Thursday, November 19, 2009

Carolina/Clemson Pregame

I know Coach Spurrier is not a Rah-Rah type of guy. So I volunteer to deliver the below speech to the Carolina Football Team as they prepare for their epic battle with Clemson. I hope they take it to heart:

"I don’t know what to say, really. One week and the biggest battle of your collegiate season all comes down to 12 o'clock, Saturday, November 28th, 2009. Now either we heal as a team or we’re gonna crumble, inch by inch, play by play, 'til we’re finished.

We’re in hell right now, gentlemen, believe me. And, we can stay here -- get the s*#*t kicked out of us -- or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell one inch at a time.

Now, I can’t do it for you. I wish I could. My eligibility is up. I see these young faces, and I think -- I mean -- I can only dream of having the opportunity to lace 'em up one more time. To get the opportunity you have to hit Clemson in their mouth once again. To build a legacy of pride for future generations to bask in. To establish our rightful place in the history of this great rivalry.

You know, when you get old in life things get taken from you. I mean that's...part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. When you are out of chances. You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small -- I mean one-half a step too late, or too early, and you don’t quite make it. One-half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us.

They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second, every blade of grass in Williams-Brice Stadium.

On this Carolina team, we fight for that inch. On this Carolina team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch, because we know when we add up all those inches that’s gonna make the f*%#in' difference between winning and losing! Between livin' and dyin'!

I’ll tell you this: In any fight, it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s gonna win that inch. And I know if I’m gonna have any life anymore, it’s because I’m still willin' to fight and die for that inch. Because that’s what livin' is! The six inches in front of your face!!

Now I can’t make you do it. You got to look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes! Now I think you’re gonna see a guy who will go that inch with you. You're gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows, when it comes down to it, you’re gonna do the same for him!

That’s a team, gentleman!

And, either we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals.

That’s Carolina football guys.

That's all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?"

(Al Pacino Speech, Any Given Sunday, edited by Tim 'Pops' Frisby for Carolina/Clemson Game, November 28th, 2009)

A defining game awaits the University of South Carolina on November 28, 2009.

This game is a measuring stick in the sense that it will be used to gauge the progress of the Carolina Football program under the tutelage of Coach Steve Spurrier. Is it fair to assess which way the scale will lean after season five of the Spurrier Era? Many fans believe it is time for an audit, some will disagree. What I do know is that the Gamecock Nation as a whole is demanding a measure of accountability from the Carolina coaches and players alike. The status quo at USC has become an unacceptable crutch to lean on.

Clemson is playing good football and has a plethora of offensive weapons to utilize. Carolina will need to neutralize four in particular. Those four weapons must be accounted for at all times. Those weapons are Kyle Parker, C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Michael Palmer. If Carolina can limit the damage done by that foursome on offense the sky is the limit. Some attention will need to be paid towards Xavier Dye and Andre Ellington also. Both players have picked up their games considerably since the beginning of the season.

I think there is enough film on Clemson to understand what they like to do offensively. There should be a mental checklist of do's and don'ts that is summoned on every Clemson offensive snap. There should be no reason whatsoever to allow C.J. Spiller out of the backfield without the proper reason. Obviously it is the Clemson Offensive Coordinators job to scheme to create mismatches. It will be our Defensive Coordinators responsibility to avoid those mismatches and create a formidable defensive plan. Who will be out coached?

BTF...Blunt Force the name of the game defensively. Carolina must bring the pain. Hit what you see and see what you hit. Wrap your arms and make the sure tackle if in doubt. Usually the team that gets hit the hardest will take their ball and go home. Carolina needs to make it a long tractor ride for Clemson back to the cow pasture.

Clemson has a few pet plays they will attempt. The Tiger's will attempt the wheel route out of the backfield with Clemson expecting Carolina to cover Spiller with a linebacker like every other team has this season. We cannot let that happen. This is were that spur linebacker hybrid earns his scholarship. Clemson may attempt the play were they run a man off the field, only they don't, and he goes wide open down the sideline on the snap of the ball. Please don't fall for that stupidity, stay alert. The Tiger's will run a three or four receiver set in which all the receivers will run verticals with the exception of Jacoby Ford, he will come underneath the verticals at about 25 to 30 yards. They will run this play early on and toss the ball like they are going for a deep strike, except they will harmlessly float it deep out of bounds. Undoubtedly they will bring out this play again in the fourth quarter and this time go to Ford underneath for 35-40 yards. They love to toss the football in the flats and have been successful with big yardage after the catch. Be aware of voided areas when playing zone, obviously that is were the play is intended to go. We just need to be cognizant of their money plays and make them work for what they get.

We have been chewed up and spit out by the opposing team tight end in the past. Believe it or not we have a player assigned to the tight end. Don't get victimized, assignment football is all we are asking.

We have our work cut out for us offensively against a very stout Clemson defense. The Tiger's will give you the underneath route. They like to keep everything in front of them much like the Florida Gators. It will be imperative that we take our chances down the field. If we don't keep them honest defensively they will jump those short and medium routes later in the game for crucial turnovers. Clemson will capitalize on turnovers.

Keeping the Tiger defense honest will require some semblance of a running attack. If we cannot run early Clemson will pin back their ears and tighten their defense like a vice.

Carolina's offensive line will need to come of age in this game for the 'Cocks to be successful. Garcia must have time to throw. I say go max protect whenever possible and let your big long receivers make plays. When Clemson starts dropping into coverage allow Garcia to check off into running plays. It's a chess game fellas, the smartest team wins.

Special teams will have to step up to the plate. The surest way to disengage the Clemson kick return game would be to kick it in the end zone for touch backs on kickoffs. But since that is not going to happen the next best approach would obviously be to kick away from Spiller. Virginia was very successful with this technique. Although it's picking your poison to kick to Ford over Spiller, I will take the less lethal dose on this one.

Punt returns will need to be approached with the same diligence. Keep Clemson guessing, no two punts should be executed the same. Everyone on punt coverage will need to be on the same page. Know your assignment.

Clemson has had their own difficulties in the red zone, but are usually effective converting turnovers to points. The Tiger's kicker's have had some very shaky outings this year. Don't expect them to have one against us. It never seems to work out that way. We need to keep whoever the kicker may be at an uncomfortable range. We have played well at home this year and will have that advantage. Like it or not this is a season defining and program defining game.

"We Must Protect This House." Go Carolina, Beat Clemson!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

'Cocks Fall Short to Florida

"While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert it only irritates." - Samuel Johnson

With that said I will not attempt to tell you how great Carolina played Saturday in this loss, although their level of effort and play was a marked improvement over the three previous contests. Yes, to fans it is more soothing to maximally address what was done right Saturday night, but for a team that is looking for an identity I would hope you could learn from your miscues so that they're not repeated. I am as proud as anyone of Carolina's effort last night. However, you don't win ballgames on effort alone. There are no moral victories.

I will let you in on one undisputed truth. "When a team goes into a game not expecting to win it, 99% of the time they won't." Now I don't mean all of the players mind you, but enough of them with that attitude will effect the outcome of the game. Player's will ultimately wait for the proverbial "other shoe to drop" and no matter how valiantly they perform, eventually that lack of confidence will manifest itself in the form of a game defining moment. Now, who takes advantage of that game defining moment usually determines the eventual victor. The University of Florida took advantage of that moment Saturday night and therefore reaped the rewards and the victory.

When you need to play mistake free football, ultimately it is a mistake that will do you in. And so it went for the Gamecocks Saturday night as they fell to the Florida Gators at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC by the score of 24-14.

In position to tie or take a 3rd quarter lead from Florida, the #1 team in the land, the 'Cocks couldn't get it done. Gamecock QB Stephen Garcia tossed a game changing interception that was returned 54 yards. The subsequent return led to a Florida touchdown which extended the Gators lead to 10 points and sealed the 'Cocks fate.

Bottom line, turnovers cost you ballgames. The final results will show that Florida had three big take aways vs. none for the Gamecocks. The Gators converted the first of Stephen Garcia's two turnovers into the eventual game winner. Of course the turnovers were the catalyst for the touchdown but there were a mixture of ingredients that created the final outcome. Let's take a look at the game within the game:

I hate to keep saying that the important statistics were a wash, but that seems to be the case once again for this contest, with a few exceptions. However, those few exceptions are glaring and tell a tale. Besides the 2 interceptions, South Carolina fumbled the ball 5 times and lost one of those fumbles. This statistic shows that the 'Cocks are not taking care of the football. This cost Carolina big time in the Tennessee game and again last night. Compare that with Florida's zero turnovers (this is also a trend with opposing teams) of any kind and you get the picture.

Florida punted three times, we accumulated zero return yards. We punted six times, Florida accumulated 85 return yards. Once again our special teams allowed a big return.

