Last year, South Carolina finished 92nd in the country in rushing offense. That equals one above offensive powerhouse N. C. State (remember 7-3?) and one below LSU. While I'm sure many of us would be happy with LSU's nine wins, the fact is that most of the teams around us in the 90s weren't very successful in the column that matters. In that sense, we shouldn't be surprised that we only won seven games despite having a fairly effective passing game; in fact, we probably should be surprised that we did as well as we did.
The problem for Carolina is that every effective offense needs some kind of bread-and-butter play to set up attempts at bigger plays. The bread-and-butter play isn't always the run; in the Air Raid, for instance, it's a quick-toss-and-run passing scheme. Most offenses, though, rely on running plays to set up the pass, and Steve Spurrier's offense is one of those systems. A case in point regarding how this works is our team in 2008. Back then, our running game was so awful that there was almost no chance of making the passing game work; this created situations like what we experienced against LSU, when the Tigers blitzed Stephen Garcia with impunity and nary a worry that we would get the ball to Mike Davis and make them pay.
In 2009, the theme going into the season was that we would see more of the run, with an emphasis on incorporating a zone-read scheme that would hopefully help us diversify a rushing attack that was relying on a draw play that didn't seem to work anymore. To some degree, we got that--our rushing offense moved from being the 112th in the nation to 92nd. The team experienced a comparable improvement in total offense, moving from 97th to 82nd. However, being a little better than worst still means you need to get a lot better.
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Part of the issue, in my view, wasn't just that we didn't run the ball well but, rather, that we weren't running the ball enough and / or at the right time. Conventional wisdom and, indeed, Spurrier's offensive philosophy suggest that you run the ball to set up the pass, but I don't know how many times I saw us go straight to bombing throws deep downfield on first down early in the game. This was particularly true after we discovered Alshon Jeffery during the Kentucky game. Jeffery made a few big plays, and from there on out it seemed like all our coaches wanted to do was toss the ball up and hope he could bring it down. With all due respect to his abilities, and recognizing the fact that sometimes it's good to boot the book, it remains the case that you often need to make defenses respect the run before you can create situations for receivers to get open and that it's easier to notch the big play once you put a manageable distance between yourself and the endzone. If we had used a more balanced approach, I'm thinking we would have seen more efficient success in the passing game, which would have probably helped the running game, too.
In 2010, we return four offensive linemen, all our running backs, and bring in Marcus Lattimore. There's no excuse not to be able to run the ball with that kind of talent and experience, the line's past foibles notwithstanding. Let's hope that we finally see Carolina produce the running game it needs to field a balanced offense.