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.