Surprising turn of events
South Carolina relying on offense as defense finds its way
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina has displayed an offensive surge that even ''Fun-n-Gun'' creator Steve Spurrier didn't fully see coming from the No. 13 Gamecocks.
With a defense led by All-American Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) figured they'd win the way they had the past few years -- by locking down opponents and getting just enough points to get the victory.
Instead, it's the offense that's making big plays and getting South Carolina ahead in games with the early struggles of Clowney and the defense. The Gamecocks hope to crank up the offense again Saturday when they face Vanderbilt (1-1, 0-1).
Spurrier said the offense has a been bright spot for the Gamecocks.
''We have to have some fun playing this game,'' Spurrier said. ''The way you have fun is you play your assignment, play with a lot of effort and make some plays.''
The offense has certainly done that.
Quarterback Connor Shaw threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Shaq Roland on the Gamecocks' first series of the year to set off on a 27-10 victory against North Carolina. Shaw, a fifth-year senior, is connecting on 60 percent of his throws and has three TD passes.
Nick Jones is leading the way for receivers with two TD catches against Georgia.
And tailback Mike Davis has emphatically answered the question of who'd replace Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks' leading rusher for each of the past three seasons, with a 75-yard run in each of the first two games.
Davis, a sophomore and the younger brother of former Clemson 1,000-yard rusher James Davis, had a career-best 149 yards and a touchdown run at Georgia last Saturday.
Spurrier said often during the offseason he expected the Gamecocks to use their formula of strong defense and ball control to again provide the winning formula as it did in leading to an SEC East title in 2010 and consecutive 11-2 seasons the past two years.
But because of South Carolina's slow start defensively, Shaw and the offense have had to strike quick to keep the Gamecocks close. Shaw hit for a pair of touchdown throws to Jones for 18 and 30 yards -- the last with 30 seconds left in the half -- to head to the break tied at 24 with Georgia.
Davis' 75-yard burst in the second half against North Carolina put things out of reach after the Tar Heels had cut a 17-point deficit to 20-10.
Davis is averaging 9.4 yards a carry this season, the most in the SEC for runners with 20 or more carries. Plus, the 5-foot-9, 215-pound tailback has shown some unexpected speed for a player that big.
''Mike has brought a different style of running,'' guard Ronald Patrick said. ''I find myself during plays after he breaks long runs watching him. The way he plays, it's amazing. He has some wheels on him.''
Jones, at 5-7, has also emerged at the receiver spot, leading the Gamecocks with 10 catches and two touchdowns. A junior, he was also a high-school teammate and close friend of Lattimore and has heard the whispers that the only reason he came to South Carolina was his highly regarded classmate.
''Being a teammate of Marcus, I've kind of been overlooked since those days,'' Jones said. ''I don't mind it all. It kind of make me want to be better than people think.''
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin is wary of Shaw's big-play ability. Shaw injured his shoulder in last year's matchup with the Commodores, yet was in to guide the Gamecocks to the winning touchdown in a 17-13 victory. Shaw rushed for 92 yards.
''You'll see a lot of his big plays come when he's on the move, running around making plays with his feet,'' Franklin said.
Not everything has gone perfectly for the Gamecocks on offense this season. Shaw fumbled deep in Georgia territory and Davis was stopped on fourth-and-short at the Bulldogs' 1-yard line to end critical second-half drives.
Spurrier's hopeful his defense will do its share this week after giving up 536 yards (biggest total since the 2010 SEC title game loss to Auburn) and 41 points (most since beating Georgia 45-42 in 2011) a week ago.
''It's early in the year and hopefully we've learned a lot from our last game to correct some flaws we have in our team,'' Spurrier said. ''I think these players can play a lot better than we played the last time out.''