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Snap Judgments – 2014 USC @ Vanderbilt Edition

Pharoh saves the day. (Jeffrey Davis - thebigspur.com)

Pharoh saves the day. (Jeffrey Davis – thebigspur.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 48-34 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday:

Stock down. Normally I’d take a game like this for what it is, file it in the win column and simply appreciate a road victory in the SEC. But if we play like this against anyone left on our schedule besides Furman, we will lose. And lose big.

We had some ugly wins last year, including one over this very same Vanderbilt team at home, so this is not new territory for USC. But last year’s struggles usually involved lapses in concentration that lasted 1-2 quarters (Vandy, Kentucky) or simply being stymied by a good football team before imposing our will (UCF, Missouri). We at least played well for part of the game.

Last night was a full 60 minutes of frustration for coaches, players and fans alike. As I tweeted after the game, it was the most torturous 14-point win I can remember. I still don’t know what this team is – blown out by Texas A&M, a semi-convincing win over a very good East Carolina team, a seemingly season-defining win over Georgia, and then the almost disaster that was last night. We have a young team and I guess performances like this should be expected at times. But you would think at this point our program would be able to manhandle a program like Vanderbilt, which has been downright awful through the first three weeks of the season under first-year coach Derek Mason.

I hate taking road wins in the SEC for granted, but this one was painful, and does not give me high hopes for the rest of the season.

You’re so very special. Our special teams struggles have been well documented, and the season had gotten off to an average to above average start overall for the kicking units, which is a marked improvement. We’d blocked a kick, Elliott Fry had been excellent, Tyler Hull hadn’t kicked a ball backwards yet, and the return games hadn’t cost us any points by giving up a return or fumbling away our own return.

All that changed with the opening kickoff last night, when Vanderbilt returner Darrius Sims took it 91 yards to the house for a huge confidence boost to the struggling Commodores. The Gamecocks scratched and clawed throughout the next 2 1/2 quarters to finally seize a two-score lead, only to open the door for Vanderbilt to stay in the game by allowing a 100-yard return by Sims to cut the lead to 24-21. He appears to be quite literally untouched on both returns.

If you watch much football, you know that special teams’ scores are backbreaking for the team that gives them up. Giving up two special teams’ scores in one game to a team that matches up evenly with you means almost certain defeat. Fortunately we were playing Vanderbilt.

The rest of our special teams was fine last night, with Fry making all his field goal attempts and JT Surratt blocking another field goal. But if you’re a coach, having your name mentioned in a post-game presser in a negative context by Steve Spurrier is not a good thing. I hope “Joe Rob” figures things out, because if not he’ll be looking for employment come January, if not sooner.

Fumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’. The Gamecocks’ first series of the second half was indicative of the way the night went. After moving into Vanderbilt territory, a sequence of plays went like this:

  • Catch and fumble by Nick Jones. Surrounded by Vandy defenders, somehow Jerell Adams with a combination of hustle and desire reached in the pile and pulled the ball out.
  • Swing pass dropped by Mike Davis. The normally sure-handed Davis appeared to have at least first down yardage in front of him, if not more.
  • False start penalty.
  • Catch and fumble by Pharoh Cooper. After getting a first down, Cooper is stripped and the ball stays barely in the field of play. Lying out of bounds, Cooper reaches and barely touches the ball before a Vandy defender touches it, meaning the Gamecocks retain possession.
  • Touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson to Shaq Roland.

On the night we also had fumbles by Dameire Byrd, which he punched out of bounds, and Davis, which gave the Commodores the ball back right after we blocked their field goal attempt.

King Tuttchdown. Pharoh Cooper was the player of the game last night, with 114 yards receiving and 74 yards rushing, including a 70-yard jaunt that for all intents and purposes put the game away. I’ve seen a few folks compare Cooper to Bruce Ellington, but as I’ve said many times, I think Cooper’s skill set compares more favorably to former Kentucky star Randall Cobb. While he doesn’t have as much speed as Ellington, so far Cooper has proven to be a much tougher and more effective runner out of the Wildcat formation, and also has solid route-running skills and dependable hands. King Tuttchdown is going to be a major part of the offensive game plan for a long time to come.

Bombs away. There were a lot of complaints when South Carolina opened the game with eight straight pass plays, and threw deep on at least three occasions in the first quarter. Two of those deep balls were overthrown by Thompson, and one was dropped by Shaq Roland. All three were open.

Even though we have Mike Davis in the backfield, I have no problem with the bombs away approach to start the game. This coaching staff sits in a room watching film all week, and obviously they saw something in the Vanderbilt secondary they felt they could exploit. The problem was not the play calling, it was the execution.

Team Thompson. Once again, Dylan Thompson had a solid night under center (or, from the shotgun if you will), going 22-37 for 237 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions. He seemed to be more willing to go to his check downs last night, and he put the ball in danger less than he had in the first three games. Thompson is on pace to become only the third Gamecock quarterback to pass for more than 3000 yards in a season, and has a legitimate shot at surpassing Todd Ellis’ 3206 yards passing in 1988. I’m not sure where this team would be without 17 this season. He’s easily the offensive MVP through the first quarter of the season.

Quiet. Where is the explosive Mike Davis from last year? He seems so close to breaking a long one, but hasn’t been able to get free in the secondary save his long touchdown run against ECU. He is currently 11th in the SEC in rushing.

