"I think this kind of offense is better maybe than what we used to do." - South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier
Those are words you may have thought you've never hear come out of the mouth of one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football history.
But there sat South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier at the final press conference before Monday's Capital One Bowl match-up with Nebraska, smiling, joking, and talking about running quarterbacks.
It's been one of the biggest topics of conversation during the Gamecocks' 10-2 season. A win Monday would make this the winningest Gamecock team of all time.
And it may go down as one of Spurrier's greatest coaching jobs of all time. Ironically, it wasn't about passing trees, timing routes or long balls. This South Carolina team won with really good defense and ultimately a really good rushing attack.
It wasn't an immediate conversion from the Fun 'n Gun to the zone-read balanced attack the Gamecocks are running with quarterback Connor Shaw at the helm.
In the last few years, Spurrier and his offensive assistants had implemented more designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Stephen Garcia's talents. But Spurrier always seemed to have the ultimate goal of getting back as close as possible to the offense he ran at Florida.
With a fifth-year senior Garcia running the show and a talented array of skill players, prior to the 2011 season Spurrier vowed to call all the offensive plays again and looked to shift the offense back to an under-center, play-action style attack. But Garcia struggled to hit open receivers, the offensive line wasn't consistent enough and the offense never clicked.
It's hard to tell when the mindset truly changed. Following a home loss to Auburn, Shaw was given the reins of the offense and the Gamecocks blew out Kentucky 54-3 but it was still a pass-first game plan.
In the next week against Mississippi State, Heisman-hopeful Marcus Lattimore went down for the season. Run less? No, the Gamecocks just ran the football even more.
While running backs Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles have picked up the slack along the way, it's been the running ability of Shaw that has extended drives and been the back-breaker of opposing defenses. While Shaw is always a threat to take off and run on a called pass play, that running ability has become more and more of a part of the game plan in the second half of the season.
Whether it be the quarterback draw, or possibly the staple of the Gamecocks' new offense, the zone-read running play, Shaw's running has made it all click.
In the regular season finale against Clemson, the offense showed its true potential as the Gamecocks ran and threw up and down the field for 210 yards both on the ground and through the air in a 34-13 blowout victory.
Shaw threw for 210 yards and rushed for a career-high 107 yards with four total touchdowns.
"I believe that the sign of a good coach (is) the ability to look at what you have and play to the strengths of your group," Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said.
Spurrier credits running game coordinator and offensive line coach Shawn Elliott for installing the running game portion of the game plan from week to week.
Elliott originally studied the zone-read running game in 2004 when he was the offensive line coach at Appalachian State.
Looking for an offensive spark, and with playmakers Richie Williams and Armanti Edwards at quarterback, the Appalachian State staff went to West Virginia to study ways to get their quarterbacks more involved in the running game with Rich Rodriguez's zone-read concepts.
"Adding the quarterback run to any offense is something I think is hard to defend," Elliott says. "If you talk to anyone out there, 11 on 11 is a lot better than 10 on 11."
The Appalachian staff took what it learned and adapted the concepts and mindset to the system they were already using. Elliott says they've further adapted the concepts to better implement them at South Carolina.
Pelini, who oversees Nebraska's defense, has noticed.
"It's a well thought-out offense," he said, "and they're coached well, and I think the kids execute it and have a good understanding of what they're trying to get done and that's a sign of a good football team."
Spurrier has become a believer, too.
The Head Ball Coach still is the Gamecocks' primary play-caller. Each week, he, along with quarterbacks coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus install the passing portion of the game plan. And on gameday, the four coaches work together with Spurrier ultimately signaling in the play.
Spurrier still believes there's a place in college football for excellent passers and decision-makers.
But it makes life easier if the quarterback can use his feet too.
"Today if the quarterback can't run, it's difficult," he says. "Alabama is winning with non-running quarterbacks. It's more difficult. If you've got a guy like R.G. Griffin III, woh's a national champ high hurdler, he runs a 4.4 [forty-yard dash] and can throw the way he can throw, those are the guys that I think can dominate."
Dual-threat-QB offense here to stay
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