We were out rushed 140-61 although the attempts were basically identical 39-33. Sadly, this statistic was not unexpected. I will add that Brian Maddox did make some hard effective runs when given the ball, carrying the pill for 17 of the 33 attempts. Stephen Garcia was not very effective as a runner garnering 24 yards on 13 carries. Is it just me or does Garcia not look as fleet of foot as advertised? Now, he did have a nifty maneuver for a much needed first down but he does not look comfortable running the ball to me. The other two backs used by the 'Cocks accumulated 4 yards. Compare that with Florida's three backs (Rainey, Demps and Moody) who combined for 120 yards rushing with 46, 39 and 35 respectively. That's the kind of rushing distribution needed from a team without a featured back. Is Jarvis Giles officially through? Inquiring minds would like to know. We could have used some of his athleticism in situations yesterday.

Stephen Garcia was 17 for 32 for 186 yards with 2 interceptions. He was sacked 6 times! Which tells you what you already know about the offensive line. To be fair I'm quite sure some of those sacks were caused by Garcia holding onto the ball to long. Now we don't want Garcia forcing passes into double coverage but at the same time we don't need him scared to throw the ball in fear of it being intercepted. The blitzes that Florida brought meant that there was plenty of one-on-one coverage down the field.

I don't know about you folks but I think the 'Cocks have to take some shots down the field in the passing game. I understand that Charlie Strong was dialing up "exotic blitzes'' on defense all night. OK, then we need to make some adjustments at halftime and dial up some "exotic pass plays." You cannot live off of screens, throws to the flat and underneath routes without the opposing defense eventually tightening the vice on you. On our first scoring drive we threw a deep out to Alshon Jeffery. Those were the type of passing plays that kept Florida honest and resulted in a successful drive. It is imperative that you stretch the field against a great defense. You have to keep great athletes honest, you play right into their strength when you limit your own options. I say throw the ball down field and let your athletes make some plays.

We are not getting the type of production out of our receivers that is needed. Alshon Jeffery had 6 catches for 57 yards, but half of his production was on one 24 yard play. Jeffery was a forgotten man in the second half. Same goes for the other Carolina receivers. Moe Brown and Jason Barnes both had two catches each with half or more of their production on a single catch. Now, do we credit the Florida defensive or our offensive game plan for our passing woes? I would have to say it was a combination of both last night. The combination of continuous blitzes by Florida and conservative pass plays by Carolina gave the Gators defense the edge.

A bright spot was the reemergence of Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders who struck for 5 catches for 62 yards and a TD. He had a long of 15 which means that most of his catches were very effective on average. Maybe he knew what he was talking about when he said he needed the ball more?

The Carolina defense played well until Garcia's 3rd quarter faux pas. That miscue seemed to deflate the sellout crowd and the Gamecock defense. My defensive MVP on the night would have to be Clifton Geathers. He did not lead the team in tackles, that honor went to corner Stephon Gilmore. However, he did lead the team in defensive intensity which allowed Carolina to keep pressure on Tim Tebow and make it uncomfortable for the former Heisman Trophy winner for most of the night. Geathers finished with 7 tackles, 5 solo, 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Stephon Gilmore finished with 10 tackles, 6 solo. All-America Eric Norwood finished the night with 4 solo tackles but provided constant pressure and played disciplined assignment football.

I will also credit the 'Cocks defense with Florida's field goal misses. The defense bowed up and kept Florida out of comfortable field goal range. I will attribute the poor field position on those kicks rather than a bad night for Sturgis on the FG misses. Those attempts were definitely not gimmes from that range.

I think this little tidbit says how far we have come on defense. It's ironic that Tim Tebow's Heisman hopes were solidified on this field two years ago and probably ended on this field last night. Tebow needed a great performance. The Gamecock defense did not allow Tebow the opportunity to generate the offensive numbers needed to make him the front runner for this years Heisman. "He who giveth also taketh away."

I believe Carolina has learned valuable lessons this season that will definitely benefit them in the future. Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Smith used to tell us "Football ain't easy, if it was everyone would be here playing it." That is true, and to be a great football team you must meet your challenges head on and learn from them. It is also a trait you will carry into life. Because like Joe Frazier says, "Life don't run away from nobody, life runs at people."

Next up for the Gamecocks are the Clemson Tigers. Clemson is playing good football and has three offensive weapons that must be accounted for at all times. Those weapons are C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Michael Palmer. If Carolina can limit the damage done by that triumvirate on offense the sky is the limit. I think there is enough film on Clemson to understand what they like to do offensively. There should be no reason whatsoever to allow C.J. Spiller out of the backfield without coverage. They will attempt that wheel route and expect Carolina to cover Spiller with a linebacker like every other team has this season. We cannot let that happen. Clemson may attempt the play were they have a man run off the field, only he doesn't, and goes wide open down the sideline. Please don't fall for that stupidity. The Tiger's will run a three or four receiver set in which all the receivers will run verticals with the exception of Jacoby Ford, he will come underneath the verticals at about 25 to 30 yards. They will run this play early on and toss the ball like they are going for a deep strike, except they will harmlessly float it deep out of bounds. Undoubtedly they will bring out this play again in the fourth quarter and this time go to Ford underneath for 35-40 yards. We just need to be cognizant of their money plays and make them work for what they get.

Clemson's defense is very stout and will give you the underneath pass. They like to keep everything in front of them much like the Gators. It will be imperative that we take our chances down the field. If you don't keep them honest defensively they will take away those short and medium routes later in the game. Clemson will capitalize on turnovers. They have had their own difficulties in the red zone but usually are effective in converting turnovers to points. We have played well at home this year and will have that advantage. Like it or not this is a season defining and program defining game. "We Must Protect This House." Go Carolina, Beat Clemson!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Swine Flu: Hogs Make Gamecocks Sick

I really don't know were to begin as I sit down to write this column. I think the whole Gamecock Nation is in a collective state of shock. Not because they didn't expect the 33-16 loss to Arkansas, maybe more because unfortunately they did. Now I agree, that is a terrible attitude or feeling to take into a contest. Nevertheless the feeling was apparent all week on the message boards, air waves and local and national media. Understand none of the aforementioned matters in the grand scheme of things. What matters is that this Carolina football team believes it can not only compete but win consistently in the SEC. I am not convinced yet that they believe they can. You must understand that it is very difficult to fight the perception that you will always be a middle of the road SEC team. I can't even remember the last time Carolina has been picked above 4th place in the SEC East? The problem is that most programs have peaks and valleys. Carolina has had it's undue share of valleys in it's history. For all the claims that this is a "New Carolina", and it very well may be the beginning of just that, the fact remains that we are left with the same results. The question is why?

Before I get into Saturday's game let me give you a philosophy as to why.

Scheduling: I don't confess to know how much sway the Athletic Director or Staff has in this matter. What I do know is that the current layout is not conducive to winning. Pundits say that Carolina's late season swoons are the result of a schedule front loaded with less competitive games. With the exception of the Georgia Bulldogs I will have to agree. When you consistently have Vandy, Kentucky, two FBS teams and a mid-level non-conference opponent at the beginning of your schedule you are setting yourself up for trouble. Not to mention that your bye week is worthlessly scheduled before the last game of the season. Recently the only thing that bye week has been successful in doing has been stalling any of Carolina's momentum to that point. Speaking of the last game of the season. I am on-board to have the Clemson game moved to the first game of the season, or just within the first quarter of the schedule. This has nothing to do with the series results and everything to do with the hyper competitive nature of the SEC. Our main focus going into conference play should be squarely on the SEC gauntlet in front of us. Anything other than a possible late season FBS opponent is a distraction in my opinion. Think about it from the flip side. Should Clemson win the rest of it's ACC games and lose to Carolina at seasons end you have the very good possibility of an ACC Champion with 4 losses. Conference Champion or not I wouldn't blame the BCS for not inviting them to a New Year Day BCS Bowl. Who wants to see a 4 loss team in a BCS Bowl? The good from moving that game outweighs the downside in my opinion.

Recruiting: This is an area of improvement with the Gamecocks but has to get better. First, you must get the best in the state to come to your program. Second, you must do a better job in your national recruiting efforts. Although Carolina has made inroads in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, their efforts in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Southwest and West are severely lacking. If you can get in a recruits house you have a chance! Recruiting has come a long way at Carolina but must continue to improve to keep pace with the elite in the SEC.

I think the above are two very important factors in a group of complex issues facing the Gamecocks. I'll save other factors for another day and column.

Let's get to the game:

Big plays, untimely turnovers and lack of overall intensity can create a sure fire recipe for a loss. We've had our share of all those ingredients in Saturday's defeat.