Offensive. And by offensive, I mean the defense, which gave up 379 yards to a putrid Vanderbilt offense that didn’t score a touchdown until the second quarter of its third game. We have no pass rush, inconsistent linebacker play, and an inexperienced defensive backfield that doesn’t know how to turn and look for the ball. As Steve Spurrier mentioned last night, these guys are who we have, and we just have to figure out a way to coach and play better. Otherwise we’re going to have to score on just about every possession.

SEC Least. A lot of you won’t like this, but here goes: Georgia is going to win the East. Even though we beat them, they are still the best team in our division. We simply have too many issues to overcome to win as many games as we’ll need to. Missouri and Florida proved they are a pretenders yesterday with embarrassing losses to terrible (Indiana) and excellent (Alabama) teams, respectively. Kentucky and Tennessee surely aren’t ready to contend, and Vandy is Vandy. That leaves USC and Georgia, and with the Bulldogs remaining schedule, it’s hard not to put money on them. Either way, I feel sorry for whoever has to play the West champion. That side has the best collection of teams in any college football division EVER.

The HBC. If you think I’m being harsh on our boys and you haven’t watched Steve Spurrier’s post game presser from yesterday, give it a go. He is not a happy man. When the HBC ain’t happy, Buck ain’t happy.

Clemsoning. Please stop debating what the definition of “Clemsoning” is and just enjoy what happened in Tallahassee last night. (If you are a South Carolina fan who was pulling for Clemson for any reason please leave now while I try to find it in my heart to someday forgive you.) The fact that the phrase “Clemsoning” exists makes me happy, and I find it hard to believe any definition doesn’t fit what happened against Florida State, whether they were favored to win or not. Let’s look at the facts:

  • Clemson had four trips in the red zone with zero points.
  • Clemson had a first and goal inside the one yard line, didn’t get in running the ball, then had a snap sail over the head of the quarterback for a huge loss. The possession resulted in a missed field goal.
  • After taking the lead and shutting down FSU for most of the night, a Clemson defensive back falls down on a 2nd and 24 play with six minutes left. The Seminoles connect on a 74 yard touchdown.
  • Still, FSU hands the game to Clemson by throwing an interception with a minute and a half to go. With the ball in field goal range, Clemson fumbles on second down giving the ball back to the Seminoles.
  • In overtime, facing a fourth and short, and not trusting their kicker, the Tigers go for it. They do not get it. FSU scores a touchdown on their possession to end it.

Clemsoning, not Clemsoning, who cares. By any other name that rose smells just as sweet.

Go Cocks.

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TRC Unleashed Episode 70 – The Georgia Review

Hey, it’s a victory over Georgia podcast! These podcasts are only eclipsed by victory over Clemson podcasts in terms of fun, so you’re in luck. Tune in and hear the TRC gang discuss:

  • How, strangely, ECU helped set the mood for the day with their win over Virginia Tech
  • The atmosphere before, during and after the game, including South Carolina’s great tradition of “Cocky in a Box”
  • A Dylan Thompson we told ya so
  • Other offensive and defensive observations (and when we say offensive, we mean offensive, not offensive)
  • Those dang officials that screwed Georgia!
  • We’ve won 9 of 10 against our two biggest rivals we don’t think you understand how amazing that is
  • The Blitz Gameday Jewelry Rubber Chicken Awards
  • Twitter questions, including “cookies or donuts?”

All these things and so much more on episode 70 of TRC Unleashed.

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

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Snap Judgments – 2014 Georgia @ South Carolina Edition

gogamecocks.com

(Photo: gogamecocks.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s thrilling 38-35 victory over Georgia:

180. As in degrees. As in how much the perception of this Gamecock squad changed over sixty minutes against the Bulldogs.

You remember August 28, right? Texas A&M passed over, through and around us in the most unexpected and embarrassing loss of the Spurrier era at South Carolina. A modest home win over East Carolina in week two didn’t help much. There were so many questions about this team and where it was headed after having such lofty preseason expectations. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of questions, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But the trajectory of this season has changed. We are back in control of our own destiny in the SEC East, and a team left for dead two weeks ago has new life and new purpose and a freshly dusted off set of goals to attain.

Team Thompson. Any further questions about who the leader of the USC offense is? Thompson’s 21-30, 270 yard, 3 TD performance may have been the best of his career. He was in complete control, looking confident and throwing that way for most of the night. He recognized defenses, checked in and out of plays, and threw to the right receiver on all but one notable play. On his lone interception he admitted he thought he had lost the game. But his teammates picked him up on defense, and the football gods intervened on a chip shot field goal.

It’s time to stop comparing Dylan Thompson to Connor Shaw, and it never was time to call for Thompson to be benched. He is carving his own niche as the quarterback at USC. If he and his teammates keep playing like they did last night, that niche might include a trip back to Atlanta in December.

We run this that state. To borrow a phrase from UGA’s rivalry with Georgia Tech, we ran that state last night. After the first series of the second half, and as the rains began to fall more steadily, Steve Spurrier relied on his veteran offensive line to lean on the Bulldogs for the rest of the game. The result was an impressive rushing performance led by Brandon Wilds that chewed up clock and eventually put the game away. We have long dreamed of having that big, veteran offensive line that wears teams down and moves the ball on the ground even when our opponent knows it’s coming. The last two weeks the group of Robinson, Cann, Knott, Waldrop and Shell have been those guys. And it is glorious.

