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.