TRC Unleashed Episode 73 – The Streak Buster

Well, the streak of five straight wins over Clemson is done, and the TRC Unleashed crew gets together to recap how it happened, and how we can prevent it from ever from happening again.

Aside from the game itself, you’ll hear about possible coaching changes, bowl destinations, and the dreaded ACL controversy.

The first TRC Unleashed after a Clemson loss EVER is not as depressing as you might think, despite the NPR opening.

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

TRC-Unleashed-Button

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By Any Means Necessary

022812-CFB--Dabo-Swinney-TOUGH-TEST-JW-PI_20120228130314575_660_320

Before anyone suggests this is a sour grapes blog post by an excuse-making Gamecock fan, let’s get one thing out of the way: Clemson beat us Saturday fair and square. They were the better team and deserved to win. It’s true and undeniable.

With that said, let’s get to the point of this post.

For years, all we have heard from the Upstate is that Dabo Swinney is a good Christian man who cares about his players above all else. He tells the mamas that he’s going to take care of their boys. On some level you have to hand it to Dabo and say job well done. He’s been able to convince the Clemson faithful and a bunch of talented recruits that he is doing it differently than the other guys; that Clemson is a special place with different priorities. A very large segment of the Tiger fan base (about 99% by my rough calculations), has eaten this fantasy up with a spoon.

But Dabo knows what all other coaches know: winning cures all ills and covers up all flaws. Fan bases are willing to overlook just about any transgression, fault, or risk if their team is winning.

Take Florida State for example. This year Jimbo Fisher has gone from a respected coach to an absolute joke for his repeated, uncompromising support of Jameis Winston, no matter what kind of crap Winston pulls. There is simply no way an average player gets the chances Winston has gotten. You know it. I know it. Every fan in America knows it.

Why does Fisher continue to support Winston and brush aside his transgressions?  Because he wants to win big and knows that he would not win big without Winston at quarterback. Winning trumps everything. In this case, winning trumps justice and the need to discipline a young man who is in desperate need of discipline. Winston has obviously been coddled his entire life by coaches and teachers in awe of this talent. This has continued at Florida State. Fisher has failed Winston the person. He may justify it by saying that he is taking care of it “off the field”. Well, the only way to affect someone like Winston, if that’s even possible at this point, is to take away the thing that’s most important to them. That would be football. And that ain’t happening.

 Which brings us to Dabo.  Blessed with a talented young quarterback but faced with a possible sixth straight loss to their hated rival, Dabo had to be feeling pretty good going into the Georgia Tech game. After all the Gamecock D had proven to be downright awful, and his talented young QB had recovered from an unfortunate thumb injury.

Then, out of nowhere, disaster struck. The young QB went down again, this time with a knee injury.  After the injury the Georgia Tech game turned from a likely Clemson win into a dumpster fire as Cole Stoudt scored a bunch of points for the other team. Dabo and his braintrust had to be shell-shocked. While Stoudt had struggled in prior games, it now became abundantly clear that there was no way they could enter battle against the Gamecocks and hope to win with this guy at the wheel.

After a couple of days of what appeared to be top-secret MRI exams, it was reported that young Mr. Watson did not have a dreaded ACL tear, but instead had a “strain” or “bruise” or something like that. As it turns out, it’s pretty clear that he suffered a partial ACL tear that he finished tearing in practice a few days prior to the Ga. State game. That’s right, in practice. Instead of resting his injured star, the player he promised mama that he was going to protect, he put him out on the practice field with a partially torn ACL to see what he could do. Well, what he did was finish tearing that sucker.

Now, faced the choice of playing Stoudt or a supremely talented but injured Watson, what did Dabo decide to do? Play Watson of course. Why you ask?  Because Dabo wanted and needed to win. The fan base would not have put up with a sixth straight loss, which would have been on the table with Stoudt at QB (Stoudt proved Dabo right in his limited playing time in the game, after an obviously injured Watson limped off the field when he wasn’t even touched).

What about the welfare of Watson you ask?  Well, what about it.  The party line out of Clemson will be that it was Watson’s choice and that he couldn’t hurt it any worse at that point.

Of course an 18-year-old kid is going to want to play. You can’t give the kid that choice. If he has any competitive drive at all he’s going to choose to play in his rivalry game every time. Coaches, the “adults” in the room, are supposed to intervene and make such decisions for the not fully-formed athletes in their charge. Today lots of doctors and former players (including Emmitt Smith, arguably one of the three or four best running backs in the history of the NFL), have come forward to say that Watson should not have played, that playing risked further injury and problems with the knee down the road.  Dabo and his folks surely knew this. Just like he knew that bringing Tajh Boyd back for his Senior year risked his draft placement.

Winning trumps everything. In this case, winning trumps the well-being and future of a talented young man.

Am I singling out Dabo?  No, I’m just pointing out that Dabo is just like most other coaches. They do whatever it takes to win.  Damn the consequences.