Running Wilds. Mea culpa on my part – I said on last week’s podcast that Brandon Wilds was no more than a good, average back-up SEC running back, and we needed Mike Davis to stay healthy if we were going to have a successful run game. Wilds proved me wrong last night. When we needed him most he ran his best, racking up 93 yards on 14 carries, including an impressive 24-yard touchdown run that gave us our final points, and the winning margin. I still very much want Mike Davis to stay healthy, but I feel great about our back-up situation if he does not.

Mea Culpa Part II. I try not to criticize players much, but I’ve been on Shon Carson’s case a lot because of his failures as a kick returner. While I still think we have better options we could put back there, his 42-yard return after UGA cut the lead to 31-28 in the fourth quarter was a huge momentum changer in the ball game. It was good to see that kind of contribution out of him, and I hope he can build on it.

Bend, occasionally break. OK, so the defense still gave up 408 yards of offense last night and the periodic backbreaking third-down conversion, but overall I’m impressed by how much we’ve improved since week one. Keep in mind we’ve faced three very high-powered offenses in the first three weeks of the season, so there was never any real chance we’d have a highly ranked defense at this point. But what I liked seeing last night was the return of some attitude on that side of the ball. I’m not a huge fan of barking (pardon the pun) at the other team, especially at guy like Todd Gurley who can make you pay for it on any given play. But the Gamecock defenders showed they were not intimidated and were not going to back down from the Heisman candidate. Also, the young guys are playing with a lot more confidence and are moving around like they actually know what they’re doing. That bodes well for the rest of the season.

More Skai. Skai Moore was all over the field last night, and showed why he is an All-SEC candidate.

Que Surratt Surratt. You folks who were at the game probably didn’t get a chance to see it, but after Georgia’s initial two play touchdown drive, JT Surratt went off on the sidelines. He went to each defensive player and got in their faces to voice his displeasure with what happened. The CBS crew said he even had to be restrained and calmed down. I love, love, love that from the senior. Methinks he is our emotional leader on defense.

The HBC. Spurrier called a fantastic game last night. He seems to save his best for Georgia and Clemson, and that’s fine by me. That’s now 4 out of 5 against UGA, and evened his record at USC against the Bulldogs to 5-5. Many also noted we are now 9-1 in our last ten against UGA and Clemson. Not bad coach, not bad at all.

The Zebras. The SEC officiating crew had a less than stellar night. Some examples:

  • The personal foul penalty on Jordan Diggs that extended a UGA drive that resulted in three points. It seemed obvious that Todd Gurley deserved at least an offsetting personal foul penalty with his headbutt and shove of our player(s).
  • The “cut blocks” late in the game. First, Busta Anderson was flagged for a cut block that looked perfectly legal according to everyone who saw it. Does anyone know what was wrong with that play? Next, on the Thompson interception, Shaq Roland was flagged for a cut block during the return. First, how can a defender (which Roland became once the ball was intercepted) be penalized for an illegal block? Second, the replay showed Roland simply slipped under a Georgia player trying to make the tackle.
  • The spot. It all worked out in the end, but I thought Thompson got a terrible spot on the final QB sneak. Georgia fans, and oddly, Clemson fans, feel like they have a gripe about the measurement, but truth is it never should’ve been that close.

On the flip side, the holding call on the Gurley touchdown run was a little questionable. We’ll just call it even and keep the victory, ok?

That’s it folks, enjoy your day and another great win over Georgia! Go Cocks!

 

TRC Unleashed Episode 69 – The ECU Review

TRC Unleashed is back this week with a verbal review of the East Carolina game, as well as a sort of preview of the Georgia game. Among other things, you’ll hear:

  • Tbone and Gman struggle with a 1989 pop culture reference
  • How the defense rebounded from that game we’ve forgotten about who did we play again?
  • How the return of the real Mike Davis sparked the Gamecocks
  • Other offensive stars, including our starting quarterback
  • Rubber Chicken Awards
  • Todd Gurley gets compared to Darren McFadden oh God why did we bring that up

All this and SO MUCH more!

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

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Dylan Thompson vs. ECU – All 38 Throws

(Stephen B. Morton, AP)

(Stephen B. Morton, AP)

As stated in my Snap Judgments for the week, I’ve been somewhat surprised by how critical Gamecock fans have been of Dylan Thompson the first two weeks of the season. I only watched the Texas A&M game once (live, and that was more than enough), so I decided to take a look at the ECU game and Thompson’s performance a little more closely to see what I might be missing.

I went through all 38 passing plays, and looked at Thompson’s accuracy and, as best as I could tell with limited video, his decision-making. I also looked at the performance of his receivers and some of their route running and where there were egregious drops. I have no formula to determine how he graded out, but will allow you, the reader, to determine if you feel better or worse about his performance on Saturday.

First Possession

No pass attempts

Second Possession

1st and 10 at SC 22 – Dylan Thompson pass incomplete to Nick Jones over the middle

Watching the game live, the first thought is “bad throw”. However, if you slow it down you’ll see that while the pass is definitely a little high, it is a very catchable ball. I think if you ask Little Nicky Jones, he would tell you he should’ve caught it. I think Steve Spurrier would say the same.