Once again the numbers on the surface don't reflect the lopsided outcome of the game. It's the intangibles that continue to trip up the 'Cocks. Total offensive yards are a wash (405-380.) Same goes for first downs (17-17), net yards rushing (76-53) and net yards passing (329-327.) So where is the difference? Arkansas got the big plays when they needed them!

Offensively, we can't get it done in the red zone. It is very perplexing. Not only were we not successful executing our plays, we had the time of our lives just getting them called! I dare someone to say it was because of the crowd noise. Listen, this is not our first time around the block. We understand what the noise level is going to be like at every SEC venue. These scenarios are covered in practice and measures are implemented including silent counts, play signals and multiple play calls. It is a simple matter of execution.

Stephen Garcia was 20-34 for 327 yards, with 1 big interception. There were many other factors but that one interception shifted the momentum of the game. With the scored tied 17-17 in the 3rd, Garcia throws an interception in the end zone that denies us a scoring opportunity. We are simply not a team that can throw away scoring opportunities. Granted, Garcia was rushed on his throws throughout the afternoon. You must credit Arkansas' persistent pressure and our lack of offensive line protection for many of Stephen's problems. On the flip side his counterpart Ryan Mallett had one of his career days from a percentage standpoint going 23-27 for 329 yards. He did a great job of taking exactly what we gave him. He recognized early that we weren't going to make an adjustment for his tight end D.J. Smith and to his credit he took advantage of that fact. Other then that he was satisfied with controlling the game with a balance of underneath routes and short runs. Almost half his passing yards were YAC (yards after catch.)

From a receiving standpoint we remained consistent although not spectacular. Alshon Jeffery seems to be here to stay. He had another 100 yard day although he tallied only 5 receptions. Moe Brown started of with a bang but ended with a whimper. Moe started out with a 25 yard reverse and two catches in the 2nd Quarter but did not record another reception until the 4th quarter, he finished with 3 catches for 55 yards. Jason Barnes had two nice drive extending catches and we finally got the tight end Weslye Saunders back involved in the offense. I believe our passing offense is going to continue to struggle until we can consistently stretch the field like we did at the beginning of the 2nd half with a Garcia to Jeffery 80 yard connection.

What do we say about the running game? Well we can say we have seen worse. Arkansas was able to scrape out 104 yards against a very stout and experienced Hogs front four. The rushing attempts were just not enough to garner the type of ground production needed. We got a combined 25 rushing attempts. Many SEC backs get 25 individual attempts. So we are not close to getting the production we need quite yet. Kenny Miles was our lead back going 8 rushes for 35 yards. There was nothing else of note from our backfield. Once again we got a DNP/CD (Did not perform/play, coaches decision) on Jarvis Giles. I just hope this kid doesn't get disillusioned and pack his bags.

The defense struggled on Saturday. I have to believe it is a depth issue rather than a talent deficit. Recently we have had problems containing the run. Surprisingly, we were not half bad in that area yesterday. Arkansas was able to pound out 111 yards on the ground, but they only produced two runs over 10 yards. It was the pass defense that let us down yesterday. Arkansas had three passing plays of 39 yards or more for 154 yards. That combined with the fact that we gave up 175 yards in underneath routes explains it all.

A combination of missed tackles and bad angles resulted in too many yards after the catch. This was a major factor to consider. Shaq Wilson led the way with 11 tackles. Once again Eric Norwood was consistent with 8 tackles, 2 for loss and 1 sack. Again, the defense was unable to produce any turnovers. We did drop a potential interception. I have noticed we do not hit people with "bad intentions" that cause turnovers. That's a matter of intensity that will have to be addressed. We don't seem to possess the fire in our bellies to be successful up to this point. Our passion bucket is just about empty. We are going to need to go to the well if we don't want a disastrous end to this season.

I know everyone would like to forget this game and move on to next week. Be careful what you wish for. Next weeks opponent is the mighty Florida Gators. They are #1 in the land. They are the undefeated, undisputed, heavyweight champion of college football. Their place is secured in the SEC Championship Game. They will say all the right things this week about how they are not overlooking the Gamecocks. However, they will come to Columbia with little or no respect for the 'Cocks as players. Do we have a little Buster Douglas in us? Can we be a spoiler with national ramifications? We've got everything to win, they have everything to lose. I've seen stranger things happen. GO CAROLINA, BEAT THE GATORS'!!!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

No Show in Knoxville!

I know...I know...I year...we'll get them next year! That is the famous war chant of the Gamecock Nation. I haven't been around half as long as the majority of older Cocks' fan's, but this chant has already run it's course with me.

How you show up in Knoxville and lay down your sword with such ease is beyond me! Sometimes I feel the actions of the Cocks' are beyond explanation. But alas, everything has an explanation. The key is addressing the situation with hard truth's instead of excuses. It's much easier to make excuses then it is to be told the truth.

But that's why they call me the Howard Cosell of the written word "I tell it like it is."

Let's get to the game:

It was Halloween, and the Vols' were dressed like a patch of ugly pumpkins, but I won't sugar coat anything here. The Gamecocks' were beat by a better prepared team on the field last night. Yes, better prepared! They were prepared to hit harder, execute their offense when needed, play defense with reckless abandonment and take advantage of opportunities presented to them. And believe me, we presented them with some golden opportunities!

Turnover's are caused just as much by mental mistakes as they are by physical ones. You are taught ball security during the regimen of every single practice. Do turnover's happen, absolutely. But more times then not they happen to team's who are not in a good mental state. That being the case Team Carolina could have been committed during the first half last night.

Contrary to popular belief, turnover's did not cost us the ballgame last night. Were they a major contributing factor? You bet your sweet bippy! However, what happened after the turnovers occurred is what cost us the game. The fact was the Carolina defense could not hold the Vols' out of the end zone on any of the turnover's. Did they have a short field to work with? Most definitely. The key is, when they were presented with the short field they took advantage and punched it in the end zone.

Turnover's aside the overall numbers don't look all that bad on the surface. Ah, but that is why we dig below the surface. Let's take a look:

South Carolina had more 1st downs (19-15). The problem with this stat is that TN had more 1st downs on the ground (10-4). They out rushed the Cocks' (199-65). The Vols' had 50% more rush attempts (40-20) and an almost 2 yard advantage per carry (5.0-3.2.) This means they were allowed to eat up plenty of clock, just about 17 minutes in the 3rd and 4th quarters alone when time was of the essence. Carolina had more 1st downs in the air (15-5). This stat is skewed by the fact that most of the Cocks' yardage happened between the 30 yard lines. Carolina was ineffective in the red zone.

Let's talk Stephen Garcia. Looking at the numbers Stephen had a so-so day. Going (25 for 50, with 1 Interception for 300 yards is usually not catastrophic, although a 50% completion rate usually signals many missed opportunities.) Tennessee did a great job of applying the "Garcia Rules" to their quarterback Jonathan Crompton. Those rules are put in place so that your QB is not put in situations to lose a game for you. It showed in Crompton's overall passing numbers (12 for 24, with no interceptions and 142 yards.) Garcia disregarded those rules on two occasions and cost the team big on his fumble and interception. The fact of the matter is both those turnovers could have been easily avoided by applying a little common sense. First, the hook slide was developed for a reason, use it son! I know Spurrier wants you to run harder, but that wasn't harder, that was just dumb. The second turnover was a high fastball from about 7 yards. Know your personnel. I doubt many running backs make that catch. Hell, Jorge Posada doesn't make that catch!

Speaking of running backs. Three first half turnovers and a 21 point deficit will make the running game disappear faster than a snowball in August. Not to say we would have established a run game anyway. But I think we could have kept the Vols' honest if we didn't have to take to the air and play catch up for the whole second half. To be honest Carolina has never been a team with a quick strike mentality or capability. I don't know why since we have one of the pioneer's of the quick strike offense as our head coach? I do know that 65 yards on the ground in an SEC game is not going to get it done. As I predicted Kenny Miles received the bulk of the carries, if you can call "the bulk" eight carries. One of those carries was a turnover that resulted in a TN score. Really there is not much to say about the run game.

The Carolina receiver's accounted for 191 of the 300 receiving yards. Catches were caught by 5 different Gamecock receiver's. The main targets were Alshon Jeffery, Moe Brown and Tori Gurley who accounted for at least 50 receiving yards each. The ball was spread around pretty evenly for the most part. Unfortunately there were too many fruitless scoring opportunities. Carolina is almost predictable in the red zone leading to well defensed passing situations. I think SEC teams know we are not going to run the ball in which gives them the upper hand. Once again Jarvis Giles nor Bryce Sherman were utilized from a receiving standpoint. At least we did see Sherman in some return situations.

