January 9, 2008

Notebook: Spurrier adjusts offensive style

With opposing defenses becoming quicker, more aggressive and more relentless, Steve Spurrier knows he must come up with something different to stay one step ahead.

So, he's turning back the clock to 2006.

More specifically, to the seven-game span when Syvelle Newton started at quarterback and generated key yards with both his arm and his feet.

Except the QB this time won't be Newton. Instead, it'll be redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia, who ran for over 1,345 yards and 17 touchdowns during his decorated career at Jefferson High School in Tampa.

What about the other quarterbacks besides Garcia? They'll have to keep up, and work on their moves.

"Offensively, we're going to do some things differently," Spurrier said. "We've got a kid here now in Stephen Garcia that can run with the ball. We're going to have a run(ning) quarterback offense a little bit here and there. I hope Chris Smelley can run a little bit with it. I'm convinced now that if your quarterback can't run with it, it's difficult back there. It's hard."

By all accounts, Garcia gave the first-team defense fits this past season with his running ability when he redshirted and served as the scout team quarterback.

"You ask any of the defensive guys, they love it when they play against quarterbacks who can't run," Spurrier said. "I know Stephen Garcia is capable of running. He ran a bunch in high school. Smelley is a good athlete. He's just never been told to run. Maybe he can or can't. I don't know."

Although Smelley has the edge in experience with six starts last season, the new scheme could offer the edge in the quarterback battle to Garcia.

As far as Spurrier is concerned, it's a matter of numbers. In 2006, when Newton rushed for 330 yards and passed for 1,316 yards, USC converted 47.7 percent (72 of 151) of its third down opportunities and finished fourth in the SEC in total offense.

This past season, USC's third-down conversion rate tumbled to just 35.0 percent (55 of 157). Moreover, USC punted 59 times this past season after punting just 30 times in 2006, one of the lowest figures in the nation.

"Syvelle Newton was in there playing half the time and he could come running out of there on third downs," Spurrier said. "We're going to try to do some things differently. I'll tell you what. We've already got a few ideas. LSU had a good plan (Monday) night. I enjoyed watching their offense play. They did a lot of stuff. They were fun to watch."

From the opposite side of the ball, new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder explained why teams with mobile quarterbacks are experiencing success in the modern era of college football.

"The quarterback running the football in college football really presents a problem," VanGorder said. "It's just a matter of numbers. The running quarterback allows the numbers to be on the offensive side. There are some things you need to do in terms of alignment at times to help your defensive ends, who can be in an option situation.

"There's some things up inside regarding changing gaps that you have to be good with. Your inside linebackers have to fit things in a way so the ball won't get north-south on you so quick."

LINDSEYS ON "PROBATION": Spurrier agreed with the suggestion that the Lindsey twins - Jordin and Dustin - are on 'probation' after an incident in Five Points last month in which Jordin suffered a serious neck injury whenhe was struck by a broken beer bottle. Both brothers are scheduled to attend USC this semester and participate in spring practice.

"Right now, those two guys and two other guys are still in school," Spurrier said. "They weren't arrested (in the December incident). Right now, they're still here. We have about four guys that are walking a tightrope."

Spurrier said no current players are academically ineligible, although two are "on the bubble." He added that one of those players in academic peril was a starter last season.

But Spurrier also suggested USC's rushing defense suffered in the absence of the Lindsey twins last season. Dustin, injured in last April's spring game, played a few snaps against Georgia before sitting out the rest of the season, while Jordin was academically ineligible. Both players have one season of eligibility remaining.

"One thing about the Lindsey boys, they can stop the run," Spurrier said. "They play tough. That's the best thing they've got going for them. When they play, they play pretty dang tough. Syvelle Newton was the same way, though getting him to go to the workouts and the weight room was hard and he didn't go to class very well. But when the game started, he made plays.

"John Wooden said you don't treat your players all the same. They earn how they get treated. I believe that."

YEAH, THE SEC IS TOUGH: Spurrier took note of the final college football polls and how difficult USC's 2008 schedule will be. He even compared the Gamecocks' schedule to Clemson's. The Tigers open next season against Alabama, which finished 7-6 in Nick Saban's initial campaign as head coach.

"We're in a tough league, as you all know," Spurrier said. "We've got the No. 1 team in the nation LSU coming in here. We've got the No. 2 team in the nation Georgia coming in here, and Florida will probably be preseason top five or so."

The SEC was 7-2 in bowl games this past season, with only Florida and Arkansas sustaining losses. The conference captured its second consecutive national championship Monday night when LSU defeated Ohio State at the Super Dome in New Orleans.

"We've got a tough little league here that we are playing in," Spurrier said. "Our fans know that, so we've got to get better or else we're always going to be in the middle of the pack. So, we're trying to get better to compete with those top dogs and hopefully we can really start making some progress starting this year."

TIGHT ENDS MUST BE COMPLETE PLAYERS: In addition to his responsibilities as special teams coordinator, Ray Rychleski will also coach tight ends. He made it clear Tuesday that the current group of tight ends will be expected to become complete players in terms of blocking and catching. In short, one-dimensional players won't succeed with him.

