Gamecock Baseball Not So Normal These Days

Chad-Holbrook-in-dugout-vs-UK-13

Photo courtesy of sportstalksc.com

Back in June of 2011, the day after South Carolina clinched its second consecutive National Championship in baseball, I penned a blog post called The New Normal. The new normal lauded the Gamecock program as the best in the nation, and a team that wasn’t going away any time soon:

“I think the thing is, for Carolina baseball, this is the new normal.  We have the best baseball program in the country, and I don’t think anyone can dispute that at the moment.  Making it to the CWS is no longer the goal.  Winning the whole darn thing is.”

Who could argue? With arguably the best coach, the best facilities, and a stockpile of top recruiting classes, the Gamecock baseball team was going to be a serious threat to make it to Omaha for many years to come.

In 2012, Ray Tanner captained an overachieving South Carolina team to a CWS runner-up finish, ending the greatest run in Gamecock sports history. Less than a month later, he traded in his pinstripes for a coat and tie and succeeded Eric Hyman as Director of Athletics at USC.

There was no coaching search to replace Tanner, because there was no doubt who his replacement would be – Chad Holbrook.

Holbrook had come to South Carolina in 2009 as Associate Head Coach and was being groomed to replace Tanner from day one. He was named the 10th best recruiter in all of college athletics by ESPN in 2010, and was named Assistant Coach of the Year in 2011 by both by the ABCA and Baseball America. His promotion to head coach was a no-brainer.

In 2013 he led the Gamecocks to a 43-20 record, but they were ousted in an NCAA Super Regional at North Carolina. It was in that series that his in-game management first came into serious question, bunting his best hitter in the first inning of a scoreless game with a  runner on.

The Gamecocks had a similar season in 2014, with a 44-18 record. But the season ended in the Regional round with a shocking 10-1 home loss to upstart Maryland, a team that had ended their 28-game NCAA tournament home winning streak the night before. Holbrook was once again called into question for starting super freshman Wil Crowe in an elimination game against Campbell instead of saving him for the Terrapins.

The Gamecocks lost some big guns after last season, including Jordan Montgomery, Joey Pankake, Grayson Greiner, Tanner English and closer Joel Seddon. But “The New Normal” meant the Gamecocks would just reload from their stockpile of outstanding recruiting classes and be right back on track in 2015. Optimists had the Gamecocks in the preseason top 5, and even the most pessimistic of projections had the Gamecocks easily in the top 25.

An opening season loss to College of Charleston was followed by six straight wins. Losing two of three to Clemson was disappointing, but the Gamecocks reeled off ten straight wins and everything seemed to be, well, normal.

But the win streak was broken with a mid-week loss to Winthrop (no worries, everyone loses mid-week games!) After that, the Gamecocks lost four straight SEC series for the first time since becoming a conference member. Last weekend they were simply not competitive and swept by Florida in three games by a combined score of 38-10.

The capper came last night, with a 7-4 extra-innings loss at home to Presbyterian College. Read that sentence again. With all due respect to PC, that is a sentence that should never have to be written about South Carolina baseball. Ever.

USC is currently 23-15 overall, 6-9 in the conference, and with series left against highly-ranked Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU, are looking like a long shot to make the NCAA tournament. The last time USC didn’t make the tournament was 1999.

It’s hard to believe how far and how fast we’ve fallen. Many have thrown out the “everybody has a bad year” reasoning. If Ray Tanner was still the head coach I’d accept that in a heartbeat, because Tanner had earned the benefit of the doubt and then some. Some have said “look at Florida, they were 29-30 in 2013, it happens”. But they, too, have a head coach in Kevin O’Sullivan that has earned a mulligan or two with the way he has built that program.

My concern is we’ve seen a steady decline over the last three years under Chad Holbrook, with a complete fall off of a cliff this season. Yes, we made the Supers in 2013 and hosted a regional last year. But honestly, making out a lineup card with the likes of Pankake, Greiner, Montgomery, English, etc., made his job much easier.

I honestly don’t know if the recruiting classes we’ve had were overrated, the players simply haven’t developed, or some combination of the two has caused our demise. All I know is the common denominator is Holbrook, whose in-game management has been questioned often in his short tenure.

I’m not exactly calling for the firing of Chad Holbrook, because I’m essentially a wuss. I have very human feelings when it comes to talking about firings, and knowing that Holbrook is a family man and is by all accounts a fantastic guy, I simply can’t make that call right now. Plus, being Ray Tanner’s hand-picked guy, he probably has an extremely long leash.

