Editor's note: Marty Simpson earned four letters and started 44 games for the Gamecock football team. In this feature, he takes a look at a topic as an analyst, letterman and comedian.
Steve Spurrier was recently quoted saying he felt like the other teams may have successfully picked up some of the Gamecocks' offensive signals.
"We have not done a very good job of hiding our signals," Spurrier said. "Sometimes when you call it at the line of scrimmage, you wait and see if the other guys are yelling something and they haven't been yelling anything. So we had two guys signaling last week."
It's reasonable to assume that Auburn had Spurrier's signals. This would explain why many of the Gamecocks' offensive plays this past Saturday looked like plays on Tecmo Bowl when the defense "predicted" the offensive play and it just blows up like popcorn popping. Remember that on Tecmo Bowl? (I realize that's two Tecmo Bowl references the last few weeks but didn't some of the Gamecocks' running plays look like that?)
How did it happen?
If Auburn does indeed have Spurrier's signals, the question becomes, how did it get them?
I propose that it started at some point after the 2006 season. A special group of people were watching Spurrier's Gamecocks defeat the Florida Gators in 2005 and then almost beat them again in The Swamp in 2006 and decided that they must do something about it. This group of people were loyal to the Gators, but went out of their way to hate Spurrier. Who would fit such a description? Surely all Gator supporters would worship at the feet of Spurrier, right? Wrong.
I believe there exists an Underground League of Ex-Spurrier Quarterbacks. They do everything they can to foil Spurrier's efforts now. Spurrier has made no apologies about how he handles his quarterbacks. Some of them have flourished under his "coaching to perfection" becoming Heisman Trophy winners, All-Americans and All-SEC performers. Others... have not. It is these "others" that concern me.
I believe some of the ex-quarterbacks that played for Spurrier felt like they were treated unfairly (and are not currently able to vent those frustrations with back-handed compliments while working as television analysts) have been "leaking" the Head Ball Coach's signals to his opponents. It is my theory that some quarterbacks from Spurrier's past contacted Florida after the 2006 season and actually gave the signals to them.
This would explain the back-to-back debacles the Gamecocks experienced versus Florida in 2007 and 2008, losing the second of those contests 56-6. It appeared that the Florida defense knew the Gamecock plays ahead of time the first three series. Remember the screen pass pick-six by Chris Smelley?
This is where it gets interesting. Guess who else was at Florida in 2007 and 2008? Not an ex-Spurrier quarterback but a future Heisman winner. That's right, Cam Newton. While Tim Tebow was leading Bible studies in the dorm room, Cam and his buddies in the dorm (who played defense) were playing spades in the basement.
After they got finished smacking each other's foreheads with the deuce of spades, and discussing which one of them was going to download the essay from the Internet and put Cam's name on it, they started talking junk about how they had all of South Carolina's offensive play signals. Cam made note of this and never forgot it.
After Auburn's first game with South Carolina was so close in 2010, Cam decided to call his old friends from Gatorland. This explains the marked difference in the two games and South Carolina's inability to move the ball in the SEC Championship game.
Where's the "old" Spurrier?
Further evidence of this is that Spurrier treats his quarterbacks differently now because of the troubled past of this Underground League of Ex-Spurrier Quarterbacks.
The Gamecocks don't have the same Spurrier that shuffled his quarterbacks at Florida like a deck of cards without ever thinking of their feelings. South Carolina has a kinder, gentler Spurrier who has tragically grown to care for his quarterbacks.
In a strange twist of fate for the Gamecock faithful, the former Spurrier would have been the better option the past few weeks. Spurrier, circa 1994, yanks Stephen Garcia from the game after the second interception in the Vanderbilt game, right?
Spurrier 2.0, the 2011 edition, was the only person standing by his quarterback by the end of the Auburn game. The fans would have led the mob had he asked them to run Garcia out of the stadium. (Those same fans that would have carried Garcia on their shoulders off the field after the East Carolina game four weeks earlier. And those same fans that will be begging for Garcia in relief if Connor Shaw struggles.)
