Wingbone offense a unique challenge for USC

After six years of Lou Holtz, Gamecock fans are used to hearing Carolina coaches try to build up the next opponent. So when Steve Spurrier and Ellis Johnson start talking about the challenge posed by Wofford, it is tempting to dismiss it as coach-speak. However, one need only look at the score from the last game between these two teams to know the concern is genuine.

When the Terriers visited Columbia in 2006, the Gamecocks needed a fourth down stop deep in their own territory to escape with a 27-20 victory. It was the closest Wofford had come to beating Carolina since 1925, when it lost 6-0, and tied the 1917 20-0 win for the most points scored by the Terriers against Carolina. In that 2006 game, Wofford's wingbone rushing attack kept the Carolina defense on its heels all night. In his first year with the Gamecocks, Johnson is charged with finding a way to get the Terriers off the field. Fortunately, Johnson is familiar with Wofford from his three seasons coaching against them in the Southern Conference at The Citadel.

"It will help a little bit," he said. "We had a lot more teams [running an option offense]: we had Wofford, Georgia Southern, East Tennessee State, VMI, and when I got to The Citadel they had been running the same type of scheme. The players in that conference were used to playing it every other week. These guys are not. It's very difficult to get any kind of decent scout team picture in two or three days and get prepared for it. I'm sure they'll move the ball on us, but we'll know what to do. The thing is players executing and getting used to it, it won't be the same."

Wofford has expanded his offense since Johnson last saw the Terriers. Back then, Wofford lined up almost exclusively with the quarterback under center. Now, the quarterback tandem of Ben Widmyer and Mitch Allen occasionally line up in the shotgun to spread the field and provide a different look for defenses.

"They run a lot more shotgun in the offense," said Johnson, "and have probably got twice as much offense as when we played them. They do a great job of executing, and I don't know how they get it all taught."

"Execution" has been a buzz word at practice this week. The offense has been preaching execution as the recipe for finally getting some production. The defense has been very productive, but has also been talking about execution, along with assignments. Wofford's offense is designed to set up the defense to make mistakes. Once a defender fails to execute and abandons his assignment, the field opens up for the option play. Johnson has been telling his troops to execute their assignments, but it is easier said than done.

"That sounds like a simple statement," he said. "We'll certainly have some missed assignments, and you'll say, ‘Well didn't they know what to do?' They do, but they don't see the offense, and you see it for two days with the scout team [and] you're not getting the right picture. If you ran one defense, everybody would get the right assignments, but they've got an answer for one defense. If you run two defenses, you give them a little more trouble. If you run three, a little more trouble, but all of a sudden you're trying to get three or four different things ready in three days. It's very difficult for kids to execute that."

Wofford does not pass often, attempting only 17 throws in two games, but they throw effectively off misdirection. Instead of dropping back and reading the field, Widmyer's passes come off the option as he tries to draw defenders in. He has thrown two touchdowns with no interceptions.

"You don't get hurt with them throwing the ball conventionally," Johnson said. "You get hurt with them throwing the ball off the option plays where you have to defend the run first. They are throwing the ball very effectively."

Passing will be a challenge for the Terriers, just like every other team that faces Carolina. The Gamecocks have the top ranked pass defense in the nation, giving up just 95 yards per game through the air. They rank ninth in pass efficiency defense (88.37) and total defense (205.00 ypg), and twenty-first in scoring defense (12.67 ppg). Those statistics are impressive to most, but not to Johnson.

"I don't think those stats mean anything this time of year," he said. "We don't know how good the teams are that we've played because time will tell. The thing I'm pleased with is I think they've played with a lot of intensity. It's early in the year. I'm happy where we're ranked and I think the kids deserve a little pat on the back. It's time to move on and I think you look back in a few weeks and maybe it will tell a story, but right now I don't think it means anything."

To prove his point, Johnson ticked off a list of all the areas where Carolina must improve. As he went through the defense's faults, he managed to take issue with almost every aspect of the game except tackling.

"Overall our tackling has been good," he said. "We've got a tremendous amount of things to work on. We made some mental mistakes the other night, we had some angles to the ball that can get better, we're dropping interceptions every week. We had two loose balls that we touched before the other team got it. We're not creating enough turnovers. We did the first game but we have not done a good job of that the last couple of weeks."

If the Gamecocks can improve the way Johnson wants, they could be looking for their second shutout of the season. The Terriers have failed to score in 10 of the 21 games against Carolina, but not since 1957. Overall, Wofford is averaging less that six points a game in the 21 meetings with the Gamecocks, about half of what Carolina is giving up this year.

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