2012 South Carolina Preview - Offense
South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - South Carolina Gamecock Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: How healthy is Marcus Lattimore? The superstar running back is coming back from a knee injury, and while all indications are that he'll be ready to roll, it's asking for too much for him to be the same back right away. If he's not 100%, the Gamecocks have other good options who can pound away behind a promising line that might have to replace three starters, but should more talented if new left tackle Brandon Shell is as good as advertised. The receiving corps has plenty of speed and quickness, but it has to find a No. 1 target with Alshon Jeffery gone. Connor Show has the starting quarterback job all to himself, and while he's a great runner he's improving as a passer and should push the ball down the field more.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Marcus Lattimore
Passing: Connor Shaw
123-188, 1,448 yds, 14 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Marcus Lattimore
163 carries, 818 yds, 10 TD
Receiving: Ace Sanders
49 catches, 762 yds, 2 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR Ace Sanders
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman OT Brandon Shell
Best pro prospect: Lattimore
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lattimore, 2) Shell, 3) C T.J. Johnson
Strength of the offense: Running Backs, Wide Receiver Speed
Weakness of the offense: Wide Receiver Production, Quarterback & Line Depth
After an ugly start to the season against East Carolina, junior Connor Shaw is absolutely, positively the South Carolina starting quarterback – or at least as much as a player can be the starting quarterback under Steve Spurrier. A big-time talent who was able to step in when the Stephen Garcia experience was finally done, he finished the year leading the way completing 65% of his passes for 1,448 yards and 14 scores with six picks and finished second with 525 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-1, 207-pounder is a runner who was good enough to be recruited by Georgia Tech to run the option, but wasn't allowed to bomb away too much – the coaches wanted the running game and defense to win games – but he showed he could make the passing game work as the season went on completing 41-of-55 passes over the final three games with eight touchdown passes and one pick. But more than anything else, he was dangerous as an all-around playmaker running for 107 yards against Clemson and picking up the slack when Marcus Lattimore went down. This year, though, he's going to be more of a passer with the playbook opened up, and he has the arm and the skills to do more through the air.
Backup quarterbacks always have to stay sharp under Spurrier and they'll get their chances if they can shine in practices. While Shaw is unquestionably the main man, 6-3, 212-pound sophomore Dylan Thompson is more of a pure passer who can run a little bit when needed. He has seen a little bit of time completing two passes for 17 yards, and he's smart enough and good enough to be ready to step in if needed. 6-2, 195-pound senior Seth Strickland is the holder for the kicking game, but the walk-on is nothing more than an emergency option for the offense.
Watch Out For … more passing from Shaw. Don't expect fun ‘n' gun Florida days, but Shaw was a more confident passer over the last few games of last year and took more control this offseason.
Strength: Steve Spurrier. The passing game hasn't dominated at USC like many expected it to so far, but he's a peerless quarterback coach who has a good one in Shaw to keep developing. Shaw has the make-up and personality to be able to handle the workload and Spurrier style.
Weakness: Backup experience. Thompson is a decent prospect, but he's not Shaw. Last year, the Gamecocks were able to bring in Garcia when needed and then Shaw when they had to, but with the way Shaw runs and with the shots he takes, the backup situation could be even more in the spotlight.
Outlook: Shaw might not be the SEC's biggest quarterback story coming into the season, but there aren't going to be many more important players. He needs to keep the mistakes to a minimum and he might have to be razor-sharp with questions at receiver and with Marcus Lattimore's team. The offense could fall on his shoulders at times. The backup situation is a bit iffy, but that's only because Thompson doesn't have any real experience.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Is Marcus Lattimore healthy? When he's 100% he has No. 1 overall draft pick, revolve-the-franchise-around-him sort of talent in a day and age when the role of the top running backs have been diminished. But there's a big, giant if surrounding his health.
