COLUMBIA — Before the Saturday night scare, before the impending blowout became too close for comfort, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier found bliss.
He was standing on the Williams-Brice Stadium sideline, watching his creation. At the start of USC’s game against Vanderbilt, its offense was not only dominant against a defense that has given Spurrier more than a couple headaches over the years.
The Gamecocks were almost flawless.
“I was thinking, ‘This might be the best we’ve ever looked on the offense since I’ve been here,’” Spurrier said after the game. “It was the first quarter, anyway. Then we started slowing down a little bit, and stuff started happening.”
USC’s offense didn’t score in the final 25 minutes Saturday, but that’s nitpicking.
Two potential fourth-quarter possessions were erased because of special teams turnovers. Near game’s end, the Gamecocks were more interested in consuming the clock than scoring points.
Spurrier’s joy came from those opening drives, when USC scored touchdowns on its first four possessions to take a 28-0 lead in less than 20 minutes. It was the first time under Spurrier the Gamecocks opened a game against a BCS opponent with touchdowns on their first four offensive possessions. The last time it happened was Nov. 20, 2010, when USC beat Troy, 69-24.
“It’s what you hope for,” Shaw said. “Come out hot, come out the gate playing well. We jumped on them quick.”
USC has issues to address during its bye week — most notably on special teams — but offense clearly isn’t a concern. Even with backup center Clayton Stadnik starting the past two games, the Gamecocks have reached 30 points. Stadnik was honored Monday as the SEC offensive lineman of the week, in part because the offense hasn’t missed a beat with him snapping the football.
The Gamecocks rank 10th in the SEC with 30.7 points per game, but that’s deceiving. USC is the only team in its conference to open the season against three BCS opponents. While others could fill up the scoreboard against lesser opponents, South Carolina opened 2013 against North Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt.
It’s no surprise USC’s offense is clicking at a high level. It hasn’t dipped much since setting a school scoring record in 2010. The Gamecocks scored at least 390 points in each of the past three seasons, and are on pace to continue that streak this fall.
In the offseason, many wondered if USC’s offense would be good enough to carry a defense that recently lost talent to the NFL. So far it has been, though Shaw didn’t puff out his chest.
“Our defense hasn’t played terrible,” Shaw said. “We put them in bad circumstances (Saturday). We gave them great field position, careless turnovers. It’s not like our defense has played bad.
“Against Georgia, could they have played better? Yes, but they’ll learn from it, and it’s not like they played bad (Saturday) by any means.”
No, but defense hasn’t been the Gamecocks’ strength, either.
The way USC is producing offensively is just as remarkable as what it’s doing on the scoreboard. The Gamecocks’ 579 yards against Vandy were the second most in a game under Spurrier.
USC inserted its backup quarterback on the third drive Saturday, and there was no dropoff. Junior Dylan Thompson has completed 8 of 10 passes this season, and he can’t consistently get on the field because Shaw has been too good. Most teams don’t have that luxury.
Perhaps the biggest offseason unknown was how USC would replace Marcus Lattimore in the backfield.
Sophomore Mike Davis has filled the void — and then some. Davis ranks third in the SEC with 341 rushing yards and is tied for second with three rushing touchdowns. He’s also a good receiving threat, catching three passes for 67 yards against Vanderbilt.
It was just part of what became a memorable night for South Carolina’s offense. If things continue, there could be plenty more to follow.
“I felt like we all were clicking on all cylinders,” Davis said.