We are talking about a coach who benched a quarterback while he was at Florida who had just set an NCAA record with seven touchdown passes in a single game. Spurrier said, "I just didn't like the way the kid was playing." We are talking about a coach that once benched the clear Heisman frontrunner after five weeks of the season. Did Garcia throw seven touchdowns? Is Garcia the clear Heisman frontrunner? Why did Spurrier stick with Garcia this long?
Could it be that Spurrier's treatment of Garcia over the past few months has come from a vantage point of mentor or father-figure? Could Spurrier regret the way he treated those quarterbacks in the past and has decided to let Garcia play his own way out of the starting role instead of yanking him around like a dog on a chain? Whether you believe this or not you cannot dispute that's what has happened this time.
Often columnists extrapolate all the problems without providing any clear solutions. I actually have a solution to this League of Ex-Spurrier Quarterbacks problem. "Run" the play in. Yes, "run" the play in like it was a high school game. Literally tell the play to a wide receiver who tells the play to the quarterback who then tells the play to everyone in a huddle. Remember huddles? Then, when they get to the line, ACTUALLY RUN THAT PLAY without regard for what the defense is doing and see if it works.
Also, have built-in adjustments for different coverages like MY HIGH SCHOOL COACH JERRY BROWN taught us. On a simple flat-curl route versus man-to-man, the curl route converts to a slant or a fade. In four verticals when the backside flat defender blitzes, the backside inside receiver is the "hot route" and he looks "right now" for the ball. We did this effectively in high school, so I know they can do it in college.
And just for the heck of it, continue to signal plays from the sideline and pretend like we are changing the play just to mess with the defensive coordinators. That would seem like the Spurrier I thought we had gotten when I heard he was going to coach at South Carolina.
For all the talk about the cocky, arrogant, "everybody hates" Spurrier, I say, South Carolina has been shortchanged. The University of Tennessee message boards are filled with posts by Volunteer fans actually saying things like, "I know I hate the guy (Spurrier) but have you seen his team? I never thought I would say this, but I actually feel bad for Coach Spurrier."
I want the Spurrier that everyone hated! I want to be at an Outback Steakhouse in some random city where my travels have taken me and be watching the game and hear some idiot cussing about how much he hates Steve Spurrier. Because then I will know we are winning. When I heard we had hired Steve Spurrier that was what I assumed would happen.
And while I am giving solutions, how about run a play that ends with Marcus Lattimore getting the ball that started in a different direction than it ends. So far as I have seen, every time Lattimore gets the ball he gets it going the direction he is initially going unless he cuts back. This cut back is hard to defend, sure, but I mean run a true counter play. You know... use deception.
As of right now, if I am coaching a defense to stop the Gamecocks I send all defenders in the box to Lattimore's first two steps knowing they would end up at the ball 98 percent of the time. Heck, even fake it to him every now and then before we throw a pass and see if we can fool anyone with a true play-action pass instead of the little token fake we run. When the quarterbacks keep the inside zone read they are wide open to run. Can't they build a play-action pass off of that action?
Maybe the Underground League of Ex-Spurrier Quarterbacks has been able to sneak into the locker room and remove from the playbooks all the imaginative plays that Spurrier used to run at Florida. Because it seems like any play that I remember working well for him while there, the Gamecocks don't run. I actually remember two specific routes that his Florida receivers ran effectively that I have not seen us run since his first year here.
People on the radio that have said ridiculous statements like, "Maybe the game has passed by Coach Spurrier," have really gotten it backwards. Spurrier needs to GO BACK to what got him here. Then maybe everyone will start hating him again instead of feeling sorry for him. That's what I looked forward to the most when he was hired: Getting to hear from all the opposing teams' fans how much they hated Spurrier. When do Gamecock fans get to be the recipients of such enviable hate?
And for what it's worth, I realize some may cast this Underground League of Ex-Spurrier Quarterbacks aside as a conspiracy theory as silly as those who believe we didn't land on the moon. I get that. But it would not break my heart to hear just one reporter ask Spurrier if he is using the same signals to call plays he used back at Florida.
From coach to comedian: Marty Simpson is a former Academic All-Conference player for USC who scored the Gamecocks' first 6 points in the SEC. During 8 years as a high school varsity coach, Simpson led his team to the state finals. He's now a stand-up comedian.
See Marty perform stand-up comedy in Columbia, SC on October 22nd at New Kirk Presbyterian Church.
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