Spurrier dealing with offensive unknowns

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

So Steve Spurrier finally settled on South Carolina’s starting quarterback. He just wishes that was his only question on offense.

The coach went with third-year sophomore Connor Mitch for Thursday night’s opener against North Carolina, and the third-year sophomore is one of several variables on the offensive side of the ball.

Junior Pharoh Cooper is the lone receiver with significant experience and perhaps the only player on offense with any star power. There are worries at running back after Mike Davis left for the NFL and at tight end where starter Jarrell Adams has just three career touchdowns despite playing 26 games the past two seasons.

“Yeah, a lot of unknowns,” Spurrier said Sunday.

Spurrier has had a productive — at times, dynamic — offense the past five seasons, scoring 30 points or more 36 times in his last 66 games. Much of that came from all-Southeastern Conference performers on offense like receivers Alshon Jeffery and Bruce Ellington, and tailbacks Marcus Lattimore and Davis.

When it comes to Spurrier’s quarterbacks, Stephen Garcia helped the Gamecocks to an upset of No. 1 Alabama and an SEC Eastern Division title in 2010. Connor Shaw became the winningest quarterback in team history with a 27-5 mark between 2010 and 2013.

Even last year, Dylan Thompson set a school record with 3,564 yards passing for an offense that averaged 442 yards during a 7-6 season.

Spurrier has little to fall back on besides Cooper, who had 1,030 yards receiving a year ago.

“We’re all waiting to see what happens,” Spurrier said.

Mitch is a 6-foot-3 passer with a traditional drop-back style. He beat out three others during the summer competition that Spurrier let continue through most of camp because of the inexperience of the contenders.

Mitch sees himself as a low-key guy who will spend his time leading the offense rather than rattling off past accomplishments.

“Just be the leader of the offense, making sure everybody goes where they need to, keep the ball moving and score points,” Mitch said. “You always have to have faith in yourself as the leader of the offense.”

Mitch will have to find other targets besides Cooper, who is guaranteed to attract maximum attention from opposing defenses.

Spurrier said Deebo Samuel and Carlton Heard will start at the other receiver positions against North Carolina. Neither player has caught a pass in college.

The Gamecocks will look to Brandon Wilds and David Williams to pick up the running game from Davis, the team’s top rusher the past two seasons now with the San Francisco 49ers.

Wilds is a fifth-year player who had 570 yards rushing last year, his best career showing. Williams ran for 256 yards as a third back in 2014.

“We have confidence both those players are very good and ready to play,” Spurrier said. “We will certainly try to run the ball against North Carolina, I think they know that.”

Unless, Spurrier added, the Gamecocks can break free over the middle with the 6-6 Adams, a senior who was expected to have a bigger impact on the team than he has had so far. Spurrier said Adams will miss the next practice because of a hamstring pull but should be able to play against the Tar Heels.

These teams opened the season in 2013 with Shaw leading the Gamecocks to a 27-10 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium. North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said his team has made strides since then.

“We got some more pieces to the puzzle put together,” Fedora said. “We’ve got some more depth that we didn’t have then.”

North Carolina’s defense was 117th nationally a year ago, allowing more than 497 yards a game.

Spurrier hopes his inexperienced offense can begin to find its stride this week.

“It’s going to be interesting up there” in Charlotte, Spurrier said.