The best effort of the night was given by the Gamecocks' defense. After giving up the three early touchdowns off early turnover's they actually played Tennessee to a standstill in the second half. I think we gave up too many passes underneath considering Tennessee is not a deep threat team. We just didn't do a very good job adjusting to that fact throughout the game. The fact is we could not stop the Vols' rushing attack, specifically M. Hardesty who ran for 121 yards on 23 carries with a 5.3 yards per carry average. One of my keys to the game was to place TN in 3rd down and long (4 or more yards) situations. When a running back is getting 5.3 yards per carry that's not going to happen. Pressure on the QB was also a problem once again. We still are not getting to the QB with consistency. Even when we did Crompton had enough time to complete passes. Once again our most effective plays came from the edge. Eric Norwood led the way with 6 tackles (4 solo) but the Cocks' were only able to generate 1 sack and 4 tackles for loss for a negative 11 yards. Tennessee generated 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss for a negative 16 yards. Basically, Carolina's defense played the Vols' defense to a stalemate.

Hey, anyone that will listen. That means you too coach Beamer. We need someone who can kick a ball off the tee! I would make a bee line to Stone Stadium and hold open tryouts immediately. I know there is someone on this campus that can kick a ball at least to the goal line! Don't we have a top ranked Women's Soccer Team on Campus also? I don't care, just get me a touchback! Opposing team's are starting in too good a field position due to our inability to kick the ball deep. They can open their play book wide when they start at the 40 vs. their 20 yard line. Let's get this fixed.

Well, I saved the worst for last. I don't know what to say about the Cocks' offensive line. I do have a moniker for them though. I borrowed it from the original cast of Saturday Night Live Actors. The Carolina offensive line will now be known as "The Not Ready For Prime Time Players." Watching these guy's is like watching the little Dutch Boy with his finger in the dyke. We don't know where the next leak is coming from, but we know it's coming! And T.J. Johnson has a well earned nickname of his own "The Drive Killer", I have never seen a kid withs so many drive killing penalties in my life. My hope is that by some Divine Intervention we can somehow get two effective games from them out of our three remaining contests. Three effective games would probably meet the criteria for canonization, so I won't go that far.

Well that's another game for the books. Next up is an Arkansas team who seems to be almost as schizophrenic as our Gamecocks'. I know that Ryan Mallett will test our secondary next week for sure. The Razorbacks' also possess a pretty good stable of running backs that will give our defensive line the opportunity to earn their keep next Saturday. Look for my mid-week column on "The Keys to the Game."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keys to Victory: Carolina vs. Tennessee

OK, so how do we leave "Rocky Top" with a win on Saturday? That is the question. I will attempt to provide some answers in my Keys to the Game:

First, forget about the past! I know, South Carolina is a dreadful, 21-4-2 all-time vs. Tennessee. That's part of the problem around here. Fan's need to stop focusing on past failures. What you should be focusing on is the last five year window vs. the Vols'. Two of the four all-time wins (2005, 2008) have come in the last five years. That time period also includes a 27-24 overtime loss. As far as the SEC, Tennessee is (24-18) vs. the SEC, whereas SC is (19-21) over the last five years. So during this period these two programs have competed on basically even terms. However, Carolina's overall program productivity arc is drastically better than the Vols'. The Cocks' have had better recruiting classes, better consistency and most importantly better coaches during this time frame. Speaking of coaches. Now, I personally think Lane Kiffin is a punk. This is a guy who was born with a silver spoon lodged were the sun don't shine. I don't think he has ever had to earn anything in his life. He lives by the adage "Any publicity is good publicity." He must realize by now he is not doing the Vols' any favors bumping his gums. What he is doing is placing a huge bulls eye on their backside, and it seems that most SEC teams are more than happy to kick them in it! So let him do the talking...we'll be glad to do the kicking!

Now to the Game:

Defense wins ballgames in the SEC! We must limit Tennessee's run game. Let's face it, we are not going to shut down the Vols' run attack...containment is the objective. Ideally we would love to get them in 3rd down situations with four or more yards to gain consistently. Doing that would force Jonathan Crompton to complete passes. I would much rather take my chances with our secondary than to rely on the D-line to make consistent short yardage stops. We are great in pursuit and stretching plays from sideline to sideline, however, the D-line just hasn't proven they can bottle up the run.

We need better designed blitzes to be effective in pressuring Jonathan Crompton! I hope Coach Ellis Johnson has been in his laboratory this week designing some new blitz schemes. Rarely do our linemen come free to apply much pressure in the current schemes. We have been successful from time to time on the edge but never with consistency. You can rest assure that Tennessee will double team Eric Norwood. We need someone to step up and have a breakout game.

Limit penalties...especially on offense. I can't stress this enough. I don't know how many times we have shot ourselves in the foot this year? Let's just say we don't have many toes left! If we can get a honest days work out of the O-line I believe we will surprise with the amount of offense we can generate.

Establish a solid ground game early. Folks, let me be honest. By solid I mean let's have some semblance of a ground game. We cannot constantly put our offense in 3rd and long and expect to be successful. 3rd down and 3, 3rd down and 4 we can work with. 3rd down and 6-7 is not going to get it done!! Decide early on who is going to be the featured back. My best guess is Miles, let him get in his rhythm and put in some work. I don't think platooning backs will be successful against Tennessee.

GET JARVIS GILES (possibly Bryce Sherman) OUT IN SPACE!!! If Clemson can do it with Spiller and Ford, and Florida can do it with Rainey and Demps, we can do it with Giles and Sherman. The numbers just aren't there to support Giles's consistent use at tailback at this juncture. Let's get some quality production out of those two for once this season.

Welcome back Moe Brown. With the emergence of Alshon Jeffrey and continued improvement of Tori Gurley his leadership will be much needed Saturday evening. I can imagine that Tennessee will bring safety help over the top to minimize Jeffery and Gurley. That is why it is important that we get Brown, Gurley and Jeffery on the field at the same time. The Vols' will be playing defensive "Russian Roulette" with those individual receiving threats on the field at the same time. Stephen Garcia will have to make smart decisions but someone will be isolated one on one when that safety comes to help. That help will come in the form of All-American SS Eric Berry. Garcia must be careful not to get baited into bad throws and be cognizant that Berry loves to jump routes. If Tennessee comes out in the Tampa 2, look for Spurrier to get Weslye Saunders more involved and hopefully utilize the above mentioned Giles and Sherman in space.

Speaking of Garcia. He must continue limiting mistakes. I'm not as worried about interceptions on his part as I am about ball security. Tennessee is going to bring pressure. Garcia must secure the ball when he is in the pocket and protect it when he runs. He has a bad habit of carrying the ball in the wrong arm. Stephen must get rid of the ball Saturday night. We cannot afford to dig ourselves field position holes.

We should find out Saturday evening if the "New Carolina" is here to stay. 6-3 or 7-2 Gamecocks', simple as that, the choice is yours.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cocks' bring just enough to edge Vandy

If you were looking for a "W" in the win column from last nights game against Vandy...mission accomplished! The Cocks' were able to come out on the winning side of a 14-10 scrum. However, if you were looking for some answers to lingering questions concerning this 2009 Carolina team..."Not so fast my friend."

I think we were left last night with plenty of unanswered questions. The problem was not production last night with the Cocks' racking up 431 yards total offense. The problem once again was consistency on offense and the inability on defense to control the opposition ground game. Throw in a major breakdown on special teams and you had the recipe for a devastating upset. Simply put, Vanderbilt was able to stay in the game last night because they were able to sustain their ground game. Granted, there are no weekends off in SEC conference play. However, a team fighting for the #2 position in the SEC East behind Florida must be prepared to dispose of an inferior divisional brother with some confidence and authority. I believe we could have been more confident and authoritative last night.

Let's take a look at how last nights contest unfolded:

Consistency aside there were some spectacular moments on offense. Alshon Jeffery seems to be here to stay. The freshman receiver once again displayed his Riceesque qualities with one spectacular catch after another. He finished the night with 8 catches for 161 yards. None were better then his game sealing 43 yard 4th quarter touchdown reception. From what I could see he basically ran a deep in-route and was able to work underneath the Vandy safeties who were playing considerably deep all night. I was very surprised that Carolina was unable to recognize this trend earlier and exploit it. D.L. Moore only had two catches on the night, however his first reception was a perfect strike by Stephen Garcia for a 35 yard 2nd quarter TD. Tori Gurley once again showed us his potential, he only caught 3 passes on the night but saved his best for a 43 yard one-handed grab that moved Carolina from its own 1 yard line out to the 44 yard line. The grab displayed the tremendous athletic ability possessed by the Cocks' young group of talented receiver's.

