South Carolina.
Damiere Byrd, lined up in the left slot, ran a square in, which forced both safeties to stay shallow. That left Shaq Roland, lined up wide left, with only cornerback Tim Scott to beat, and because Scott had no inside help, it was an easy task for Roland, who ran a post, leaving Shaw tons of room to throw the ball out in front of him.
“The safeties kind of sat up a little bit, were aggressive on the run, and we were able to get behind them,” Shaw said.
Shaw made sure to praise Roland after the game for “running through the ball,” and that comment made more sense after watching a taped television broadcast of the game because ESPN announcer Rece Davis, who attended Thursday’s South Carolina practice, said the Gamecocks missed the play in Thursday’s practice because Roland broke stride on the route and Shaw overthrew him.
This time, Roland sprinted through the route, caught the ball in stride and scored college football’s first touchdown of 2013.
Later in the quarter, on a pass that Roland dropped in the end zone, the Gamecocks ran “Lonnie,” another Spurrier staple to get Roland alone in the end zone.
“I was encouraged,” Shaw said of an offensive performance that yielded 406 yards on 59 plays. “I had some fun out there. I think we all did. It was fun to get both of us in there and get the offense clicking.”
Of course, not many people were talking about the Gamecocks’ offense after Thursday’s game. The biggest topic of discussion was junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was very winded during portions of the game. The topic dominated ESPN’s coverage of the game, and analyst David Pollack, a former All-America defensive end at Georgia, chided Clowney for his effort.
“Clowney was gassed. He took himself out of the ball game. Listen, he’s the most talented guy in the country,” Pollack said while the network showed clips in which Clowney was slow to react to plays. “What is that? That’s not effort. You control your effort.”
Clowney played 15 snaps – lining up once at nose tackle, 11 times at his regular right end spot and three times as the left end – before his conditioning became an issue. Those snaps covered almost exactly one hour of real time and 20 minutes of game action, and then Clowney came off the field with North Carolina facing a third-and-eight in South Carolina’s red zone.
The Tar Heels converted that third down with an 8-yard pass to tight end Eric Ebron. In the second half. Early in the third quarter, Clowney was not on the field on fourth-and-11 as the Tar Heels converted with a long completion.
“He talked about this offseason that he put in the work,” Pollack said. “That’s the one critique I have watching him in the offseason. He doesn’t consistently give the effort. If he does? It’s a wrap.”