But at the same time, college baseball is a pretty big deal at the University of South Carolina. The back-to-back CWS titles are getting further and further in the rearview mirror, and there doesn’t appear to be a return trip to Omaha on the horizon any time soon.

We cannot afford to leave our beautiful program in the hands of someone who can’t handle it. And if we leave it there too long, there will be a new “new normal”, and it will not be pleasant.

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If You Could Change the Outcome of One Play in Gamecock History…

77645041Hey we’re back!

What would bring The Rubber Chickens Blog out of semi-retirement to make an actual blog post? A Mighty Meaty pizza from Mellow Mushroom? Yes, definitely. Ronda Rousey putting Dabo Swinney in an armbar? You know it. A Jim Carrey film festival minus that stupid penguin movie? Yeah, you got us.

Unfortunately none of those things have been offered to us.

Deadspin, however, piqued our interest yesterday with a hypothetical question that involves things we love like sports, time travel, and the possibility of changing life as we know it via the butterfly effect. The question – if you could change the outcome of one play, which would it be?

They were obviously talking about sports in general, and gave the great example of Gordon Heyward’s half-court shot at the end of the 2010 national championship game against Duke going in instead of rimming out.

I, of course, immediately thought of this question in Gamecock-only terms.

My very first thought (which is usually the one that contains the most intense, deep-seated anguish that is more than likely responsible for my sciatica) is “The Push” by Rod Gardner on Andre Goodman in the 2000 Carolina-Clemson game. While that play not happening probably doesn’t change the long-term fortunes of either school, it would take away a helluva painful moment for Gamecock fans in the rivalry.

The play that possibly changes our fortunes more than any other? I’d have to say Marquez North’s circus catch near the end of Tennessee’s  23-21 upset of South Carolina in 2013. Without that play, South Carolina eakes out an SEC road victory and goes on to an 11-1 record and a date with Auburn in the SEC Championship Game*. And if we could’ve sprung the upset in the SECCG, that very well might have meant a date in the final BCS National Championship Game against Florida State.

*Of course this little exercise involves assumptions, such as Tennessee doesn’t make some other miracle play to win that game, or that we still go into Missouri the following week and win that game.

The play that I didn’t immediately think of that made me feel like a full-blown jerk is the Marcus Lattimore injury (h/t @brentsilvia). Once again, it was a play that probably didn’t change the fortunes of our football team, but it was a play that radically changed the life trajectory of one of the most beloved players in Gamecock history.

Other twitter/text mentions include:

Interestingly, we didn’t receive any plays from any other sport than football. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad fortune that we haven’t been “one play away” in other sports. Or at least not memorably.

Fellow TRC writer Tbone then posed another interesting question – what one play in Gamecock sports history would you NEVER GIVE BACK?  While we didn’t pose the question to Twitter, here are the ones we came up with:

How about you? If you could change the outcome of one play in Gamecock history, what would it be?

Or which play would you keep over all the others?

Post your answers in the comments below, or @ tweet them at us. We’d love to hear some that haven’t been mentioned here.

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TRC Unleashed Episode 75 – Goodbye Football, Hello Basketball

TRC Unleashed returns with a healthy discussion about coaching changes, if they should be made, if so then why, if not then why not, if so then who, and oh God I hope the podcast isn’t this boring.

Tune in, we even talk about basketball, and answer a whole slew of Twitter questions.

Click here or click the graphic to listen, and enjoy!

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At the Movies with TRC – Clemson’s “I Am Death Valley”

We typically only go to the movies to discuss Gamecock videos, like here and here, but occasionally something comes along outside of the USC marketing department that is so atrocious that we simply cannot ignore.

Clemson’s “I Am Death Valley” is that something. Witness here:

Now, it looks like this video has been around for more than a year, but I just personally found out about its existence this week. Based on a little research the video has been playing before Clemson home games since 2013. Many would argue this video is a direct, stadium-as-first-person ripoff of South Carolina’s “Welcome to Williams-Brice”, which has been playing since 2011. But we really don’t care about that since we don’t particularly like either video.

Let’s start with the voiceover in “I Am Death Valley”. Having Optimus Prime or Beelzebub (I can’t tell which one, it’s not listed in the credits) agree to do the voiceover is quite a coup for the Tigers. But it is also comically distracting. It is either a guy with a deep voice being asked to do something unnatural to make it deeper, or it is computer generated. For the sake of the guy (or girl?) doing it, I hope it is the latter. Again, to sound tough or intimidating you don’t have to have some deep-voiced 60-year-old dude. To both South Carolina and Clemson – branch out with your voiceover talent, do something different.