"They all have to be able to catch the ball and block and pass protect," Rychleski said. "They have to do all three. You must be a complete tight end if you're going to play for me.

Andy Boyd and Robert Pavlovic have exhausted their eligibility, leaving Weslye Saunders, Jared Cook and Nick Prochak as the top three tight ends. Cook had 30 receptions last season, while Saunders had 12 as a true freshman.

I'm really excited about those guys," Rychleski said. "They can all catch the ball. We just have to teach them how to block and protect the quarterback. I'm especially excited about Cook's ability to catch the ball. He reminds me of one of our All-ACC tight ends we had at Maryland (Vernon Davis)."

STILL BUILDING: Despite the five-game losing streak that closed out the 2007 season and prevented the Gamecocks from playing in a bowl game, Spurrier maintains USC is headed in the right direction.

"The way we ended last season was disappointing, but we are not discouraged," Spurrier said. "We really believe we've laid a pretty good foundation here of football players and we're doing it the right way. We have a good chance. We realize we were one play against Tennessee and one play against Clemson, but it didn't work out. We didn't coach the play very well and we didn't make the well, so we didn't make it to a bowl game. Hopefully, we can learn from it."

BRINKLEY, MCKINLEY REMAIN GAMECOCKS: While the news has been circulating publicly for several days, Spurrier confirmed Tuesday that middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and wide receiver Kenny McKinley will return in 2008 for their senior seasons. By doing so, McKinley should shatter USC's all-time receptions marks held by Sterling Sharpe.

"This is the first time in the three years I've been here that two players that had a chance to go the NFL early have decided to stay," Spurrier said. "That's encouraging. Historically, around here, as all of you know, if they have a chance to go pro, they head out as fast as they can. But these two young men want to stay and graduate and play their senior year. They are two key players for our success next year."

IMPRESSED WITH CAROLINA: New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has coached against USC several times at Williams-Brice Stadium. He was an assistant coach at Central Florida from 1995-1997 when the Golden Knights faced the Gamecocks twice in Columbia.

"The thing that stood out to me was the excitement on game day here," VanGorder said. "The fan base was really tremendous. As you drove in, (you saw) the tailgating. I felt a certain electricity at the stadium that was really, really special.

"When I was at Georgia, we had tough games against South Carolina. I was impressed with the intensity of South Carolina and the type of games we had. Of course, I was very much aware of the situation here when (Spurrier) arrived. I've admired what what's happened here the last couple of years."

VanGorder also said he wanted to remain in the Southeast and get back into the SEC.

Rychleski has been eager to coach at USC since attending the 1997 USC-Clemson game. He waited a decade but now the opportunity is here. When the opportunity presented itself, the choice was easy for him to leave Maryland.

"It's overwhelming here, the coaches, the people," Rychleski said. "A lot of people think there's better jobs around the country. For me, I don't think so. I think this is in the top five, if not the best. I mean, Clemson is what it is, but I don't understand why a guy goes to Clemson over USC. You're in the state capital, you have a big city. You have the campus atmosphere. You have great facilities. Obviously, you have a great head coach. I think it's a special, special place."

RECRUITING TERRITORIES: VanGorder will not be assigned a recruiting territory, Spurrier said. Instead, he will assist in the recruitment of defensive players. He'll likely be assigned a territory in May.

"We're after some linebacker types that might be helpful," Spurrier said. "He'll be involved in all of recruiting list. We have our list, so we're not searching for new guys."

Rychleski will recruit in North Carolina, a state he's recruite din the past while at Wake Forest and North Carolina. His territory could also reach into Virginia.

MISCELLANEOUS: Spurrier wore a purple Under Armour shirt to celebrate LSU's victory over Ohio State Monday night's BCS Championship game in New Orleans. "It shows the strength of the SEC," he said. . .VanGorder responded "of course" when asked if the matchup with Georgia next fall would be emotional for him, considering his past association with the Bulldog program and the fact his son in a walk-on player at Georgia. . .Having coached in the ACC for 15 years, Rychleski said he had never seen so many people attend a January press conference. . .Spurrier confirmed seven incoming freshman will enroll at USC in January. While Spurrier wouldn't identify the players, they are WR/DB Charles Whitlock, RB Eric Baker, QB Reid McCollum, SB Antonio Allen, SB Akeem Auguste, LB Shaq Wilson, ATH Jay Spearman. . .Spurrier said he enjoyed watching Michigan play Florida in the Capital One Bowl. "Lloyd Carr is a wonderful guy," he said. "I hate to pull against my ol' Gators but that was a huge victory for Lloyd Carr. It a way, it was neat to see him win. I was pulling for a guys like him". . .Spurrier confirmed USC is still recruiting DL Jarriel King, who's expected to attend Georgia Military College this semester. . .Spurrier said the bowl games showed how important of a role emotion plays in college football. . .Spurrier said USC "isn't in bad shape at all" as the recruiting season heads down the homestretch. He said USC has 15-16 players coming in for official visits the next two weekends. "We're sort of after ,most of them," Spurrier said. . .Spurrier reiterated he didn't anticipate any further staff changes.

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