South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer isn’t about to unveil his game plan against Notre Dame for Friday’s TspanxSlspanyer Gspantor Bowl.
But the facts in evidence are these:
● The 19th-ranked Gamecocks (8-4) have a punter, Kspani Kroeger, who has thrown passes off fake punts and as the holder on fake field goals and completed 5 of 5 for 150 yards (a gaudy 30 yards per completion) during his South Carolina career, three of them this season for 84 yards (28.0 per completion).
● They have a wide receiver, Dakereon Joyner, who has more completed passes in the past two seasons (11 of 11, for 243 yards, 22.1 yards per completion) than he has receptions this year. Nine of those passes came in last year’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl when he threw for 160 yards in a 38-21 victory over North Carolina, earning game MVP honors.
● And the Gamecocks have a 295-pound defensive tackle, Tonka Hemingway, who has caught a 16-yard pass leading to a touchdown and scored on a two-point conversion, both out of formations where he lines up as a tight wing.
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In other words, expect the unexpected against the most recent version of Beamer Ball (the name assigned to his father Frank for the combination of offensive creativity and special-teams mayhem when he coached at Virginia Tech for 29 years).
And if Beamer holds back, the Fighting Irish should still be wary. Perhaps Notre Dame will hesitate to put extra defensive players in the box. Or maybe the Irish don’t stage an all-out rush on Kroeger, giving him a split-second more to direct his kicks, and the coverage teams that much more time to get down the field.
It’s a strategic ploy that Beamer’s father and late Florida State coach Bobby Bowden utilized to great success: run enough trick plays or use enough players at multiple positions to make coordinators and players think. If they’re thinking too much, they’re hesitating. If they’re hesitating the offense can be that much more effective from its base formations.
Portal creating uncertainty
“We want to be aggressive in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams,” Beamer said on Thursday at the TIAA Bank Field East Club during a news conference on the eve of the 78th TaxSlayer Gator Bowl (3:30 p.m., ESPN). “And when you have different guys who can do different things it certainly helps you. The more you can do as a football player, the better, and these guys are all really good football players, really good athletes.”
Beamer touched on another reason why the Irish might face some wrinkles in the Gamecocks’ offense and kicking game: South Carolina lost more than a dozen players to the transfer portal and opting out for the NFL draft, including three of its four tight ends, including No. 3 receiver Jaheim Bell and leading rusher MarShawn Lloyd.
“When you get into a bowl game, the more you can do, the better, when you have rosters that aren’t quite the same as what they were at the end of the regular season,” he said. “And then it only helps them in their future to go to the next level. The more things you can do in all phases, the more value you bring to your team.”
The South Carolina offense doesn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver. With the departure of Lloyd and Bell, it doesn’t even have a 200-yard rusher (Juju McDowell is the current leader with 191 yards).
But consider the diversity: 15 South Carolina players have had carries from scrimmage, including five wide receivers, two tight ends and one carry by current long snapper Hunter Rogers, who was the holder on a fake field goal and picked 5 yards for a first down on a fake field goal against Georgia State.
Sixteen players have caught passes, including Hemingway and quarterback Spencer Rattler on a trick play.
And Kroeger and Joyner have combined to complete 5 of 5 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Joyner does it all
The poster boy for Carolina Creativity might be Joyner, a redshirt senior. He’s got a bowl game MVP trophy as a quarterback on his shelf at home but he’s got the capability to do the same thing as a wide receiver or a runner.
In the Gamecocks’ 63-38 victory over Tennessee, Joyner scored two touchdowns rushing, gained 21 yards on six carries, caught two passes for 13 yards and completed a pass for 15 yards.
To be sure, Notre Dame had its share of losses and arguably can claim one had the biggest impact on either team: All-American tight end Michael Mayer, who led the team in receiving with 67 receptions for 809 yards and nine touchdowns but decided not to play in the bowl game to begin preparing for the NFL.
Irish coach Marcus Freeman referred to it as losing a “crutch.”
Freeman said his wide receiver room will have to pick up the slack, since only one other Notre Dame tight end, Holden Staes, has caught so much as one pass this season.
The result is that the South Carolina defense could be in just as much doubt as to where a big play might come from with receivers coach Chansi Stucky (as fate would have it, a Clemson graduate) working overtime to find ways to spread the ball around.
“It’s been excellent to see what coach Stuckey has done with that wide receiver room and see those guys elevated and truly take advantage of those opportunities,” Freeman said. “You never know on any certain passing concept or pass call that your number’s going to be called. You’ve got to make sure you’re running your routes and you’re precise in what you’re doing to expect the ball.”
Freeman said the portal and opting out has created a challenge for coaches in bowl games below the College Football Playoff final four.
“You don’t know what you’re going to see,” he said.