Little Help, Please?
Some short, quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 31-17 victory (our FIFTH STRAIGHT) over Clemson* on Saturday night:
Five will get you ten (wins). It just keeps getting better. The first win got the monkey off our back. The second and third wins accomplished something we had not done since 1968-1970, and the fourth matched a streak from 1951-1954. I’ve followed this rivalry since about 1980, and I never thought I’d see five in a row in favor of the Gamecocks. But here we are, completely in the heads of everyone who wears orange and purple, and believing six, seven and eight is not outside the realm of possibility.
You’ve been able to see it in their faces late in the fourth quarter of the last three USC wins especially – “when is this going to end?”
They trot out tired old scores and records – “my grandkids’ grandkids will never see this rivalry even tied!” They trot those out because they’re all the Clemsonites have left. And I think they’re finally beginning to realize we really don’t care about the all-time record, or a blowout that took place more than ten years ago. And it’s killing them.
Until they can break this streak, nothing else really matters. Amen? Can I get a high five?
Team Shaw. You know how we feel about Connor Shaw, so we won’t go into that again. But last night’s performance was indicative of what he means to us. He was sharp throwing the ball early, but when the run game kept getting continuously stuffed, Steve Spurrier called his number on the ground 22 times (including a couple of kneel downs) and #14 responded with nearly 100 yards. He simply did what he had to do to get us the win, something he did 17 times against no losses at Williams-Brice Stadium. If you know anything about the history of South Carolina, that’s a remarkable number. But Shaw has been a remarkable player, as Coach Spurrier summed up nicely.
“Connor Shaw, ah man, the best quarterback in school history,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “He’s probably the difference maker completely for us.”
The HBC. At one point when Pharoh Cooper was stuffed on a run from the wildcat formation, I tweeted this:
Need to shelve the wildcat. This is Connor Shaw time.—
TRC (@RubrChickens) December 01, 2013
Silly me, little did I know the Head Ball Coach had been setting up the dagger all night:
Given the game situation and the magnitude of the game, I can’t think of a better play call in the Spurrier era. The only thing that even comes to mind is the Newton-Boyd-McKinley-Newton play against Kentucky in 2006, but that was a game between two pretty average teams. Last night’s call was simply brilliant.
Spurrier’s simple on-field post-game responses to ESPN were also a thing of beauty, as well as his taking a moment to pose for a “five” photo.
Orange turnover. I hope Brison Williams, Chaz Sutton and Kaiwan Lewis all got game balls last night. Williams’ interception kept Clemson from taking an early lead and the momentum. Sutton’s play was arguably the play of the game, as the Tigers were driving for the potential tying touchdown when he simply took the ball from Tajh Boyd. Finally, Kaiwan Lewis forced the second fumble of the night from Clemson punt returner Adam Humphries which led to the final score of the night, giving the Gamecocks a much-needed two-score advantage.
Shaq attack. Shaq Roland keeps getting closer to being our go-to guy. He only had three catches for 40 yards last night, with one for a touchdown. He had one long catch taken from him after a review (a rip-off IMO) and had another great catch nullified by a defensive pass interference call that gave the Gamecocks a first down. Here’s hoping by this time next year we’ll be talking about him in the same breath as guys like Rice and Jeffery.
Wild Wild East. Congrats to Missouri, they certainly earned the division title. Wishing them good luck next weekend.
Bowling. As of this writing the new BCS standings are not out, and we’ll have to wait until some conference championship games are played next weekend before we know where we are headed. The most likely destinations look like the Capital One or the Outback, with the Cotton and Chick-fil-a still possibilities. I know there are some who are not in favor of the Cotton, but unless it’s a personal thing (would travel to Florida but not Dallas) I’m not sure what the objection would be. A match-up against 11-1 Baylor on January 3 would be a fantastic showcase for our program. I’m not sure another trip to Orlando or Tampa against a plodding Big 10 team really gets the blood pumping any more.
“This is not Clemson football.” That’s a quote from Sammy Watkins, which is surprising because he’s been around long enough to know this most certainly IS Clemson football:
Clemson vs. top-20 defenses: 339 yards/game, 15.5 points/game, 0-2. Clemson vs. bottom-100 defenses: 535.7 yds/gm, 45.1 pts/gm, 10-0.—
Aaron Brenner (@Aaron_Brenner) December 01, 2013
Look, the Tigers played a damn good game last night, probably the best of the last five against us. Their defensive front seven stopped us like no defense has done all year. But you are only rarely going to win a football game when you turn the ball over SIX times in a game.