The 6-0, 210-pound junior has been overused with 412 carries and 48 catches in his 20 games of action, and for good reason. When the offense needed him – really, really needed him – he carried the load with 40 carries in the SEC East clinching win over Florida in 2010, and with 37 carries for 246 yards and three scores in the too-tough victory over Navy last year. He stepped right out of high school and scored ten touchdowns in his first six games, including a brilliant 37-carry, 182-yard day against Georgia in just the second game of his career, but he was beaten, battered and bruised, finishing off his true freshman campaign by getting blasted in the mouth on a huge hit against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Last year he was rumbling along before suffering a knee injury against Mississippi State that knocked him out for the season. Fortunately, the injury happened in mid-October, giving him just enough time to potentially come back and produce, but it's asking a lot to have the same blend of speed, power and quickness less than a year after the injury.
Is was questionable whether or not senior Kenny Miles would end up coming back, but he was fantastic this offseason and showed he could be more than just a No. 2 back in the rotation. The 5-9, 193-pounder is very quick and very shifty, leading the team with 626 yards in 2009 but was limited two years ago and was knocked out with a wrist injury after running for 204 yards and as score in 2011. He'll be a bigger part of the rotation and could be used as a receiver making eight grabs for 74 yards and a touchdown.
All of a sudden, when players started going down left and right, sophomore Brandon Wilds was thrown into the spotlight starting against Tennessee rushing for 137 yards in the win. He added 120 yards against Florida and 109 yards and two scores against the Citadel as he picked up the slack after Lattimore went down. The 6-2, 218-pounder proved he could be a physical runner and could produce when needed, but his role will be lessened with Lattimore and Miles back. Also returning is Shon Carson, a good 5-8, 192-pound prospect who ran three times for nine yards before getting knocked out for the year with a knee injury. Fortunately, the injury happened early enough to give him a redshirt season and to have time to heal up to be back in the mix.
When needed, senior Qau Gilchrist will fill in at fullback after starting out his career at linebacker. He'll never get the ball, but at 6-1 and 245 pounds he's perfectly built to blast away for the ground game and has the athleticism to catch a pass now and then.
Watch Out For … Miles. He was fantastic in practices and looks like he's ready to do far more. Even if Lattimore is 100%, the coaching staff will probably limit his pitch count meaning Miles should be a bigger factor.
Strength: Lattimore … if healthy. If he's back to norm, he's an elite back who can carry the team on his back to big things. Fortunately, Miles and Wilds can crank out big yards when they get the opportunity.
Weakness: Lattimore's knee. While the coaching staff insists that everything is fine and back to normal, it's not natural for a torn ACL to recover that quickly. It's supposed to take at least a year, and while Lattimore should be able to play, it's asking for way too much for him to be at the Heisman-level everyone is hoping for.
Outlook: With Connor Shaw a talented running quarterback and with great depth, Lattimore doesn't have to carry more of the workload than he'll absolutely have to. The ground game should be terrific and should hit the 2,500-yard mark without a problem, and if Lattimore really is Lattimore again then the sky is the limit. The rating would be a 10 is Lattimore was certain to be 100%.
Unit Rating: 9
Gone is leading receiver Alshon Jeffery, and even though he was forgotten man way too often, he was still the far-and-away No. 1 guy. Now it'll be up to junior Ace Sanders to do more after finishing second on the team with 29 catches for 383 yards and two scores. The opposite of Jeffery in terms of size and body type, the 5-8, 175-pound veteran is hiccup-quick who can work inside or out. While he wasn't exactly spectacular, he was extremely steady.
Sanders might be the main man to start the season, but the hope is for top recruit Shaq Roland to be the new star right out of the box. The 6-1, 173-pound freshman was South Carolina's Mr. Football with elite speed and next-level skills cranking out 62 touchdowns over the last two seasons. A great get for the program, he could've gone anywhere and would've grown into the No. 1 guy, but he could be the best option right away.
If Roland doesn't take over right away, junior DeAngelo Smith will get a chance at a starting job after seeing a little time catching three passes for 22 yards. He missed almost all of 2010 with a broken foot, but he's extremely athletic and very quick with high-end potential. Also in the equation for a spot is Damiere Byrd, arguably the team's fastest player. While he's only 5-9 and 168 pounds the sophomore can fly but he only caught one pass for 16 yards, being used more as a runner taking off for 73 yards on ten carries.
Senior D.L. Moore has the size at 6-5 and 198 pounds and he has time logged in, but he hasn't been all that productive coming up with just eight catches for 52 yards and a score. More of a tough, physical blocker than a top pass catcher, the opportunity is there to do far more this year to use his size in mismatches.
