Notebook: Offense needs to score

South Carolina's offense has struggled to put points on the board in 2011. The Gamecock offense is averaging just over three touchdowns per game this season and that will have to change Saturday night when the Gamecocks hit the road for the final time this season to take on Arkansas.

Eight games into the season tenth-ranked South Carolina is still struggling to put up the offensive numbers head coach Steve Spurrier had hoped, particularly through the air. The Gamecocks are just seventh in the SEC in passing yards per game with 186 yards per game, but has thrown 11 touchdown passes.

"Obviously we are going to do what it takes we think the best way to win the game," Spurrier said in his weekly press conference Tuesday. "If that's putting it on the ground and running it 20 plays, then that is not a bad way to have to do it. But hopefully we can throw the ball around better. But it is frustrating when you've got the play, got the right defense and there goes the guy, looks like he's open, oops, quarterback got him, oops, he didn't throw it, oops. It is frustrating, but it is what it is. If we need to give some of our linemen a little help, we need to do that. We planned on it but a few times one of our guys was left on his own and sort of got beat in pass protection and sometimes that happens."

While South Carolina is the only team in the FBS to not attempt a field goal inside the red zone this season, they haven't been exactly lighting up the scoreboard. South Carolina has scored 28 touchdowns on the season, just over three per game. It has only scored two offensive touchdowns in four of the last five games.

"We've only scored about two touchdowns in five of the eight games this year," Spurrier said. "I think we got three against Navy, and the first two. Let's see, Navy, Kentucky and East Carolina. The Georgia game we really only scored (three) touchdowns, offensively. We got a bunch of them defensively and special teams. We've not gone up and down the field."

The success the offense has had this season has been thanks to the running game. Carolina is second in the conference in rushing per game with 202 yards per game. Only Alabama's 229 yards per game ranks higher. The Gamecocks seemed to have suffered a devastating blow two weeks ago when All-American running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury. Though certainly not Lattimore, freshman running back Brandon Wilds was plenty good enough against Tennessee, rushing for 137 yards on 28 carries against the Vols. Wilds handled the Lattimore-like load on the 20-play scoring drive, carrying the ball 11 times for 51 yards. Wilds also three passes for 31 yards and accounted for all of Carolina's yards in the first quarter. Despite the performance, Spurrier says he made freshman mistakes and will only continue to get better.

"Brandon did a lot of good things in that Tennessee game," Spurrier said. "Some things happened that hopefully he can learn from also. (When) Going out for passes a couple times, he sort of left Connor. Connor thought he was going to hook up right there and he sort of drifted on him a couple times. So we believe he can be better in certain areas, but he's a natural runner. Brandon is an excellent runner with the ball, has good body lean, shakes some guys off, gets his pads down. He's a very good back and he was able to show it last week, and hopefully we can make a bunch of yards again. We're not a great passing team so we better run successfully."

Against the Razorbacks it's going to take a lot more than two touchdowns to win the game. Arkansas is tenth in the conference against both the pass and run, and with the Razorbacks struggling to score early the last two weeks, getting to an early lead and being able to pound the ball is just what Carolina needs.

"You always hope so, but you can't control everything that happens," Spurrier said. "Arkansas's been slow-starting. They were behind, what, 17-0 to Ole Miss? And 21-7, I think, at Vandy, and came back and won. If you get ahead of them, that doesn't mean anything. They're such a good passing team and they believe they can come back and win the game. It will probably be a down-to-the-wire ballgame, as most of ours are. You just keep playing, and hope to get ahead, and go from there."

Improving secondary

Undoubtedly the biggest turn-around this season has been the play of the secondary. After being one of the worst teams in the nation in 2010, the Gamecocks are second in the SEC and third nationally against the pass, giving up 135.9 yards per game. That is just 0.3 yards per game behind Alabama for first in the SEC and nine behind Michigan State for tops in the FBS.

"Hopefully we will play well and we must to have a chance to beat Arkansas," Spurrier said. "Our guys have really improved on pass defense, there is no question. We are right there with Alabama as the best pass defense in the conference. I think one yard separates us or half a yard or two. We will certainly be challenged."

That's a huge change from just two months ago. In the season opener against East Carolina, the Gamecocks gave up 260 yards and four touchdowns against Dominique Davis and the following week gave up 248 yards and four scores to Aaron Murray. Since then South Carolina has only given up two passing touchdowns.

