2011 South Carolina Preview – Offense
South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - South Carolina Gamecock Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Some key pieces to the offensive line are gone, and it's going to take a while before the right combination is found up front, but the pieces are in place for the Gamecocks to have one of the nation's deadliest attacks. QB Stephen Garcia is a heady veteran who has been through all the wars, and while he has to cut down on his interceptions and his mistakes, he's a tremendous leader who knows what he's doing. It's easier to be a great quarterback with a back like Marcus Lattimore to hand off to and a receiver in Alshon Jeffery, along with a huge receiving corps, to throw to. It's not a stretch to call Lattimore and Jeffery the two best players in the SEC, and as long as they're healthy the offense should shine. The key will be a line that hasn't protected the quarterback in several years and needs to quickly develop a few quality young prospects to figure out what the best starting five is.
Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Marcus Lattimore
Passing: Stephen Garcia
224-349, 3,059 yds, 20 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: Marcus Lattimore
249 carries, 1,197 yds, 17 TD
Receiving: Alshon Jeffery
88 catches, 1,517 yds, 9 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR D.L. Moore
Unsung star on the rise: Junior C T.J. Johnson
Best pro prospect: Lattimore
Top three all-star candidates:1) Lattimore, 2) WR Alshon Jeffery, 3) QB Stephen Garcia
Strength of the offense: Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery
Weakness of the offense: Pass Protection, Interceptions
State of the Unit: The South Carolina passing game was solid all season long, but Stephen Garcia threw a few too many interceptions (14) and was yanked late in the first meeting against Auburn after having problems hanging on to the ball. It's a Steve Spurrier coached team so there's always going to be some controversy and there's always going to be a fight for playing time, but Garcia is the main man and the one who'll be asked to lead the Gamecocks back to the SEC title game … even with all his off-the-field problems.
The 6-2, 230-pound senior has always had the talent and he has always had the attitude needed to be a good SEC starting quarterback, but a knucklehead streak off the field and a poor pass blocking offensive line kept him from being too much of a consistent playmaker over the first part of his career. But he's been extremely durable and hs done a great job of handling the pressure and scrutiny of being a Spurrier quarterback. Last year he completed 64% of his passes for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, but five of those picks came in the final two games against Auburn and Florida State. While he can run, gaining 222 yards and scoring six times, he's not exactly going to be Cam Newton and he's never going to be a featured runner in the attack. That's not his job. He has to keep the mistakes to a minimum and keep the chains moving. With Marcus Lattimore carrying most of the offense, Garcia doesn't have to force anything.
While it's Garcia's job, 6-1, 202-pound sophomore Connor Shaw is a big-time talent who'll produce whenever he gets the chance. A true freshman last year, he was thrown to the wolves late against Auburn and threw two picks in the loss, but for the most part he was able to produce in the garbage-time moments he got in. A runner who's fast enough to have been recruited by Georgia Tech to run the option, he brings more mobility than Garcia along with a strong, excellent arm. All he needs is more time and more live reps.
It'll be a stunner if anyone other than Garcia or Shaw sees much time under center, but 6-2, 221-pound sophomore Andrew Clifford and 6-2, 208-pound redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson have been good enough in practices to be reliable in the No. 3 job. They'll be in a battle for the backup spot behind Shaw next year.
Watch Out For … More Shaw from time to time. If Spurrier could pull Garcia like he did at the end of the first Auburn game, he can give him the hook at any time. Shaw, with his mobility, could see more time in a rotation to provide a better look.
Strength: Garcia's experience. Shaw is good enough to start and get the offense moving, but Garcia is in his fourth year and has 6,753 passing yards and 43 touchdowns under his belt. With a great group around him, the dean of SEC quarterbacks should be in for a huge year.
Weakness: Interceptions. The USC passing game was efficient and effective all season long, but there were way too many mistakes with 17 picks and 14 coming from Garcia. South Carolina lost five games and threw two or more picks in all of them, and didn't lose when throwing fewer than two.