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Snap Judgments – 2014 USC @ Clemson Edition

Photo: gogamecocks.com

Photo: gogamecocks.com

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 35-17 loss to Clemson on Saturday:

Broken. The streak ended on Saturday, and based on what we’ve seen from the South Carolina football team this season it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. Due to a stunning drop in talent level on defense and perhaps the worst collective coaching job of the Steve Spurrier era, the 2014 regular season came to an end with a resounding thud at Memorial Stadium.

After the Gamecocks’ initial touchdown it felt like what we’ve been saying all year long – “we’re in their heads”. Something about the block C and fighting Gamecock on the sides of those white helmets and the legendary HBC on the sidelines made the Tigers of Clemson quake in their cleats. The thought of another senior class not experiencing victory over South Carolina was running through the minds of all those in orange, and it was distracting them.

Except it wasn’t true. Not this time.

The game against Clemson on Saturday felt like something from the 80s or 90s, and it was something we haven’t experienced for a number of years. Clemson was the better team almost across the board – bigger, stronger, faster and more talented at most positions on the field, and it showed. Dylan Thompson ran for his life all day. We had lost yardage plays on first down seemingly every other set of downs. Our defensive ends froze while Artavis Scott of Clemson streaked by them on the Tigers’ horizontal “pass” play.

After the first Thompson turnover, it turned out they were in OUR heads. And it was there they set up shop all day.

What now, Steve? The next few days and weeks will be very important to the future of our football program. The fan base has been calling for the head of Lorenzo Ward for the majority of the season. Spurrier has been in Ward’s corner for most of the year, but when asked about staff changes yesterday he simply replied it “wasn’t the time to talk about that.”

Will Spurrier fire Ward and put on a full-court press to get Will Muschamp? Will he keep Ward and instead fire Deke Adams and Kirk Botkin as scapegoats? Or does he keep most of the defensive staff together for fear of losing members of his highly ranked 2015 recruiting class? I think the only thing that is certain is that he has to do something to show he cares about fixing this historically bad defense.

Of course, if you listen to perennial pot-stirrer Josh Kendall of The State, there’s still the issue of whether Spurrier is going to come back at all. Rumor has it Spurrier has turned over most of the play calling duties to Junior the last few games, a part of the game he has admittedly loved more than anything. Could this be a sign?

I doubt it. Spurrier is too much of a competitor to go out with a 6-6 team while he still has a breath in him. My belief is going into this season he felt like he had the program on solid footing and could just “roll the ball out there” and win 8-9 games going forward. After this year, he might have to work a little harder than he expected, but I fully expect him to do just that.

By “fully expect” I mean “I hope”.

Team Thompson. Dylan Thompson had a pretty bad game yesterday while becoming the Gamecocks’ single-season passing leader. He made some poor decisions and poor throws, but in fairness was under extreme pressure from the formidable Clemson defensive line all game long.

Still, there were people on our timeline last night bidding “good riddance” to Thompson, not for his performance yesterday, but for his performance all season. And I guess it finally hit me, Thompson’s biggest downfall this season was that he was not Connor Shaw.

He didn’t lead our team to a record number of wins. He didn’t lead a miracle comeback at Missouri. He didn’t make plays with his legs. He didn’t get aid from a stingy defense laden with NFL talent. He simply made the mistake of following the guy who did.

Look folks, if you have your mind made up about Dylan Thompson and haven’t changed it at this point, nothing you read here is going to help. But God help Connor Mitch next year if he isn’t Connor Shaw.

Pharoh. Didn’t get enough touches yesterday, it’s as simple as that. Going forward, I think there’s a chance he plays quarterback next year, but I really hope he doesn’t. If he does, we become a run-first and run-often offense, and that’s mainly because he can’t throw the football because his mechanics are awful. Please don’t take that as a knock on Pharoh either, he’s our offensive MVP. But as a wide receiver.

Damn lies and statistics. Bear with me for a moment while I go old man on you. Does it bother anyone else that Deshaun Watson gets credit for a completed pass on ball that could’ve just been an easily handed off? And I’m not saying this because it’s Watson or Clemson, this goes for anyone who runs that play.

Watson got credit for passing touchdowns of 53 and 70 yards for a ball he essentially flipped in the air in front of him. That’s 40% of his credited yardage and all of his credited touchdown passes. I mean, I get it, it doesn’t matter, they would’ve scored on a handoff just as easily. It’s just a statistical flaw that really annoys me.

Back in my day you had to actually throw the ball downfield to get credit for a touchdown pass. And yes we wore leather helmets then, but he point still stands.

The great ACL debate. It was revealed after the game yesterday that the aforementioned Watson was playing with a torn ACL during the game. There was a lot of Twitter outrage over playing a kid with an injury like that, but quite frankly I don’t think it’s as big a deal as most are making if out to be if he was cleared by a doctor and could stand the pain. BJ Symons of Texas Tech played several games his senior season with a torn ACL and set an NCAA passing record. Tennessee has an offensive lineman that has been playing with a torn ACL all season. Again, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t truly think Dabo Swinney would risk such a young, outstanding talent like Watson over one game. However…

Watson initially injured his knee against Georgia Tech. What was initially feared to be a torn ACL that would require season-ending surgery was ultimately revealed to be a knee sprain that would require treatment but no surgery. Watson then reportedly re-injured the knee at practice the week before the Georgia State game, and now will indeed need surgery to repair the ACL.