2nd and 10 at SC 22 – Thompson pass intended for Shaq Roland, tipped by Roland and intercepted by ECU

Roland runs a standard hitch route, and settles in his spot but the throw sails to his right. Probably a bad throw all the way, although only Thompson and Roland know if Shaq hit his spot. We have to at least consider the possibility the ball was where it was supposed to be and Roland was not exactly where he was supposed to be. But, we’ll put the blame on Thompson for this one.

Third Possession

1st and 10 at SC 30 – Thompson pass incomplete to Damiere Byrd

Byrd runs a deep post, a play he has been successful on a few times in his career, and Thompson simply overshoots him. Byrd has a corner running with him all the way, so it’s not a huge miss. Sometimes you take a shot deep, and occasionally it works. This time it didn’t.

2nd and 10 at SC 30 – Thompson pass complete to Pharoh Cooper for 5 yds

Shallow crossing route by Cooper, Thompson throws slightly high, but a linebacker is draped all over Pharoh and drops him right after the catch.

2nd and 10 at SC 43 – Thompson pass complete to Roland for 13 yds

Another hitch route by Roland, this time to the other side. Thompson drops three steps out of the shotgun and fires a strike. Good technique, good throw.

1st and 10 at ECU 44 – Thompson pass complete to Jones for 6 yds

Here we go – the first WR screen of the night. Critics will note that a high percentage of Thompson’s completions came on “easy” wide receiver screens. I’ll give you that it’s one of the easier throws he has to make in this offense. The good news is he was perfect on every one Saturday night, and we’ve seen some imperfect wide receiver screens in our not so distant past. (cough…Garcia…cough)

Fourth Possession

1st and 10 at 50 – Thompson pass incomplete to Byrd

Another deep throw, this time down the left sideline. Thompson’s throw is perfect, but Byrd’s right arm is held by the ECU cornerback so he can’t extend for the catch. ECU was the beneficiary of a similar play earlier in the game where pass interference was called. Here it was not.

2nd and 10 at 50 – Thompson pass complete to Cooper for 19 yds

Cooper runs a deep out route, and Thompson shows his arm strength with a long throw across the field. Good route, very good throw for a nice pickup.

1st and 10 at ECU 31 – Thompson pass incomplete to Busta Anderson

Interesting play here as Anderson runs a shallow cross, pauses briefly and then starts to move again. Thompson throws to the spot where Anderson slows down, and the pass is behind him. I truly don’t believe this is a bad throw by Thompson. I think it’s either a miscommunication between 17 and 81, or Anderson just ran a bad route. Color analyst Kelly Stouffer initially says it’s an errant throw, but then on replay says the route could’ve been run better.

2nd and 10 at ECU 31 – Thompson pass complete to K.J. Brent for 10 yds

Very good route by Brent here, I believe it’s a hitch similar to what Roland had run earlier but a little shorter. Brent settles into the crease between defenders and Thompson threads the needle. Nice looking play for a first down.

1st and 10 at ECU 21 – Thompson pass incomplete to Brent

There are a small number of what I would consider bad throws by Thompson on the night, and this might be the worst. Brent runs a skinny post and is blanketed all the way. Thompson trusts the route and throws to the spot where he thinks Brent will come open, but he throws behind and is lucky to not be intercepted.

3rd and 10 at ECU 21 – Thompson pass incomplete to Anderson

Thompson is flushed out of the pocket and throws against his body to Anderson about 12 yards away. It hits Anderson in the numbers and he drops it. Don’t know if he would’ve picked up the first down, but he had room to run.

Fifth Possession

2nd and 5 at SC 29 – Thompson pass complete to Jones for 4 yds

Screen, nothing to write home about.

1st and 10 at SC 38 – Thompson pass complete to Cooper for 7 yds

Similar route to Brent on the previous series. Not a perfect throw, but not one that Cooper would complain about either.

2nd and 3 at SC 45 – Thompson pass complete to Roland for 31 yds

Screen. Roland does all the work here. He’s slick in the open field.

2nd and 8 at ECU 22 – Thompson pass complete to Mike Davis for 19 yds

Wheel route to Davis, and the prettiest throw of the night down the left sideline. Thompson hits him in stride, and with a little field awareness 28 would’ve had a touchdown.

Sixth Possession

2nd and 6 at ECU 42 – Thompson pass complete to Roland for 18 yds

Screen, another nice run by Roland.

1st and 10 at ECU 24 – Thompson pass incomplete to Jerell Adams

Here’s the play that interests me the most. Stouffer on the broadcast got all over Thompson for making a bad decision here. I don’t agree. Dylan had two choices – take a shot near the goal line with Adams, or hit the check down to the RB and get a few yards. There are definitely times to go to the check down, but I don’t blame 17 for taking a shot here. Adams is bracketed by a corner in front and a safety behind. Thompson throws a laser into the smallest of windows, just out of reach of the corner. Yes, the ball is high because it has to be for Adams to have any chance to catch it. Adams leaps and the ball hits him in the hands, but the safety comes in from the back and lays a lick on him and the ball falls to the turf. Again, watch the throw, it is perfect. When Steve Spurrier said the receivers are going to have to start coming up with some tough catches, I guarantee you he had this one in mind.

2nd and 10 at ECU 24 – Thompson pass incomplete to Jones

If first down was the good, then second down was the bad. Thompson goes for the touchdown in the corner to Jones. The problem is ECU is playing deep safeties across the field and the play never has a chance. Another one we’re lucky wasn’t intercepted. Just a bad play call, and/or bad decision.