Outlook: Garcia was a tremendous recruit who'll never win All-America honors and he'll always make the coaches tear their hair out once in a while, but he's a baller and a veteran who'll be the leader of the team once again. Even so, Shaw will get his share of reps and he should get more chances bringing a rushing element to the attack. The goal will be to stay efficient, keep the picks to a minimum, and make clean handoffs to Marcus Lattimore.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: The hope before last season was that Marcus Lattimore could step out of high school and into SEC play and be the top-shelf recruit the Gamecock fans were dreaming he could be. The breakout SEC star came through with a huge season and gave USC a running game, but he needs a bit of a break. Beaten, battered and bruised throughout last year, the workhorse needs more options to take the heat off. Fortunately, the Gamecock offense has some other nice backs to take the heat off.
Yes, there might be some good, quick backs able to pick up the slack, but this is Lattimore's running game. The 6-0, 231-pound true sophomore was brilliant rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 scores averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and he also showed off nice hands out of the backfield with 29 catches – third most on the team – for 412 yards and two scores. He announced his arrival into the SEC world with 182 yards and two scores on 34 carries in the win over Georgia, and while he was slowed down in the loss to Auburn and was held under 100 yards in six of the first seven games, he still scored 12 touchdowns in the first six games and became a weapon for the rest of the attack to work around. His already good season took on another level with 40 carries for 215 yards and three scores in the SEC East-clinching win over Florida.
He showed off a brilliant blend of speed, power, and toughness with a few home runs to go along with the hard-charging, between the tackle bangers, and as much as anything else for a true freshman, he showed great hands with no fumbling issues whatsoever until he got blown up in the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Florida State. After catching three passes for 48 yards, and with one carry, Lattimore got drilled by Seminole DB Greg Reid and suffered a major mouth injury. On the plus side, though, all the bangs and bumps forced Lattimore to hit the weights a bit harder this offseason and added 15 pounds of good bulk. Now he's ready to withstand more pops.
There's no question that Lattimore is the franchise, but 5-10, 184-pound junior Kenny Miles is a decent fill-in bringing experience and pop when needed. Not a workhorse, he's more of a quicker-back who can come in and crank out decent yards in a relief mode. He was the team's leading rusher in 2009 with 626 yards, but he was limited to just 40 carries for 152 yards last year. Now he'll have to find a more defined role as the No. 2. He has the upside to be a third down back, but he only caught three passes.
5-11, 204-pound junior Eric Baker hasn't been able to stay healthy, missing all of last year with a torn ACL, but he's back and appears ready to take over the No. 3 running back job. He has a little bit of experience with 182 yards in 2008, and with the quickness and strength to run inside or out, he could be a valuable part of the mix if he can stay in one piece.
When needed, junior Dalton Wilson will be used as a fullback. The 6-1, 223-pound junior, like all South Carolina fullbacks, will be used a bit like a tight end as he takes over for Patrick DiMarco, who made 15 catches with three touchdowns.
Watch Out For … Lattimore to be even more of a powerhouse. With the added bulk, and with the speed still in place, he might go from being a great back to a true all-timer who's a part of the Heisman discussion all season long.
Strength: Lattimore. South Carolina hasn't had a back like this since George Rogers, and he's even more talented. Throw in Miles and his five-plus yards per carry, and the running game will be good enough to carry the team to another SEC East title.
Weakness: The expectations. Even when teams were looking to stop Lattimore last year, it didn't necessarily happen. That might be different this season as he'll be a marked man. It would be nice to have more power behind the sophomore superstar,
Outlook: As long as No. 21 is healthy and rolling, South Carolina will be special. The team can battle for another division title if Lattimore has a mediocre year, or gets hurt, but forget about winning the SEC championship without him. The key will be getting more out of the reserves. No. 2 rusher Brian Maddox is gone meaning Miles has to go back to his 2009 form.
Unit Rating: 9
State of the Unit: The Gamecock passing game revolved around Alshon Jeffery early and often, and while he's an NFL No. 1 target who'll be a preseason All-American, he'll need help after second-leading receiver Tori Gurley chose to bolt early for the NFL. The third leading receiver was Marcus Lattimore, and the tight ends didn't do nearly enough. While the star of the offense might be Lattimore, the passing game needs to find some more weapons to give Stephen Garcia more options.