Is there a problem practicing or playing a kid who has a torn ACL and needs surgery? Probably not, as long as there is no fear of further injury. Is there a problem practicing or playing a kid with a knee injury that doesn’t require surgery with the possibility of further injury that could require surgery? Absolutely. There is a huge difference between non-surgical rehabbing of a knee injury and having major surgery to repair that knee.

That is something with which we should have a major problem.

Bowl Game. Birmingham anyone? Hahaha just kidding. But if I’m not kidding I’ll be very, very sad.

Go Cocks.

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TRC Unleashed Episode 72 – The Clemson Preview

TRC Unleashed returns from a two-month hiatus just in time to moan and groan about the upcoming Clemson game. Among other things you’ll hear the team discuss:

  • A few of the things we’ve missed over the last eight weeks or so
  • What we need to do to beat Clemson on Saturday
  • Why are Spurrier and Dabo being so nice to each other
  • Will Deshaun Watson pull a Willis Reed
  • Dylan Thompson’s place in USC history
  • Our favorite moments from the last five years of dominating Clemson
  • Your Twitter questions, including Pam Ward!!!
  • Our miserable basketball team, and our incredible women’s basketball team
  • If we win our sixth straight, some hand gesture ideas (seriously)

All this and so much more in our return to the air! Click here or click the graphic to listen, and enjoy!

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Snap Judgments – 2014 South Alabama @ USC Edition

Photo: gogamecocks.com

Photo: gogamecocks.com

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 37-12 victory over South Alabama on Saturday:

Yawn. On Saturday South Carolina played like a team that had just come off a remarkable, emotionally draining overtime win at Florida. They also played like a team that might have been peeking ahead to a huge rivalry game next weekend.

In a year of uneven performances by the Gamecocks, this one might have been the most excusable. On top of what happened last week and what’s coming this week, you had Senior Day, which is always an emotional time for those Gamecocks playing their final game at home.

For those of you thinking there’s no excuse for turning the ball over five times, you are probably correct. Lack of concentration at that level is troubling, especially heading into the Clemson game. But I submit to you that the game prior to the rivalry game with the Tigers should not necessarily be an indication of how we will play against them. After all, we played pretty poorly in 2011 (The Citadel, 41-20) and 2012 (Wofford, 24-7) and still handily dispatched of the Upstaters.

On the flip side, while I think we are capable of putting together a good game next weekend, there is enough evidence on both sides to suggest we could crap the bed and see an end to our historic streak.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, forget about yesterday. And forget about the previous ten weeks. When the Gamecocks and Tigers get together this year, truly just about anything can happen.

Progress. South Alabama gained 133 yards on their first two drives of the game, and it looked like the same old same old from the Gamecock defense. But Lorenzo’s crew held the Jaguars to only 156 yards the rest of the way, and kept their second consecutive opponent under 300 yards. They also forced five turnovers, including two interceptions apiece for Skai Moore and Brison Williams.

I know, I know, those two games were against two of the worst offenses we’ve faced this year, but it’s progress. We still have no pass rush, and our young corners still look way too lost way too often. But our adjustments at linebacker have paid off and we still have Williams patrolling the secondary to take some heat off the youngsters.

The hope is next week we can continue to force turnovers, and make just enough stops to give our offense a chance.

Team Thompson. Yesterday Dylan Thompson became only the fourth quarterback in school history to pass for more than 3000 yards in a season, joining Todd Ellis, Steve Taneyhill and Stephen Garcia. Currently he is sitting at 3031 yards, good for fourth all-time. With two games left and only trailing Ellis’ all-time record by 176 yards, he should easily set the new record.

Thompson is also currently tenth in career passing yardage at USC, and should be able to pass Bobby Fuller and Phil Petty to move into eighth by the end of the year. Two more touchdown passes will get him to fifth all-time in Gamecock history.

All of this might seem rather unremarkable to you since our quarterbacking history is rather thin. But keep in mind Dylan Thompson is a first-year starter, and has played significant snaps in only twenty games in his career. Included in that is one nine attempt game. In contrast, the guys who hold most of the passing records for South Carolina played in at least double the number of games – Ellis played in 43, Taneyhill played in 42 and Garcia played in 40.

I think most of you have come to appreciate Dylan Thompson for what he has accomplished, but there are still detractors our there. All I can say is, he is appreciated very much by this blog, and we’re going to miss him greatly.

Phay-roh. After the game yesterday Steve Spurrier called Pharoh Cooper “one of the best players in the country”. I’m hoping beyond hope Connor Mitch grabs the starting QB job by the throat next spring, but if he doesn’t it’s good to know we have Cooper as a back-up plan. Although I’d much rather see him at wide receiver.

