I know...I know...I know...next 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."