Jeffery came up with a whale of a true freshman season making 46 grabs for 763 yards and six touchdowns, and then he took his game to a whole other level last season with 88 catches for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 17.2 yards per catch. At 6-4 and 233 pounds, he's a huge target who knows how to use his frame and his bulk extremely well. While he might not be a 4.4 blazer, he can jump out of the stadium and he can play even bigger than his size against the average-sized defensive backs; he isn't afraid to get physical. A 100-yard machine, hitting the mark eight times, he lit up Auburn in the first matchup for 192 yards and two scores, torched Clemson for 141 yards, and rocked against Alabama with seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Lattimore takes the pressure off the entire offense, and if Jeffery can get just a little bit from a No. 2 receiver, he should be even more explosive.
With Gurley gone, it's time for D.L. Moore to shine. At 6-4 and 212 pounds he has excellent size and good experience starting every 12 times and making 17 catches for 164 yards and two scores. While he'll need to be a good No. 2 target, his real worth is as a tough, physical blocker who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty.
6-4, 213-pound senior Jason Barnes has been a longtime spot starter with great size and nice route running ability. While he doesn't have the star power of some of the other Gamecock receivers, he's a good, reliable slot receiver who can step in for Gurley and be a factor after catching six passes for 63 yards.
The passing game could use a decent receiving tight end to emerge, but 6-3, 262-pound junior Justice Cunningham is more of a blocker. He caught seven passes for 92 yards, and he'll get a few chances his way, but he'll mostly be known as a big hitter to spring Marcus Lattimore. The combination of 6-1, 248-pound sophomore Chaun Gresham and 6-4, 263-pound redshirt freshman Corey Simmons will serve as the main backups in the rotation. Both are former defensive players with the physical ability to be strong for the ground game.
The backup receiver rotation should be interesting with several promising prospects waiting to see time. Of the group, 6-3, 226-pound sophomore Lamar Scruggs is the biggest target and will serve as one of the understudies on the outside behind Jeffery. Scruggs caught three passes for 53 yards in a limited role last season, and he'll get a year to prepare to take on the starting role if and when Jeffery bolts to the NFL after the season. Scruggs is big and has potential, but 6-0, 191-pound sophomore DeAngelo Smith is back after missing almost last year with a broken foot and he should be a major factor. Extremely athletic and very quick, the sky's the limit once he's 100%.
Working in the slot behind the big Barnes is the diminutive Ace Sanders, a hiccup-quick 5-7, 173-pound sophomore who finished fourth on the team with 25 catches for 316 yards and two scores. He can work inside or out, as can 5-8, 189-pound redshirt freshman Nick Jones, a speedster with tremendous upside. On his way is top receiver recruit Damiere Byrd, a 5-10, 160-pound bolt of lightning who might end up being used in a variety of roles including running back.
Watch Out For … Jeffery to be a First Team All-American. It was hard to get too much love in an SEC with A.J. Green and Julio Jones, and it might be tough to get a lot of national all-star recognition with Justin Blackmon and Ryan Broyles returning, but Jeffery is a top ten overall draft prospect who'll get more than his share of attention.
Strength: Size. It's impressive to lose a big-bodied receiver in Gurley and still be big with the 6-4, 233-pound Jeffery, the 6-4, 213-pound Barnes and the 6-4, 212-pound Moore forming an intimidating trio. Throw in the speed and quickness of the backups and the Gamecocks have some great combinations they can throw at SEC defenses.
Weakness: Pass catching tight ends. Weslye Saunders was supposed to be the main man last year, but that blew up after he got booted on the team early on. The Gamecocks used their fullbacks like tight ends and the tight ends like blocking fullbacks, and with some former defensive players providing most of the backup help, there won't likely be too many passes thrown to anyone but the backs and wideouts.