Disappearing acts. It wasn’t a surprise to not see Shaq Roland on the field after his performance last week. Honestly I believe his days in a Gamecock uniform may be numbered, which is unfortunate given his immense talent.

Another guy whose days are numbered is Mike Davis. While we’ve known for a while he was probably going to bolt for the NFL after this season, we didn’t think he was going to check out before our season was over. He didn’t start yesterday, and then fumbled on two of his three touches when he did get in the game. We didn’t see him in the second half, and then he reportedly didn’t stick around for the alma mater after the game. It will be interesting to see what his role is next week and in the bowl game.

Wilds Thing. On the flip side, Brandon Wilds hinted that he was “not ready” for the NFL and would return to the Gamecocks next year. We’ve heard this before (see: Ace Sanders), so at this point you have to take it with a grain of salt. But I really think he could help his stock by returning next year and having a big season.

A Wilds/David Williams combo could be a lot of fun.

Seniors. A hearty thank you to all the guys who walked yesterday. Thank you for your contributions to one of the most successful runs in Gamecock football history.

Hate Week. Well, it’s here again. I must admit I’m not very confident heading into next Saturday, but then again I never really am. Clemson probably has the better team for the first time since 2008, but not so much better that the Gamecocks can’t win their sixth straight.

Clemson’s defense is very, very good. Maybe the best we’ve played all year. “But Buck!” you say, “They haven’t played any good offenses!” This is very true, but that doesn’t mean we’ll march up and down the field all day. They have NFL talent sprinkled throughout their defense, and Spurrier will have to call a great game to keep them off balance. If we can get to 28 points I like our chances, but that won’t be easy.

As far as Deshaun Watson goes, I’ll tell you exactly what is going to happen. He’ll be questionable all week. He won’t start. The Clemson offense will sputter. We’ll get 1000 shots of Watson on the sideline, and another 1000 “when will Dabo Swinney go to Watson” comments by the announcers. Watson will come off the bench after 2-3 series and the Memorial Stadium crowd will go bananas.

After that I have no idea. It all depends on how healthy he is and how our defense responds. Just be prepared for that to be the dominant storyline all week.

Don’t hate. Have fun this week. Engage in some good-natured banter, but don’t take things too seriously. It is important to all of us, but it is still a football game.

Go Cocks, BEAT THE TIGERS!

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What Spurrier Said, and What Clemson Heard

I didn’t watch the Steve Spurrier press conference after the Florida win on Saturday. I usually just keep an eye on Twitter to see if he says something interesting, and from what I could tell he didn’t.

Unless you’re a Clemson fan.

Josh Kendall, Gamecock beat writer extraordinaire, got things started with two sensationalist and context-free tweets from the presser:

Saturday Down South immediately picked up the tweets and ran them under the headline “Steve Spurrier took a shot at Clemson after Florida win”.

I still didn’t watch the press conference video because I’m a busy man with Saturday afternoon naps and sorting the mail and the like. I figured if it was anything important the Clemson fanboy community would get a hold of it, and hooboy did they ever. The first tweet I noticed was from our good friend William Qualkinbush (I’m just kidding, he hates us) after the announcement that Deshaun Watson didn’t have a torn ACL, only a sprain.

Hmmmm, I was really curious now. What was I missing. It was late Sunday by now though, and I desperately needed to rest up from that afternoon nap I had taken, so once again I didn’t watch the presser.

Then, this morning, I saw a retweet from something called “The Clemson Insider”, wherein their Monday Morning Quarterback blog (what an original title!) the writer advised “Steve Spurrier seriously needs to shut his mouth and worry about his own team”.

Wowza! The HBC must’ve really gone overboard this time if they’re making “Will Vandervort” that angry! So I finally decided to see what the fuss was all about. Watch the video below, courtesy of gogamecocks.com. The Watson/Tiger bashing starts at about :19.

I watched the video about a half dozen times because I thought I had the wrong one. Surely nobody was upset by this, right? Then it hit me…translation.

What normal people hear and what Tiger fans hear are completely different things. Especially when you’ve lost five straight football games to your hated rival, your brain gets a little extra twisted so Dabo rants sound Patton-esque and innocuous Spurrier quips are like RPGs aimed at Tillman Hall.

So let’s go step by step and try to understand what normal people heard, and what the wad-pantied Clemson fan sites heard. Follow along.

What Spurrier said: “I guess the upstate team got beat today, is that correct?”

What Clemson heard: “Word has it those inbred redneck cow-tipping sacks of toe fungus got beat today, is that correct?”

What Spurrier said: “What was that score, Georgia Tech game?”

What Clemson heard: “How bad did those pocket protector-wearin’ highwaters beat ’em?”

Reporter: “They lost their quarterback.” (Note: no mention of what the injury was.)

What Spurrier said: “He got hurt again?” 

What Clemson heard: “That China doll get busted up again? Kid needs to playing tiddlywinks or what not I guess. Doesn’t seem cut out for a man’s game.”

Reporter: “Tore his ACL.” (Kind of obvious Spurrier didn’t hear this comment, or did a fantastic job of ignoring it.)

