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!