South Carolina's offense is best described as "multiple" in every sense of the word. You will see a wide array of formations out of the Gamecocks week in and week out. You will also see a variety of play types out of each of these formations meaning that the defense has less of an opportunity to anticipate the play via pre-snap reads. South Carolina also has a good core group of skills players and a much improved offensive line which has caused problems for opponents this season.
South Carolina will show lots of looks in the gun and under center. Don't be surprised to see balanced four wide sets, trips looks, and even empty sets from the Cocks out of the gun. Conversely, SC has utilized some I and offset I looks to date under center. Carolina mixes up plays out of these formations well. They are not afraid to run the ball out of the gun and will throw the ball from any of the aforementioned looks.
Personnel has been the story of this offense, so we need to establish the players and their abilities to properly discuss how formations and plays have meshed with talent to the tune of eight wins this season.
Stephen Garcia: Garcia is a Redshirt Junior from Tampa who seems to finally be morphing into a reliable signal caller and leader. He has a checkered past with the Gamecocks but appears to have matured this season. Garcia is not making nearly as many mistakes and has looked crisp in big games this season. Garcia is a mobile quarterback. Carolina has gotten him out of the pocked by design on quite a few plays this season. SG has utilized his big targets well this season, putting receivers Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley in position to make plays. The big knock on Garcia this year is his ability to protect the football. Garcia has thrown 9 INTs on the season and has fumbled in critical portions of football games, particularly when trying to get an extra yard or two on a run.
Marcus Lattimore: The true Freshman from Byrnes has been the catalyst for this football team and is the driver for Carolina's ‘10 offensive success. Lattimore has very impressive skills that include incredible balance and vision to go with a fluid running style. ML's ability to block has been impressive particularly for a Freshman and Lattimore has done a good job catching the football. All in all he is, as advertised, one of the best backs in the country. If there is a criticism from me it would be the apparent lack of true breakaway speed. This young man is a fantastic football player and has carried this team in big games throughout the 2010 season.
Alshon Jeffery: Jeffery is completing his second season in Columbia and is one of America's best college receivers. Jeffery is a big target who has a knack of making circus catches this season. Jeffery runs good routes and utilizes his size, pure athletic ability, and excellent body control to make big catches each and every week.
Tori Gurley: Gurley is a year older than Jeffery and is also a big framed receiver. The emergence of Jefferey as SC's #1 receiver has taken away some of the looks Gurley would have gotten. Gurley has made some clutch catches throughout this season including several memorable grabs across the middle of the field to extend drives.
Ace Sanders: This Freshman is a smaller receiver who has exceptional speed. He has made a couple of important catches this year and has done a lot of his damage on reverses and through backfield handoffs. Sanders is also utilized as a kick returner for the Gamecocks.
Overall, South Carolina has to run the ball to be successful. Marcus Lattimore came in and gave the Gamecocks a quality rusher who has shown he can carry the ball 30+ times if necessary. South Carolina runs the ball well out of all their formations. This allows this team to keep opponents on their heels and respect the pass/run option the SC play caller has. They use Lattimore's body control and vision to establish a quality run game and take pressure off of QB Stephen Garcia. South Carolina's zone blocking schemes have been well received by Lattimore. ML has done a nice job cutting back across the formation to gash defenses for huge amounts of yards.
Out of the "I" and offset "I",, South Carolina runs Lattimore all over the formation. We have seen USC run between the tackles, off tackle, sweep plays, and even a pitch the ball on a quisi-version of the option. South Carolina has done a very good job this season in the red zone, pounding the ball when necessary and relying on Lattimore's ability to run hard to get tough yards. You will also see one of Spurrier's favorite run plays, the sprint draw throughout the football game. We discussed some of these plays last season here and I would encourage all to brush up on the sprint draw rules.
South Carolina runs zone read plays out of the gun and a wide array of draw plays. Do not be surprised to see quite a few handoffs out of gun. Carolina gets their backs the ball on designed inside and outside running plays along with the delayed handoffs that you expect to see out of the gun. South Carolina has incorporated receivers into designed carries, running reverses and end around type plays throughout the season.
We talked mostly about Marcus Lattimore to this point but South Carolina does have a capable back up in Brian Maddox. Maddox relieved Lattimore at key points in the Bama game and averages 5.5 ypc. South Carolina will get the ball to their back regardless of who is in the game.
Carolina's passing attack has roughly three levels. Jeffery is the homerun hitter, Tori Gurley has made quite a few intermediate length catches particularly across the middle of the field, and Marcus Lattimore has been used extensively catching the ball out of the backfield.
South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery is dangerous and can go up and make big, tough grabs for huge chunks of yards. Jeffery has had a lot of success catching fade routes down the sideline/in the end zone and does a good job getting open on corner/flag routes. Jeffery is so good because he goes up and attacks the football and makes extremely tough catches, often one-handed. If you see Stephen Garcia lob the ball up down the sideline you can almost bet he is tossing the ball in Jeffery's direction.
Gurley is a guy who's big catches have crippled opponents over the middle or at times when he has found week spots in zone coverage. Gurley is a guy that SC has used to help move the chains at critical portions of football games and he has responded with multiple big catches, of which a couple have gone for monster gains.
Marcus Lattimore is more than a safety valve for the passing offense. Carolina likes to run a lot of screens to Lattimore AND likes to hit him out of the backfield on little angle and flair routes. This is a guy who is able to make a catch in near-open field conditions and turn those short passes into big gains by utilizing his blockers and making nifty moves in traffic and in the open field.
For Clemson to have success this weekend, the Tigers will first need to shut down Carolina's running game. Stephen Garcia is a different quarterback when removed from the role of game controller and relied upon to be the game changer with big plays. It is imperative Clemson not allow Carolina to methodically move the football. In SC's best games this season, the Cocks have been able to convert 3rd downs and hold onto the football for extended periods of time. Clemson has to force punts and, by doing such, will limit the carries by ML. Clemson also cannot allow Alshon Jeffery to kill the Tigers deep. This will be a tough chore as this young man has made a lot of great catches against near perfect coverage and/or after being interfered with.
This is a difficult but not impossible chore for the Tigers. Auburn was able to limit Lattimore and Arkansas played a good game against the Cocks, forcing some critical turnovers. As alluded to earlier, Clemson should be the recipient of a Stephen Garcia gift if Lattimore does not dominate this thing. Garcia has put the ball on the ground repeatedly as he fought for extra yards and has thrown some silly picks in the past when pressured.