The imagery is not terrible, although the opening sequence uses the same three under construction photos multiple times to make sync up with the music. Historical footage is always cool, and the rest is pretty standard fare.

The script is not all bad, but there are a few sections that worth noting:

I am the seats handed down from generation to generation. 

Sure buddy, until those PSL’s kick in.

The OOOOOOH of the crowd as a tackler meets his mark.

In 1:25 of creepy voiceover, the “OOOOOOH” part might be the creepiest.

The 110% commitment to be “All In”.

When are people going to learn that, by definition, it is not possible to give more than 100%. And there’s “All In”, ripped off from Auburn, still hanging around.

The paralyzing joy that originates in a California desert. 

What? Perhaps the most nonsensical line of the entire script. What is paralyzing joy? And if joy did actually paralyze you wouldn’t that scare the ever-living crap out of you and take your joy away immediately? And I know the rock came from a California desert, but why did the paralyzing joy originate there? Sounds like somebody got bit by a desert rattler and was transported to the stadium.

I’m where two Perrys, Kirkland, Dawkins, Spiller, and Nuke became immortals.

Why do you use the last names of five of your most celebrated players, and then the nickname of DeAndre Hopkins? It’s not even a cool nickname, “Nuke”. It’s kind of a silly nickname to put up alongside your “immortals”. It also cracks me up that they show Hopkins catching a TD against South Carolina, a team who he never beat. Some immortal.

I am the inevitable erosion of will. The impending doom of consequence.

Wait, did Andy Demetra write this while playing with his Transformers? That would explain a lot.

I am the heart that pumps orange blood through your veins. 

You should get that checked out immediately.

Honestly, most of the script is just typical recycled bravado you find in any hype video produced by a grad student. (Although the paralyzing joy from California thing is just bizarre.) But it’s the voiceover that pretty much turns this video into a parody of other hype videos.

If you think we’re just being haters, we probably are just a little. But you know we hate Georgia, and they put together a ridiculously good set of hype videos this year.  Granted, they’re not designed to be played before the start of every game, but I’m sure if they have one they knocked it out of the park. They use great images combined with great scripts that aren’t overloaded with cliche’. And most importantly they use normal-sounding voices to bring life to the videos. Both South Carolina and Clemson could learn something from videos like this.

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2015 Gamecock Sports Goalolutions

My kingdom for a tournament bid.

My kingdom for a tournament bid.

OK, so I started this post as 2015 Gamecock Sports Resolutions, but they started sounding a lot like goals and not really resolutions. So like any good blogger I mashed up the two words into something terrible nobody will understand. Really these are part resolution, part goal, part wishful thoughts, and part uncategorized ramblings. But all those things would make the post title way too long, so bear with me here as I present this list of things I choose to attribute to Gamecock athletics in 2015:

FOOTBALL

Win 9 regular season games. Believe me when I tell you, this will be a tall task. With the offense more than likely taking a step back next year, the defense will have to make a miracle recovery for this to happen. Looking at the schedule I’m only counting five probable wins. With road games against UGA, Mizzou, TAMU, and Tennessee, and home dates against LSU, Florida and Clemson, I’m not sure where we’ll find the other four. Win those five gimmes and go 4-3 against the rest (with a win over Clemson) and we’ve got ourselves a spectacularly successful season.

Triple the 2014 sack total. Maybe an overreach, but our total of 12 sacks in 2014 was astoundingly low. Tripling our total would still only tie us for second in sacks in the SEC this past year. Doubling our total would only give us a tie for 9th in the league, so I’m shooting for the stars while keeping my feet on the ground.

Learn how to tackle. In the game of tackle football this is an essential skill to have, so we need to develop it. We had two players in the top 30 in tackles in the SEC this year – Skai Moore at 13 and T.J. Gurley at 15. Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee each had two players in the top 10. We need Moore and the fast-rising Jonathan Walton to be tackling machines next year and both finish in the top 10.

Hold opponents to less than 25 points per game and less than 175 rush yards per game. Reasonable, achievable, and necessary. This would likely move us into the top 10 in the league in both categories.

Develop a starting QB not named Pharoh Cooper. You all know we love Pharoh Cooper, but please stop floating the idea that he might be our starting QB next year. He will be the leading returning receiver in the SEC, and we need him at that position so bad it hurts. We need him there much more than we need him to be a full-time wildcat quarterback with bad mechanics and a below average throwing arm.