What Spurrier said: [nothing]

What Clemson heard: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! ARE YOU SERIOUS??? A DIBILITATING KNEE INJURY??? THAT. IS. AWESOME!!! AND ONLY TWO WEEKS BEFORE OUR GAME?!? SA-WEET!!!

What Spurrier said: “What was the score?”

What Clemson heard: “Hey jackass, I asked you a question! I’m the reporter now!”

Reporter: “28-6.”

What Spurrier said: “Oh was it?”

What Clemson heard: “Holy…what? They got beat by three touchdowns by that junior high wing-T offense? Ha! How pathetic is that?”

What Spurrier said: “OK. Well, that game, looks like we’re in better shape than we were two weeks ago, right?”

What Clemson heard: “We’re going to kill them. Then burn the campus down and steal their girlfriends.”

What Spurrier said: “But [laughs] anything can happen as we all know.”

What Clemson heard: “Only one thing is going to happen as we all know – the destruction of everyone associated with Clemson and everything and everyone they love.”

What Spurrier said: “Thanks guys.”

What Clemson heard: “Tell that sack of crap Dabo that SIX is coming. Peace.” [Stands up, grabs crotch, flips the bird.]

OK, so I made up that last part, but the rest feels pretty accurate.

In all seriousness, sometimes I wonder what they are hearing that I am not. Steve Spurrier can be a  real jackass, I get that. He’s hated by many members of a select few fan bases, including Clemson. And he’s earned it.

My advice to the fan base over there is to not read something evil into everything Spurrier says. If you want to get bent over him not saying your name and calling you “the upstate team”, I get it, that would piss me off too.

But trying to say Spurrier is “taking shots” at a kid who just possibly suffered a major knee injury is just flat out disingenuous. Poking fan bases or opposing coaches is one thing, but going after opposing players for little or no reason is simply not his MO.

Final thing – let the anger go. It’s not good for you, and we’re worried about your health.

In the fabricated words of Steve Spurrier, “peace”.

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Snap Judgments – 2014 USC @ Florida Edition

"Hey guys! Guys! Check it out, I scored a rushing touchdown!" (Photo: wltx.com)

“Hey guys! Guys! Check it out, I scored a rushing touchdown!” (Photo: wltx.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 23-20 victory over Florida on Saturday:

Redeemed. So many times this season our beloved Gamecocks have given us moments to breathe easy. Admit it, you know it’s true. Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee – in every one of these games, at some point in the fourth quarter with a two-score lead you’ve taken a deep breath and thought, “ok, we’ve got this”.

Then, inexplicably, we’ve blown each game in colossal fashion. The kinds of losses you typically experience only once every few years, and we’ve experienced three in one season. Following each loss the analyses flowed – the defense, the offense, special teams, coaching, the HBC, Coach Ward, Coach Robinson, Dylan Thompson – all blamed at one time or another, some blamed every time, and some deservedly so.

On Saturday, the eulogy for the Florida game was written. We had blown our lead early, and the Gators were lining up for the field goal that would put the game out of reach with a little over three minutes left. After all, we haven’t remotely shown the ability to rally from one score down, much less two.

A series of events ensued that amounted to a 30-minute roller coaster ride:

  • We blocked the field goal
  • Then, we moved into Florida territory, but on fourth down a bizarre bad snap and tipped pass that was almost caught ended the drive
  • Then, we forced a three and out by the Gators and had a chance to get the ball back for one last desperation drive
  • Then, we blocked the punt (!!!)
  • Then, we ran an option with no timeouts (???), fumbled, recovered and scored the tying touchdown
  • Then, in overtime, Dylan

Many times we were as good as dead on Saturday in Gainesville. But all of those things we’ve complained about this year – the defense, the offense, special teams, coaching, the HBC, Coach Ward, Coach Robinson, Dylan Thompson – contributed to keeping us alive.

In the end, in a season gone south, we got some much-needed redemption.

Team Thompson. If you’ve read this column regularly you know we’ve been staunch defenders of Dylan Thompson for most of the season. Despite one of his worst passing games of the season yesterday, he showed Shaw-like toughness in the face of a fierce Florida pass rush.

Dylan had a signature win against Georgia earlier this year, but our late-game collapses since had diminished the importance of that win. He needed, and deserved, another “moment” with this team, and he got it yesterday.

Here’s to at least one more “moment” to come.

(BTW, Thompson has finally passed the benched Kenny Hill as the leading passer in the SEC.)

Whammy. I’m not going to get too crazy in praise of our defense, but Lorenzo Ward’s defense held only its second opponent below 300 yards this year (Missouri was the other). Florida has struggled most of the year moving the football. However, the Gators’ Treon Harris was a scary proposition given our struggles containing running quarterbacks this year.

Our defensive line seemed to get more push than it’s gotten all year, and the combination of Jonathan Walton and Skai Moore at linebacker showed some promise. Our corners are still mostly young, and still play like their young. But overall the tackling to my untrained eye was the best it’s been all year.

