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September 24, 2011

Run the Wild Wing



Another night of not being able to complete a downfield pass. Another night of offensive futility, where No. 12 South Carolina's worst fear was realized - when tailback Marcus Lattimore is swallowed, the Gamecocks stall.

In a week where USC (4-0, 2-0 SEC) really needed to get clicking against a team it should have rolled (and it did, strictly going by the 21-3 final score), it did not. And it is squarely on the offense's shoulders, the unit commanded by Steve Spurrier and featuring two of the brightest stars in the college football landscape - Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery.

It is time for a change. And while it may be foolish to suggest radically switching gears mid-season, there seems to be no other option.

Stephen Garcia is not the answer. Connor Shaw is not the answer. Although the jury is still out, Bruce Ellington is not the answer.

Stephon Gilmore is the answer.

In his fleeting moments running the Gamecocks' version of the "Wildcat" offense (needs to be called "Wild Wing" full-time), Gilmore has been grand. He played four years of it at South Pointe High School, and while it would take away a leader of the defense, with a dynamic offense, the defense wouldn't have to be as on-point as it has had to be in each of the first four games.

With him running the show - his arm strength isn't the best, nor his accuracy, but it's not like the guy in there now is lighting up the sky - the Gamecocks have his ability to make tacklers miss on the run, and Lattimore back there as well. With Jeffery, Ace Sanders and the soon-to-be-un-suspended Damiere Byrd available for quick slants, sideline screens and reverses, the Gamecocks would have so much speed on the field that it would be like an Olympic meet every Saturday.

Spurrier would naturally have to abandon all pretense of throwing deep 15 times per game, or throwing at all for 30 times per game. But the Gamecocks' offense has had the same problem for four straight games, and is no closer than finding an answer than it is to finding out why the last episode of "The Sopranos" ended like it did.

There is nothing to lose by trying. The defense of the next opponent, Auburn, is wretched. Work it in doses, which would save Gilmore for defense, where he will be needed against offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and his Tigers.

Run the Wild Wing.

"I'm not going to say anything about Stephen," Spurrier said. "Stephen is trying the best he can."

Garcia was 16-of-30 for 228 yards and a touchdown, with four interceptions. One can be excused - Jeffery ran the wrong route and didn't come back for it, like he was supposed to. The other three were the same weaknesses the fifth-year senior has always shown - trying to make something out of nothing and throwing the ball into coverage. All three were on scrambling plays, and another one was Jeffery breaking up a ball from two defenders.

"Sometimes I under-throw it or over-throw it," Garcia said. "It's just a combination of things, really."

Garcia, for the season, has now thrown three touchdowns to seven interceptions.

Spurrier did try the Wild Wing once, when he put Ellington in. The snap sailed over Ellington's head and lost 16 yards. The blame appeared to be on center T.J. Johnson - he has high-snapped all year and Garcia is so used to it that he pulls it down every time. Ellington, five inches shorter than Garcia, didn't know to do that.

"Yeah, we put Bruce in there, did you see that play?," Spurrier sarcastically said. "Went right through his hands, and he picked it up and lost about 15 yards. Wasn't really a smart move, was it?"

Gilmore is only one inch shorter than Garcia. And is used to playing behind much of the offensive line.

The offense is mis-firing in every game. It cannot throw downfield. When something isn't working, is it the wise move to keep forcing it, hoping it will click? Or try something new?

"I apologize to Gamecock fans for such a putrid offensive performance, but we won the game, and I'm really proud of our defensive team," Spurrier said.

More apologies may be necessary. And not after wins, if the offense isn't repaired.

An answer is there.

It needs to be accepted.

[Complete USC-Vanderbilt game coverage: Click here]

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