Going into the season opener in Nashville, I was very curious to see how often and how effectively South Carolina would run the read option now that Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw (who has been executing the play since high school) were set to occupy the same backfield for the first time since October 17th, 2011.
Though it's hard to know exactly what the call was on every play, it appears as though the Gamecocks ran the read option on 35% of their offensive plays. I have no idea how that compares to last season, but it's a pretty sizable chunk. So that's a pretty straightforward answer to the question of "How often?"
"How effective?" is a little bit trickier to answer. At 4.82 yards per play, the read option was, on average, more effective than the other 40 plays that the Gamecocks ran (4.15 ypp in 40 plays), but that's still a pretty underwhelming clip for a backfield that features a potential Heisman candidate in Lattimore and a dynamic ball carrier in his own right in Shaw. The read option accounted for two out of South Carolina's three plays of 20 yards or more (the third being this play), but seemed to lose its efficacy as the game wore on. After Connor Shaw injured his shoulder, the Gamecocks only gained positive yards on 4 out of 9 read option plays, averaging just 4 ypp (an average made to look much better by Marcus Lattimore's 23 yard gain halfway through the fourth quarter). Before Connor left the game, he and Marcus were averaging 5.91 ypp on the read option and only had 2 out of 12 plays fail to gain positive yards (including Lattimore's fumble on the first play from scrimmage).
It's very difficult to separate mere correlation from causation in a sample so small, as the diminishing returns of running the read option may just as likely have been the result of Vanderbilt making defensive adjustments as it was the result of Connor Shaw's bum shoulder. Though it was the most effective play we ran, better results will be expected going forward if this play is going to continue to comprise 35% of the offense.
For your viewing pleasure, I have compiled a video clip of the 22 read option plays we ran in Nashville: