2007 South Carolina Preview - Offense
South Carolina Gamecocks Offense
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What you need to know: This should be a balanced attack
that'll rely on the running game early on and the steady play of
emerging QB Blake Mitchell to be more explosive and consistent
than last year. The big concern is a line that was overmatched
throughout the spring as it tried to break in three new
starters. Getting a push for the nice 1-2 rushing punch of Cory
Boyd and Mike Davis is job one, while Mitchell will have to make
quick decisions early on until things start to come together.
The loss of Sidney Rice won't be a killer if Kenny McKinley
handles the number one job like he's expected to and a good
number two emerges.
Passing: Blake Mitchell
135-202, 1,789 yds, 10 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Cory Boyd
164 carries, 823 yds, 8 TD
51 catches, 880 yds, 5 TD
Star of the offense: Senior QB Blake Mitchell
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior C
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Garrett Anderson
Best pro prospect: Mitchell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mitchell, 2) WR Kenny
McKinley, 3) RB Cory Boyd
Strength of the offense: Running back, quarterback
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line, proven number
Projected Starter: In a strange season, senior Blake
Mitchell was mediocre out of the gate, got hurt/benched for
the more effective Syvelle Newton, and then came off the bench
to rip it up over the final five games of the year as the
proverbial light went on. He started making better decisions,
and despite throwing three picks in the win over Clemson, found
his accuracy finishing the year completing 57% of his throws
with 1,789 yards and ten touchdowns with six interceptions
despite only getting six starts. Now he's in his third year of
being coached by Spurrier and is expected to be a heady leader
who'll make everyone around him better. He doesn't have a rocket
arm and he's not going to look like Vince Young running it, but
he's mobile enough to gain positive yards from time to time and
can make all the throws needed. Despite a bad spring game, he
looked like a star all off-season and should be special this
Projected Top Reserves: While Mitchell is the
unquestioned starter, there are two decent options waiting in
the wings. 6-1, 221-pound redshirt freshman Chris Smelley
appears to be the next, great Spurruer molded quarterback with
everything you'd want in a passer except 6-3 height. He has a
big arm, was a superstar recruit, and is working hard to be the
number two and be ready to jump in if needed. Likely the starter
going into next year, he'll get plenty of work to see more live
reps after completing 9 of 15 passes last season for 112 yards
before getting knocked out for the year with a heel injury. When
he got his shot against Georgia early on, he was solid
completing 7 of 11 passes for 64 yards.
Battling for the second
string job is sophomore Tommy Beecher, a clone body-wise
of Smelley's with a decent arm. A thumb injury kept him from
making any sort of an impact last year, at least early on, and
now he'll get every chance to be the prime backup in fall
practices after suffering a sprained shoulder this spring.
in the coaching staff's good graces is star true freshman
Stephen Garcia, who was booted off the team for a time after
being arrested twice this off-season. He paid his due, is back
on the team, and will get his shot at the number two job this
fall. He has all the tools to be a star.
Watch Out For ... Mitchell to make a run for
All-SEC honors. Everyone has all but given the first-team nod to
Kentucky's Andre Woodson or Tennessee's Erik Ainge, and all eyes
will be on Georgia's Matthew Stafford and Florida's Tim Tebow,
but Mitchell, if he plays like he did at the end of last year
and throughout spring ball, could be the most effective passer
in the East.
Strength: Knowledge of the system. It's not like Mitchell,
Smelley and Beecher have been around forever, but they've been
in enough practices to know what Spurrier wants to do, or at
least as much as anyone not named Wuerffel can.
Weakness: Rock-solid proven number two. Smelley will be great in
relief later on this year, but there isn't a Syvelle Newton to
rely on anymore. Spurrier will change his quarterbacks on a
whim, and Smelley and Beecher have to be ready.
Outlook: Quarterbacks don't just manage the game
under Spurrier, they often are the game. Mitchell should be a
difference maker this season with a premium put on limiting
interceptions, making the quick, right read and connecting on
the big play when it's there. Yeah, all quarterbacks have to do
that, but the Spurrier passer has to do it all at a consistently
high level. Smelley will be great in 2008.