Stephen Garcia is not Danny Wuerffel. Steve Spurrier will probably never have another quarterback such as Wuerffel who he can "Vulcan Mind Meld" with. So what can Stephen Garcia do to become Spurrier's Spock? For one thing he can continue doing a great job of not loosing games for Carolina. For the most part, he has improved tremendously on his pass selection, not forcing throws into coverage. He has stayed in the pocket and gone through his progressions as requested. He is steadily making the improvements needed to become a premier SEC QB although, he still takes too many sacks which really chaps Coach Spurrier's butt. Timing is everything for a quarterback. Garcia must continue to calibrate his internal clock. When the time on that clock expires, get rid of the ball. He can't continue to take sacks that flip field position and take the offense out of field goal range.

That said, not a bad night out of Garcia. 22 of 33 for 312 yards passing is not bad at all. We continue to take what is given to us offensively. Plenty of dinking and dunking in the pass game. Unlike past years, we have the weapons and mismatches to stretch the field. Surprisingly, Spurrier seems to be taking a measurably more conservative offensive approach. He has been accused of trying to force the ball down the field in previous years when we didn't possess the weapons to do it. Now with the weapons in place he seems to err on the conservative side, choosing not to risk the turnover. Kind of makes you scratch your head a little, but I would like to think Coach has a method for the madness.

Kenny Miles had a very nice night. We can live with 102 yards on 18 carries with a 5.7 yards per carry average! I like the way he runs North and South, keeping a low pad level and legs churning. He gets every ounce out of his slight 183 pound body. Add in 5 receptions for 27 yards and you get a complete effort. Now, only if we could get a few other backs to join in. Once again the combination of Jarvis Giles and Brian Maddox contributed only 11 yards on 6 carries. Throw in 29 yards for Garcia on 11 carries and we have a combined 40 yards on 17 carries. As stated in previous articles "That's not going to get it done for us in the SEC." We were once again out rushed as a team 163-119.

Can someone please tell me why we can't get Jarvis Giles out on some routes? And for that matter Bryce Sherman! I am beyond frustrated on this one. Please, someone write in and give me one good reason. Unless these guy's can't catch, there is no reason they should not be utilized more in this offense. I have nothing at all against Stephen Flint. I played with his brother Mike who happens to be a friend, but if we can play Flint in the slot we can give Giles and Sherman a few opportunities also. It's become apparent to me that Giles in particular is not going to factor significantly in our run game this year.

The defense held it together long enough last night. However, we were unable to effectively control the run for a second consecutive week. Couple that with the fact that we are not getting enough pressure on the QB and that could spell trouble with our future schedule. It's bad enough we can't slow down team's we know are going to run, but if we can't pressure the QB eventually someone is going to pick us apart. We have three outstanding QB's coming up in the forms of Arkansas' Mallet, Florida's Tebow and even Clemson's Kyle Parker to some extent. We're going to have to come up with consistent pressure to be successful in those contests.

One positive on defense last night is that we didn't give up the big play. And even though we were not able to get to the QB as much as we would have liked, the pressure was sufficient enough on occasion to make life difficult in the pocket for Larry Smith. Shaq Wilson led the way with 12 tackles on the night making quite a few nice open field take downs. Cliff Matthews and Nate Peppers also had decent nights registering 8 and 5 tackles respectively. Eric Norwood made good use of himself by being a nuisance all over the field. Norwood keeps offenses on their toes with his constant movement. Eventually we hope this is going to turn one of our other defenders loose for a big day. The young secondary played outstandingly again letting nothing get behind them. I love their discipline. Only good things happen if you can keep the offense in front of you.

I would be remiss if I did not mention a disturbing trend that continues among TV commentators. They continually like to credit team's with inferior athlete's such as Vandy for staying in games because their athlete's are supposedly intellectually superior. That is a bunch of B.S. For the most part football is an instinctual game and the team with a huge advantage in superior athlete's usually wins the contest. Now, I have seen the smartest athlete's make the worst decisions possible on the field. I have also seen player's who could barely read a sentence play spectacular games on the field. What it boils down to is the fact that a coach such as Bobby Johnson makes the best of the players he has. He and his staff do a great coaching job. Vanderbilt's success or lack of it has nothing to do with their intellectual abilities. If I could get one commentator to stop perpetrating that nonsense I will have done my job.

Tennessee is next week's opponent. They will have a simple strategy. They will come out and attempt to run the ball right down our throats. If they are successful they will continue pounding the ball until they are no longer successful. Jonathan Crompton can be a very effective passer if given the time. If we can't establish pressure it could be a long day. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. The Vols' possess a very stout defense. We will need to establish some continuity on offense or they will flip the field on us and work with a short field. It is imperative that we take advantage of what seems may be limited opportunities on offense. Obviously we are going to need to establish a running game early to keep the Volunteer's honest.

Coaches, you have your work cut out for you. Get to game planning. Go Cocks' beat Tennessee!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bama revisited

I know the odds were stacked against South Carolina winning this ballgame. But it has to make you sick when you realize they were given every opportunity to do just that on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. The #2 team in the land was there for the picking. The big stage was a little too overwhelming for the #22 Gamecocks as they failed to generate much of an offense and the defense uncharacteristically failed to finish tackles. Yes, there is plenty of blame to spread around. So let me begin to spread it.

I thought the Ramblin Wreck was a secondary nickname used by the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets? Well during most of last nights contest it may have been an appropriate name for the University of South Carolina Offense! I understand that Alabama has a very good defense, but you've got to be kidding me? I could even give the offense the benefit of the doubt if we were talking bad field position here. However, Carolina opened the game with great field position on two impressive kick returns by Chris Culliver, a Shaq Wilson interception and a fumble recovery from Cliff Matthews before shooting themselves in the foot with three consecutive drive crippling personal fouls. The night progressed with one self-inflicted wound after another. Simply, as a team you cannot make the kinds of mistakes that USC made last night in a game of this magnitude and expect to have a successful result. Just can't do it.

For the most part the offense was miserable in every aspect of the game. Stephen Garcia's nerves got the best of him last night. He was unsettled from the first snap of the game. I will use the word "unsettled.".The ESPN commentators were not as nice when referring to Garcia and used a word that football player's dread the most..."scared." I can't go there quite yet but there were times when he had sufficient protection and was just plain unable to make the required throws. I can't begin to count the number of times he under or over threw his targets. I'm sure Coach Spurrier was up last night counting though! It was painful watching the "Ball Coaches" reaction and displeasure from the sidelines. I can't begin to imagine the psychological torture this man puts himself threw imploring this offense? At one point the camera panned to the sidelines and I could actually read his face. A reoccurring nightmare was in progress. There was Coach Spurrier back in 1966, under center, reading the defense, knowing what play to run and were to go with the ball. He was desperately trying to make the play only to realize he was trapped inside Stephen Garcia's body. Spurrier's arm reflexively jerked as his mind tried to make the required throw. But to no avail, his chin sunk to his chest and the life drained from his face as he realized the inevitable, that no matter how hard he focused he could not change the nightmare.

To find solutions for the anemic offense you must first address the problems. Let's start with penalties. The offensive line woes continue. Three initial drive killing penalties by lineman T.J. Johnson were anything but helpful. Recently SC lost an offensive lineman who left the team because he stated "Football was no longer enjoyable for him", well if T.J. Johnson's penalties are any indication of how we play around here I whole heartily agree with you buddy!

We once again played musical chairs with the O-Line trying to find a combination that worked. We shifted L. JeanPierre from center to guard and inserted Garrett Anderson at center to stem the flow of penalties. It did temporarily stop the penalties, however, I don't know how effective it was for the overall blocking scheme. Alabama was able to continue bringing pressure throughout the night. Bama's defense was able to compile 5 critical sacks on the night.

The offense itself could not seem to get in rhythm all night. Granted, SC's is not the first offense that Alabama has disrupted this year but as mentioned previously, plays were there to be had. Garcia especially was out of sync. Among the myriad of misfires, two particular plays sum up the night of missed opportunities. On one play he had Jason Barnes wide-open on a post for a TD and overthrew him by a good 15 yards. On the other he had Kenny Miles on a designed play in the flat for a possible huge gain and whiffed on the pass. Plays like these summed up the night for Garcia and Carolina.

The rushing game was plain ineffective. 27 rushes for 96 yards is not going to get it done in the SEC. I have been clamoring the last three years for Carolina to recruit a prototypical running back. By that I mean a 6'1 to 6'3, 215-230 lbs back who is built for the rigors of the SEC. I think it is imperative that Carolina's recruiting efforts target a back of this ilk. Every team in the SEC seems to have one. Kenny Miles ran his hardest but was still only able to garner 45 yards on 15 carries. No other running back gained a yard! Not a yard! The only other rushing production came on 45 yards by Garcia and 6 yards on an end around by Moe Brown. Game, set, match!

