Gamecocks WR Jeffery looks to make more big plays
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)
The Gamecocks junior receiver set school records and was a first-time all-Southeastern Conference performer with 88 catches and 1,517 yards last season. His play earned him a place on Sports Illustrated's college football preview issue this summer, a confident Jeffery wearing a knowing smile about what's to come.
But Jeffery's been missing from the highlight reels he filled up his first two years at South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference).
He's got 19 catches for 332 yards and two touchdowns, watching balls sail just out of his reach or way over his head too frequently this fall. Jeffery's head, though, is up and ready when his chance comes - just like always.
''I'm not frustrated at all,'' says the soft-spoken superstar. ''When my opportunities come, I'll just make the best of it.''
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier took steps to make sure those opportunities come more frequently from now on, switching to sophomore Connor Shaw at quarterback over inconsistent, fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia against Kentucky (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday.
''We hope that the ball will get out quicker and that (Shaw) has somewhere to throw it,'' Spurrier said. ''And I know it appears the last few games there's nowhere to throw it a lot of times.''
If the Gamecocks do throw the ball long, it's usually to Jeffery.
The 6-foot-4, 229-pound Jeffery was committed to Southern Cal and then-coach Pete Carroll for much of the 2008 recruiting cycle at Calhoun County High. Spurrier and his staff worked to sway Jeffery, who was already leaning toward home himself instead of playing across the country where it'd be hard for family to watch each week.
The battle for Jeffery heated up at the end with then Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin famously telling the player he'd most likely be ''pumping gas'' for a living if he picked South Carolina, according to Jeffery and his high school coach, Walt Wilson.
Jeffery emerged as a game-breaker his freshman season against Kentucky two years ago when he had seven catches - three for touchdowns - and 138 yards in South Carolina's 28-26 victory. The break-out moment was a spectacular one-armed grab around a Wildcat defensive back in the right corner of the end zone.
Jeffery hadn't slowed down since - until this season.
Then again, no one on South Carolina's offense except SEC leading rusher Marcus Lattimore has stood out much.
Garcia, who's thrown 14 of Jeffery's 17 touchdowns, has seen a drop in his completion percentage (from 64 percent last year to 51), yards and TD passes this season.
None of South Carolina's receivers have stood out, production-wise this season. After Jeffery's team high 19 catches, no other wide receiver or tight end has more than nine receptions. Lattimore is second on the team with 12 catches.
Jeffery's two touchdowns are one fewer than defensive end Melvin Ingram through five games.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said using Shaw won't change what Spurrier does with the offense - meaning the Gamecocks will continue to look long to Jeffery.
Spurrier ''always goes from a drop back passer to a drop back passer. His system or play calling doesn't change,'' Phillips said.
Jeffery looked like his old self on South Carolina's first touchdown against Auburn last week, outmuscling the defender one-on-one for a 50-yard catch and run. Jeffery appeared in position for at least two more big plays, but Garcia's throw was out of reach. ''We were open out there. (Garcia) just didn't have enough time, or he overthrew us on a couple of plays,'' Jeffery said after the 16-13 Gamecocks loss.
Spurrier finally saw enough and made the move to Shaw, a sophomore Jeffery says has grown and improved the past few weeks of practice.
''We just have to come together as a team, and, hopefully, we will come out with the win,'' Jeffery said. ''I am comfortable with whoever is at quarterback. It doesn't matter to me.''
Espcially, it that quarterback throws the ball in Jeffery's direction.
Jeffery was among a few receivers who stayed after practice Wednesday to work with Shaw and receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. Jeffery knows he hasn't lost his skills, something he hopes to prove again Saturday. ''When you're number's called, you've got to make a play,'' Jeffery said.