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Get ready for lots of scoring at So Carolina

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Get ready for lots of scoring at USC


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - If you like high-scoring football, up-and-down-the-field excitement and long-distance plays, you just might have found your team in the 2006 South Carolina Gamecocks.

Let's put it this way: For USC to post a second consecutive winning season under coach Steve Spurrier, the Gamecocks are going to have to score a lot of points. Their 23.7 points per game a season ago will not translate into another seven-win campaign. Prepare yourself for some 42-35 shootouts.

There is every reason to believe USC will possess loads of firepower on offense this season. We should get a better idea of what Spurrier had in mind when he named his USC offense Cock 'n' Fire.

Conversely, with only three starters returning on defense, there is a good chance opponents are going to match the Gamecocks' offensive potency.

Spurrier said last week at the SEC Media Days that for USC to succeed on offense this season, quarterback Blake Mitchell has to show continued improvement. Expect it to happen.

For a first-year quarterback operating in Spurrier's system, Mitchell fared rather well last season. He ranked fourth in the SEC in passing yards (216 per game). It seems reasonable for Mitchell to throw for more than 3,000 yards this season after totaling 2,370 a season ago.

Mitchell will be aided by an improved running game with sophomore Mike Davis and junior Cory Boyd. Beyond that, he will have more targets to throw to after a season in which the focus of the passing game centered on receiver Sidney Rice. Seniors Syvelle Newton and Noah Whiteside return, and should be healthy. Sophomore Kenny McKinley and redshirt freshman O.J. Murdock could be emerging stars.

Spurrier's hope is all that talent translates into an offense that remains on the field longer. The Gamecocks ranked 10th in the SEC in third-down conversions a season ago, producing a first down 34 percent of the time.

If the Gamecocks can push that percentage up around 50, they are likely to ring up more points. More importantly, USC will keep its defense off the field.

Which brings us to the defense. Fred Bennett is a senior cornerback who has been pegged as all-SEC caliber. Junior Stanley Doughty should be a rock at nose tackle, and junior defensive end Jordin Lindsey proved solid a season ago.

Aside from junior rover Brandon Isaac, there is not a lot of experience from the remaining defensive unit. That lack of experience does not bother Bennett.

"We've got a lot of young players, a lot of young players who want to win," Bennett said. "We have a lot of players who have that winning attitude. These young guys want to win. I think our defense is going to be all right."

Bennett then paused and addressed what defense has meant to every Spurrier-coached team.

"The object for the defense is to put the offense in position to score points," he said. "The offense is real explosive. We know they're going to score points. We've got to put the offense in position to score points."

In other words, USC's defense has to do a better job this season of getting the offense the ball. The Gamecocks ranked 11th in the SEC a season ago in time of possession, and kept the ball longer than only three opponents.

As last season wore on, Spurrier's frustration with the defense grew. It finally boiled over during the second half of the Independence Bowl when USC's defense did not force Missouri to punt. Missouri rallied from a 28-7 deficit by scoring on six of its final eight possessions and running up more than 400 yards of offense after halftime.

That was the final and lasting impression of the 2005 season for Spurrier, who said again on Thursday that the bad taste of the 38-31 bowl loss lingers. He said he has participated in more strategy sessions with the defensive staff this off-season, and the defense will have a better chance to execute a simpler game plan.

"We've got to find a way to stop the other team quicker, and then stay out there longer offensively also," Spurrier said. "Our team was very good in scoring defense. We just had trouble getting them off the field."

That might be a lot to ask of a defense so lacking in experience. It is more realistic to expect USC's offense to make a giant leap in productivity. The end result will be some wild times at Williams-Brice Stadium and wherever the Gamecocks travel this season.


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Get ready for lots of scoring at USC

We should get a better idea of what Spurrier had in mind when he named his USC offense Cock 'n' Fire.


Pretty catchy name - more decriptive than "gonorrhea", which also can be pretty "catchy" if you do too much scorin' at USC......

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