Please don't get me started on the passing game! Too late! You got me started. First, don't be deceived by the seemingly respectable passing totals. Garcia finished the night 20-46 with 1 Int for 214 yards. However, 75 of the passing yards were on SC's last drive with Alabama in their prevent defense. Once again there were few bright spots from the receiving corps. A flicker came from freshman Alshon Jeffery who stepped up with 4 receptions for 83 yards. Hopefully we may be seeing a reemergence of Jason Barnes who chipped in 6 receptions for 46 yards. Carolina's leading receiver on the season Moe Brown was knocked out of the game literally in the 2nd quarter after a gutsy over the middle reception set up one of two field goals. Gamecock tight end Wesley Saunders' returned to action last night but was only able to contribute 3 receptions for 38 yards. Other than that it was a night of missed opportunities for the offense. Sophomore Tori Gurley was AWOL on the night. I don't know if he is in Spurrier's dog house but he wasn't hunting last night. Garcia must learn to give his receiver's an opportunity to make a play, especially when they have a considerable size advantage. As a leader he is not putting them in a position to be successful, and on many occasions they are having to turn into defenders themselves.

Poor tackling doomed an otherwise gallant effort by the Gamecock defense. The defensive secondary was the standout performers on this night. Alabama's All-SEC receiver Julio Jones did not record a single reception. Alabama's receiver's were only able to amass 10 receptions for 92 yards. The combination of C.C. Whitlock, Stephon Gilmore and Darian Stewart did an outstanding job on pass coverage. Those three may have developed a blueprint that could eventually derail Bama's title hopes as the season progresses. Oh but there's a flip side!

Who needs a passing game when you can set rushing records on the ground. It never fails and once again I am left dazed and confused. Did we not know that Alabama's game plan was to establish the run? Did we not know that Mark Ingram was their featured back? Did we not know that Ingram would neither pass or hand-off from the Wildcat formation? All these things we knew and were still unable to stop Mr. Ingram. Conversely he was able to set a school and personal rushing record! I thought I was watching the Arkansas game and Darren McFadden all over again. The worst part of it was the bad tackling by the D-Line and linebacker's. Of Ingram's 246 rushing yards an amazing 120 yards were gained after contact. He ran over, threw and around Gamecock defenders. He made blocks, caught passes and I'll be damned if I didn't see him selling popcorn between plays!

Alabama neutralized All-American linebacker Eric Norwood on the night. He was limited to 2 solo tackles, 6 total. A key indicator of the ineffective D-Line play was the fact that safety Chris Culliver was the team co-leader with 11 tackles. He shared the lead in tackles with linebacker Shaq Wilson meaning Alabama was running in our secondary all night. Obviously teams are keying on Norwood and game planning for him. My question is who is going to step up on the Gamecock D-Line and make plays? We haven't seen another significant performance on the D-line since Devin Taylor in the N.C. State game.

Special teams did a quality job last night with 111 return yards on kickoff and punt returns. Kick coverage was sufficient but aided by some big Alabama penalties. Punting did not necessarily hurt us but was nothing to crow about. Many of the punts were low line drives that were very returnable although Bama couldn't take advantage. Special teams still needs some work with Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida still out there waiting.

This game is over. It's not the end of the world. It was not season ending. And I think the sun will come up tomorrow. Opportunities for improvement are abundant. Will the Cock's take advantage of the lesson's learned and use this game as a springboard to a successful season? I don't know. Only they know. We'll be waiting on their answer. Go Cocks' BEAT VANDY!

Helmet Sticker's: Gamecock Secondary. Alshon Jeffery, Moe Brown, Shaq Wilson.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BEAR facts to learn from

It has been twenty-five years since Paul "Bear" Bryant passed away, yet his lessons continue to inspire coaches and players alike. As time passes, the game changes, attitudes change, records are eclipsed, and players and coaches come and go. However, lessons regarding life, leadership, success, and the will to win stay with a football player for a lifetime. Coach Bryant's lessons were not just for Alabama players, they were lessons for anyone who will ever choose to don a whistle or lace up a pair of cleats.

I've always been told, and I am a true believer that it is never too late to learn something new. That being said, I believe that South Carolina coaches, players and fan's alike can find a common thread in Coach Bryant's wisdom, look in the mirror and apply that wisdom to themselves. I will take a few of the Bear's quotes and explain how they may possibly help the Carolina program look deep inside. We all hope for the continued success of the Carolina program. Hopefully it will continue to build on a solid foundation poured by coaches, players and fans alike.

"If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That's all it takes to get people to win football games for you." - Bear Bryant

"Find your own picture, your own self in anything that goes bad. It's awfully easy to mouth off at your staff or chew out players, but if it's bad, and you're the head coach, you're responsible. If we have an intercepted pass, I threw it. I'm the head coach. If we get a punt blocked, I caused it. A bad practice, a bad game, it's up to the head coach to assume his responsibility." - Bear Bryant

A truly great coach has to take responsibility for his program. In this day and age of over-inflated ego's, salaries and endorsements there are too many times when personal responsibility takes a back seat. If there were an "I" in team it would be the coach, as in "I" will take responsibility. You are not always going to have the best player's, the best facilities or the best fan's. But as a leader there should be no finger pointing. You must point the finger at yourself and determine how you can do things differently to improve your teams chances. I think the fan's are tired of hearing so and so did or did not do this or that. All they need to know is that it's going to get fixed. No finger pointing...responsibility!

"I think the most important thing of all for any team is a winning attitude. The coaches must have it. The players must have it. The student body must have it. If you have dedicated players who believe in themselves, you don't need a lot of talent." - Bear Bryant

Winning attitude...has been a sore point for fans of the Carolina program for as long as anyone can remember. No major program in the country has on it's surface endured the seeming mediocrity that the Carolina program has endured. A losing attitude can be compared to a chronic illness that slowly yet consistently becomes worse until finally you can no longer fight it. You become it, and it becomes you. Many Carolina fan's have been around long enough to become eternal pessimists. However, all is not lost. Fan's may yet see the promised land. The Bible says "And a child shall lead them." In South Carolina's case it is indeed a youth movement. These young player's have no recollection of SC's past failure's. They are establishing a new pecking order (no pun intended) in the SEC. They can barely remember what happened five years ago, anything after that is ancient history. Remember, you have to dream big before your realizations become big. Do away with negativity and minor goal setting. You must set your goals high, you will achieve the minor goals along the way.

Note: I will have to admit the last sentence in the Coach Bryant's above quote is somewhat outdated. If well coached one doesn't necessarily have to have the best talent to win the SEC if well coached, but you definitely better have a helluva lot of it.

"What are you doing here? Tell me why you are here. If you are not here to win a national championship, you're in the wrong place. You boys are special. I don't want my players to be like other students. I want special people. You can learn a lot on the football field that isn't taught in the home, the church, or the classroom. There are going to be days when you think you've got no more to give and then you're going to give plenty more. You are going to have pride and class. You are going to be very special. You are going to win the national championship for Alabama." - Bear Bryant

I heard many speeches during my playing days at Carolina including great oratories from Coach Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier. But every South Carolina player needs to hear a speech like the one above when they arrive on campus. If you play Division I football in the SEC and you are not here to win a national championship, you're in the wrong place son! I don't know if SC players past or present have fully embraced the above idea. There is no better time then the present to start.

"The first time you quit, it's hard. The second time, it gets easier. The third time, you don't even have to think about it." - Bear Bryant

"But there's one thing about quitters you have to guard against - they are contagious. If one player goes, the chances are he'll take somebody with him, and you don't want that. So when they would start acting that way. I used to pack them up and get them out, or do something to turn them around." - Bear Bryant

I hold no punches. I can be brutally honest. We both know that there have been football games were Carolina has quit in the past! We must guard against ever having this attitude at USC again. Scholarships are renewable by the year. If a player doesn't want to be a Gamecock, get them out of here.

"If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride - and never quit - you'll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards." - Bear Bryant

Gamecock Pride! You have to embody it as a player. Let no one stand between you and your goals. Alabama is standing in the way. Saturday you must be more physical, be more aggressive, have confidence in the game plan and what you have been taught. If you do those things you will win this ball game.

And in closing, remember this on Saturday Gamecock coaches:

"You take those little rascals, talk to them good, pat them on the back, let them think they are good, and they will go out and beat the biguns." - Bear Bryant

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Avoiding a CATastrophe

The game was too close for comfort. However, South Carolina did add a W to the win column to improve their record to 5-1 on the season. Those two facts I can extrapolate from Carolina's 28-26 victory over Kentucky in Columbia on Saturday afternoon. After that the rest of the picture gets mighty blurry. Carolina needed to make a statement in this game to the national media and the rest of the SEC that they require some respect. I'm not quite sure they were able to get that point across. What SC managed to do was claw out a victory against a scrappy UK team who didn't want to make it a solid decade of futility versus the Cocks'. Although they were unsuccessful they were able to make it an uncomfortable afternoon for the Gamecock faithful. Truthfully, most of Carolina's woes were self-inflicted on this day. Per the norm we saw SC take a step forward in some areas and half a step back in others.