3rd and 10 at ECU 24 – Thompson pass incomplete to Roland

And third down was the ugly. Roland is open over the middle and Thompson throws high. I initially thought this was another one of those tough catches that has to be made, but even with Shaq’s leaping ability he barely got fingertips on it.

For the Thompson detractors, if you want a series to complain about, this is probably your best bet.

Seventh Possession

2nd and 3 at SC 38 – Thompson pass complete to Cooper for 5 yds

Screen.

1st and 10 at SC 43 – Thompson pass complete to Jones for 11 yds

Another screen.

1st and 10 at ECU 46 – Thompson pass complete to Cooper for 9 yds

Say it with me – screen.

2nd and 1 at ECU 37 – Thompson pass complete to Davis for 4 yds

This time receivers run downfield routes. Thompson goes through his progressions and decides to dump it off to Davis. Smart move.

1st and 10 at ECU 33 – Thompson pass complete to Roland for 12 yds

Nice play here by Thompson and Roland. Both recognize the corner blitz at the snap. Roland breaks off his route, and Thompson fires a strike to not only avoid a sack, but pick up another first down.

2nd and 14 at ECU 25 – Thompson pass complete to Brandon Wilds for 9 yds

Nice middle screen, Thompson doesn’t have to do much here.

3rd and 5 at ECU 16 – Thompson pass complete to Brent for 16 yds for a TD

Easy throw here for Thompson to Brent as the Gamecocks go trips left and ECU has a breakdown in their secondary. Their missed assignment gives us an easy six.

Eighth Possession

2nd and 6 at SC 49 – Thompson pass complete to Jones for 13 yds

Crossing route behind the linebackers and in front of the DBs. Thompson finds a window and makes a nice throw.

2nd and 6 at ECU 34 – Thompson pass complete to Jones for 10 yds (offensive holding penalty on Cooper)

Screen.

2nd and 4 at ECU 34 – Thompson pass complete to Roland for 7 yds

Yawn, screen.

1st and 10 at ECU 27 – Thompson pass incomplete to Roland

Screen DROPPED. Guess even we were getting bored with the screens.

2nd and 10 at ECU 27 – Thompson pass complete to David Williams for 6 yds

First catch of the redshirt freshman’s career on the check down.

3rd and 4 at ECU 9 – Thompson pass incomplete to Rory Anderson

Maybe the most frustrating throw of the night from Thompson. He does a nifty job of eluding defenders, then overshoots Anderson in the back of the end zone. I’m not going to say it was an easy throw given the duress he was under, but it wasn’t that difficult either.

Ninth Possession

1st and 10 at SC 12 – Thompson pass complete to Roland for 6 yds

Rollout by Thompson, low throw, Roland slips down.

2nd and 4 at SC 18 – Thompson pass incomplete to Roland

Dangerous throw into double coverage here. Fortunately both defenders were behind Roland.

3rd and 4 at SC 18 – Thompson pass complete to Davis for 5 yds

Check down to Davis here for a critical first down. At least it looked like a check down. As fast as he got rid of it he may have known that was his best option to get the first.

1st and 10 at SC 23 – Thompson pass complete to Shaq Roland for 7 yds

Hey look, a screen.

2nd and 8 at ECU 25 – Thompson pass complete to Adams for 14 yds

Final throw of the night, a beauty on a play action to Adams. Once again Dylan shows nice touch.

I’m not sure what all of this means, but when I watched the pass plays back again it honestly made me feel better about 17, and I didn’t feel particularly bad in the first place. I didn’t see an abundance of bad throws or bad decisions, the two things I kept hearing Saturday night.

Understand, I don’t think Dylan Thompson is going to be a first-team all-SEC at the end of the year. But I also don’t think he’s going to get benched this season for any other reason except an injury. My hope is that even though he’s a veteran he’s still adjusting to this being HIS team, he’ll settle down and have a very solid season for us.

 

Snap Judgments – ECU @ South Carolina Edition

Gerald Jr. - the big one - with the spike. (photo courtesy of thebigspur.com)

Gerald Jr. – the big one – with the spike. (photo courtesy of thebigspur.com)

Some late, quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 33-23 victory over East Carolina University:

Defensive. We started last week’s Snaps with the defense after they gave up record yardage and 52 points. So we’ll start with them this week too since they didn’t.

The ECU game started much where the Texas A&M game left off, with a confused looking bunch of guys chasing a fast-paced offense with what looked like little hope of slowing them down, much less stopping them. But after three Pirate drives (two of them being more than 80 yards) netted them 13 points, the Gamecocks settled down and held them to ten points the rest of the way. I’m not a smart enough football guy to tell you what changed scheme-wise, but I can tell you I saw a bunch of younger guys growing up under the lights. I saw a confidence and emotion that was completely absent last week.

We still have a talent deficiency at defensive end that we are simply not going to be able to overcome this year, and our linebacker group hasn’t been as good as we expected them to be so far. We are going to have to resort to some creative blitzes to get pressure on quarterbacks, and hope our young secondary continues to improve. Last night wasn’t great, but it was a step in the right direction.

Our Gurley. While we’re talking about defense, it’s good to see TJ Gurley back to his pre-injury self. As a true freshman he was impressing and getting valuable playing time before a devastating knee injury against Florida. It’s taken him a while to get back, but he’s starting to look like he could be a leader in our defensive resurgence.

