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South Carolina at Florida Preview: Carolina Needs to Embrace the Spread

There are many problems with the Carolina offense right now, too many to analyze at length in one post. However, one that's really irking me is Steve Spurrier's reluctance to go embrace the read-option spread.

Let's talk a little history for a moment. Back in 2008, the Gamecocks fielded a putrid offense, one that was, if you can believe it, even worse than what's on the field right now. After that season, Spurrier fired OL-coach John Hunt and hired replacement Eric Wolford, who was brought in to institute a run-first, spread-option offense. As we were told, Wolford's offense would mask our problems along the offensive line and provide the opportunity to get more out of our mobile QB, decent stable of RBs, and speedy receiving corps. G.A. Mangus, another spread-oriented coach, was also brought in at this time to help Stephen Garcia learn the offense.

Since then, Wolford has gone and Shawn Elliott, another spread guru, has been brought in. Wolford, Elliott, and Mangus have all been instrumental in recruiting a roster of offensive talent that is well-fitted to the spread. Everything would seem to point towards embracing the spread as our base offense, including the on-field results. However, Spurrier has constantly been reluctant to truly embrace the spread for any extended period of time. Spurrier continuously wants this team to line up in conventional I formations and to look to pass the ball with seven-step drops. He won't give up the Fun 'n Gun. Granted, the Gamecocks enjoyed some success with this approach in 2010, when we had an offensive line that was good enough to give Garcia the time he needed to pass out of the I. However, in 2011, with the line sucking wind, our offense is completely ineffective--other than when it goes to the spread.

The fact that this team is best suited for the spread and that it has been ever since Wolford came in is abundantly clear to me. There are a handful of games that stand out as testaments to that fact. Clemson 2009 is one. In that game, the Gamecocks ran the ball 58 times, oftentimes on read-option plays. The results speak for themselves. Kenny Miles, Garcia, and Brian Maddox teamed up for 199 yards on the ground. Stephon Gilmore added 20 out of the wildcat. The Gamecocks only threw the ball 22 times, and with the run established and Carolina preferring quick-release plays, we got sufficient protection on those throws. Final result? Complete beatdown of a good Tigers squad.

Keep reading after the jump.

Another game that really stands out for how we used spread concepts happened this year: Kentucky. Granted, Kentucky isn't a good team, so the results shouldn't be taken to indicate what we could do with the spread to a better team. However, Kentucky has had a fairly decent defense this year, and we did a very good job of efficiently moving the ball with the spread in this game.

What really jumps out at me about the Kentucky game is that if anything, this was a game where it was probably less important for us to use the spread. One of the great things about the spread is that it masks deficiencies on the offensive line. The read-option run is based on the QB making the right read on the defensive end, as opposed to the line working together to open running lanes. Passes out of spread shotgun formations are typically short, lateral throws that seek to get fast receivers (i.e., Damiere Byrd--why are we only using this guy on go routes?) the ball in space, which negates the pass rush. Connor Shaw has proven that he is very capable of successfully executing these plays; he makes excellent option reads, and he throws the ball accurately on the dink-and-dunk plays. He's also capable of hitting Alshon Jeffery deep if we run the base plays enough to get the pas rush to back off a bit. These plays would have helped us more against tough UT and Ark. defensive lines than they did against Kentucky's relatively pedestrian line, yet against the Vols and the Hogs, we came out firing out of the I. This was particularly frustrating against Arkansas; we had seen Carolina perform much better with the spread the past week, and we had also seen Arkansas give up lots of yards to Vandy's spread offense the past week. Carolina did go to the spread in the second half in both games, but it happened too late against Arkansas.

It's imperative that Carolina work the spread a bit harder against Florida. With it now looking like Shaw will play against the Gators, I believe we can move the ball if we play to our strengths. However, if we run seven-step drops all afternoon, the Gators defensive line is going to have Shaw back on the trainer's table before it's all over. Moreover, we'll negate our defense's advantage against the sputtering Florida offense if we can't find ways to keep our offense on the field.

Seems simple, doesn't it? Sadly, nothing this year has been quite as easy as it should have been.