Projected Starters: Back in the fold after missing all
of 2005 for violating team rules, senior Cory Boyd is
poised for a big year after leading the team with 823 yards and
eight touchdowns averaging five yards per carry. Able to catch,
he was third on the team with 35 grabs for 406 yards and two
touchdowns. He doesn't have a whole bunch of wiggle, but at 214
pounds he's a load to bring down.
Paving the way will be 5-9,
347-pound senior Lanard Stafford, who didn't get a carry
last season but caught three passes for 28 yards. Purely a
blocker, the former walk-on is physical and experienced with
eight starts. He's a smart player who doesn't screw up.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Mike Davis
is good enough to be a starting back and will carry more than
his share of the workload behind Boyd after running for 474
yards and six touchdowns. While he's almost as big as Boyd, he's
a quick back who provides a little bit of power with a nice
burst through the line. While he can catch, he's not quite the
receiver Boyd is.
5-9, 196-pound junior Bobby Wallace
cranked out an 88-yard touchdown run against Middle Tennessee,
but only finished with 107 yards on the year. He's a scatback
who could be used as a third down receiver, but he has a hard
time getting carries when Boyd and Davis are rumbling.
sophomore Taylor Rank got a start against Florida
Atlantic and ran for 101 yards, but didn't see time the rest of
the way. He's a good insurance policy and fine for garbage time.
256-pound senior Ryan Brown will back up Stafford after
making 18 tackles and five tackles for loss as a defensive end
Watch Out For ... the running game to be quietly
effective. Lost in all the pyrotechnics of the Spurrier offenses
over the years has been a good running attach that sets up the
passing game, and not vice versa. Boyd and Davis might not be
flashy, but they'll carry the mail and keep defenses honest.
Strength: Power. Boyd and Davis are always going forward and
always good at getting the hard yards. That they can also catch
is a major bonus.
Weakness: A true speed back. Spurrier had a few at Florida (Fred
Taylor being the most prominent), but he doesn't have one at USC
he can rely on to turn the corner and break off a 75-yard home
run to change a game.
Outlook: While the Gamecock running game isn't
sexy, it's got teeth. It'll be effective at doing what it's
supposed to, which is keep the safeties from cheating against
the pass and providing some semblance of balance. It'll crank
out about 150 yards a game and be effective in the red zone.
Projected Starters: With Sidney Rice off to the
Minnesota Vikings, speedy junior Kenny McKinley takes
over as the number one target. He appears to be ready. A steady
producer throughout last year finishing with 51 catches for 880
yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a three-catch,
112-yard, two touchdown day against Houston, he does have the
consistent hands along with being a 17.3-yard-per-catch deep
threat. The former quarterback is also the team's top punt
returner averaging 8.9 yards per try.
On the other side of
McKinley will be sophomore Moe Brown, who'll be even more
of a field stretcher than Rice ever way. One of the best
athletes on the team, and with decent size at 6-0 and 180
pounds, he has the potential to be the team's breakout star.
Senior Andy Boyd is one of the SEC's better tight ends
once he's healthy again from a shoulder problem that limited
him. He only caught two passes for 63 yards with a touchdown,
making a long scoring grab against Middle Tennessee, but the 267-pounder
is mainly a blocker, and a great one. He got a sixth year of
eligibility after having a variety of injury problems, most
notably a torn ACL a few years ago.
Projected Top Reserves: While McKinley is the
number one target, things could soon change if JUCO transfer
Larry Freeman turns out to live up to the hype. He's a big,
physical receiver who has the athleticism to crank out big yards
after the catch and can play a little quarterback if needed
after getting four starts last year at Pearl River CC. One
problem: he appeared lost this spring. He needs to grasp the
offense faster to be a major factor early on.
senior Mike West was never healthy throughout last year
having problems with his hamstring, but he still managed to
catch six passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns. If he's
healthy, he'll be a dangerous role player behind McKinley and in
three and four wide sets. He's a former linebacker who made 47
tackles and three sacks in 2005 before moving over to the
6-5, 236-pound sophomore Jared Cook is
part receiver, part tight end. For his size, he's a phenomenal
athlete who was reported to have run a 4.37 40 and can block as well as catch making six grabs for 113
Also in the hunt for playing time will be 6-2, 211-pound
sophomore Freddie Brown, who turned into a big
contributor towards the end of the season catching 14 passes for
147 yards in the final six games. The former high school
basketball superstar has the athleticism, and now he has to
become more of a gamebreaker.
