Despite quarterback situation, Gamecocks return plenty of talent

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier says he doesn’t know who his quarterback will be, but he’s very clear on who he needs to call on at crunch time.
The Gamecocks won the SEC East last year and may well be picked to win it again if wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Marcus Lattimore, two preseason All-Americans, perform as expected.
“We’ve got the best players since I’ve been there. Our program is heading in the right direction. If it was going bad and we were getting beat, I’d be gone,” said Spurrier, 66.
Lattimore (6-0, 230) rushed for 1,197 yards, 17 touchdowns and was the national freshman of the year in 2010.
Jeffery had 1,517 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches.
Defensively, end Devin Taylor and cornerback Stephon Gilmore are also preseason All-Americans.
All four are natives of South Carolina.
“One thing that gives us hope is we’ve done a very good job of recruiting our top in-state players,” Spurrier said.
Among those is freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, rated the nation’s No. 1 recruit by Rivals.com.
“This is the first time according to the recruiting experts that a No. 1 guy picked a school that has not won a national championship,” he said. “In other words, he said he has confidence that his home state school can win big. Hopefully we can.”
Spurrier is counting on Clowney to continue a strong pass rush – The Gamecocks led the SEC in sacks with 2.93 per game – and to help get the defense off the field on third downs.
South Carolina ranked 11th in the SEC in opponent third-down conversions.
Who’s the qB?
Offensively, quarterback Stephen Garcia is on track to rejoin the program after a spring suspension, his fifth over the course of his career.
Spurrier says Garcia, who passed for more than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, isn’t a lock to regain his starting job.
Lattimore thinks otherwise.
“He’s going to be our quarterback. We have all the confidence in the world in him, and we can’t wait to get out there and start practicing,” he said.
As much as Spurrier sings their praises, Lattimore doesn’t believe success for the Gamecocks’ offense depends on solely on he and Jeffery.
“Me and Alshon will be a big part of the offense, but we have a great offensive line, and the line will carry us the whole way,” he said.
Addressing the Media Days crowd in the main ballroom, Spurrier walked the line of embracing expectations and keeping his players grounded.
The Gamecocks were seventh in the SEC in both total offense and total defense last year, “mediocre” numbers Spurrier says.
“You know we lost our last two games last year, so we’re not sitting around patting ourselves on the back. We got clobbered against Auburn, then didn’t play when the game was on the line against Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl,” he said. “We made some progress, did some things for the first time ever last year. There are still a lot of firsts for us to go after.”
parrish.alford@journalinc.com.