South Carolina Gamecocks: Team Overview
By Jess Nicholas
September 1, 2009
This could be a deciding season for South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, who probably didn’t sign on to take this job with the idea that he’d be fighting for a .500 record every year. But for the second straight season, South Carolina must essentially rebuild its offense from the ground up due to graduation. The Gamecocks made some adjustments to their base schemes in the spring, and it will be interesting to see if Spurrier sticks with them heading into the fall. The defense is expected to carry South Carolina, but the question is how far will a new secondary be able to tote the load? Special teams must also be rebuilt, and the Gamecocks’ revolving door at quarterback has to come to a halt.
Returning Offensive Starters: 4 (SE, LT, C, RG)
Returning Defensive Starters: 6 (RDT, LDT, LDE, LLB, ROV, FS)
Returning Specialists: 1 (P)
Projected Overall Record: 7-5 (UA, OM, UF, UGA, Ark)
Projected SEC Record: 3-5 (UA, OM, UF, UGA, Ark)
Projected SEC East Record: 3-2 (UF, UGA)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Fr Defensive Line: Vg
Running Backs: Fr Linebackers: Ex
Wide Receivers: Fr Defensive Backs: Fr
Offensive Line: Fr Special Teams: Pr
The Gamecocks’ base set is now pretty much a one-back spread. Spurrier’s offense has always played more one-back than anything else, but now all pretense of a fullback as anything other than a situational blocker is gone. The running game is still South Carolina’s biggest worry – after offensive line, that is. Both spring and fall camps have found returning starters losing their jobs, lineups being switched about and a general overall worry that this group just isn’t up to the task.
Few things are more predictable in life than the truth that Steve Spurrier will pull his starting quarterback at least once during the season. Stephen Garcia is first in line to get yanked in 2009. Garcia is not a typical Spurrier quarterback – one could argue he’s actually a runner first and a passer second. He’s the leading returning rusher on the team, and his passing stats (65-of-122, 53.3%, 832 yards, 6 TD, 8 INT) is pretty sub-par. But Garcia has the strongest credentials of a mediocre group that includes Reid McCollum, Aramis Hillary and Zac Brindise. McCollum is currently listed as the backup, but Gamecock coaches want to at least build a package to make use of the athletic Hillary’s abilities. Brindise is a walk-on. Garcia must keep his off-the-field life under control, as he’s been prone to suspensions ever since arriving in Columbia.
This one is a big mystery. Junior Brian Maddox held the job coming out of the spring, but he’s being pushed by freshmen Kenny Miles and Jarvis Giles and one holdover, sophomore Eric Baker. Giles, Miles and Baker are all slight of build, while Maddox is more of a true powerback. When South Carolina needs a fullback, Patrick DiMarco and Darantzy Brunson stand ready to be blockers. The biggest hurdle for all the tailbacks is learning Spurrier’s complicated offense. And if Maddox should happen to go down hurt, the wheels could come off the entire offense in a hurry.
Jason Barnes returns at split end, and along with last year’s top sub, Moe Brown, give South Carolina a pair of reliable receivers who already possess decent SEC resumes. The two combined for nearly 750 yards receiving in 2008. The other starter is the promising Dion LeCorn, who has battled injury, gets the third starting position and has a lot of eyes on him coming out of camp. Tori Gurley and Joe Hills are the primary backups along with freshman D.L. Moore. But it’s signee Alshon Jeffery who is getting the most notice. He’s big, fast and has good hands, and famously turned down Tennessee and Southern Cal in recruiting. Two other signees, DeAngelo Smith and Lamar Scruggs, could make an impact. Weslye Saunders steps in at tight end and gives South Carolina some experience there. He’s a good pass-catcher and has the size to become a very good blocker. Freshman Andrew Power backs him up.
Three starters return, which is good for five ulcers in the stomach of Steve Spurrier. Jarriel King had the left tackle position nailed down after spring, and Garrett Anderson was back at center and Terrence Campbell at right guard. But Anderson and Campbell have already been shuffled back and forth between first- and second-team. Left guard is a mystery; Heath Batchelor has held the job before but was suspended from the team at one time. He’s back and battling with freshman T.J. Johnson and career backup Lemuel Jeanpierre for that job but could also end up at right tackle, where Hutch Eckerson, Pierre Andrews and Quintin Richardson also hold an interest for the job. Seaver Brown and Ryan Broadhead are keeping Anderson honest at center. Overall, there are concerns about athleticism, strength and technique. Spurrier has not been able to recruit top-flight offensive linemen during his tenure here.
South Carolina moves to a hybrid 4-2-5 base. Such a move would seem to expose the weakest part of the Gamecock defense, the secondary. It will be interesting to see whether this decision will help the Gamecocks, as the 4-2-5 has never been a particularly effective defense in the SEC. The front six is strong, however, which should help a young secondary in pass coverage.
Three starters return and there is healthy competition. Cliff Matthews and new starter Clifton Geathers grabbed the end positions out of spring. Geathers is the prototype of a SEC defensive end and the sky is the limit for him. In the middle, Nathan Pepper returns at one tackle slot and Ladi Ajiboye at the other, although Ajiboye was suspended for the spring and lost his job to Travian Robertson as a result. Melvin Ingram helps the depth situation inside, but the rest is all freshmen: Devin Taylor and Chaz Sutton at the ends and Kenny Davis at tackle. The starters are as good as any, but the bench is shallow and green.
Despite just having two full-time starters, this could be the best linebacker group in the conference, or at least the SEC East. Eric Norwood has few peers in college football. He can play linebacker or move to defensive end, whatever is needed. His partner in crime, Rodney Paulk, isn’t flashy but eats up tackle stats and has above-average speed. In addition to senior reserve Gerrod Sinclair, South Carolina picked up two JUCO studs, Josh Dickerson and Tony Straughter during recruiting. Shaq Wilson helps spread the load. Few teams can match this degree of depth.
South Carolina will start three safeties, headed up by the rover Darian Stewart, also known as the “Spur” in South Carolina’s terminology. Free safety Chris Culliver has turned heads. Rounding out the starting safety trio will either be Alonzo Winfield or DeVonte Holloman, a freshman. Antonio Allen and Reginald Bowens provide depth there. The starters at cornerback are new, but USC coaches are excited about their potential. Stephon Gilmore will start on one side and Akeem Auguste at the other. Both players are physical, blanket-type corners. Charles Whitlock, suspended from the team in the offseason, adds depth along with Addison Williams. How the cornerbacks go will determine whether the Gamecocks are feared or not in 2009.
Replacing Ryan Succop won’t be an easy chore. Spencer Lanning will at least punt and will probably also kick field goals. Adam Yates is also around at kicker. The return situation should be in good hands with Chris Culliver, but more consistency is needed.