So very special. I wonder what the odds of us blocking a field goal and a punt in one game would’ve been in Vegas? Especially knowing our special teams history? Hard to say, but I think it could’ve made us all rich.

Bet it was a good day at the Robinson household.

The HBC. Facing second and goal with :17 left and not timeouts, I was thinking the same thing as this randomly chosen tweeter:

I mean, he’s right, right? If you get stuffed on a run play there is almost NO WAY you have the time to line up and either spike the ball or run another play. It’s not smart to even think about a running play.

Enter the HBC:

It worked, but it’s still a dumb play and I’m not changing my mind.

And I love Steve Spurrier.

The HBC II. Brilliant, brilliant, call on first and goal in overtime. Running the keeper on first down was the most unexpected down to do it, and it showed based on the reaction, or lack of, by the Florida defense.

Shaq Non-attack. On the downside, what in the world? I’m sad when I think about how much talent Shaq Roland has and he can’t seem to get out of his own way. He can, however, get out of the way of a defender and almost end Brandon Wilds’ season.

I hope he can get it together, and not for the football team, but for himself.

Rival Report. Terrible news came down for Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Georgia’s Todd Gurley, both of whom tore ACLs on Saturday on non-contact plays. For Watson, it’s the end of a season. For Gurley, it’s most likely the end of a tumultuous season and his collegiate career.

I will say this about Watson – I feel bad for the young man and hope he heals and comes back 100%. He’s a talented, talented player and has and extremely bright future ahead of him if he can stay healthy.

On the flip side, I’m glad we don’t have to face him in two weeks. I’m not a “want to face them at full strength” guy. Beating them without Watson will not diminish it one bit for me. Like we’ve had to do in the cases of Connor Shaw (2012) and Marcus Lattimore (2011, 2012), they’ll have employ the “next man up”. If their next guy isn’t good enough, so be it. Not our problem.

Update: Reports came in Sunday night that Watson does not have a torn ACL, only a sprain. Great news for Watson, but it remains to be seen if he will play against USC, and if so how effective he will be. 

Go Cocks, beat Alabama!

What? Oh right, South Alabama!

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The Book of Job, St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and Marcus Lattimore

After a week of hints, leaks, and even agent denials, official word came yesterday that Marcus Lattimore will end his quest to play in the NFL and retire, effective immediately.

The outpouring of support for Lattimore, from both inside and outside the South Carolina football community, was certainly impressive. Many wished him well in his future endeavors, others expressed optimism for his career transition, and some even suggested that Divine Providence had intervened, predestining Marcus for some other avenue of service.

Hail to Thee, Marcus

But something about our response troubles me. I would like to humbly suggest that we are doing Marcus a disservice by shuffling him off the stage so quickly with these well-meaning platitudes. Aren’t we skipping several of the five stages of grief? Aren’t we all the way to an ACCEPTANCE of Lattimore’s plight without making the other necessary stops on the grieving road? And are we way ahead of him in this process?

I, for one, am still in Stage Two of the grief paradigm: ANGER.

How is it possible that someone as honest, genuine, and hardworking as Marcus Lattimore could have his livelihood and passion stolen away from him? How could his last two years of painful rehabilitation be for naught? Or the grueling year of rehab before that? What did all that accomplish? How could a nice guy not finish on top?

And how could other players, generally recognized as lacking in honesty, class, and/or generosity of spirit, be seemingly invincible? I’m not going to name names here, but you all know the players I am referencing: those that lack many of Marcus’s good attributes, and usually embody a smug self-centeredness instead. And yet, we are bombarded with images of those players, their seemingly unworthy arms raised in triumph. And now or very soon, most all will be collected hefty NFL salaries. No way is this situation fair.

How could those bad apples end up with all the sauce?

As we’ve previously argued in this space, the world of sports is most compelling when it exposes something true about our nature or situation in the world. In this case, I think we are too quick to explain away Lattimore’s incredible bad luck because it tells us something profound about life that we are uncomfortable accepting: that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Our fear of facing this universal truth leads us to dismiss this sad news as quickly as possible and jump back into blissfully reassuring each other.

Let me illustrate: When my oldest son was still a toddler, he suffered the normal cuts and scrapes appropriate for his age. New parents still, we sought to reassure our hurting child with calls of “It’s OK,” or “What’s the matter? It will be alright!” We did this so much, that soon our child internalized it, and began using those phrases back at us as soon as he was banged up. Scrape a knee? Run to daddy and tell him “What’s the matter? It’s OK, nothing’s wrong!” All while still crying from the pain he felt.

We ultimately realized that instead of reassuring our son so quickly, we needed to sympathize with him for at least a few seconds. “Ouch, buddy, I bet that hurts! Let’s see if I can help.”

So in this space, for just a few seconds, let’s admit that Lattimore’s retirement bothers us. I’m sure its bothering him. And let’s wrestle with the big question his plight reveals:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

The investigation of this question is called theodicy, and it’s a question that bedeviled theologians from the writer of Job to Augustine to C.S. Lewis. None of them came up with a satisfactory solution. Job never got his answer; the Almighty pulled rank on him and told him to be quiet. Augustine copped out in his quest; choosing instead to play games with language in order to explain away the problem. And C.S Lewis was classically circular in his argument: God is good and God made the rules, and therefore the rules are good (evidence notwithstanding).

