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 Garcia..next 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.