Connor Mitch, we’re looking at you.

Find a complement to Cooper at WR. Nick Jones and Shaq Roland will be gone, leaving little-used K.J. Brent and Shamier Jeffery as the leading returning wide receivers next to Cooper. One of those guys needs to emerge, along with at least one of our redshirted freshmen – Shaq Davidson, Deebo Samuel or Terry Googer.

Have two backs rush for more than 750 yards. I think at least one of either Brandon Wilds or David Williams can crack the 1000-yard barrier. But with Wilds’ penchant for getting dinged up, I think we’ll see more of a two-headed monster approach in 2015. (Love Williams BTW, think he is a star in the making.)

Return a kickoff for touchdown. If Shon Carson comes back and is still our primary returner, scratch this one.

BASKETBALL

Make a postseason tournament. At the beginning of the season the NIT seemed a reasonable goal. Two missteps in Charleston made us all wonder if even that was attainable. But the proverbial light seems to have come on for this team after the destruction of two pretty decent teams in Oklahoma State and Clemson. Now maybe an NCAA tournament birth is not so far out of reach after all?

It will still be an uphill climb for Frank Martin’s bunch. If they can keep playing at the level they have been playing, and Sindarius Thornwell starts playing like we know he can, they should finish somewhere between third and fifth in the SEC. Anything below third probably makes them a bubble team. But wouldn’t it be nice to watch on selection Sunday with a chance to play in the dance?

Put a player on the All-SEC first or second team. Second team is much more likely. The leading candidate right now? I think we all know it’s Duane Notice. Who had that in the betting pool in October?

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Final Four. Dawn Staley said it, the players have bought into it, so let’s do it. I certainly think we’re one of the top four teams in the country, but it will be interesting to see how our young players hold up to the SEC grind.

BASEBALL

Super Regional. The honeymoon is over for Chad Holbrook, and it’s time for the baseball team to take a step forward instead of another step back. If there is one area of South Carolina athletics where “good enough” is not good enough, it’s baseball. Holbrook is a great guy, and by all accounts a fantastic baseball man. But the shocking Regional loss to Maryland last year at home has stuck in the craw of Gamecock fans all offseason, and another exit like that could get the natives grumbling.

The preseason rankings don’t bode well for the Gamecocks (I’ve seen 21 in one poll), but we all know rankings are garbage at this stage. The talent is there to make a run if we can stay healthy, and we need to win back some of that CWS good will before Vanderbilt takes it all.

How about you, what would you like to see in 2015?

 

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Snap Judgments – 2014 Duck Commander Independence Bowl Edition

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Trophy or death machine? (Photo credit: wltx.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-21 DCI Bowl victory over Miami:

Happy Endings. There were so many things to be disappointed about in South Carolina’s 2014 season – a humiliating opening loss on the SEC Network, a maddeningly ineffective defense, fourth quarter collapses peppered throughout, our first loss to Clemson since 2008. None of those things were wiped away by our fourth consecutive bowl win yesterday. But it sure felt nice to end the season on a high note.

Yes, it was December 27. Yes, the game was in Shreveport. Yes, there was a (much) less than full stadium there to watch it. But judging by the smiles on the faces of Steve Spurrier and our players after the game, it was as important as any game we played this season. It was important to have a lasting memory of hoisting a trophy to close out 2014. It was important to send an extraordinary group of seniors out with a win. It was important to lay that first mental building block for 2015.

As frustrated as you and I have been throughout this season, I promise you it doesn’t come close to the frustration felt by those players and coaches. I’m both happy for and proud of them for going out with a win.

Pharoh. Speaking of 2015 building blocks, look no further than Pharoh Cooper as one of the cornerstones. Cooper woke up a slumbering offense with a 78-yard touchdown catch for USC’s first score, and went on to grab nine balls for 170 yards and the Independence Bowl MVP honor. He finished the season with 1136 yards receiving and will surely be first-team all-SEC heading into next season.

Hello defense. (Nice to see you. It’s been a long time.) In the first quarter it looked as if Miami’s Duke Johnson might be on his way to a record-setting day in the DCI Bowl. But embattled defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and his defense made important stops to hold Miami to field goals early, then played just well enough in the third and fourth quarters to help secure the victory.