Theodicy is probably beyond the scope of a lowly Gamecock sports blog, but here’s my take on the age-old question:

Bad things happen to good people because the real truth of our existence is that it really, really sucks now and then, and for long stretches of time at that.

Bad things happen to good people.

And the reason is this: just because.

We should look at each other with clear eyes and admit this truth. Things are bad sometimes, and apparently there is no logic to those who suffer and those who thrive. Fate rains both good and bad on the just and the unjust, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t earn our way to blessings.

I’m angry about that. Specifically, right now I’m angry about how that relates to Marcus. And, public comments notwithstanding, I bet he is as well.

Marcus did everything right. And it didn’t matter. His college career, for all its success, was cut ridiculously short by injuries. And he never got a chance to realize his dream. And that is awful. Wrong. Stupid. Wasteful. I’m going to shake my fist at heaven a few more times before I’m ready to move on to step three: Bargaining.

But maybe the Bargain is the answer.

Maybe once we admit that bad things can happen to anyone, we will appreciate the random good things all the more. The next time we see a Gamecock like Pharoh Cooper make an incredible catch and run, let’s all collectively live in that moment and relish it. No what-ifs, no regrets, no second guessing, just enjoy watching a top-shelf athlete play the game with complete dedication to the team we all love.

And as for Marcus?

All I can say is ouch, buddy. I bet this is really hurting you. Is there anything we Gamecocks can do to make it better?

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Snap Judgments – 2014 Tennessee @ USC Edition

Speechless. (Photo: thestate.com)

Speechless. (Photo: thestate.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 45-42 loss to Tennessee on Saturday:

The bottom. I laughed to myself as we took another two-touchdown, fourth quarter lead last night. I laughed at the ridiculous thought that we could possibly blow it again, for the third time this season, this time to a team that was winless in the SEC since November 30, 2013.

But as we know, no fourth quarter lead (or any lead at all) is safe with this Gamecock defense. The Volunteers put together touchdown drives of 47, 75 and 85 yards in the final frame to send the game to overtime. On the final touchdown drive they started on their own 15-yard line with 1:23 on the clock and no timeouts. Read that sentence again, and let it sink in how ridiculous it is.

Meanwhile, on two of our final three drives (not counting the possession where we took over with :11 left) we managed to bungle our way to SIX yards and zero first downs. One first down on either drive probably seals the game for us. To top is all off, we lost 15 yards on our one possession in overtime.

For the game the Gamecocks rolled up 625 yards of total offense, but when we needed ten more in the worst way, we choked. The defense deserves every ounce of criticism it gets, but the offense did not get it done when it mattered most. Clutch we are not.

I keep thinking we hit bottom last night, but with trips to Florida and Clemson on the horizon, I know it can get worse.

Speechless. That’s the word Lorenzo Ward used to describe his defense’s performance last night. I believe he is at a loss for what to do to stop this hemorrhaging, and for that I don’t really see how he can keep his job after the season ends. You can argue we have a lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball (which I’ve done) and you can lament the fact we might lose some recruits if he and/or his staff is fired. But you cannot go through a historically bad season like this and not have casualties.

The sad part is, while Ward deserves a percentage of the blame, I still don’t honestly know how much. This tweet from Avery Wilkes is a prime example:

To me, that is much more a talent issue than scheme. At some point during the game, against a maligned offensive line like Tennessee’s, one of our guys HAS to beat the guy in front of him and get to the quarterback. We simply have not been able to do that all year.

Stop it. If I was a South Carolina defensive coach, one thing I would tell our guys is to stop with the annoying celebrating after making a stop on a meaningless down like 2nd and 8. At least twice last night Rico McWilliams gave the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag after making a nice play. Jordan Diggs was a little “dancy” after one play he made last night. Celebrate a nice play with your teammates. Don’t act the fool when you’re in the midst of giving up 600+ yards and 45 points.

The HBC. Steve Spurrier walked into the press room last night, gave a 42-second statement, declined to answer questions and left. When a man takes a head football coaching position at a major football program, part of the expectation is that he will stand up and be held accountable for his team’s performance and answer to the fans through the media in good times and bad. With that said, if you have a problem with what Spurrier did last night, my message to you is:

Get over it.

Spurrier is still human, is still emotional, and is still one of the fiercest competitors you will ever come across. He’s been stung not just by our losses this year, but by the way we’ve lost. He’s angry, he’s tired and he’s fed up. And last night’s press conference walk-out might not have been the best of smartest thing in the eyes of the media, but at the end of the day who really gives a damn about hearing cookie-cutter responses to cookie-cutter questions.

“Coach, why did you choose to throw the ball in overtime instead of run it?”

“Well, we had some plays that we thought would work down there, so we ran them.”

