Can Gamecocks run?

Playing quarterback for Steve Spurrier is a stressful job. Coaching offensive line for him is no walk in the park, either.

Just one year after running off line coach John Hunt and replacing him with Eric Wolford, the Ol' Ball Coach ran off Wolford and replaced him with Shawn Elliott, fresh from Appalachian State.

Elliott may do no better than Hunt and Wolford but he can't do much worse. Under Hunt, the '08 Gamecocks finished dead last among the 12 SEC schools in rushing and 11th in sacks allowed. Under Wolford, the '09 Gamecocks finished last in rushing and tied for 11th in sacks allowed.

Without specifically mentioning the O-line, Spurrier grumbled this spring that he has been "too soft" on players who were too soft in the past. He also announced that he is reclaiming all of the play-calling responsibilities after sharing that duty with his son, Steve, Jr., in 2009.

Whether these changes can keep Carolina from losing five or more games - as it did in each of Spurrier's first five seasons at Columbia - remains to be seen.

As usual, the Ol' Ball Coach is dissatisfied with his quarterback play, even though incumbent Stephen Garcia completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 2,862 yards last fall, with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those numbers are reasonably close to the ones posted by Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton, who was hailed after connecting on 58.3 percent for 2,800 yards, with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Should Garcia disappoint his coach at some point - a reasonably safe bet - the relief pitcher could be freshman Connor Shaw. The mid-term enrollee capped a good spring by completing 4 of 8 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the Garnet & Black Game.

South Carolina boasts one of the SEC's premier receivers in Alshon Jeffery. Blessed with tight end size at 6-4 and 237 pounds, he caught a team-high 46 passes for 763 yards (16.6 per catch) last fall, earning first-team Freshman All-America recognition. Another quality target is tight end Justice Cunningham, who earned Spurrier's praise after catching four passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

The ground game, as usual, is suspect. The Cocks likely will go with the Miles & Giles attack of Kenny Miles and Jarvis Giles. Miles averaged 5.4 yards per carry last fall en route to 640 total yards. Giles averaged 5.3 en route to 298. It could help that Garcia is a running threat at quarterback, having rushed for 186 net yards last fall.

Defensively, South Carolina returns most of its key players from last fall except for linebacker Eric Norwood, a fourth-round NFL Draft pick. Best of the returnees are linebacker Shaq Wilson (team-high 85 stops in '09), defensive back Chris Culliver (62 stops) and defensive end Cliff Matthews (47 stops, 7 sacks). Wilson is moving from middle linebacker to weakside linebacker this year and Culliver is moving from free safety to cornerback.

The kicking game is in the capable hands - uh, feet - of Spencer Lanning, who averaged 41.9 yards per punt and made 17 of 20 field goals a year ago. Oddly enough, Lanning missed a 27-yarder on his first try of '09, then made 17 of the remaining 19 - the misses coming from 50 and 42 yards.

Given that attrition has ravaged the rest of the SEC East since the 2009 season ended, South Carolina could make a run at the division title if Garcia plays well and the Cocks locate a running attack.

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