The first portion of this discussion requires examining the decision makers behind this offense. You all know the playcaller-Steve Spurrier-so I won't waste your time with an extended resume but will give you the condensed version. Spurrier was an excellent quarterback at Florida, played a little pro ball, and was hired at Duke as their offensive coordinator. There he was able to devise his own offense that eventually morphed into the Fun‘n Gun. He then was the head coach of the USFL Tampa Bandits before coming back to Duke and turning their program around as their head football coach. He left Duke for his Alma Mater, Florida, which is where everyone knows his offenses ripped up the SEC and won the 1996 National Championship with Bob Stoops as his DC. A quick stint in Washington bombed, and since then Spurrier has made his home in Columbia.
This synopsis is important for a couple reasons. First and foremost, Spurrier calls the plays at Carolina, so it is important to understand his style when attempting to defend him. Second, he has had little restriction over his entire coaching career. He could do whatever he wanted at Duke as OC (pretty much developed his own offense there) and that trend continued for the rest of his career...and that is no different at SC. Spurrier has had success and is very self-confident, some would call him cocky. As a former QB, he really, really likes to toss the ball around and feels comfortable calling plays involving the forward pass. Keep all this background info in mind as we move through the progression and it is a very important aspect in beating Scar.
South Carolina's biggest weapon was #21, Marcus Lattimore. When they got him cranked up, the Gamecocks were in business. Lattimore came off of an ACL injury that made him look less effective this season than in years past, though he was still the workhorse of the offense. Unfortunately, Lattimore suffered a freak injury against UT. I feel bad for the young man (great talent and probably more character) but his injury definitely changes the dynamics of South Carolina's entire offense. Carolina has Kenny Miles and Mike Davis available to carry the football. You'll probably remember that Kenny Miles ran for 74 yards last year against the Tigers. He and Davis are perfectly capable of running the ball. By the end of this year, though, you may see Mike Davis as the #1 back in Columbia.
The other key individual in this offense is quarterback Conner Shaw. Shaw is a guy who seems more comfortable tucking the ball and running than sitting in the pocket and dissecting a defense. Since taking over for Stephen Garcia last season, Carolina has made it a point to try to get him in space with quarterback keepers, zone reads and such. Last season and earlier this year, Shaw would quickly pull the ball down and take off if his receivers weren't immediately open. He is not comfortable in the pocket and the Scar coaching staff has been trying, with marginal success, to get him to hang in a little longer and look down the field. Any team with a half decent pass rush will rattle Shaw-though you have to keep him contained because he will make you pay if he gets any open field.
South Carolina's offensive line is nothing to write home about, though it used to be much worse. South Carolina finally got rid of John Hunt and eventually ended up with the coach they have now, Shawn Elliott. Elliot is a good coach though much of his success is due to adjustments in S&C that included hiring Craig Fitzgerald. Though Fitzgerald is now at Penn State, he was a big, big factor in turning South Carolina's offensive line and the whole program around. South Carolina's offensive line looks to have taken a step back this season without him. They are not as good pass or run blocking as they were last season, in our opinion. Clemson has to take advantage of this and (A) shut down the run and (B) put pressure on Shaw. Both of these points are realistic possibilities. If you can do the former, you put a ton of pressure on their line because Spurrier has no patience and will just start throwing the ball with no care for the run.
South Carolina has been extremely successful the past couple years when they have been committed to running the football. When they don't run the ball, the results have not been so successful. In Spurrier's first couple years at South Carolina, he was reluctant to just line up and run the football. He always wanted to get cute and toss the ball around even though he did not have the proper personnel to do so. The other issue is the temperament of the OBC. When Scar gets down early, it has been disaster--particularly if the opponent is able to have a couple good series shutting down the run. Spurrier has an extremely short fuse and has a tendency to completely abandon the running game when he gets frustrated, regardless of the situation, personnel, or opponent tendencies. Long and short, if you can get up on SC, you have a pretty good chance of making them one dimensional. If you get up on them early AND stop their running game early, you can guarantee that Spurrier will completely abandon the running game regardless of who is on his football team.
The Carolina receivers are quick and have had success this season running good routes and making things happen in open space. They do not have impressive size and should be containable if Clemson can either mess up the timing, put pressure on Shaw, or do both. They are very fast and precise, so you have to be careful with these guys (especially Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington) because they can make you pay for your mistakes. Because of their lack of size, they are not the possession receivers you would like and do force the quarterback to make really good throws to beat you.
When you defend South Carolina's passing game, you had better look first to those corner routes. That is a staple of a Steve Spurrier offense. You will see double moves and such, but bet your ass they want to throw the flag route, especially with the speed/lack of size in their guys who get the most reps. Their receivers are taught to run proper routes, and that is what you'll get. This quickness and proper route running will assure Clemson's corners will have their hands full with these speedy, well coached receivers.
What is the personnel takeaway? First is to frustrate the Old Ball Coach. When you frustrate him, he will completely abandon the running gameplan that won the Gamecocks a ton of games. Do not let Scar beat you by lining up and running the football, whatever you do. That has been their strength the past couple seasons and you have to be committed to making Conner Shaw beat you through the air. Their running attack has been stopped quite a bit this season and the Gamecocks have been largely ineffective when forced to throw the football-particularly down the field. I am not convinced Shaw can carve up a defense, especially not throwing the ball down the field. He can dink and dunk you to death with TE Justice Cunningham, but we'll save those details for another article.