Outlook: Jeffery is a special talent who has the potential to be the best receive to ever come out of a school known for cranking out talented targets. As long as he's on the field and healthy, USC will have a dangerous passing attack. Now a No. 2 man has to step up and shine, and there will be plenty of opportunities with Jeffery taking away much of the safety attention.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: The Achilles heel of the South Carolina offense over the years has been a porous offensive line that got the quarterbacks killed and did little for the ground attack. Last year was different as the front five tightened up and pounded away for a big year from Marcus Lattimore, but the pass protection was still sketchy. Even so, the 30 sacks allowed were par for the course for a line that allowed 107 over the previous three seasons. With O line coach Shawn Elliott back to provide some stability, the line shouldn't fall of the map if a few key pieces can be quickly replaced.
The rock of a rebuilding line needs to be veteran T.J. Johnson, a 6-4, 314-pound junior who might be a bit tall for a center, but has the talent to be an all-star with a little more work. The former right guard is a blaster for the ground game, even though he doesn't have the frame to always get the right leverage, and he's great on the line calls. He's smart, physical, and still-improving.
Former JUCO transfer Rokevious Watkins is a solid, veteran right guard, but he'll start out the year working at right tackle while also serving as the team's top back up at left tackle. The 6-4, 344-pound senior got past a shoulder problem to be one of the team's best blockers, but he has to keep his weight in check and he needs to stay healthy. He'll be backed up by 6-6, 282-pound redshirt freshman Cody Gibson, who'll get the first look at the job after growing into his frame. He's just scratching the surface on his potential and could turn into a fixture for the next four years.
Going from being a decent spot-starter to a full-time right guard is Terrence Campbell, a 6-3, 295-pound senior who hasn't been able to stay healthy, primarily suffering through a shoulder problem. While he's not a special blocker, the former defensive lineman knows what he's doing and can be counted on to not make a slew of mistakes. He's not built like a guard, but he run blocks like one. Pushing Campbell for playing time on the right guard job, and with the potential to play on the left, is JUCO transfer Kaleb Broome, a massive 6-5, 319-pound versatile blocker who can play inside or out. He'll contribute in some way immediately.
The hope will be for 6-5, 296-pound Kyle Nunn to turn in a big senior season after starting nine times last year. The veteran left tackle has struggled in pass protection and has had problems against the more athletic pass rushers, but he's a good run blocker and he should be one of the team's key starters if he can stay healthy. Nunn is more of a right tackle playing on the left side.
6-3, 304-pound redshirt freshman A.J. Cann needed to prove in spring ball that he could handle the work at left guard, and he did it. Versatile, he could move to the right side if needed, but he appears ready to be the fixture on the left side for the next four years. The spotlight was on, and he came through.
While Cann's a strong prospect for the interior, the star of the future for the outside could be 6-7, 310-pound true freshman Brandon Shell, a terrific offensive tackle prospect with all the tools and all the talent to be an anchor very, very soon. He could be the team's best pass protector from the moment he steps on campus.
Watch Out For … Gibson. He's going to be in a fight for playing time and he's hardly assured a spot, but he's going to get a long look throughout the offseason with the hope that he can quickly grow into a solid pass protector. The tools are there and the feet are good, but he has to be consistent.
Strength: Run blocking. A problem in the past, this group, even with all the newcomers to the equation, is big enough and strong enough to bust out big yards for Marcus Lattimore and the ground attack. Once the right combination is found, there should be a nice blend of size and power to find at least one thing it can do well – which wasn't a given in past seasons.
Weakness: Pass protection. Steve Spurrier offense open themselves up to getting the quarterback drilled (hellooooo, Redskins), but the attack has changed since the old high-flying Florida days. Even so, the pass protection has still been spotty and won't be a strength this year in any way.
Outlook: Last year's line got by on experience and being physical. This year's line will have to find the right combination right away and it'll have to develop over the course of the season, while some newcomers have to quickly develop to add some live bodies to the rotation. Three seniors and a junior will likely end up starting, but that doesn't necessarily mean this will be a cohesive unit.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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