The Rocket. Offensively, we saw how important it is for Mike Davis to stay healthy and in the lineup. I tweeted during the game that he was running like he was pissed off, which apparently he was because of the doubters that surfaced after last week’s game. I don’t care what his motivation is, whether it’s real or imagined slights, as long as he stays in the game and gives us the effort we saw last night.

Brandon Wilds was again adequate as Davis’ backup. Wilds is never going to be the home run threat Davis is, but he’ll get you 5-6 yards if the play is blocked correctly, and is a good, dependable option coming off the bench. After those two, we still don’t know what we have in one guy (Williams) and know all too well what we have in the other (Carson).

Just pray MD28 stays healthy.

Killin’ Dylan. The vitriol continues to pour in about the play of Dylan Thompson, despite the fact he is currently third in both passing yardage and total yardage in the SEC. Now, I do know enough about football to know that yardage is only part of the story. And I realize Dylan has some problems with accuracy and decision-making (maybe) that he’s going to need to correct if we are going to have any chance to make some noise in the East this year. The frustration of the eight quarters we’ve played so far have only exacerbated Thompson’s mistakes and has made him a convenient target for criticism.

But, I don’t see play so bad that he should be benched. Far from it. I see a guy who has been in this system for five years and has played in some huge games over that time, and played well more often than not. He’s struggled at times over the first two games, no doubt. But he has also made some good throws to boot. He also has the respect of the head coach and the respect of his teammates to lead this offense week in and week out. That’s good enough for me. I can use my bitching energy much more effectively in other areas.

A Very Special Teams. For once, not only did our special teams not hurt us, they actually made a significant contribution*. Big Gerald Dixon Jr. had our first FG block since (insert researched answer) which led to points for us before halftime. Besides that, we had very few UGH moments on special teams last night.

*Elliott Fry is not considered part of special teams for the purpose of this discussion. Dude is solid.

Shon. Permanent UGH.

Why is he still returning kicks. One of the most baffling decisions of the Spurrier era.

Shaq Back. Shaq Roland over his first two years has been a medium range to deep ball threat and not much else. But last night we saw the type of ball skills he showed off while winning Mr. Football at Lexington High School. On his wide receiver screens he showed speed and shake that I wasn’t sure he had. I’d love to see him get more opportunities in open space, and I’m sure that’s coming.

King Tuttchdown. Pharoh has a bad attitude. No no, not that kind of bad attitude. You know, the good kind of bad attitude, the kind you want on a football field. I love the way he fights for every yard and looks like he’s mad he didn’t score after every play. We need more bad attitudes like that.

Power O. The last drive of the game for USC was 18 plays and 83 yards that ended in the game-clinching field goal. After four passes to start the drive, the Gamecocks ran what appeared to be the same play nine times in a row, demoralizing the Pirates along the way. It was a great performance by our much-heralded offensive line, and was fun to watch. Now, will we be able to do that when we get back to SEC play?

The HBC. Steve Spurrier had a very interesting comment after the game on Saturday: “(Our fans) are starting to realize what kind of team we are.” Sounds like to me he’s lowering expectations. Let’s hope it’s just a motivational ploy. But given Spurrier’s brutal honesty, I just don’t know.

The bad news. When I look at our schedule, it’s a lot easier for me to find losses than wins. Auburn at Auburn was generally considered a loss heading into 2014, but now swing games like Georgia, Florida and Clemson feel like losses. Missouri at home is no pushover. Kentucky on the road and Tennessee at home look tougher today than they did two weeks ago. Is it possible we actually go from SEC East favorites to missing out on a bowl game?

The good news. Two weeks does not a season make. We have a chance to make everything right with a win over Georgia on Saturday. Our guys will be ready, will be emotional, and will give Georgia our best shot. I’m confident of it. A win and all our goals are back on the table. Even with a loss, while an SEC title is out of the question, a good performance could give us the confidence boost we need to have a very good season and finish with a fourth straight season of double-digit wins.

No matter how it goes, we’ll be back, week after week. We hope you’ll continue to join us.

Go Cocks.

 

 

 

 

TRC Unleashed Episode 68 – The Texas A&M Review

The TRC crew returns with the first game review of the 2014 season, and it ain’t pretty. The trio goes over the defensive, offensive and special teams failures from Thursday night, and even offers up some nuggets of advice for the coaching staff. Listen up, and you’ll hear among other things:

  • Is this the worst opening loss for South Carolina…ever?
  • Is it the worst loss since the last game of 2003?
  • Tbone tells us how to fix the defense, beginning with moving Brison Williams back to safety
  • We wonder why so much grief was heaped upon Dylan Thompson
  • We wonder why Shon Carson is still returning kickoffs
  • Some surprising Rubber Chicken Awards
  • A recap of other SEC games, including that Georgia-Clemson things
  • A far from comprehensive preview of East Carolina
  • Some NFL Gamecock news, and why Connor Shaw never had a prayer to make the Browns 53-man roster

Come commiserate with us, won’t you? Click here or click the graphic to listen, and enjoy!

