Spurrier discovers the ground game

For years you could count on three things: Death, taxes and Steve Spurrier fielding a pass-oriented offense. Death and taxes are still inevitable but that last item has undergone a startling transformation.

That's right: Steve Spurrier has become a run-oriented football coach. The change was more by necessity than by design, but the fact remains "the ol' ball coach" is pounding the rock more than he's throwing it these days.

The Gamecocks ran the ball just 29 times for 81 yards in the 2006 opener vs. Mississippi State and struggled to win 15-0. They rushed just 22 times for a paltry 35 yards in an 18-0 Game 2 loss to Georgia.

Since then, however, South Carolina has grown progressively more ground-oriented almost on a weekly basis. Consider the past five games:

31 rushes for 165 yards vs. Wofford

38 rushes for 200 yards vs. Florida Atlantic

34 rushes for 109 yards vs. Auburn

39 rushes for 190 yards vs. Kentucky

39 rushes for 203 yards vs. Vanderbilt

After relying primarily on Blake Mitchell's arm in Games 1 and 2, Carolina switched to a more mobile quarterback (Syvelle Newton) in Game 4 and began relying mostly on Cory Boyd's legs. Boyd ran for 113 yards against Kentucky and Vanderbilt the past two games.

Tennessee middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell is surprised to see Spurrier relying so much on the ground game but says the Vols still plan to be wary of the pass in Saturday night's game at Columbia.

"You really don't know what to expect," Mitchell said. "Times change. You don't know what you're going to get."

Mitchell's reluctance to view Spurrier as a run-oriented coach is understandable. After all, Spurrier built his reputation on an innovative passing attack.

"Knowing the history of Steve Spurrier, you know he's that type of coach," Mitchell said. "But he does a great deal of things. Having a very good athlete at quarterback makes it even more complicated (to anticipate what he'll do)."

Vol safety Demetrice Morley was attending elementary school and junior high in Miami when Spurrier was winning big at the University of Florida in the 1990s. Thus, Morley is a bit in awe of the Carolina coach.

"I grew up watching Steve Spurrier," Morley noted. "He was a hero when I was small, so for me to play against him is kind of like a dream come true."

Like Mitchell, though, Morley is a little surprised to see a Spurrier team running the ball so much.

"Sometimes in your life you have to change up something to see if it works," Morley said. "I guess it's working for him, so he's going to stick with that."

In spite of all the running Carolina has been doing in recent weeks, several Vols figure Spurrier may revert to form and throw the ball a bunch Saturday night.

"I think he's just doing whatever makes them win," safety Jonathan Hefney said. "You can expect them to try to run but they may try to pass the ball against us."

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