Skai Moore (defensive MVP) and the suddenly Urlacher-esque Jonathan Walton were outstanding at linebacker. If the help coming on the defensive line next year lives up to its billing, and some of our young DBs develop the way freshmen to sophomores should, the defense could be back to respectable (or even better!) next year.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes? To the dismay of many Gamecock fans, Steve Spurrier announced after the game that there would be no coaching staff changes until at least after signing day in February, and hinted there may be no staff changes at all.

“If something happens down the road and we can strengthen our staff somewhere, then, obviously, I have to look at that,” he said.

Team Thompson. I’ve pretty much defended Dylan Thompson in this space all season, so I guess I’ll do it one more time. Yesterday’s stat line: 22-34, 284 yards, 2 TDs passing, 1 TD rushing.

And yet, I still saw tweets complaining when Thompson threw into coverage or overthrew receivers. I made the mistake of visiting a message board last night and saw his game referred to as “garbage” and a couple of people saying they are glad he won’t be back next year.

Such is the life of a starting quarterback, I suppose. Just don’t forget Thompson set the record for most passing yards and completions in a season, and is second in TDs for a season.

I’m not advocating that Thompson is the greatest quarterback in Gamecock history by any stretch of the imagination. But he deserves a lot more respect than he’s gotten this year, both as a player and an ambassador for this program. If you don’t like the fact we went 7-6 as a TEAM, or his religious views, or his haircut, that’s fine, you are certainly entitled to your opinion.

But from a purely football standpoint, if you like USC football and you’re happy Dylan Thompson has played his last game in a Gamecock uniform, then I can only assume you are an idiot. At least from a football sense.

Snaps shut. This concludes Snap Judgments for 2014. I must admit, this has easily been the most difficult season since we started this blog in 2010. It’s easy to stay up late on Saturday or get up early before church on Sunday and write when you’re winning. It’s even fun.

When you’re losing though, and hooboy losing the way we lost some games this year, it can be pretty tough. But it can also be therapeutic, and it was many times over the course of the season. Thanks to everyone who came back week after week, it is very much appreciated.

So until next season, Go Cocks!

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TRC Unleashed Episode 74 – Serial Intro Edition

Happy Holidays Gamecock fans. Our Christmas gift to you is this podcast, because quite frankly we can’t afford something for all of you, even if we put a $10 limit on it. On this episode we discuss:

  • The Spurrier plan – retire in six days or five years?
  • We ain’t getting a new defensive coordinator.
  • Recruiting – calm down we’re fine no we’re not.
  • Shaw, Lattimore and…Chad Kelly?
  • Oran “Juice” Jones
  • Basketball!
  • Twitter questions and some Christmas trivia

For  you Serial podcast fans, hope you like the opening. Click here or click the graphic to listen, and enjoy!

TRC-Unleashed-Button

 

 

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Losing Will: Disappointment, or Disaster?

hi-res-2996210a731944828b03df3d40d6a524_crop_northLet’s get my personal feelings out there first: I’m disappointed Will Muschamp is not coming to South Carolina to be our defensive coordinator. Not two-touchdown, fourth quarter lead blowing disappointed. Not losing to Clemson disappointed. Not Chick-fil-a forgot to put my fries in the bag disappointed. But disappointed nonetheless.

South Carolina football has been a wreck in 2014. The Gamecocks were picked to win the SEC East prior to the season but finished 6-6 and is headed to dreaded Shreveport for one final exercise in futility. Our defense is ranked near the bottom nationally and is the worst we’ve seen in Columbia since the 90s. Recruits have flipped, with threats of more flipping to come. Steve Spurrier seems disengaged, distant, lost. Things feel very, very bad for the program at the moment.

Change is needed, no doubt. And I think any amount of change from Spurrier stepping down to some minor staff adjustments is still on the table. I’m personally hoping for something somewhere in the middle. We need a new person running the defense at minimum.

But in reality I have no idea what is going to happen. And unless you are Steve Spurrier or Ray Tanner neither do you. We are mostly at the mercy of sites like The Big Spur or Gamecock Central, where we pay $9.95 a month to have them tell us everything and nothing all at the same time. They do a good job at both places, with good people working their asses off to get scoop to us that nobody else can. But at the end of the day they’re mostly subject to second hand information, and have to try to read between the lines to figure out what’s really going on and pass along that information to us with disclaimers peppered throughout. (Then there’s the Scout site who, damn the torpedoes, ran with one unreliable source and goodbye business plan.)

And message boards, hoo boy the message boards. The guy who knows the guy who is a realtor who knows another realtor who was helping Muschamp close on his new Columbia house. The words “done deal” associated with Muschamp over and over by people with anonymous screen names. Message boards are never more toxic than times like this.