“Coach, what to you have to do to get the defense to play better?”

“Well, just keep practicing, work on our angles and tackling, that kind of stuff.”

Do you really think we were going to learn anything from ten minutes of that? I’m not DEMANDING ANSWERS because I know no matter how many times or ways you ask the questions you’re not going to get real answers. Nobody is more angry than Steve Spurrier about how this season has gone, and I guarantee you it’s affecting his life a lot more than yours. If he wants to walk out of a press conference one time after a crushing loss, to me he’s earned the right.

A-hole. This all reminds me of something Gman said to me many years ago about Eddie Fogler, who was notoriously snarky with the media. I think it applies to Spurrier as well. G said when you’re winning and you’re an asshole, you’re engaging and witty and dry and sardonic and people can’t wait to hear your press conferences.

When you’re losing and you’re an asshole, you’re just an asshole.

Pharoh. Shame, shame, shame that Pharoh is this far down the list because we lost. He had one of the great performances in Gamecock history: 11 catches for 233 yards and 2 TDs, 3 carries for 23 yards and a TD, and one passing TD. Not only is he on his way to being placed on some first-team all-SEC lists, at this point he deserves consideration for all-American honors.

Team Thompson. On the flip side of the Spurrier situation, here’s all you need to know about Dylan Thompson:

You can complain that Dylan occasionally makes bad decisions on the field, overthrows too many receivers, or looks like he’s wearing cement shoes when he runs. Off the field you might not like his religious views or his prosthelytizing.

But don’t ever forget one thing – Dylan Thompson is an excellent representative of the University of South Carolina and one that we should all be proud of.

Go Cocks! Beat Open Date!

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Snap Judgments – 2014 USC @ Auburn Edition

pharoh

Photo: greenvilleonline.com

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 42-35 loss to Auburn on Saturday:

Defending moral victories. Saturday was the most relaxed I’ve been during a Gamecock football game in ages. I honestly can’t remember going through an entire game without even having my heart rate raised at least a little. I know this sounds strange because it was a thrilling, back and forth game. But it’s true.

I think part of the reason is that I had resigned myself to losing this game long ago. Before the season most of us had this game circled as our most likely loss given Auburn was coming into the season with a lot returning from a #2 national finish last year, and we were playing at their place, which is one of the toughest venues in the country.

As the season progressed what little hope I did have for this game faded, and by the time game day rolled around I honestly expected a 50-something to 20-something type of game in Auburn’s favor. I wasn’t far off on the Auburn part, but didn’t expect the South Carolina offense to be so productive in a hostile environment, at night, on the road, in the SEC. I’m proud of the guys, for how they played and competed and had a chance until literally the last play of the game.

When the game was over I felt good that we went toe-to-toe with the #5 team in the country and had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. A moral victory? Yes it was, most definitely.

Spare me the “wins and losses are all that matter” and “there are no moral victories” speeches. I’m not a coach or a player, and nothing I write, say or do has any impact on the outcome of a football game on any given Saturday. Sure, there were some aspects of the game that were frustrating Saturday night (three guesses?), but all things considered the way we played gave me hope for our last four regular season games.

We can dwell on another loss, or we can look at a team that fought hard and take some positives from it into next week. I’ve tried the former, it’s time to give the latter a chance.

Team Thompson. Saturday was perhaps the most Dylan Thompson that Dylan Thompson has ever been – a supremely confident, strong-armed leader with spotty accuracy and a mind-boggling ability to turn the ball over at the most inopportune time. He became only the third quarterback in South Carolina history to throw for more than 400 yards in a game, and needs to average roughly 190 yards over his final four regular season games to become only the third to go over 3000 yards in a season.

I sure wish we could petition to get a sixth year of eligibility for him.

King Tuttchdown. Pharoh Cooper had a career high in receiving yards (127), and if he keeps this up with be pushing for a first team All-SEC slot.

The Rocket. Mike Davis also had a fantastic game, rushing for 88 yards and catching six passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. He’s looking more and more like the Mike D from the first half of last season, which is good news as we head down the stretch.

Defenseless. “Lorenzo Ward should be fired yesterday.”

“Lorenzo Ward hasn’t forgotten how to coach, it’s a talent issue.”

In which camp do you fall? Tbone and the Gman had a spirited debate over text that I’ll try to publish later in the week. Tbone wants Ward fired, Gman wants to keep him.

I’m not sure what the answer is. How could Ward go from being on the cusp of possibly getting mentioned for head coaching jobs to running one of the worst defenses in the country?

I can understand both sides of the debate, but if Steve Spurrier’s comments on Sunday are any indication, Lorenzo Ward has nothing to worry about. At least for now.

The HBC. Spurrier’s comments a few days back that he “doesn’t see the plays as well as he used to” got a lot of attention from the fans. Then Saturday night he pulled a rabbit out of his hat and called perhaps his best game of the year. There’s just something about the HBC and big games.

Let’s just hope he treats the last four the same way.

One is the loneliest number. Unless you play defense for Auburn.

Go Cocks, beat the Vols!

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