Gamecock offense leans on defense
Posted: Monday, November 3, 2008 6:01 pm
By: By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Steve Spurrier knows his offense needs more work. Fortunately for South Carolina’s head ball coach, his defense understands that idea as well.
Spurrier said Sunday the most hopeful thing he read was from Gamecock safety Chris Culliver who told reporters his group is ready to shut down opponents until the attack gets going.
That’s what the defense did to Tennessee, posting a 27-6 victory on Saturday night, the fourth victory over the Vols in a series that began in 1903.
“Our defense played sensational football last night,” Spurrier said.
The offense? Well, that’s another story.
While freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia passed for two touchdown, the Gamecocks threw just 20 times to keep the ball away from Tennessee’s playmaking defenders.
South Carolina ran 44 times for 101 yards, an average of 2.3 yards a carry.
Part of that was designed, although it seems to go against Spurrier’s core philosophy.
He says since the Gamecocks were up 21-0 less than 20 minutes into the game, Spurrier decided to hand the game to the Southeastern Conference’s top-ranked defense.
“As a coach, you say, ’Hey, they got to score four times to beat us unless we give them one,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier didn’t want to chance disaster with a freshman quarterback still learning, a struggling offensive line and runners having trouble finding daylight.
“Sometimes when Stephen drops back to throw, you don’t know what’s going to happen” with protection or receivers, Spurrier said, mindful that Garcia was sacked six times in South Carolina’s previous game, a 24-17 loss to LSU.
“I thought the best thing was to play fairly conservatively and try and get us a win,” he said.
It’s a gameplan Spurrier might ride all the way to a New Year’s Day bowl. Such a notion seemed ridiculous back in September following the Gamecocks’ 0-2 SEC start.
However, South Carolina has won five of its last six overall and combined with the struggles of typical SEC powers like Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn, Spurrier’s Gamecocks (6-3, 3-3 SEC) might indeed rise that high before season’s end.
Spurrier won’t spend much time discussing that with his players this week. After all, the Gamecocks had six victories last year but spent the postseason on the sidelines without a bowl trip.
Spurrier says he’ll focus on Arkansas, which comes to Columbia on Saturday.
The Gamecocks had better improve on its effort against the Razorbacks from one year ago, when Darren McFadden tied an SEC record with 321 rushing yards in a 48-36 loss.
South Carolina’s latest defensive group has done much better, ranking in the top 12 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and stopping the pass.
First-year coordinator Ellis Johnson says his unit stepped things up with its performance against Tennessee. The Vols were sacked six times and rushed for 34 yards.
“As far as the effort, trying to play physical and making plays against what I think is a very talented football team, it could have been” the best South Carolina has played, Johnson said.
The Gamecocks were so dominating, they may have accomplished one of the hardest feats in the SEC — silencing “Rocky Top,” the Vols’ ubiquitous theme song.
“The Tennessee band was there, weren’t they?” Spurrier asked.
“I’m used to hearing Rocky Top about 10 times,” he said. “I didn’t remember them playing at all.”
Now, if Spurrier could get his offense playing like his defense.
“It was a good win,” he said. “We all realize we’ve got to play better offensively.”