While South Carolina won 11 games for the first time ever in 2011, its offense was very much unlike a typical Steve Spurrier offense. The Gamecocks ranked No. 95 nationally with 181.5 passing yards per game and attempted just 24.4 passes per game, which ranked 104th.
As Spurrier prepared for his eighth season as USC’s coach, he spent much of spring practices talking about how frustrated he felt with the Gamecocks’ passing attack. But for what it’s worth, they ended the spring on a positive note in Saturday’s spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium, which the Garnet team won 38-24 over the Black team.
Starting quarterback Connor Shaw completed 6 of 7 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yarder to Damiere Byrd on the game’s first play. Dylan Thompson, who currently has the No. 2 quarterback job, completed 15 of 20 passes for 168 yards, an interception and a touchdown.
Tanner McEvoy, who is pushing Thompson for the No. 2 spot, was 8 of 12 for 132 yards and two touchdowns, including a 63-yarder to D.L. Moore.
“We obviously threw the ball and caught better than we have in any spring game,” Spurrier said. “I thought our coverage could’ve been better.”
The quarterbacks had lots of time because the pass rush was limited by the planned absence for most of the day of defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. Moreover, two starting defensive backs – free safety D.J. Swearinger and cornerback Akeem Auguste – missed all of spring practices while recovering from foot surgeries.
But Spurrier was pleased that his quarterbacks threw just “one or two” errant passes Saturday. And the wide receiver group is searching for a deep threat because Alshon Jeffery left a year early for the NFL.
“I guess that’s encouraging,” Spurrier said of his quarterbacks’ accuracy. “We haven’t really gotten behind (the defense) as frequently in our scrimmages as we did today. Whatever it means, I don’t know. It’s just a spring game. It’s just a practice game. I think it’s a team that’s got a chance to be pretty good. You’re always unknown until you start playing the games.”
Shaw was pleased with the progress USC’s passing game made this spring, but he won’t be required to win games by himself next season, since running back Marcus Lattimore will return from a right knee injury that prematurely ended his 2011 season.
“I think right now the pressure is on us in the passing game,” Shaw said. “When you get (Lattimore) back in there, it takes a load off our shoulders.”
Lattimore said he is “pretty much almost there” in his recovery and plans to start doing change-of-direction running on May 2. He said he has “complete confidence” in his knee.
Byrd’s speed could also be an asset as USC tries to replace Jeffery in the deep passing attack – which will most likely happen with a by-committee approach. Byrd, who split time as a track and field sprinter this spring, had just one catch for 16 yards last season as a true freshman.
“I’m on the brink,” he said.
Spurrier hopes the same is true of his passing game.