When your team is averaging 50.5 points per game through the first two games of the season, you would think the coach would be very happy with his offense. Not if you're 10th-ranked South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
"We haven't played our best yet by any means," Spurrier said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. "We're trying to coach as hard as we can. We haven't coached our guys very well yet."
Particularly troublesome to Spurrier is the lack of a pass and the continued troubles in pass defense. The staple of the Spurrier teams that average 50 points a game is throwing the ball all over the field. With a fifth year senior returning at quarterback and plenty of depth at the receiver position, Spurrier had to feel good about his offense. Through two games, quarterback Stephen Garcia has completed just 18-of-40 passes for 252 yards and has as many interceptions as touchdown passes, two. Connor Shaw has completed just 3-of-9 passes for 21 yards. The quarterbacks have combined to complete just 41% of their passes for an average of 137 yards per game.
"The solution is we're just not throwing some completions and Georgia had some good coverages on," Spurrier said. "We had a couple of plays where really there was no place to throw it. Stephen did a good job throwing it away. He really did. We had some plays to the sidelines where we threw a little wide. Other than that, Georgia played well defensively. They stuffed us up pretty good. Give those guys credit."
Despite Garcia's struggles throwing the ball, he has rushed for 67 yards and three touchdowns and has provided a spark to the offense that just did not seem to be there when Shaw was the quarterback in the first quarter of the season opener against East Carolina. Because of that Garcia has distanced himself from Shaw and, barring injury, will likely be the quarterback the rest of his senior season.
"Stephen's our quarterback," Spurrier said. "We all firmly believe he's our best guy now. The competition was over. He's got every opportunity to take us as far as he can because we firmly believe he's our best quarterback on the team."
Garcia will be looking to improve on a performance against Georgia that was sub-par by Spurrier standards. Garcia completed just 11-of-25 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions - one of which was on a desperation heave at the end of the first half. Most of his passes in the first half were passes that either sailed over the head of the intended receiver or the receiver leaped to make the catch.
"I just think he was little pumped up and so forth," Spurrier said. "He actually said I think I need to throw over that guy, this, that and the other. He was a little high early and then he settled down a bit there later. In fact, gosh, our two best plays of the game were two scramble plays where he rolled out of the pocket and hit Alshon and he hit Ace. So maybe that's our best play right now."
There will be a little shake-up at receiver this Saturday when Carolina plays their home opener against Navy. D.L. Moore has a shoulder and ankle injury that will keep him out of this week's game. Jason Barnes may return to practice this week, and Spurrier hopes to get Bruce Ellington more involved in the receiving game this week.
"So Jason Barnes and Bruce, we're tying to get them more involved this week," Spurrier said. "Alshon and Ace will be in there. Hopefully, we can get all those guys involved more."
Perhaps equally as troubling has been the pass defense. After being one of the worst in the country defending the pass in 2010, the Carolina coaches hoped to improve on that this season with added depth. Through two games, the Gamecock defense has given up 250 passing yards per game and eight touchdowns.
"Hopefully, we can play better," Spurrier said. "I'm trying to do a better job trying to get some pass defense out there and trying to get some pass offense out there. We haven't been very good in those areas. So we have a lot to work on."
The problems in the secondary thus far in the season are the same issues from last season - miscommunication in the secondary and not making enough plays.
"I've got to coach better," Spurrier said. "Our assistant coaches have got to coach better. We can't just stand around and let them lob passes up in the air and over the top of us like is happening in the last two games. We got to get in the fight and knock balls down."
Thankfully for the Gamecock defense they will be facing an offense that only averages 73 yards per game through the first two games. However, they lead the nation in rushing with just over 400 yards per game and scored 40 games in each of its first two wins.
""Navy might be as good of an independent school as there is in the country," Spurrier said. "They have won 10 and 9 and 8 the last three years. I think they have beaten Notre Dame a couple of times. They're leading the nation in rush offense right now. They run the triple option, fullback, quarterback, pitch guys. We're going to have our hands full slowing down these guys."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo took the reigns of the Navy program after Paul Johnson left following the 2007 season. In his first three seasons at the helm, Niumatalolo has won 27 games in his first three seasons, the most of any coach in the program's history in the first three years.
"Their coach has done an unbelievable job, 29-14 in his three years and so forth," Spurrier said. "They're 2-0 this year. They just play very well. They don't beat themselves. They know how to run the ball. Their coach followed Paul Johnson, who went to Georgia Tech and obviously kept the same style of offense and defense."
Niumatalolo is no stranger to Navy football. Though he's just entering his fourth season as head coach, Niumatalolo has 15 years experience at Navy during two different stints. Prior to taking over as head coach, Niumatalolo spent the previous six seasons as assistant head coach and offensive line coach. He took over from where Johnson left off with the patented triple option attack.
"I've talked with our defensive coaches the other day," Spurrier said. "Of course, we've been watching these other teams that run it and how they defend a team when they play, like Georgia Tech on defense. Army, Navy, that's our best game because both teams run the same offense and how they defend each other. We have an idea of how to do it. Coach Johnson has played against this style in his defensive career. We'll have a plan in place. We have to play fast and play assignment ball and get after them. That's what we have to do."
Though teams like Navy and Georgia Tech have been successful running the option offense, it's not a common offensive style at the FBS level. Perhaps the team that was most successful with the triple option in recent history was Tom Osborne's Nebraska teams. Some say you can't be successful in major college football with that offensive style, but it really all comes down to personnel.
"It probably doesn't suit everybody's talent that much," Spurrier said. "If it worked for everyone, obviously, you'd think everybody'd use it. So obviously, it doesn't work for everyone. I don't think it'd work for us. Paul Johnson does it at Georgia Tech. This guy does it at Navy very well."
The first thing long-time Gamecock fans thought about when they saw navy on the 2011 football schedule was the game between the two schools nearly 30 years ago. South Carolina entered the game with a perfect 9-0 record and had their sights on a National Championship. The Gamecocks had no answer for Navy's offense and lost to the 3-5-1 Midshipmen, 38-21. The loss ended Carolina's hopes of a National Title.
"We mentioned some prior games we played with them," Spurrier said. "But that game has nothing to do with the one coming up Saturday, so we're not going to harp on that that much."
Finish the job
Though Carolina hasn't played well at all the first two games, they still find themselves at 2-0 and ranked tenth in the country. Carolina trailed ECU 17-0 early before rallying for a 56-37 win, and followed that up with a 45-42 win last week over Georgia in a seesaw battle.
"We can't win 56-37, 45-42 every week," Spurrier said. "It's just hard to do. Auburn can do it, they know how to do it a lot better than we do. I guess Auburn won about two in a row like that, haven't they? Usually that will catch up with you after a while."
After kicking a field goal late in the game to take a 31-28 lead against the Dawgs, Georgia went right down the field for a touchdown to take a 35-31 lead with 6:28 left in the game. Carolina did something they've rarely done at that point, coming back after giving up the lead late to take the win the game.
"It was encouraging that we were behind in the fourth quarter and ended up winning," Spurrier said. "That's very encouraging. We haven't done that very much around here. So, that drive when we had three big plays in it. It wasn't like we just went up and down the field. We had interference to start with and then Stephen rolled out and hit Ace on a beautiful scramble play and then Marcus had the big run down to the one or two yard line there. It was nice that happened."
First home game
Saturday's game will be the first home game of the season. It will also be the first time Carolina has played at home since a 69-24 win against Troy on November 20th. Since that game, Carolina has played three road games and three neutral site games.
"We haven't been here in a while, but that's just the way the schedule worked out," Spurrier said. "We had our last one at Clemson last year and of course the bowl game and championship game and so forth. We opened up away this year, but that's just the way it worked out. Yeah, we're anxious to get home this year and play in front of our crowd. It's always a big night when we have a home game."
Carolina is 12-2 at Williams-Brice the last two seasons, with the lone losses coming against then-#1 Florida in 2009 and a 41-20 loss to 18th-ranked Arkansas in 2010.
"All the students are used to us winning at the home games so they're fired up," Spurrier said. "They'll be ready to scream and yell. As our team approaches this game, we're just trying to play a lot better. If we're going to have a big year, and I still think our players are better than the way we're performing right now. We're going to find out. We haven't hit our best at any means yet, so we've got a lot of work to do, a lot of coaching. Players got to hopefully learn how to play this game or we're going to be in trouble this year."
Just two games into his collegiate career, Shon Carson's season is over. He injured his ACL early in the game against Georgia and will not play again this season.
"(I) Just talked with him a few minutes ago," Spurrier said. "We'll try to redshirt him and give him four more years to play here. He is an outstanding runner with the ball. He is really going to be a great tailback for us here at South Carolina. That will separate him by a year from Marcus and maybe give him more opportunities down the road. But that was a rather unfortunate injury that happened during the game."
Holloman at safety
Devonte Holloman will be starting at safety this week alongside D.J. Swearinger, taking Jimmy Legree's spot for the week. Spurrier hinted the possibility that it may be more than a one-week switch against Navy's triple option attack.
"Well, we'll try and put the best athletes on the field, that's what we'll try and do," Spurrier said. "We're still searching for those. If DeVonte is one of our best, we'll get him out there. He doesn't need to play behind Antonio. Our guys keep saying, well, Antonio's going to get tired, this, that and the other. I always say, if we get a whole bunch of 3 and outs, he won't get tired. We're not getting many 3 and outs right now. So we've got some coaching to do on defense. So we need to get out best athletes on the field, simple as that.
The latest information on freshman receiver Damiere Byrd is that there is none. Though it appears Byrd will end up having to sit out this week and next week against Vanderbilt for his four-game suspension, Spurrier seemed a bit more optimistic.
"Still don't know about Damiere Byrd," Spurrier said. "There's a chance he may be declared eligible or there's a chance he may not be. So we'll find out later in the week on that."
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