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An Old Ball Coach Can Learn New Tricks: Spurrier Offense Preview

Twilight of an Offensive Genius

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

In my lifetime, no coach has had more influence on how ball was played offensively in the SEC than Steve Spurrier.  I remember November 3, 1990 like it was yesterday.  Auburn was the reigning back-to-back-to-back SEC champion.  Auburn won those championships the way all SEC teams had won titles for the previous 20 years: on the ground.  Auburn was 6-0-1 and ranked #4.  #1 Virginia fell that afternoon.  #3 Nebraska fell later.  All Auburn had to do was beat Florida (that Tennessee beat 45-3 a few weeks earlier) and we would have a chance to be #1 or #2.  At the end of the first quarter, Auburn and Florida are tied 7-7. Then all hell broke loose.  Spurrier threw the ball all over the place and went into the locker room with a 34-7 halftime lead.

What followed was an extremely dominant 12 season run.  Florida, which had never won an SEC title before Spurrier arrived, went on to win six SEC titles and one national title. Spurrier's Florida offenses were designed to take advantages of bad matchups and put the cornerback in a bind.  Here's one play that still haunts my memory:

Gator Pass

Like we discussed with Miss State, the trick to a successful offensive series is to make a series of plays all look alike.  Spurrier would run this play out of the I.  The tight end would go deep, challenging the center of the field and keeping the safeties from providing help on the twin receivers to the top.  A slot receiver would lazily run an out, keeping a corner or flat zone defender busy.  The running backs would charge the center of the line to pick up blitzing linebackers and, if there weren't any, go into safety valve pass routes.  This kept your underneath zone/linebackers busy.  It was also designed to look like Spurrier's favorite run, the lead draw so in a sense it was a play action pass. Almost no matter what defense you ran, the receiver at the top of the formation was going to be one on one with a corner or safety.  Everything else in the play is window dressing.  The ball is going to this receiver.

The wide receiver runs down the field full bore for about 15 yards.  At this point, one of three things happen.  He either breaks out for a 20 yard out route, in on a post, or keeps going, bearing a little outside on a flag route.  The corner/safety is generally so concerned about giving up the deep ball and looking foolish, that the 20 yard out is open all day.  Here it is live:

Grossman releases the ball and it's in the air for a full second before the receiver breaks.  The defense never had a chance. When your fall back play is a 20 yard out route, you're doing something right offensively.

Spurrier's offense at South Carolina is different than his offense at Florida.  He has learned some new tricks. Unlike at Florida, Spurrier runs almost everything out of the gun.  He has learned and borrowed heavily from the modern spread attacks.  South Carolina will run a true zone read that looks a lot like Auburn's. Watch the QB put his eyes on the unblocked end when the ball is in the running back's basket.

With the fly motion, it looks almost like Auburn.  Here is South Carolina running a power and zone read  back to back.  This is what their game looks like at its most effective:

South Carolina's passing game is still great at putting pressure on a secondary and getting favorable one on one matchups, even against zone coverage.  They seem happier calling midrange passing plays rather than the 20 yard + passes.  Against Georgia, not one play went for more than 25 yards.

Watch the secondary guessing on these two consecutive plays against Georgia.  Both involve a good high low read and result in a wide open receiver:

Sometimes, the changes are so much that you wonder if you're even watching the same man.  But sometimes, if you squint your eyes just right, it's 1996 all over again:

Aggie Bomb

Here it is live:

Aggie Bomb 2

Here's the film:

Oh, you're back? Sorry, I was distracted listening to Cake's Fashion Nugget album and filling out college applications like it's 1996 all over again.  The good news for the Tigers, Spurrier's Gamecocks are a long way from 1996 Florida Gator quality.  South Carolina is 42nd in yards per game, and has slightly better than national average rushing and passing numbers.  Unfortunately, slightly better than the national average in 2014 doesn't get you far in the SEC.  South Carolina two great wins against Georgia and East Carolina but has lost to mediocre Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas A&M squads.

Watching Spurrier evolve as a coach is wonderful.  It's a good reminder that even legends have to adapt to survive. This is a South Carolina team that can get hot and beat Auburn but seems very unlikely to do so.  Look for Auburn's defense to shine and the offense to be significantly more productive.  This has gone from Auburn's most frightening preseason opponent to one of its surest remaining wins.  I don't foresee another LSU but it may look like that for a while.  Auburn 52 South Carolina 17.