We know how Steve Spurrier would LIKE to win. He likes to lay half a hundred on an opponent with every ball play in the book. He likes to Fun N’ Gun his way down the field.
He just hasn’t been able to do that with any consistency in five previous seasons at South Carolina because of average quarterback play (at best) and a pretty poor offensive line.
But he may have discovered the winning formula in last Saturday’s 17-6 win over Georgia.
In that game Spurrier saw the real-world practicality of running freshman Marcus Lattimore a lot (37 carries) and limiting the number of times he asked quarterback Stephen Garcia to throw the ball (17). Here was the net result:
**–Lattimore, a true freshman, had 182 yards. In all, South Carolina ran the bal 52 times and threw it 17 times. By contrast, in last year’s close loss at Georgia, South Carolina threw it 53 times.
**–Garcia completed 12 of 17 passes for 165 yards with no touchdowns but only one turnover (a fumble at Georgia’s 24-yard line).
**–And here is the key stat: Because Spurrier was patient and controlled the ball for 69 plays, Ellis Johnson’s defense was only on the field for 47 plays. South Carolina’s defense was fresher in the fourth quarter and it showed. It was classic Vince Dooley football.
“Looks like we’re just going to have to play old-timey football,” said Spurrier when I talked to him Monday afternoon. “That’s okay. Georgia used to win a bunch of football games doing that.”
Did he say “used to?” I believe he did.
It all starts with Lattimore, one of the nation’s most-highly recruited players. Spurrier and his staff did not recruit another running back last year. Now we know why.
“He’s special. There’s no doubt about that,” said Spurrier. “He reminds me of Emmitt Smith the way he gets behind his pads and just runs down hill. I asked Jay Graham, our running backs coach, how many tackles he broke against Georgia. We had him down for 42 broken tackles. That’s pretty good. Normally Georgia tackles better than that.”
The key against Georgia was Spurrier’s patience with the running game. With a 14-6 lead and about eight minutes remaining, Spurrier was perfectly content to run the ball and work the clock instead of trying to build on the lead.
“After Stephen fumbled down there in Georgia territory I just thought it didn’t make a lot of sense for me to be calling pass plays,” said Spurrier. “I just told our guys we were going to give it Marcus. If we get beat doing that we just get beat.”
So Spurrier has a great running back. He has another good defense. He is 2-0 with Furman coming up this week. Then the Gamecocks go to Auburn next week. A win there and South Carolina will be 4-0 with a week off before hosting No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that we’ve seen this from South Carolina before. The Gamecocks have become know for fast starts and stumbling finishes as the schedule gets tougher and depth becomes a problem. We’ve seen Spurrier get impatient when he falls behind and start throwing the ball. And it could certainly happen again, said Spurrier.
“Yep, we’ve had a hard time living with success around here,” said Spurrier. “That’s why we’ve pretty much been a 7-5 football team. Hopefully we’ll be smarter and we can stay healthy.”
As long as young Lattimore and that defense stay healthy, South Carolina will have a chance in every single game it plays. With the SEC East appearing to be wide open, having the HBC in contention could be entertaining.
Spurrier, for the record, won his 106th SEC regular season game last week. He is tied for second place all-time with John Vaught at Ole Miss. One more win and he’ll only trail Bear Bryant who had 159 SEC victories at Kentucky and Alabama.
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