TRC-Unleashed-Button

The Buck Sweep – Week 1

100% soon? Please? (Photo: gogamecocks.com)

100% soon? Please? (Photo: gogamecocks.com)

Random thoughts from the first weekend of college football:

The Gamecock Blues. Two days removed from writing Snap Judgments I still don’t feel much better about this edition of the Gamecocks. At the same time, every season has wild swings from “we’re gonna win it all” to “oh God we need to disband the program”. It’s just been a while since we’ve had such a case of the blues after week one. I remain annoyed at many things from Saturday, one of which is…

Mike Davis. Note I said I’m annoyed at the “thing” and not the person. Some players are simply injury prone, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the player’s heart or desire, neither of which I question with Davis. When Steve Spurrier announced today that Davis is questionable for Saturday against East Carolina, my frustration level hit a new high. As Davis literally sprinted to the head of the pack in SEC rushing the first half of last season, I thought we were quite possibly watching the best USC running back since George Rogers. Now it appears he might miss the first two games of the season, if not more (6 carries for 15 yards against TAMU notwithstanding). And for all the talk about our deep stable of running backs, there is no one on the team that impacts a game the way Davis does, unless we’re hiding David Williams’ brilliance from the world for some unknown reason.

I’ll be happy to see Williams will get some carries Saturday, because as much as I love Brandon Wilds, he is no better than a serviceable second string SEC running back. And Shon Carson? I’m thoroughly convinced he will never be a major contributor to this team. He’s had many, many chances, and has used the vast majority of the them to run directly into tacklers. This really stung as I watched…

Georgia’s stable of backs. Holy mother of all that is good and holy. First, give Todd Gurley the Heisman, simply based on last night’s performance against Clemson, which included 293 all-purpose yards, a Bulldog record. When Gurley needed a breather all they did was trot out Nick Chubb (almost a Gamecock), who proceeded to rip off a 47-yard touchdown run. Need a change of pace? Then let’s go with Sony Michel, who added another 53 yards rushing and receiving combined. Oh, and let’s not forget former five-star recruit Keith Marshall, who might slip to fourth on the depth chart until his surgically repaired knee is completely healed.

We have for years made fun of Georgia declaring their latest running back recruit the “next Herschel Walker”. Well, Gurley might finally be that guy. And the bad news for us is Chubb or Michel might be the next Todd Gurley. I have to admit though, it was fun watching them run all over the…

Clemson Tigers. The Schadenfreude was sweet and savory as we watched the Tigers fall by the same margin as we did on Thursday. Although if we’re honest with ourselves, Clemson was in their game against UGA much longer than we were in our game against TAMU. Until Gurley put UGA up by two scores with a TD run at the 10:26 mark of the 4th quarter, the game was up for grabs. Well, theoretically it was up for grabs. Clemson’s millionaire offensive coordinator was having trouble dialing up first downs, and even if “The Chad” would’ve had another several quarters to play there is no guarantee they would’ve scored. One thing is for sure, they were no…

Auburn Tigers. Auburn’s offense looked downright scary yesterday. Scary good for them, scary bad for us. The addition of Duke Williams at wide receiver for them gives them one more weapon they didn’t necessarily need. t don’t know if they’ll win it all, or even win the SEC West, but I do know I’m dreading our trip to The Plains later this season. But before we can start to worry about he rest of our SEC slate, we need to focus on…

East Carolina. As I wrote before the last time we played them, the ECU Pirates scarred me during the ’90s. They’ll bring one of their better teams into Columbia Saturday, running a similar offense as TAMU, so I’m sure we’ll be a trendy “upset alert” pick this weekend. Honestly I think we’ll win this one fairly easily, and regain some of our lost confidence heading into the showdown with Georgia. One thing is for certain though, after a sample size of only one game…

We don’t really know what we have. Was our defense that bad? Was TAMU’s offense that good? Will our defensive backs play like freshmen all year? Will our defensive ends be non-existent every week? Will Dylan Thompson settle down and get to a more reasonable 60% completion rate? Will we find a durable, dependable running back if Mike Davis continues to struggle with nagging injuries? Will we find out who Shon Carson has naked pictures of and get someone else to return kickoffs? Those are the types of questions that get answered all over the country the next few weeks for all football programs. Like every year, the teams you see week 1 will be much different come week 12.

Since I don’t have a good segue and have one more topic then something something…

NFL Gamecocks. It was black Saturday for Gamecocks trying to make NFL rosters. Getting cut were Connor Shaw, Kelcy Quarles, Victor Hampton, Jimmy Legree, Travian Robertson and Ryan Succop. Chaz Sutton had been cut earlier in the week by Tampa. The good news is Quarles was picked up by the Patriots and added to their 53-man roster, and Robertson and Legree have made the Falcons and Cardinals practice squads, respectively. Our sources close to the situation tell us Shaw will be added to the Browns practice squad at any time (and our sources were correct!). Succop is a good, veteran kicker who will more than likely have an NFL job on opening day.

This leaves us with the cautionary tale of Victor Hampton. I feel bad for Vic. He obviously received some bad intel about his draft position, and/or his nightclub “incident” in New York with Sutton and Quarles was taken into consideration much more heavily by NFL teams than we realized at the time (likely, since Quarles, also a projected mid-round pick, went undrafted). Steve Spurrier is notoriously hands-off with kids who decide for forego their remaining eligibility to enter the draft. I, for one, would like to see that change in the future. I don’t want him to become Dabo by any stretch, telling EVERYBODY to stay, but I would like him to step in with the kids who are borderline draft picks and make sure they understand how hard it is to make an NFL roster.

See you folks next week. Go Cocks!