First, let's give Coach Spurrier some credit for continuing his attempt to establish a running game. If the Cocks' are going to make a move in the SEC down the stretch they will definitely have to achieve a balanced offensive attack. Once again we witnessed a three headed back attack with Kenny Miles, Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles attempting to share carries. And like last week we saw Kenny Miles receive the majority of the carries (17 for 100 yards) with Brian Maddox's workload further reduced to two attempts for just 4 yards. Jarvis Giles continued his struggles carrying the ball 3 times for fourteen yards. I have to be honest folks, and I may be beating a dead horse, but Jarvis Giles has to get more touches in space. I really don't want to second guess Coach Spurrier but in my opinion Giles would be more effective in the slot at this point in his young career. The offensive line is not opening big enough running lanes and Giles does not have the physical ability (i.e. weight) at this time to fight his way between the tackles. Stephen Garcia pitched in another twelve yards on ten carries. Except for Garcia's 4th quarter game saving 1st down run he seemed determined to stay in the pocket on Saturday. I understand Spurrier needing him to go through his progressions and not just tuck and run. So if that is the case Garcia has got to do a better job throwing the ball away and avoiding costly sacks. Kentucky had 3 sacks for twenty-eight yards Saturday.

The receiving corps got a pleasant surprise Saturday with the coming of age of Alshon Jeffery. It took a little longer than expected this season but Jeffery picked an opportune time to have his breakout game. The freshman played marvelously catching seven passes for 138 yards and 3 TD's. And his production was much needed with the rest of the receivers combining for just 9 catches for 95 yards. I think Coach Spurrier was expecting a little more production from his receiver's considering Kentucky was missing it's two starting cornerbacks. The Cocks' were able to cash in on some long passes with both Moe Brown and Brian Maddox catching passes of 20+ yards to compliment Alshon Jeffery's long of 30 yards. Tori Gurley, Jason Barnes and Giles were basically non-factor's in the passing game this week although Gurley and Barnes did move the chains nicely on catches of 12 and 17 yards respectively. Again, I believe Giles could have been very productive if used. Overall Carolina finished the day with a respectable 233 yards receiving.

Stephen Garcia had his first interception since the Georgia game on Saturday. Why you may ask? Well besides the law of averages catching up with him he simply reverted to the old Garcia for a play and forced a ball into coverage instead of using his check-down...which in this case was Kenny Miles open in the flat. No harm, no foul this time but hopefully he will file that play in his mental Rolodex for future reference. His other turnover was the run on which he fumbled the ball. The run was a good decision on his part despite the outcome. Obviously he will refer to the football 101 manual on his next carry and switch the football to the arm opposite the tackler...enough said. Stephen seems very comfortable in the offense this year. However, Coach Spurrier is still not confident enough to turn the offensive audibles over to him quite yet. Rest assured as long as Garcia is peering to the sidelines pre-snap,"The Ball Coach" is calling the audibles. Once again Garcia was able to efficiently manage the game Saturday. Overall Stephen was a controlled 16 for 23 with 1 Int on the day. Not remarkable by any means...but we can live with it. There is going to come a time this season when the Cocks' will need the total package from week would be a nice.

The Gamecock Defense left us with some questions on Saturday. They were unable to generate much of a pass rush. This was most notable in the first half as UK's Hartline was obviously well protected. The defense was able to pick up the tempo and apply more pressure in the second half. However, one must wonder if that was in part due to the injury incurred by Kentucky's QB Hartline, and subsequent insertion of his backup? Or was it due to adjustments made by Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson at halftime? Fortunately Hartline was unable to take advantage of his protection for the most part. The Gamecock secondary was able to pick up the slack for the D-Line and make it at least uninviting for Hartline to stretch the field. One adjustment the Gamecock's did make was to play more man defense and less zone defense in the second half. Hartline did manage to finish 9 for 14 for 139 yards, 1 TD in limited action. C.C. Whitlock made some heady plays at the field corner position and was able to make two good tackles for loss. Once again Eric Norwood lead tacklers with eight overall was not as effective off the edge on the afternoon. Unfortunately for Carolina, Kentucky was able to establish their running game. They gashed the Cocks' for 210 yards on 47 carries. Kentucky did a good job of sealing the edge and making good down field blocks. On the flip side Carolina had difficulty shedding blocker's and getting defenders in position to string out plays and seal the edge. Kentucky was not as successful between the tackles but when they were used their big fullback John Conner to fit (take on a block in the gap) the Carolina linebacker's. The Cock's need to fix this before next week. Alabama's running back Mark Ingram is much more talented than Derrick Locke and he will go to the House if the Gamecocks' don't keep gap control.

Special teams did a much better job against UK. It looks like we have found two solid return men in Chris Culliver and Bryce Sherman. They always seem to be just inches away from taking a punt or a kickoff all the way. Culliver had an outstanding day amassing 130 yards on three returns with a long return of 61 yards. Bryce Sherman added a solid 31 yards on two returns, recording a long return of 30 yards. Overall special teams amassed 161 return yards while allowing 105 return yards for Kentucky. Spencer Lanning had a solid day averaging 41.8 yards for his 5 punts. Tackling seems to be improving with more emphasis being put on speed and tackling in practice.

THUMBS UP, HELMET STICKERS: Alshon Jeffery, 138 receiving yards. Chris Culliver, 130 return yards. Eric Norwood, 7 solo tackles. Kenny Miles, 100 rushing yards.

THUMBS DOWN: Gamecock Fan's, too many empty seats at Williams-Brice to consider yourselves among the best fan's in college football. Athletics Department, let's give those extra tickets away prior to the game if they are going to go unused!

After all is said Carolina will have to bring it's A game to Tuscaloosa this coming Saturday. Unlike Ole Miss, the University of Alabama is much deserving of their lofty ranking. They will provide a formidable opponent and an opportunity for South Carolina to thrust themselves into the national picture with an upset of the Tide. Hopefully the Cocks' are ready for the challenge. This can be a program defining moment for Carolina. The choice is yours Gamecocks.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kentucky: NOT a Mirror Image of SC

If the University of Kentucky Football team looks in the mirror and see's the University of South Carolina staring back at them...their mirror is broken! I have read quite a few articles and heard one too many analyst try these past few days to equate the SC and UK football programs. And if you believe that these two programs are comparable you may have had a little too much Cat Chow yourself. South Carolina has beaten Kentucky nine (yes nine) straight times. It's been a decade since Kentucky last beat Carolina. Bill Clinton was still President for goodness sakes! Talk about a one trick pony. If the game were being played in Rupp Arena I might give UK a fighting chance. However, it's not and I won't. Steve Spurrier is 16-0 versus the Cats'...4-0 with SC, and I don't see the trend changing anytime soon. Sure, pundits would like to compare the history of the two programs. Yes, both programs do have about a .500 overall winning percentage in their program history. But the only history that is important in the SEC is "recent history." This is the "What have you done for me lately conference?" And lately (last 10 years) Carolina has been kicking UK's but from Columbia to Lexington with consistence. Of course you will have your classic Carolina worry warts who feel that this is a "Trap Game." Well that "trap" must be no damn good because nothing has been caught in it for ten years now! As far as coaching goes, Steve Spurrier coaches circles around Rich Brooks. The only thing comparable between these two coaches may be their age. Brooks claim to fame is taking Oregon to the 1995 Rose Bowl were he was pummeled by Penn State 38-20. Were as Steve Spurrier has won a National Championship and seven (that's 1,2,3,4,5,6,7...SEC titles!) He has also continued to increase the talent level and improve the facilities at SC to compete with the SEC's elite. So please stop comparing these two programs. South Carolina is a program on the rise. Kentucky...look closely in that mirror again...the only thing there is you!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let's get the swagger back in NCAA Football

Last Saturday's contest between LSU and Georgia highlighted the ridiculousness of the NCAA excessive celebration rule. Yes, this is a sports contest, but it is also entertainment. I find it absurd that college football's ruling body finds it necessary to punish a player or team for instinctual acts of celebration. It's as if the NCAA is saying "How dare they entertain" or find joy in their accomplishment. I for one loved the University of Miami's antics during the 80's and 90's. There were some classic battles that were hyped and fueled by on-field celebrations. To name a few we had the classic Catholics vs. Convicts 1989 Notre Dame/Miami game. We had the PSU/Miami National Championship game filled with trash-talk and great plays. The list goes on and on, but my point is the celebrations, trash-talking and pregame hype created rivalries, increased in-game intensity and kept the fan's on the edge of their seats. Now, I must say that there may be cause to throw an excessive celebration flag in isolated cases (i.e. Miami's Lamar Thomas running out of the stadium and through the tunnel (followed by a cameraman), only to return with fingers pointed simulating six-shooter's blazing. Which is my point exactly. Save excessive celebration penalties for truly excessive celebration.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Second Half Knockout!

