COLUMBIA -- The statement, early in Steve Spurrier's news conference Tuesday, bordered on blasphemy -- against himself.
"Obviously," Spurrier said, "we are more of a running team now than a passing team."
Going back to his Florida heyday, could you ever imagine Spurrier saying something like that? And, yet, with freshman Marcus Lattimore the current central point of the offense, the USC football coach seems somewhat comfortable with that fact in his sixth year with the Gamecocks.
Why shouldn't he be, with 12th-ranked South Carolina (3-0, 1-0 SEC) heading to No. 17 Auburn (3-0, 1-0) on Saturday?
"You have to do what you do best to try to win the game," Spurrier said. "We are not real good throwing it, as we have been running. But we throw successfully at times, also.
"I shouldn't say we're completely a running team, but we would hate to start throwing it 45-50 times (a game). History tells you something good doesn't happen when you have to throw that many times."
That was a pattern South Carolina settled into sometimes last season.
Stephen Garcia had more than 45 pass attempts in three of the Gamecocks' eight conference games in 2009 -- including 53 at Georgia and 50 at Tennessee -- and USC lost all three of those games. (Coincidence or not, all three were on the road.)
In the first three games this season, South Carolina has thrown a total of 72 passes in three games, an average of 24 a game. If anything, that might be a bit low in the interest of balance.
But that, really, is a good problem to have for a team that finished last in the SEC in rushing each of the past three seasons.
Still, Garcia has thrown for 193, 165 and 150 yards -- 508 total -- in the season's first three games. Somewhat alarmingly, 60.2 percent of those yards have involved Garcia finding sophomore Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery has been terrific, particularly in getting yardage out of short screen throws. But opposing defenses, surely, realize that Jeffery is target Nos. 1, 2 and 3 at this point.
"You have to figure that these other teams are going to start saying, 'They only throw it to Alshon, so we better put about two guys on him,' " Spurrier said. "We need to get some of the other receivers more involved."
Tori Gurley and D.L. Moore are the top two receivers in that respect. Gurley has eight catches for 78 yards and a score so far this season. Moore has just four catches, but two have been for touchdowns.
Tight end Pat DiMarco already has six catches this season. Lattimore has three catches, but coaches have been enamored with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
With Auburn locked in on Lattimore to some degree, Garcia could have more opportunities this week. He need only look at Kyle Parker's first half for Clemson last week to know that the Auburn secondary is potentially vulnerable. Most of Parker's 227 yards, and both of his touchdowns, came in the first two quarters.
Some of that, of course, depends on Garcia himself. He's thrown terrific passes this season, and he's thrown horrific ones. He's struggled some, too, keeping his eyes downfield instead of on the rush in front of him.
Spurrier said Garcia isn't completely to blame for that. He said center T.J. Johnson, who moved from guard in the offseason, has struggled some with his snaps. A snap that's just a little off can throw off the rhythm of a play.
"We've got to get a lot better at that," offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said. "That's a big problem … the low-left snaps or the low-right snaps. It's all a timing issue."
Without question, Elliott's group dictates a lot of the passing game's success. If Garcia has ample time, he clearly has a better chance of throwing a better pass.
Spurrier expressed concerned with protection last week against Furman, and the challenge will be greater this week against Auburn. The problem is, the line is fairly banged-up at the moment.
Guard Rok Watkins (stinger), tackle Hutch Eckerson (ankle) and guard Terrence Campbell (ankle) have all been less than 100 percent this week.
Regardless, whoever plays will be held to a high standard.
"Oh, we're going to get a good effort out of them," said Elliott, getting visibly wound up. "They don't have an option. Whatever we put out there Saturday, they're going to give a great effort and they're going to go out there and fight. I can tell you that. … If we have to drag them off the field at the end of that ballgame, that's what we'll do."
Would Spurrier like to see the passing game develop, as early as this week? Sure. But as long as the Gamecocks are 4-0 on Sunday morning, he'll be fine.
"We've been winning. We're not going to throw just for the sake of throwing more passes," Spurrier said. "We need to do whatever we think gives us the best chance to beat the opponent."
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