South Carolina Gamecocks: Team Overview
Returning Offensive Starters: 6 (FL, LT, LG, RG, RT, QB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 5 (RDE, RDT, RCB, LCB, SS)
Returning Specialists: 1 (P)
Projected Overall Record: 11-1 (UGA)
Projected SEC Record: 7-1 (UGA)
Projected SEC East Record: 5-1 (UGA)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Av Defensive Line: Ex
Running Backs: Vg Linebackers: Fr
Wide Receivers: Vg Defensive Backs: Vg
Offensive Line: Vg Special Teams: Fr
There’s no discounting what Steve Spurrier has done in his tenure as South Carolina coach. The Gamecocks feel they are knocking on the door of a national title shot, but this is a team that has a few holes in its game still. Quarterback play is always intriguing on a Spurrier-coached team, and South Carolina must rebuild its linebacker corps on defense. Special teams could also improve a bit. Having said that, the front four and secondary should be the best, or close to it, in the SEC East this year, and tough defenses usually equate to a championship run.
Spurrier has mostly ditched the high-flying passing attack of his Florida teams for a ball-control offense built around the tailback position. South Carolina’s offense now resembles more of a West Coast attack than the Fun-N-Gun, but it was successful almost in spite of itself in 2012. South Carolina never got the running game worked out, which was unfortunately due to Marcus Lattimore’s knee issues. The passing game works provided one of the two quarterbacks comes ready to play. Expect more of the same this year, as Spurrier fusses and frets over his QB depth chart for all 12 regular season games.
South Carolina essentially went with a two-QB system in 2012, and made it work. Connor Shaw was the favored starter, but Shaw’s affinity for running the ball despite being the size of a reasonably well-fed placekicker caused problems for the Gamecocks. Health was always a concern. He was the team’s second-leading rusher behind Lattimore, and threw for 17 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. But even that wasn’t good enough for Spurrier, who frequently subbed in Dylan Thompson to take snaps. Thompson isn’t the runner that Shaw is, but he’s an even-keeled triggerman who seemed to take the two-headed system in stride, whereas Shaw wasn’t nearly as calm. Next in line might end up being true freshman Connor Mitch, who has the most raw talent of anyone on the roster.
Mike Davis was the team’s third tailback last year, but in all honestly, he’s an upgrade over Kenny Miles, who took Lattimore’s spot late in the year. Miles was tough, but was too small for the position and didn’t have enough field vision for the job. Davis seems to read defenses better and also has more of a physical presence. The big concern for South Carolina is developing depth, as no one behind Davis has much experience. Sophomore Brandon Wilds will likely be the backup. He has good size and runs with purpose. The third-team back is a mystery still, with sophomore Shon Carson the most likely name. True freshman David Williams also figures to get some work there. South Carolina uses a fullback only situationally; Connor McLaurin and Ty Sutherland will probably vie for that duty.
Losing Ace Sanders hurts, but the Gamecocks should have a good starting group regardless. Tiny Bruce Ellington surprisingly grew into one of the SEC’s top flankers in 2012, and had more receiving yards than did Sanders last year. Damiere Byrd will step into a starting role at split end, while junior Nick Jones appears to be the new slot receiver. Unbelievably, Ellington is the biggest of the three, giving South Carolina its own version of the Smurfs at wideout. Height is less of an issue with the second-teamers, as Shaq Roland, K.J. Brent and Shamier Jeffery each top the six-foot mark. The biggest questions surround Roland, who had a difficult freshman season despite the fact many analysts expected him to compete for freshman all-American honors prior to the start of the year. True freshman Pharoh Cooper heads the list of other names competing for playing time. South Carolina also needs to replace Justice Cunningham at tight end; Rory Anderson led the group coming out of spring. Anderson, despite being a new starter, actually garnered a fair bit of all-SEC consideration. Sophomore Jerell Adams will be his backup.
Both tackles and both guards return for the 2013 campaign. Despite a dearth of household names, South Carolina has managed to put out consistent offensive lines that don’t make many mistakes, at least not in the running game. But pass protection has frequently been an issue. Corey Robinson will start at left tackle, with Brandon Shell at right tackle. Ronald Patrick and A.J. Cann form a formidable guard duo. The pressure will be on this quartet to help Cody Waldrop make a smooth transition to the starting center role. Waldrop had a tough spring practice, but there is no one else behind him other than another freshman, Clayton Stadnik. Signee Alan Knott could also find himself in the mix. Cody Gibson and Mike Matulis give South Carolina a pair of junior reserve tackles, while Will Sport and Brock Stadnik are the reserve guards. It will be interesting to watch the progress of Waldrop in the middle.
The Gamecocks operate from a hybrid 4-3/4-2-5 scheme that has been highly successful under Lorenzo Ward’s tutelage. While the Gamecocks must replace half the starters of a year ago, most of the new starters have had key assignments in the past. This won’t be a case of breaking in a boatload of greenhorns. The Gamecock front line is as good as any, while the defensive backfield should be solid once again. The only real question is at linebacker, where younger players will be featured.
By now, everyone who watches the sport knows who Jadeveon Clowney is and who he plays for. Clowney’s performance in the Outback Bowl in January is still being replayed on sports highlight shows. This will be Clowney’s final year in Columbia, barring major injury, and he’s expected to dominate. It doesn’t hurt that Kelcy Quarles starts next to him. Quarles is one of the best tackles in the SEC in 2013, and having him there prevents teams from completely selling out to stop Clowney coming off the edge. J.T. Surratt is a new starter at tackle next to Quarles, while Chaz Sutton will start opposite Clowney. Both are upperclassmen with plenty of prior experience. Reserve tackles Gerald Dixon Jr. and Phillip Dukes are experienced players with high ceilings. Gerald Dixon (not the same guy) will back up Sutton at strongside end, while freshman Darius English is set to give Clowney a breather every now and then. Across the board, this may be the best line in the country.
About the only certainty here is Sharrod Golightly will start at the Spur position, a hybrid linebacker/safety. Sophomore Kaiwan Lewis is a strong favorite to hold onto the middle linebacker job he won in the spring. The weakside linebacker position could be any number of players. Cedrick Cooper will probably start there if his knee is back to full health, but sophomore Marcquis Roberts and freshman T.J. Holloman both may have a say in the matter. Jordan Diggs will back up Golightly. The biggest issue outside of the lack of experience is a lack of size. Holloman is the biggest of the bunch at 228 pounds, and most of the starters are 10 pounds or more lighter than he is. South Carolina has tended to go for lighter linebackers in recent years, but this might be a bit too much. Golightly will be playing very close to the line at only 193.
Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree are a nice 1-2 punch at cornerback, while Brison Williams has developed into a dependable strong safety. The only question mark is free safety, but it’s a big one. T.J. Gurley and Kadetrix Marcus fought for the job in the spring, but neither pulled significantly ahead of the other. Chris Moody and Chaz Elder are also in the mix for the job, and to back up Williams at strong safety. Depth at corner is good, with Ronnie Martin and Ahmad Christian the leading names. The free safety situation could become a concern, and South Carolina also needs to find a nickel and dime back. Look for Martin and the loser of the free safety battle to see most of the extra work.
Tyler Hull had a decent year at punter, but he needs to improve quite a bit, as he failed to average 40 yards per punt in 2012. Landon Ard came out of spring as the new placekicker. He needs to get more consistent, but it wasn’t like last year’s starter, Adam Yates, was particularly lethal from any distance. Kick returns will probably fall to Bruce Ellington or another of the smaller wideouts. South Carolina covered kicks reasonably well in 2012 and was solid in the return game. But the kickers themselves need work.
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