But let’s step back and try to understand what has gone on since the end of November in regards to Muschamp.

  • After Clemson the HBC told us that everyone on his staff was safe. He did not say there wouldn’t be changes, he just said he wouldn’t be firing anyone.
  • I think we can safely say Will Muschamp was pursued by USC. How hard – how much money he was offered, what title he would’ve been given – is very much up for debate.
  • There were reports early that he would be offered a head-coach-in-waiting title. This was eventually de-bunked, I think, by Ray Tanner himself.
  • Spurrier said more than once that he hadn’t talked to Muschamp, and no offer had been made to Muschamp.
  • Muschamp was linked to us, Auburn, Texas A&M, Houston, and the NFL before ultimately choosing Auburn.

Do we really know much more than this? Yet people are screaming that Tanner and Spurrier botched this, that they didn’t work hard enough, are blind to our problems or aren’t committed to fixing them, etc.

Hogwash.

If it required a head-coach-in-waiting title to get Will Muschamp to USC, then I’m perfectly fine that we didn’t get him. I personally am not so desperate for something to happen that I’m willing to put a band-aid on a gaping wound.

Muschamp is a fine defensive mind by all accounts, one of the best in the college game. He wouldn’t have gotten the Florida job if he wasn’t. But need I remind you what happened to him at Florida, a failed tenure that ended just two weeks ago? Florida fans were begging for him to be fired. According to them he was a bumbling, meme-inspiring doofus that didn’t deserve to be on the sidelines at The Swamp. Would it really make you feel comfortable to have that guy in line as your next head coach?

Now people are acting like our football Jesus has forsaken us because our administration is either too stupid or doesn’t care enough. I’m not buying it.

If we made an offer to Muschamp, it was to to become our defensive coordinator/assistant head coach probably in the neighborhood of $1.2 to $1.6 million per year if I had to guess. Auburn offered roughly the same thing, and there was no chance in hell he was going to choose us over Auburn for a defensive coordinator position, for a variety of reasons.

I’m hoping beyond hope there’s a plan B in the works, and I’m confident there is. It won’t be as sexy as hiring Muschamp, but pretty much anything is a step in the right direction. Being patient is not easy, but I don’t really have a choice, do I?

Since the majority of you reading this are capable adults I’m in no position to tell you how you should react to this situation. Be disappointed, be devastated, it’s your call.

I’m gonna go have a cup of coffee and watch some cartoons. Maybe later I’ll check a couple of message boards.

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Foto Friday: Things Dabo Cares About More Than Deshaun Watson’s Knees Edition

A list of twenty four things Dabo Swinney apparently cares about more than the long term health of his star football player, Deshaun Watson.

1. Primal Scream Therapy

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2.  Pleated Front No Iron Cotton Dockers (TM):

Dabo Swinney

3.  Pointing at things:

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4.  Funny hats:

Dabo+Swinney+Auburn+v+Clemson+SHrHFNQTWl8l

5.  The start of fall practice:

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6. Eavesdropping on other guys coaching football:

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7. Simultaneously drinking a Coke Zero and holding a helmet while getting a belly rub:

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8. The Front Piggyback:

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9.  That girl named Vicki in 10th grade science class.  She was really cool.  I think she moved or something:

DaboSwinney

10.  The Bros always being there for you:

dabo-swinney-ncaa-football-clemson-georgia-850x560

11.  The Double Fist Pump:

hi-res-182221188-dabo-swinney-head-coach-of-the-clemson-tigers-reacts_crop_exact

swinney

12.  Reminiscing about college days during a sleepover at Mom’s:

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13. Speed limit immunity:

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14. Golden showers:

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14.  Fruit:

dabo-swinney-orange-bowl

15.  The little front pocket you can improvise right behind your belt and above your junk:

Dabo+Swinney+Clemson+v+Auburn+ImZfqIJlI0Rl

16.  Close talking:

Paul+Johnson+Dabo+Swinney+Clemson+v+Georgia+mGzoZ1PA4cAl

17.  The Big Three:  Gum, Whistle, and Important-looking-card-that-is-actually-a-grocery-list:

dabo-swinney

18.  Stuffed animals:

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19.  The Original Fatz Triple Threat Sampler Platter (TM):

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22.  Carefully choreographed vignettes that suggest a faithful loyalty that gullible fans will fervently believe:

 

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21.  What this guy thinks about the job you are doing:

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22.  Finally getting a win against South Carolina:

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23. Job Security:

suit

24.  William Christopher Swinney:

Dabo Swinney

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The Gamecock Defense – A Reality Check

Photo: gogamecocks.com

Photo: gogamecocks.com

South Carolina was bad on defense this year.