Thanks to a mysterious (only televised game in the country effected?) power outage in Columbia, SC last night the television audience only got to see one half of football. That was truly appropriate since Carolina only played one half of football! However, despite last nights halftime score (10-7) the game was never in question. This after all was an SC State team who hadn't scored so much as a touchdown on a BCS opponent. For all the claims of how close this game would be and the compliments from both sides extended throughout the week the outcome was never in question. The only point of contention was whether the Cocks would cover the 36 point spread (they did not.) But as expected the Gamecocks were able to crank it up in the second half and snuff out any delusions of an upset by SC State.

Five games into the 2009 season and we know as much about this team as we knew after the first game of the season! So what do we know? We know that the running game is better than the last two years. We know that Stephen Garcia, unlike last year, is not making the kind of mistakes that will cost us games. We know that this team is experiencing the kind of growing pains that come from a team with only eight returning seniors. We know that the Offensive Line is about the middle of the pack in the SEC and they better tighten it up going into conference play. And of course we know that the defense is the teams saving grace...although I do sense some developing problems in our defensive secondary.

Last nights offense was a tale of two halves. The first half was forgettable with the offense amassing only 149 total yards. We need more consistency offensively from Stephen Garcia. We can't continue with these Jeckle and Hyde halves of football. A total of 44 passing yards in the first half against an FCS school is not acceptable. The second half was more of what was expected with 28 points registered although Garcia still finished with only 132 passing yards. Once again we utilized a running back by committee approach. We need someone to step up as the featured back fellas. How many more games is it going to take? All three running backs had respectable if not outstanding games. Kenny Miles had a good game with his limited (10) touches. I saw an explosiveness in Maddox's and Miles running style missing on past teams. Miles had some nice runs while sharing the ball with Giles in the first half . To be fair the backs did not find the kind of holes they were expecting to be created by the O-Line in the first half. Jarvis Giles...this is not "Dancing with the Stars" or "America's Best Dance Crew" the preferred direction of travel is North and South. SEC defenses are too fast and your Usher routine will not work in this conference. That being said...I see some big runs in his future if he ditches the twinkle toes act. Brian Maddox ran with a chip on his shoulder last night. I take it he was not pleased with being demoted to the third option in the run game. I still believe we need to feature a steady dose of Maddox and Miles in the backfield and utilize Giles more in the slot to get him touches in space.

Moe Brown continues to show leadership in the receiving corps. I have not been his greatest fan over the past few years but he has slowly won me over with the perseverance and resilience needed from a senior leader. I will just have to live with the fact that he will never have the best hands though he does seem to make the plays when needed. Where were the Tight End's last night? Weslye Saunder's was non-existent. Wide Receiver Tori Gurley was also a non-factor last night. We must have balanced productivity in this offensive machine to make it work and those two are key cogs. We cannot afford to have players taking the night off. I don't think Tori is fully aware of the gifts he possesses at the receiver position. When he learns to use his body and height to his advantage he will be a force to be reckoned with. I guess last night was a good opportunity to see if Dion Lecorn is game ready. He isn't. Based on his performance I have to assume that his leg is still an issue. He does not seem comfortable out there and his weight may also be a factor. Truthfully, he may have outgrown the receiver position. Hopefully he can make some contributions as the season progresses. Let's find a way to get Alshon Jefferey some more touches. If he is limited in his offensive knowledge, so be it. We can run the young fella in off the sideline with the plays until he gains a command of the offense.

We are starting to ask too much of our defense. The first half could have been a disaster without their efforts. I must applaud Eric Norwood for imploring his troops to step up as the game progressed. I know at times it can be difficult getting up to play an inferior opponent, however, our defense recognized that SC State had enough weapons to keep them honest. Tackling and speed to the ball remain strong points for this unit. Shaq Wilson and Eric Norwood seemed to be all over the field and were impressive from sideline to sideline. The defensive line played solid assignment football and kept the ball between the tackles for the most part. State's Will Ford was limited to short yardage gains and State's quarterback duo was ineffective on the ground for most of the night. Akeem Auguste's absence in the secondary was noticeable. The Cocks employed a zone defense for most of the night and did not gamble in man defense too much in Auguste's absence. Buddy Pugh should receive some credit for taking advantage of the zone and exploiting the seams for a few big plays. With Auguste gone for at least three games or more Carolina will have to find an answer at corner. I think we dialed up the pressure when absolutely necessary but not enough to keep State totally honest. I would like to see 45-50 minutes of hell per game. That is keep the opponent weary that you could bring pressure on any down. I don't think that is happening at the moment and it is allowing teams to settle into an offensive rhythm.

Up next are the Kentucky Wildcats. They played a respectable game against a very talented Alabama team on Saturday. We can't overlook this team, however let's hope we don't have another week of of exchanging pleasantries between teams. I understand not providing any blackboard fodder but enough is enough. Coach Spurrier has never lost to Kentucky. I don't think this week will be any different. Let's get to work on the game plan, iron out a few areas of concern and kick some Cat Butt's around. GO Cocks.

THUMBS UP: Moe Brown, 121 all purpose yards, 100 receiving yards. Alshon Jeffery, 1st career touchdown. Eric Norwood, overall defensive presence and blocked field goal. Carolina running back's, 230 yards combined rushing.

Thumbs Down: Buddy Pugh for having his starters in against the Carolina 3rd and 4th team defense on game's last drive. Get some of your non-starter's and walk-on's in in what will probably be their only chance on this big stage, the game's over dude! Your big brother is suppose to win the's a law of nature.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Gamecocks Win! Theeeeee Gamecocks Win!

A defining moment and quality win for the Carolina Football program last night in Columbia! It wasn't pretty but it was a crucial win over a (yes overrated) but quality Ole Miss program. The fact is this was not the 4th best team in the country Carolina faced. However, that does not take away from the outstanding defensive performance and acceptable offensive output by a hungry Gamecock squad. Coach Houston Nutt had no answer for the lightning fast Gamecock defense. He was out coached by Steve Spurrier who's conservative coaching this year seems best suited for this USC team. I think coach Spurrier is finally coming around to the fact that he must adjust his game plan to fit his team strengths. Over the past few years the Ball Coach has been trying to force his pass happy system on a team who's offensive line and receiving corps has not yet matured. The talent is now starting to pour into Columbia but still may be a year or two off. I was most impressed with Ellis Johnson's defensive scheme's led by All-SEC linebacker Eric Norwood. The Gamecock secondary also impressed me with their ability to cover the field, keep containment and not allow the Ole Miss receiver's to get behind them (with one exception that could have been costly.) The D-Line, linebacker's and safeties did an outstanding job of making the initial tackle and putting pressure on Jevan Snead when needed. We still need to get more tenacious off the ends and improve our pass rush. Punt coverage on special teams continues to be a problem. Note to coach Beamer: we need more speed on special teams! We should be imposing our will, running down there and hitting someone in the mouth. Instead we are catching (allowing the returner to come to us) instead of tackling.

The offense is another story. Once again I was very disappointed in our Red-Zone production! We have got to punch the ball in the end zone. We seem clueless inside the twenty yard line for the most part. However, Coach Spurrier did make a few good calls inside the ten that were nullified by penalties. Tori Gurley can be a big threat but must keep his head in the game and continue to work on technique. Moe Brown is giving us all he's got this year. I look for some more big plays from him as his confidence soars. We must utilize Jarvis Giles in space, he has been very limited in this offense. I don't know about you but this merry-go-round of running backs has it's limitations. On the one hand we are getting multiple players game experience. On the other hand we are not getting our backs in a comfortable rhythm. Kenny Miles had some nice runs, but are we going to see Kenny as the featured back next week? Who knows! Once again Stephen Garcia managed the game well. I have seen Stephen improve by leaps and bounds this season. He does not seem to get rattled under pressure and makes heady decisions when needed. He is doing a much better job of staying in the pocket, looking for receivers on the run and not forcing throws. However, I do have a problem with his deep ball. He has consistently under thrown the deep ball this year. The receiver's have had to come back for the ball on multiple occasions causing break-ups and near interceptions.

OK, now is not the time to rest on our laurels. South Carolina State is an over matched yet quality opponent next week. This is the last breather we will get until we are fully emerged in our SEC schedule. Let's continue to swarm on defense, work out the kinks on offense, continue to develop our young talent and Shock the World! Go Cocks!