“Life after Lattimore” begins in earnest for the Gamecocks Saturday when they close out SEC play against Arkansas (12:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network). Redshirt senior Kenny Miles will occupy Lattimore’s spot atop of the depth chart, with freshman Mike Davis moving up to top reserve.
Yet when it comes to picking up Lattimore’s lost yardage, neither may play as important a role as quarterback Connor Shaw.
Whether bewitching defensive lines with the zone-read option, or making savvy tuck-and-run decisions under pressure, few players use his legs as weapons better than the 6’1,” 207-pound junior from Flowery Branch, Georgia.
Just how important is Shaw’s running as Carolina enters the final quarter of the regular season?
Consider this: Shaw is 14-3 as a starter.
In those 14 wins, he averages 54.9 rushing yards per game.
In three losses, he averages 7.0 rushing yards per game.
Connor Shaw – rushing as starter
Wins (14g): 54.9 ypg
Losses (3g) 7.0 ypg
Three of Shaw’s four worst rushing games came in losses: a -2-yard performance against LSU October 10; a -1-yard slow burn against Florida October 17; and a 14-carry, 24-yard effort at Arkansas last year.
Of course, sacks count against a quarterback’s rushing total, which may also explain the divide between wins and losses. Yet Shaw’s running game remains an undeniable barometer of Carolina’s success. A foot sprain has limited him in practice, and head coach Steve Spurrier mentioned that redshirt sophomore Dylan Thompson would be ready to go if needed. On Saturday, Arkansas’ improving defense snuffed out a Tulsa offense that relies heavily on the zone-read option. The Golden Hurricane ranked 9th in the nation in rushing (248 yards per game) before the Razorbacks throttled them to 106 yards in a 19-15 win.
Connor Shaw’s running game has factored heavily into Carolina’s wins — and losses.
If Shaw is healthy enough to play, how may designed runs will factor into the game plan against Arkansas?
Other notes as we dive into our chart prep against Arkansas (with some studying done in the voting lines Tuesday):
Generally Speaking: Knowing his opportunities for carries would be diminished behind Marcus Lattimore, Miles considered transferring for his final season. He instead came back to Carolina, telling me “I feel like you should always finish what you start. I came down here and I made a commitment to play for the program and graduate, and do the best I could do.”
Such dedication befits a player whose parents both served in the military (his Dad had a tour in Operation Desert Storm). The extra season in Columbia gave Miles another opportunity, too: he interned in the office of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson this summer.
Running back Kenny Miles.
Rip and Strip: Senior spur Devonte Holloman made no secret of his defense’s ambitions.
“We’ve set a bunch of goals for us defensively. One of those things was a high turnover number. We haven’t been getting many turnovers. That’s going to be a big focus this week especially,” Holloman said.
Arkansas may give them a golden opportunity: the Razorbacks rank 116th in the nation in turnover margin (-11). Against an explosive Arkansas offense – few SEC offenses seem more frightening when they get rolling – a turnover or two could be critical.
Pleading The Third: If they can’t stamp out drives with turnovers, the Gamecocks need to find ways to stall them. In the Gamecocks’ three-game losing streak to the Razorbacks, Arkansas’ quarterbacks – like Bray, pro-style pocket passers in Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson — have gone a combined 17-for-22 (77.3%) on third downs.
Arkansas QB’s vs. Carolina – 3rd down, last 3 games
10 for 12 (77.3%)
Carolina had difficulty suppressing Tennessee on third downs – Vols quarterback Tyler Bray went 4-for-5 on third downs of 7+ yards to go. Each completion went for a first down. The Gamecocks could face a similar challenge against another Tyler-led offense Saturday.
And Finally… Outside the Gamecocks’ press conference auditorium, Justice Cunningham smacked his lips and lamented his lack of a touchdown this season. The senior tight end from Pageland, S.C., would certainly be deserving of one – his 18 receptions rank fourth on the team.
Want a drive deep inside opponents’ territory? A completion to Justice Cunningham is a good start.
But have you noticed how often Cunningham’s catches figure into scoring drives? Of his 18 receptions this year, 15 have occurred on drives that ended in a red-zone trip or a touchdown. Cunningham may not have a score of his own, but he has nonetheless been a magnet for scoring drives.
Join us Friday for our final “Pre-Snap Reads” as the Gamecocks get ready for their Homecoming with the Hogs. -AD–