Notebook: Offense strikes early and often

Spring games are often uneventful. Saturday's spring game for South Carolina had many more highlights than usual with both offenses making big plays and moving up and down the field. Six quarterbacks combined for 511 passing yards and six touchdown passes on 40-of-54 attempts as the Black defeated the Garnet 38-24.

If spring football games gave any indication of how a season will turn out, South Carolina would have to feel very good about its offense. Connor Shaw found Damiere Byrd streaking down the middle of the field for a 70-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage, and later Tanner McEvoy found D.L. Moore streaking down the field for a 62-yard touchdown pass.

"Obviously we threw the ball and caught it better than we have all spring; more passing yards and completions than we've ever had," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "I thought our coverage could have been better. Our guys were hitting everything."

Shaw completed six passes in seven attempts for 128 yards and two touchdowns. McEvoy completed 8-of-12 passes for 132 yards and two scores. Dylan Thompson – who Spurrier said would "probably" be the number two quarterback entering the fall – completed 15-of-20 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Seth Strickland completed just 2-of-3 passes, but did throw two picks.

"They only threw one or two errant throws today," Spurrier said. "All the quarterbacks played pretty well and all the receivers caught just about everything."

Thompson appeared to be the guy that Spurrier wanted to see the most of, and he didn't disappoint. Thompson made good decisions and threw nice passes, including the 22-yard scoring strike to Nick Jones on a slant route in the middle of the defense.

"He'll probably be the number two starter," Spurrier said. "Dylan has a lot of ability. I think he's got a chance of being a decent player. Tanner (also) came in and played his best. Maybe he's going to get into the fight for the number two spot over the summer and into fall practice."

"The offense is a lot easier for me now than it was last year at this time," Thompson said. "All in all I think it was a good spring. We got better and we need to keep improving."

Before reading too much into the offensive numbers or thinking the secondary is going to have struggles, keep in mind that it is just the spring game. Devin Taylor did not play at all and Jadeveon Clowney played sparingly and was told not to go full-speed. There was also no Akeem Auguste or DJ Swearinger in the secondary, two likely starters entering fall camp. Add in the fact that the defense did not blitz and played soft zone coverages, it's set up for the offense to succeed.

"We didn't have much pressure; Jadeveon and Devin Taylor didn't play much at all," Spurrier said. "Clowney played a little bit, but he didn't act like he was playing too much. He wasn't rushing and stopped two or three times."

Still, the quarterbacks have to make the throws and the receivers have to make the catches, something that hasn't been the case in the previous practices.

"It felt good to end the spring on a good note and you know of course that a few defensive players didn't play so it's going to be a lot different on Saturdays, but still it felt good to end on a good note," Shaw said.

Spring game or not, it's hard not to get excited for the potential of this team. Knowing what kind of defense the Gamecocks will field this year, and knowing that #21 will be in the backfield once again, the team has a chance to be successful. That already has Spurrier giddy still more than four months away from kicking the 2012 season off.

"It's a team that has a chance to be pretty good," Spurrier said. "There's always unknowns until you start playing the games. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We're going to try our best not to get embarrassed and try and play the game the way it's supposed to be played. We do have some good players."

Moore finished with 82 yards receiving on three catches, Byrd had 70 on one catch, and Riley Gallaher had 60 on two catches to lead the receivers.

Clifford and Blair Lowery each ran for 26 yards and Brandon Wilds ran for 22 as both offenses failed to move the ball on the ground.

Off the bench play

In what has become a spring game tradition, Riley Gallaher was Spurrier's selection for the "off the bench play." On the first play of the second quarter, Shaw rolled to his left to avoid pressure and Gallaher was standing all alone in the end zone. It will likely be the easiest throw of the season for Shaw.

"We started that in Florida," Spurrier said. "We had maximum protection on that play and we still let a guy run right through the middle and Connor had to roll out. We hadn't worked on it all spring, just talked about it in the meetings. Gallaher was our likely candidate."

The play, which is obviously illegal, nearly went by unnoticed.

"The only referee that saw it was the guy standing on our sideline and threw the flag," Spurrier laughed. "He just happened to see him go by. Maybe if I would have snuck him out the other way and see if he could catch it. It's just a spring game play that we've used every year."

Mr. Spring

Last season it was DeAngelo Smith that had the breakout spring, culminating in a sensational spring gram in which Smith caught four passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns. This season it has been senior Spur Jared Shaw getting all the attention from the coaching staff. He capped it off with a nice spring game performance, picking off a Dylan Thompson pass in the end zone that was intended for Smith, last year's Mr. Spring.

"He played well," Spurrier said. "I think he got the one pick and he defended well. Jared Shaw is just a good football player. I think he played some safety too, so safety or corner he can play both."

Shaw also deflected a potential touchdown pass and kept up with Byrd as a safety on a streak route.

"As a walk-on we all know that it is our goal to earn a scholarship, but more than that I would just love to play," Shaw said. "I would just take my few reps on kickoff over a scholarship any day, just to be out there on the field with my teammates and travel with them over money every day."

Spring game controversy?

The spring game did not go without a little "controversy" at the end. With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter, Spurrier elected to try and rush out the field goal unit to try and get off a field goal with time expiring. The team got on the field in time and Adam Yates boomed a 51-yard field goal that would have been good from 60, but it was well after the clock reached 0:00.

"The reason why I did it was I wanted to see if they could run out there and kick it before the clock ran off and I don't think they did," Spurrier said. "You know those kickers have to walk around before they kick (laugh) and I wanted to see if he could run out there, get set, and kick the thing. He made it but sometimes you don't have time to do all that."

With all controversy joking aside, it was an excellent kick by Yates and they let it count.

Goals not set

The highlight of the success the football team has had the last two years have coincided with goals that the team sets before each season.

"We won't set them until right before the season starts," Spurrier said. "We allow the guys to go through the summer and before the season starts we'll set some goals. It will probably be very similar to last year."

The goal of winning every home game has not been achieved as has the ultimate goal of winning an SEC Championship, but one goal has to be extended.

"Total wins will go up a bit because we've already don this one (pointing to the ring for 11-win season)," Spurrier said. "DJ Swearinger thinks we can go for 12. Of course we're still going to go for eight and then ten also. We don't want to get too stupid and only have one goal of winning twelve. Who knows if we're capable of that?"

Gamecock Nation showing up

At kickoff of the spring game, it was a modest crowd with most of the west lower full and a decent amount in the south endzone and east lower. By the time the crowd finished filing in, there was over 34,000 in attendance to see a preview of the 2012 football team.

"The crowd is a part of everything we do," Spurrier said. "The crowd was important in the Capital One Bowl when the Nebraska offensive coordinator said that the noise from the South Carolina contingent was louder than they expected. It was wonderful and special. Frank Martin got a wonderful ovation."

Injury report

The scariest part of spring games is the fact that someone could get injured. Former Gamecock Dion LeCorn suffered a broken leg and never returned to regular form, and just last week Florida defensive lineman Ronald Powell suffered a torn ACL in the spring game. It almost happened to the Gamecocks.

Back-up tightend Drew Owens caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Tanner McEvoy in the second quarter and came down awkwardly on his left knee without any contact. The initial report is that it looked more serious than it was.

"Drew thinks he just sprained his knee," Spurrier said. "Nobody touched him, he just stuck it in the ground wrong and felt a twinge. We're hoping it's just a sprain. He was able to walk off."


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