Check that, South Carolina was very bad on defense this year.

It’s pretty clear to the entire fan base that a bad defense caused this team to finish 6-6 rather than 9-3 or 10-2.  While these are pretty obvious statements, the explanation as to why is not as simple as some folks are making it out to be.  Yes, coaching is likely a part of it. But this issue deserves a deeper look.

During the regular season and after it mercifully came to an end, the majority of the fan base zeroed in and pinned the defensive debacle on one man:  Lorenzo “Whammy” Ward.  And why not?  Isn’t he the coordinator of this bunch of guys who seemed to always be out of position and who bounced off ball carriers at an alarmingly high rate?  Shouldn’t the coordinator of a defense coming off back to back to back 11-2 seasons be better than that?  Well, yes and no.

As fans (and bloggers) we get the luxury of sitting back and playing Monday morning quarterback after every game and season. It’s pretty easy to say we should have blitzed more or played man to man instead of zone after watching the games. But what do we really know about this stuff? I’ve been an avid college football fan my entire life (to give you a clue, I was a Freshman during the “Rodney” game) and think that I know more about the sport than the majority of the folks who have never played or coached the game (of which I am one).

I know they can run a  base 5-2 (in the old days), a 3-4 or a 4-3. I know they can play man or zone. I know they can blitz or not. I know what a stunt is. I know what the Mike is and what the Will is. I know what a Dime package and a Nickel a package look like. I know what a prevent defense looks like (and boy do I hate prevent defense). I know who the boundary corner is and who the field corner is. In short, I know a lot of stuff about defense.

Even with all of my armchair knowledge, however, I’ll admit that I pretty much have no clue how to coach a college defense. So everyone pontificating about how crappy a job Coach Ward did coaching our defense this year needs to slow down a little bit. The guy coached us when we were good on D and has now coached us when we were bad on D (Note: the previous guy who coached us when we were good on D just got fired, again).  Did he make some bad coaching moves? Probably, but I’m not going to write that I know what those moves were. Why not? Because despite all of my observational knowledge of college football, I’m not qualified to do so.

Folks are going to say that Ward obviously sucks because the results are bad and this is a results business. I get that. There’s no trophy for 2nd place. But despite my feeling that we could use a little shake up on D, I’m not going to join in the mob who want to tar and feather Coach Ward. Like with most positions of high scrutiny, the defensive coordinator gets far too much individual credit when the D does well and far too much criticism when the D stinks.

So if it’s not all coaching, what else is it?

If you listened to our last TRC podcast, you heard Tbone and me having a healthy debate on this subject. While I’ve been following college football for a long time, I’ve also followed that other sport that goes hand in hand with it: recruiting. As most knowledgeable fans realize, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. Without good players your team is going to struggle-it’s as simple as that.

Without reading ahead (no cheating), tell me what three things the following Gamecocks have in common: Jadaveon Clowney, Kelsey Quarles, Cliff Mathews, Johnathan Joseph, Victor Hampton, DeVonte Holloman, DJ Swearinger, Jimmy Legree, Stephon Gilmore, and Devin Taylor?

One: They all play Defense.

Two: They all hail from the State of South Carolina.

Three: They are all former Gamecocks.

I almost had a fourth thing to add:  The NFL. With the exception of Hampton and Legree, I believe that all of them have played meaningful snaps in an NFL game.

Have we had other defensive stalwarts who were not from South Carolina? Sure – a few actually (Antonio Allen, Melvin Ingram, Darien Stewart and Travian Robertson come to mind). This is also a nice list, but you’ll notice that it’s a much shorter than the other one.

So what, you might be asking? What does this have to do with anything?  Well, the “so what” is recruiting top-tier talent to complete with the likes of UGA, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Texas A&M and the other schools in our league is extremely difficult. The top players from the states near South Carolina (our recruiting territory) tend to stay in state to play football (or if they don’t stay in state, they go to a “superpower” or “brand” like Alabama or Auburn-and make no mistake, we are nowhere near superpower status despite our recent success). If we get a good player from another state it’s usually a guy who was undersized or under the radar (Allen or Eric Norwood come to mind, and no, UGA did not offer Norwood).  And we’ve benefitted greatly from a down cycle in the state of North Carolina (all schools) and at Tennessee, and therefore have been able to snag guys out of NC who might have stayed in state or called Rocky Top home (Ingram, Robertson, and Chris Culliver come to mind). Our state has a population base much smaller than Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina and produces far fewer D1 football prospects than those states. This is a simple fact. Steve Spurrier and company have done an outstanding job of corralling the home-grown talent  these past few years. One result of those efforts was a better defense. The South Carolina natives I listed above were stars at the college level. Some of these guys are starring in the NFL.

