COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s spring game on Saturday afternoon served primarily as a celebration of the Gamecocks’ recent achievements — back-to-back 11-2 seasons and final rankings of ninth and eighth.
Never has this program soared so high, and coach Steve Spurrier used halftime Saturday to trumpet those accomplishments. Then he introduced last year’s senior class, which on Saturday included running back Marcus Lattimore, who turned pro early after a serious knee injury. The crowd of 35,218 rose and roared for Lattimore, one of the most impactful players in USC history.
But Saturday was also an intersection of that successful past and USC’s hopeful future.
Much of the spring game was meaningless as the Black team beat the Garnet team, 44-30, in an informal game that included no blitzing, a running clock in the second half and almost all backups and walk-ons playing. There were, however, glimpses of what next season could bring, from two players who saw occasional action last season as true freshmen — running back Mike Davis and tight end Jerell Adams.
Davis carried twice for 40 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown. Adams caught five passes for 112 yards, including TDs of 23 and 59 yards. Both came to USC as highly regarded recruits. Davis carried 52 times in 2012, including 28 times in the games after Lattimore’s injury. Adams caught four passes all season.
Though Rory Anderson has now replaced Justice Cunningham as the No. 1 tight end, likely leaving Adams in a complementary but certainly not insignificant role, Lattimore’s departure resulted in a major void in USC’s backfield. The Gamecocks will enter August practices with Davis filling it, as many observers expected he would.
“I just wanted to try to separate myself (this spring) from other people, and kind of stand out so I could get the starting job,” Davis said. “I was told (Saturday) that I have the starting job so far.”
He earned it over Brandon Wilds by improving his pass blocking from last season, though he acknowledged that he didn’t have to worry about picking up blitzes during spring scrimmages.
“I came a long way,” he said. “I think I know all the protections now.”
Said quarterback Dylan Thompson: “Mike is a tremendously talented player. In high school, I think he just ran, ran, ran. And you get here and you’ve got to pick out, out of three guys, which one is coming (on a blitz). That’s a totally different ball game for him. This spring, I can’t recall a time he messed up on a pass block, which was something different than the fall.”
Davis and Adams could be valuable assets for Thompson this fall, and Spurrier praised the way Adams and Anderson improved their blocking this spring — an important skill for tight ends.
But just how much will Thompson get to play with Davis and Adams? Connor Shaw, the starter for the past season and a half, missed the spring after undergoing foot surgery. Thompson led USC to a win at Clemson last season and threw the game-winning TD pass in the Outback Bowl against Michigan, after replacing a gimpy Shaw. At this point, it appears both QBs will play next season, in some sort of rotation.
“(Spurrier) has told me to expect to play a lot,” Thompson said.
“Whatever that means, that’s what it means. I think he has confidence in both myself and Connor that we’re not going to look at it as a selfish thing.”