"I think we've simplified a lot of our coverages to where we don't have all that many and there are fewer mistakes," Spurrier said. "I think that's a big part of it, and just the guys playing hard, playing their assignments, playing with effort. Getting a pretty consistent rush has been helpful. We have good athletes. When they know what to do and they are in position, I know that has really helped us this year compared to what we did last year. To sort of simplify has really helped."

The fact that the defense hasn't faced a vertical passing game the likes of Arkansas presents has been a big help. They will certainly be challenged by the best passing offense in the league.

"They are the best passing team in the conference, no doubt about it," Spurrier said. "They lead the conference in passing about every year. Bobby Petrino has done an excellent job there at Arkansas. They have three wide receivers that are really good and a tight end that is really good. They spread the ball around, and they've all got a bunch of yards and touchdowns. It'll be a big challenge for us."

A key to helping the secondary out will be a good pass rush. After being at the top of the SEC in sacks all season, the Gamecocks have fallen off a little bit. After recording just one sack against the Vols, Carolina is now seventh in the conference with 16 sacks. Arkansas has given up 17 sacks, tied with Florida for sixth in the conference.

"We have to get a pass rush going also," Spurrier said. "We've got to get Melvin and Clowney and Devin and the guys really getting pressure on the quarterback. That'll be a must for us this week."

Potential school record-breaking win

Since joining the SEC in 1992, Carolina has not won more than five conference games in a season. It has done that multiple times, but has never gotten to six. The Gamecocks got to five wins this season with its 14-3 win over Tennessee and has two chances to try and change history. The senior class has already become the winningest class of players in school history with its win over the Vols.

"Oh, we've got a chance for a lot of first-time things, a lot of them," Spurrier said. "Somebody told me our senior class won more games than any four-year period with last week's win so they can increase that one. Road wins, I think we can increase that record a little bit. SEC games and what have you, but really the only thing you can concentrate on is playing the game and trying to play our assignments."

The ultimate goal for this season is to win the SEC East and play for the SEC Championship in Atlanta for the second consecutive year. South Carolina is tied with Georgia with identical 6-1 conference records, but the Gamecocks have the tie-breaker advantage. Georgia kept the pressure on Carolina last week with its 24-20 win over Florida. If the Bulldogs can beat Auburn and Kentucky and the Gamecocks fall to Arkansas or Florida, it will be the Bulldogs that head to Atlanta.

"The biggest goal is trying to win the East and do that we probably need to win the last two games," Spurrier said. "We all know that it's so one game at a time. This week it's Arkansas. Let's go see if we can play better than we did last week."

Arkansas is in a similar position. With a 3-1 conference record, the Razorbacks still have an outside shot at winning the West. If Arkansas wins out and LSU beats Alabama this weekend, the three teams will all finish with identical 7-1 records.

"Oh yea, they are still alive for their division," Spurrier said. "They have to hope LSU beats Alabama then they beat us and they beat LSU, that would put a three-way tie over there and I don't know who would be the pick."

Lattimore/Coffee update

Marcus Lattimore has yet to have surgery on his injured knee and Matt Coffee will have surgery on his injured knee this week.

"I don't know that the date has been set exactly for (Lattimore's) surgery," Spurrier said. "Matt Coffee is having surgery this week within a day or two I think, but Marcus will probably be some time next week. If he'd like to go, he's going with us. It was good to have him with us last week and if he wants to go, certainly we've got room for him."

LSU/Bama

While Gamecock and Razorback fans will have their eyes clued on their football game Saturday night, the rest of the nation will have their eyes on the biggest regular season match-up in many years when #1 Alabama faces off against #2 LSU Saturday night.

"I like both of them, how's that?" Spurrier said with a smile. "That is pretty neat, the first time ever one and two. I heard one of the announcers on TV say, this is two power teams. This is no spread offenses, throw it 50 times a game teams. Just two big strong guys that are going to out-hit the other guy. Whoever out-hits the other guy will probably win the game. So it will be interesting to see what all happens. Alabama is actually throwing the ball a lot better than people think. We watched their tape with Arkansas a little bit and they're throwing it around probably more than people realize. And LSU throws it around a bit, too. But they're still smash-mouth type teams."


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