So what happened? A talent drop, that’s what. The talent level in state is down and has been down for the last few years. If you follow recruiting, this is pretty obvious. There simply haven’t been as many elite level players being produced in the state for us to keep home and man our D (or our O for that matter: see Lattimore and Jeffery).

We had three guys from South Carolina play significant snaps on defense this year. Philip Dukes and two guys named Gerald Dixon. These three guys are decent players but nobody is mistaking them for Jadeveon Clowney or Devin Taylor. Here are the home states of some of our other contributors on D:

  • Georgia – Sharrod Golightly, TJ Gurley, Brison Williams, Rico McWilliams, TJ Holloman, Chris Moody, Marcquis Roberts, Bryson Allen-Williams, Chaz Elder, David Johnson, Darius English
  • North Carolina – JT Surratt (probably our best player on D this year with apologies to Brison Williams and Skai Moore), Abu Lamin
  • Alabama – Jonathan Walton, Taylor Stallworth
  • Florida – Skai Moore, Jordan Diggs, Al Harris, Chris Lammons
  • New Jersey – Kaiwan Lewis

Why have we gone out-of-state to recruit these guys? Because the guys in the state of South Carolina were not as good as them, that’s why. And when you go out-of-state you sometimes have to take chances on guys that are undersized, or on guys that are good enough but in danger of not making it academically. Some of these guys pan out, and some of them don’t. We’ve had a bad run of guys not panning out. We’ve had a bad run of missing on guys who had academic issues and couldn’t get in here but got in elsewhere (like Lorenzo Mauldin at Louisville, a probable 1st or 2nd round pick in the upcoming NFL draft).

The point I am making is that it is very difficult to pull elite level players out of other states when you are a school like South Carolina. You can get good players, but elite players from out-of-state almost always go elsewhere (one recent exception: Bryson Allen-Williams, a Ward recruit out of Atlanta, had offers from everyone but came here-this was a rare recruiting victory of its kind). Without elite talent, it’s tough to be consistently successful against the teams we play, no matter how good you are at scheming from the sideline.

So why did the talent in the state of South Carolina drop? There are no solid answers, you just have to chalk it up to a bad cycle. We have to hope that the in talent level gets better and that we are able to keep the guys home. Plus, we absolutely have to keep our current recruiting class in the fold. This class, composed largely of players who saw us go 33-6 during their high schools careers, are mostly from out-of-state (again, there’s very little elite talent in state this year). The only reason we got in the door with some of them is because we went 33-6, which looks “elite”. A 6-6 season put a big damper on the perception of our program. And know that the schools around us are seeking to take advantage.  This is one reason why Ward and the other coaches, the coaches who have the relationships with these recruits, are still on staff. Until we have something that they perceive as better to show them, this is absolutely the right move. You might ask how a school like Auburn can afford to fire its D-coordinator right after the season?  Because Auburn is a brand.

You might also be asking how a team like Missouri, who we out-recruit every year, is better on D than us. I’m not saying that coaching has nothing to do with it. I think Missouri has performed well on defense the last couple of years without guys who would be considered elite recruits. Coaching is a part of it and I think they have done a  great job with what they have. We certainly need some of that.

Lastly, it ain’t so easy to play defense these days with the new-fangled offenses and such. For you veteran fans like me, an Iron Bowl with a 55-44 final score is absolute blasphemy.  Bear Bryant probably turned over in his grave last week. Oh, and that was our former DC, Ellis Johnson, who gave up, or was blamed for giving up, the 55.

All this being said, do I want Will Muschamp on the sidelines running the D next year?  Damn straight I do. I hope he can coach up our guys and get us better on D.  With the guys we have returning and the talent coming in (if we keep it), the potential is there. Plus, the perception of long-term stability with Muschamp as the possible next head coach at USC can do nothing but help.

But Coach Boom knows the above described recruiting landscape a lot better than I do.  So color me skeptical until we see him announced in Columbia.

If he doesn’t come, don’t be too surprised if Coach Ward is running the D again next year.

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