COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina left tackle Brandon Shell enjoyed the flight home from Texas A&M last weekend, even though the Gamecocks had lost the game. He and his teammates felt like they took a step forward on offense.
Now, they would like to take another step forward, and win.
The Gamecocks (3-5, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) will travel to Tennessee on Saturday to take on the Volunteers (4-4, 2-3).
The team had struggled on offense much of the year, trailing at halftime of every game before last week and watching defenses jump on their plays even before the snap. That changed last week in a 35-28 loss to the Aggies where the Gamecocks put up a season high 445 yards of offense — and gained hope it was not too late to turn things around.
“We inserted a couple of new plays and some new things that everybody likes to do,” said Shell, a 6-foot-6, 328-pound senior. “It’s kind of adding everybody into the mix and that’s going to help us the rest of the season.”
South Carolina likely will need every bit of scoring to keep up with Tennessee, which is third in the SEC at better than 36 points a game.
The Gamecocks had only once cracked the 30-point mark — a 31-14 September win over UCF — and looked lost offensively in opening up 0-4 in the SEC. The struggles led to Steve Spurrier’s midseason resignation last month, offensive line coach Shawn Elliott elevated to interim head coach.
Part of Elliott’s mission was perking up a far, too predictable offense.
Spurrier even joked before his departure last month when questioned if Missouri had stolen the Gamecocks signals in a 24-10 loss where they managed just 112 yards rushing on 34 attempts. The Ex-Ball Coach chuckled, “When you only have two run plays and you signal them in with one guy, it probably looked that way.”
Once Elliott came on, he knew things had to change schematically.
Elliott and new offensive play caller G.A. Mangus looked to add diversity to a stagnant attack. Starting quarterback Perry Orth was cut loose to run when the time was right and had a 66-yard scamper against the Aggies, the longest rush for South Carolina this season.
The Gamecocks also used backup quarterback Lorenzo Nunez, considered more of a dual-threat player, came in for one play and rushed for a seven-yard score. Elliott promised more change-of-pace wrinkles ahead the rest of the season.
It seems crazy to think Elliott, Mangus and the Gamecocks could out script one of the game’s most renowned play callers in Spurrier. Things, as Spurrier acknowledged last month, had gotten stale with him in charge.
“Let’s be honest,” Elliott said. “You can’t run the same inside zone play over and over again and expect great results, you just can’t. It’s worked out in the past for us, but I seem to think that had we been a little bit more diverse, it could have worked out a lot better.”
The Vols will be a difficult defense to penetrate, no matter how varied the Gamecocks are on offense. Tennessee put up five sacks and held Alabama to 117 yards rushing in a 19-14 defeat two games ago. Last week, the Vols yielded only a touchdown in the second half in pulling away from Kentucky 52-21.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said the Gamecocks have bounced back from Spurrier’s announcement and are looking to do some damage before the season is through. “They’re playing with great effort. They’re playing with great pride,” Jones said. “They’re playing with intensity and I think you can see that.”
Tennessee won’t have cornerback Emmanuel Moseley for the first half Saturday as he sits out because of a targeting penalty last week.
Elliott is not worried about the Vols, just about how South Carolina can improve.
“We’ve got to keep adding some wrinkles, keep doing some things differently, and trying to move forward and get an SEC win,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee contributed to this report.