Behind Boyd at tight end will be
255-pound senior Robert Pavlovic, who caught four passes
for 18 yards and a touchdown, but is mainly a blocker.
Watch Out For ... the loss of Sidney Rice to not
be nearly as painful as many will make it out to be. Yeah, he
forced everyone to pay attention to him and allowed everyone
else to see single coverage, but he mainly ripped up the bad
teams last year (seven of his ten touchdown catches came against
Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee). Yeah, he had a fantastic
day against Arkansas and was good against Clemson, but the
offense will find receivers to pick up the slack.
Strength: Size. This is a big, physical group that can block and
isn't going to get shoved around. If Cook really is a wide
receiver and not a tight end, this will be one of the bigger
receiving corps in the country.
Weakness: A veteran number two. McKinley was a dream second
receiver and will be more than fine as the main man. Brown,
West, Cook and Freeman are relatively untested.
Outlook: You don't get better by losing a Sidney
Rice. Those 72 catches from last year will be spread around to a
variety of receivers, and the hot hands will keep getting fed
the ball over and over again. McKinley should have a terrific
season, and others will take turns filling in as the top second
Projected Starters: The tackles will have to be the
stars early on with the three interior blockers needing to be replaced.
Juniors Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorensen are back on the
outside, but only the 6-5, 295-pound Meredith is locked in to a spot at
left tackle. Easily the best player on the line, he started out at right
tackle before moving to the left side where he turned into a leader up
front. Sorensen's a massive 6-7, 323-pound blocker who started the final
six games of last year at right tackle and will be penciled in the spot
to start the year, but he'll have to fight to keep the job.
The interior is the issue with few of the questions answered after
spring ball. 6-4, 300-pound sophomore Garrett Anderson appears to
be a keeper at left guard. More time and more experience are needed, but
he's athletic enough to be a key cog up front for the next three years.
6-3, 320-pound senior James Thompson has never played like the
superstar high school prospect he was a few years ago, and while he'll
start out at right guard, he's not a lock to stick. Originally
considered a tackle prospect, he's now a pure guard.
Taking over for
Chris White in the middle will be 291-pound senior William Brown,
who isn't all that physical and doesn't have the best skills around. He
makes the most of what he has and is always working, but he's limited
and is still learning on the fly how to become a starting center.
Projected Top Reserves: Battling with Sorensen at
right tackle will be 6-6, 286-pound sophomore Heath Eckerson, who
started in five games last year at left tackle where he was great in
Getting bigger and stronger for the running game is a
must before he can be a top-level starter. 293-pound junior Gurminder
Thind has the talent to become a great all-around blocker on the
left side if he can be more consistent and keep the foot on the gas all
the time. He could move to guard if needed.
Freshman Ryan Broadhead
is a promising prospect at center, but at only 271 pounds he has to
hit the weight room before he can be a regular contributor.
Watch Out For ... the line to be a work in
progress all season long. The 2006 recruiting class was heavy on
linemen, and now they need time to mature. The depth chart could undergo
wild changes by the middle of the year.
Strength: Options. Unlike the past few years, there's a little
bit of depth and a few versatile players who can move around and fill in
the holes. Injuries wouldn't be the killer they would've been last year.
Weakness: Center. Brown and Broadhead have to prove they can
quarterback a line at an SEC level. They have to start pushing around
more than they did this spring.
Outlook: The line could be the Achilles' heel if
it doesn't come together in a hurry. It took a while for last year's
starting five to jell and it showed in the offensive production against
the better teams. Meredith is an All-SEC caliber blocker at left tackle,
but all bets are off after him. With Georgia and LSU to play in
September, every practice is going to count later this summer.