Snap Judgments – Texas A&M @ USC Edition

What now coach? (Photo courtesy of thebigspur.com)

What now coach? (Photo courtesy of thebigspur.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 52-28 defenestration at the hands of Texas A&M:

Garbage. And by garbage, I mean our defense. TAMU sophomore Kenny Hill, IN HIS FIRST CAREER START, completed 44 of 60 passes for 511 yards. Overall the Aggies gained 680 total yards. It was USC’s worst defensive performance in terms of yardage in our history. In our HISTORY. Those are video game numbers, and unfortunately this was real life.

We forced them to punt twice, and I’m not sure how we did it, because most of game they were picking up double-digit yardage with ease. That’s saying a lot, considering some of the defenses we fielded in the Brad Scott era, and that we’ve given up 59 and 63 points in games at home in the last 25 years.

In retrospect, TAMU might have been the worst matchup possible for us. The Aggies had a quick passing game that negated any type of pass rush (not that we got any push at all against their veteran offensive line), and big, strong, experienced wide receivers. Nobody saw Kenny Hill coming, IN HIS FIRST CAREER START, but throwing his brilliant game into the mix against our young corners and below average defensive line spelled complete disaster. And oh yeah, almost forgot, we missed a TON of tackles, which calls into question Spurrier’s practice of limiting contact during spring and fall practice.

We had a discussion with Connor Tapp of Garnet and Black Attack about whether or not Lorenzo Ward would be gone next year after taking a head coaching job somewhere. Well, unless this defense gets better, and gets better fast, he might not be here next year and it will have nothing to do with a head coaching job.

Team Thompson. I have no idea why people piled on Dylan Thompson throughout the game. As we have talked about many times on this blog, he is a completely different quarterback than Connor Shaw in that he is a high risk, high reward guy. You have to take the good with the bad.

What I saw was a little bit of bad, but a lot of good too. He was obviously amped at the beginning of the game, throwing hard and high on some early attempts. He had one bad interception on a horrible play call on 3rd and 1 when we still had a glimmer of hope in the third quarter. But look at his final numbers: 20-40, 366 yards with 4 touchdowns and the 1 interception. His wide receivers didn’t always help him out either, with Nick Jones dropping a TD pass just before half. (Yes, Jones got popped, but he has to hang on to that ball.)

People bringing Connor Shaw up in conversations about this game, just stop. He’s gone. He was great, and he’s gone. He also would’ve had very little impact on the outcome of the this game. Maybe we would’ve lost by 17 instead of 24. But maybe we would’ve lost by 31 instead of 24. Either way, let it go and get behind Dylan. He’s our man.

The Rocket. It’s time to get genuinely concerned about what we have with Mike Davis. He was banged up the last several games of last season, has battled nagging injuries all offseason, and had a whopping 6 carries for 15 yards tonight before leaving with a rib injury. Talk of him being in the Heisman race or leaving early for the NFL are worthless if he can’t stay on the field.

Little Nicky. Despite the aforementioned drop, Jones had a great game with 5 catches for 113 yards and 2 TDs.

Tight Ends Rising. The tight ends showed up tonight, with Busta Anderson and Jerell Adams combining for 5 catches for 92 yards. If we can get that kind of production out of them consistently, our offense will be much more difficult to stop.

The HBC. Maybe I’d be a little harder on him if I wasn’t still high from watching “The Believer” last night and hadn’t already been busy heaping praise on him the last three years. He made a couple of questionable decisions tonight – punting the ball back to an unstoppable TAMU offense on 4th and 14 in their territory, and later going for the deep ball on 3rd and 1. He also had a couple of his usual timeout gaffes. But again, the outcome of the game would not have been affected.

The most concerning thing is this was not supposed to be a step back year, a rebuilding year. Most Gamecock fans were quietly thinking this might be THE year. Even without Shaw we’d have a high-powered offense. If we could patch together a defense and win the close games, we could make a return trip to Atlanta for SECCG and maybe make the college football playoff.

But now? We’re out of the conversation completely. We have to hope and pray this was, as mentioned above, just a horrible matchup for us. That we’ll be better next week, and the week after, and the week after that.

Because looking ahead to next year? Next year IS a rebuilding year.

SEC Network. Don’t worry, nobody will remember the first game ever on the SEC Network. But if it’s any consolation, the stadium and all the surrounding areas looked fantastic on TV. All that made for a great commercial for the University of South Carolina.

Unfortunately the game did not.

Next Week. 24 hours ago we saw East Carolina as a trap game. Now it’s much, much more. It’s a must win, and game in which our young defenders need to get some confidence back.

Go Cocks.

 

 

TRC Unleashed Episode 67: The 2014 Season Preview

TRC Unleashed is back like a bad rash, itching and oozing all the way to game time. Buck, Tbone and the Gman give you a preview of the 2014 Gamecock football season, complete with:

  • Banter about the offense and defense, but not special teams, because we all know it’s not really a third of the game right?
  • Disagreement over the type of season Dylan Thompson will have: great or super great
  • TAMU predictions, including a shocker
  • A speed round, featuring game by game predictions – two predict and SECCG appearance
  • The Spurrier banner, and legacy since January 2010
  • An explanation of what a Shepard Fairey-style Grand Moff Tarkin is
  • How many days it has been since Clemson last beat South Carolina

All this and so much more. Welcome to the 2014 college football season!

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

TRC-Unleashed-Button

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