6-5, 218-pound sophomore Rory Anderson saw time right away showing decent promise catching eight passes for 188 yards and three scores averaging 23.5 yards per try. Like a big wide receivers, came up with a 46-yard play against Kentucky and a 55-yarder against Clemson. While he's the pass catcher, 6-4, 264-pound senior Justice Cunningham is the blocker. He can catch, making 18 grabs for 142 yards and a score, but he's a short-range target who's better at getting physical.
Watch Out For … Roland. There's plenty of speed and promise, but the receiving corps is lacking THE GUY. Roland can be just that with the talent and potential to be even more explosive than Jeffery and more consistent.
Strength: Speed. The Gamecock receiving corps can flat out fly. Sanders is fast, Byrd is faster, and Roland and Smith can move. Getting deep shouldn't be a problem.
Weakness: Production. The receiving corps didn't do nearly enough last year when Jeffery wasn't producing. Sanders was fine, but he's one of the few wideouts who produced when the former No. 1 disappeared. Lattimore and the tight ends can't be the main men for the passing game.
Outlook: There's plenty of speed and lots of upside, but there hasn't been nearly enough production. Part of the problem was the quarterback play, and Jeffery took over most of the big plays, but the receiving corps is a question mark until Sanders and Roland prove they can handle SEC secondary when targeted.
Unit Rating: 7
Under Steve Spurrier the offensive line hasn't done much in pass protection, but it blasted away for the ground game. Everything should be in place now that left tackle is settled with the emergence of Brandon Shell, a 6-6, 331-pound redshirt freshman who stepped up this offseason and showed he's more than ready to handle the job. He has the size and moves extremely well with NFL right tackle upside. A great get for the program, he could quickly be an anchor and should be one of the most talented players up front.
Left tackle was a big concern, but right tackle also had to be filled in with 6-5, 274-pound sophomore Mike Matulis getting a shot after stepping up starting four games in his true freshman season. Able to play either tackle spot, he's quick and athletic with the ability to get down the field and come up with the block, but now he has to be more consistent in pass protection. 6-7, 278-pound sophomore Cody Gibson also saw a little bit of action starting four times after missing all of 2010 with a knee injury. He's bigger than Matulis with a good frame and nice upside; he's still just scratching the surface.
Back in the middle is veteran T.J. Johnson, a tough 6-6, 319-pound senior with great size and toughness. 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. Smart and consistent, he's the perfect leader and anchor for a young but talented line.
6-4, 309-pound sophomore A.J. Cann joins Johnson as the only returning full-time starters after getting the call at left guard in all 13 games on the way to freshman all-star honors. Versatile, he could play either guard spot even though he has proven to be a strong option in his current spot. Tough for the running game, he's the big body who can push people off the ball in the interior.
Junior Ronald Patrick has seen a little bit of time and can play center, but he's going to get the call at right guard. At 6-2 and 305 pounds he's built for the interior spending last season working behind T.J. Johnson on the inside. Smart along being versatile, he should be ready to handle the work, but he'll have to hold off Kaleb Broome, a massive 6-6, 332-pound veteran from Georgia Military College who has the size, but he hasn't seen any time yet.
Watch Out For … Shell. He would've been hailed as the star recruit of the 2011 class if it wasn't for that Clowney guy. In a lot of ways, though, he could be even more important if he can hold down the left tackle and shine for the next four years.
Strength: Young promise. The Gamecocks have upgraded the talent level up front over the last few years and now have a very, very nice core of players in Shell, Cann and potentially Matulis to build around.
Weakness: Pass protection. Spurrier's offenses always get quarterbacks pop, but the attack has changed since Florida and the Redskins. It hasn't been consistent since Spurrier took over and was an issue last season once again giving up 30 sacks. The line will be better in time, but it should still struggle a bit.
Outlook: The line has been developing a bit over the last few years but now it has a good combination of young talents that should be able to lead to a strong year. Only two starters are back, but there isn't going to be much of a concern if Shell is everything he's supposed to be. The line will be good this year but it'll be great in 2013.
Unit Rating: 7
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