Time for an offensive upheaval at South Carolina

March, 3, 2009
3/03/09
9:54
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

For a guy who revolutionized offensive football in the SEC, Steve Spurrier sure had a pedestrian offense last season at South Carolina.

And to be honest, calling it pedestrian is probably being kind. The Gamecocks just plain stunk most of the time.

 
  Doug Benc/Getty Images
  South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has to get the Gamecocks right on offense this year.
They couldn't run the ball. They couldn't pass protect. They couldn't consistently make plays down the field, and they turned it over a startling 38 times -- tying Washington State for the most giveaways in the country.

On top of it all, according to Spurrier, they also had a lousy attitude.

"Some of those guys who left ... that's fine. They were ready to get on out of here," Spurrier said. "I think our attitude will be better this year. It needs to be. I know our offseason conditioning attitude has been wonderful."

Counting his strength and conditioning coach, Spurrier also has six new coaches on his staff. His offensive staff is entirely new with the exception of his son, Steve Spurrier Jr., and that's not by accident.

"Some of (the coaches) were looking around because it was suggested they do so, and we didn't try too hard to keep them," Spurrier said of the mass exodus on his staff this offseason. "Sometimes, you need to change it up."

The Gamecocks open spring practice on Tuesday afternoon with their new look and what Spurrier hopes will be a renewed commitment to bringing an SEC championship to Columbia.

"When you have a school that doesn't have great tradition like here, you have to somehow try to forget about the past," said Spurrier, who's just 15-17 against SEC foes in his first four seasons at South Carolina and has lost five or more games overall all four years.

"Watching the Arizona Cardinals play this year drives that home. They did a super job of forgetting the past, that they weren't supposed to win, and believing they could and came within one play of winning it all. We sort of see our situation like theirs."

The Cardinals did it primarily with an explosive offense, whereas the Gamecocks are coming off one of the weakest showings for a Spurrier offense since he's been a head coach.

In fact, if not for the South Carolina defense last season, who knows how ugly it could have gotten?

It's a touchy subject for the Head Ball Coach, who's quick to point out that last season was the first time the Gamecocks actually finished higher in the SEC in total defense than they did in total offense since he arrived.

"I think most people think our defense has always been better around here," Spurrier said. "But in actuality, last year was the first year they ranked ahead of the offense. Hopefully, they're going to rank ahead of the offense again and our offense improves a lot. If that happens, then you've probably got a good team."

 
  Doug Benc/Getty Images
  Quarterback Stephen Garcia needs to prove he can bring the Gamecocks to the next level.
So much of what the Gamecocks do next season will revolve around how much Stephen Garcia matures as a quarterback. He's the only quarterback on the roster with any experience now that Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher are gone.

One thing Spurrier is committed to doing this season is incorporating more spread offense to better fit Garcia's style. But that also doesn't mean that Spurrier wants to see Garcia take off and run every time he feels pressure.

"Hopefully, Stephen Garcia can learn how to play the game," Spurrier said. "He's going to go through his first spring practice here. He got kicked out of the other two and got kicked out of both summer workouts. He's scheduled to make his first complete spring and first complete summer workouts with the guys.

"So, hopefully, he will be a lot more ready to play next year."

Much of that is on Garcia becoming a more devoted student of the game and becoming a stronger leader as he approaches his sophomore season. Nobody's ever doubted his physical tools.

But when we last saw him, he was busy turning the ball over on four of the Gamecocks' first five possessions in their Outback Bowl loss to Iowa. So he doesn't exactly come into the spring riding a wave of momentum.

"We've got to play better around Stephen, too," Spurrier said. "We have to make the plays that win games in this league, and we have to coach them better."

One of the biggest changes Spurrier made to his staff was bringing in Eric Wolford to coach the offensive line and serve as running game coordinator. Wolford's going to also play a big role in setting up the offense.

Last season, the Gamecocks were the only team in the SEC that didn't average at least 100 yards per game in rushing offense. They also gave up 39 sacks. Arkansas was the only SEC team that allowed more (45).

Clearly, there was an edge and a toughness that the South Carolina offensive line was missing last season.

Replacing Kenny McKinley at receiver will also be a chore. He's the Gamecocks' all-time leader in catches and receiving yards and made a bunch of key plays for them the last two years.

Joe Hills and Jason Barnes both showed promise last season as redshirt freshmen, but their roles will increase dramatically in 2009. The same goes for tight end Weslye Saunders now that Jared Cook is gone. When touted freshman receiver Alshon Jeffrey gets on campus this summer, he'll also get a chance right away to show what he can do.

The Gamecocks sorely lacked a breakaway threat at running back in 2008, but they hope they've filled that void with freshman Jarvis Giles, who enrolled early and will go through spring practice.

"We have a lot of good players here," Spurrier said. "I told our guys the other day, 'If our recruiting is ranked as high as sixth one year and 12th two years later, that means we're supposed to finish in the Top 10 in the country, fellas. That means we've got some ball players here, so let's try to eliminate the excuses and see if we can't mentally believe that we can go win a championship.' "

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