Alshon Jeffery (GamecockCentral.com)
Alshon Jeffery has been neutralized by the one player in the country most unlikely to do it - his own quarterback.
Through four games, No. 10 South Carolina's All-American wide receiver has 14 catches for 246 yards and one touchdown. Ten of those catches and the touchdown came in the first two games, although Jeffery was gypped out of another touchdown against Vanderbilt when he was incorrectly called in-bounds on a catch, then reversed to correctly called out-of-bounds despite there being no clear evidence to overturn the decision.
Still, the man that ESPN called the most dangerous weapon in the SEC is going to battle these days with an empty chamber. Jeffery is an all-world talent, able to make circus catches and turn sure stops into long gains, but he can't do anything without the ball in his hands.
And the player entrusted to do that, quarterback Stephen Garcia, can't get the ball into Jeffery's hands.
"If I was a receiver, I'd be a little frustrated, too," coach Steve Spurrier said on Sunday. "(DeAngelo) Smith was our offensive player of the spring. He had one catch (against Vanderbilt).
"All of our receivers, they like to catch touchdowns, like to catch passes, but it's just not happening. We'll keep working. We throw all week in practice. Wish I could say we hit everything in practice, but we don't."
Garcia has shown a troubling inefficiency to hit any deep pass thus far this season, a major concern considering Garcia flung over a hundred balls Jeffery's way last year and the junior caught 88 of them. Almost every deep ball that Garcia has tried this year has been over or past his receivers, and when Jeffery, who has proven he can turn nothing into something any time, can't get a finger on a pass, it limits the options on who to blame.
"It's a combination of things," Garcia said after the Vanderbilt game. "The coverages they are running, the defense is sticking with our guys. Sometimes I under-throw it or over-throw it."
Whatever the case, the deep pass has been taken away from the Gamecocks' offense. USC is still trying, mixing a few deep tosses in with what's become a side-to-side passing game, but the Vanderbilt game may have knocked the deep pass back to once per game in the future.
In short, Garcia was worse than he ever has been against the Commodores. He threw four interceptions, one where Jeffery didn't complete his route, but the other three were all the quarterback's fault, and all on scramble plays where he threw off-balance.
Jeffery was the target on two of those three, and Jeffery was also the target for two other deep passes which would have been intercepted if not for lucky-strange plays. One was where Jeffery had to break up a pick between two defenders that were on him, the other was where the ball was picked off, but dropped, with Ace Sanders there to make the reception.
In the Gamecocks' first two games, Garcia was at least getting Jeffery involved by throwing high and letting Jeffery go up and get it. It hardly ever resulted in yards after the catch, since defenders formed a halo around Jeffery and gang-tackled him as soon as he touched down, but at least he was getting the ball and defenses had to prepare for him.
Now, every defense has seen the first four games and knows that Garcia can't throw deep. Jeffery is being eased out of the picture with defenses concentrating on stopping Marcus Lattimore; the Gamecocks' offense, predicted as pick-your-poison between the two in the offseason, suddenly has one hemlock withering away.
There are eight games left in the regular season. The next opponent, Auburn, has had an awful defensive year. The chance to get better is there.
It was also there last week.
For more coverage of Gamecock sports and recruiting, visit GamecockCentral.com.