The evolution of Steve Spurrier

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville dropped by South Carolina’s spring practice a few weeks ago and brought along his son, Tucker, to chat with Steve Spurrier.

Tucker, a quarterback, would like to come back to the South and play college football -- and he's interested in possibly walking on at South Carolina.

Tuberville and Spurrier matched wits in some epic SEC battles back when Tuberville was at Auburn and Spurrier at Florida.

“We’re standing over there watching one of our inside drills in practice, and I said, ‘Tommy, did you ever think I’d be a spread offense coach running the ball 70 percent of the time?’ ” cracked Spurrier, whose Gamecocks averaged more rushing yards (192.1) than they did passing yards (181.5) last season.

And they did it with a quarterback, Connor Shaw, who was the second-leading rusher on the team. Shaw, whose specialty is the zone read, churned out 525 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

It was a far cry from Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun days at Florida, when the Gators threw it all over the ballpark and regularly averaged more than 300 yards passing.

“What we did then was throw it around a whole bunch, get a lead and then try to run it,” Spurrier said.

But these days, the Head Ball Coach leans to the run and isn’t ashamed to admit it.

In a lot of ways, he’s reinvented himself, but stops short of saying that he’s undergone a total transformation.

“It’s just what we do best right now,” Spurrier said. “If that’s what we had done best back then (at Florida), that’s what we would have done. We beat Penn State in the 1997 Citrus Bowl, and Fred Taylor ran it 43 times (for 234 yards).”

Still, Spurrier has proven over the past couple of seasons that he’s not too stubborn (or too programmed) to adjust to his personnel.

When you have Marcus Lattimore sitting back there in the backfield, it’s an adjustment that comes pretty naturally.

“You can only call so many pass plays,” Spurrier said. “Two years ago, when we were playing Georgia, I think that’s when it hit me. We were up 14-3, and to start the fourth quarter, [Stephen] Garcia got sacked and fumbled, but we recovered it.

“There was about nine minutes left, and I told the guys up top, ‘We’re not going to throw it again. We’re going to keep giving it to Marcus until they stop him.’ When your defense is playing well, you just keep running it. And if we don’t make it, we’re not going to give them anything.”

The Gamecocks expect to get a healthy Lattimore back in the fall and should again have one of the better defenses in the SEC. Plus, Shaw simply isn’t a pocket passer. His forte is moving around and making things happen with his arm and legs, although he’s working hard on becoming more efficient from the pocket.

In South Carolina’s spring game last Saturday, Shaw was 6-of-7 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. On the first play of the game, he hit Damiere Byrd with a 70-yard touchdown strike.

“When you throw, throw, throw and the ball hits the ground, the clock doesn’t go,” said Spurrier, who doesn’t understand the current fascination with trying to run 100-plus plays.

“Everybody is all hung up on how many plays you get. That means your defense is going to be out there a bunch, too. I remember when time of possession used to be an important stat. Now, all of a sudden, they think it’s cool to have a bunch of plays and how quickly you score.”

Spurrier said a big part of the Gamecocks’ success last season was tied into their time of possession. They finished third in the SEC (31:34), behind Georgia and Alabama, and were also third in third-down conversions and second in fourth-down conversions.

South Carolina was 24-of-31 on fourth down, which Spurrier said was the best of his career. And in 42 red-zone chances, the Gamecocks scored 32 touchdowns.

“We’re going to keep doing what we do best, which is why we’ve been able to accomplish a bunch of firsts around here,” Spurrier said.

And, yes, we’re still going to see a few new ball plays, too. That’s a Spurrier staple.

“We’ll still hit some balls. We hit some last year,” Spurrier said. “We finished fourth in the conference in total offense, which is the highest we ever have here.

“It just may look a little different.”