To those Clemson fans who claim they “gave” the game to us, let me tell you a little something about football – turnovers, like those who commit them or force them, are part of the game. You have players who make plays and players who make mistakes. The last few years Clemson has made a lot more mistakes than us, and has had players make fewer plays than us.
Wide receiver throws an interception? How about not have your wide receiver throwing passes when you’re moving the ball fine without any trickery.
Punt returner fumbles? How about put a guy back there you can depend on.
Quarterback gets stripped? How about credit the guy on the other team making a great play and blame your quarterback for not doing a better job of protecting the ball.
Punt returner gets stripped? Maybe you should have learned your lesson and put somebody else back there after his first fumble.
Quarterback throws two more interceptions? Well, that’s just Tajh Boyd against South Carolina for you.
All those things are part of the game and help determine which team is better than the other. And all those things are why Clemson has now lost five games in a row to South Carolina.
With the comet Ison streaking through our solar system, I thought it an appropriate time to write a little about the current universe that is South Carolina – Clemson* football.
In the last week or so I’ve heard a lot of talk from Clemson* fans about “restoring the universe.” This is obviously a reference to the historical win-loss record in the series and their belief that the last four years have been some sort of celestial aberration from the norm, i.e., the stars are out of alignment.
Well, I’ve got some news for them:
The universe is now fundamentally different than it was during the vast majority of the time these two teams squared off against each other in November. As much as Clemson* fans want to curl up next to the fire and take comfort in the series record, we all know that there’s a new reality, a reality that started in 1992 when South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference.
At TRC we have never misrepresented the past or the truth. We fully acknowledge that we had a pretty average football program around here for a long, long time. It’s no secret that Clemson* emphasized winning at football more than we did, and the results showed up on the scoreboard. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the here and now, the current universe in which these teams operate.
When USC joined the SEC we weren’t ready to compete, not by a long shot. It was a slow, difficult process building up the football program. During this same period Clemson* was still basking in the glow of its glory days of the 1980s. Over the next decade or so nothing much changed on the surface. Beneath the surface, however, keen observers could see the transformation that was taking place. After several years of taking our lumps in the SEC, the overall strength and growth of the conference and all of its football prowess began to show in our product on the field.
Clemson* for a long time remained the more physical team in the series, with its traditional power running game and strength along both lines of scrimmage. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were known as a team with good skill position guys but one that was lacking where it mattered the most – in the trenches. We could occasionally break through with a victory in the big game, but most years the result was a testament to the most basic of all football adages that games are won by running the ball on offense and by stopping the run on defense. More times than not, Clemson* did this to us and we could not do it to them.
The SEC affiliation has brought better players and coaches to South Carolina. This is largely a result of the power and money of the conference. There’s no way Lou Holtz or Steve Spurrier would have come to USC but for our membership in the greatest conference in college football. While our entry into the SEC was no quick fix for our football team, the gradual transformation of the program from a finesse team to a team emphasizing defense and ball control is obvious and profound. No more do we have to move offensive lineman and linebackers to the defensive line late in the season. The past few years we have been known as one of the national leaders along the defensive front, with players like Norwood, Ingram, Robertson, Matthews, Taylor, and Quarles (oh, and some guy named Clowney) shutting down the opposition.
While we gradually built up our team with recruiting and an emphasis on defense, the upstaters decided to place an emphasis on finesse and the new fangled “up tempo” offensive system sweeping the college football ranks. The power running game of the past has been replaced by the wide receiver screen.
Is Clemson* good at what they do? Without question. Are they capable of beating us tomorrow? Sure, I believe they are. Just like we had a chance and occasionally beat them before our membership in the SEC began to reveal itself, Clemson* can beat us tomorrow. If they do, we will most assuredly be disappointed and down in the dumps for a while.
But will a Clemson* victory be an indication that the order of the universe has been restored, that the stars are now back in alignment? No, not by a long shot.
The universe has shifted. We know it. They know it. If they try to convince you otherwise by throwing the series record in your face, just smile and say three letters:
*2012 ACC Atlantic Division Co-champions (even though they lost the regular season match-up against the other co-champions.)
Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Hope you all have a fantastic holiday wherever you are and whoever you are with!
(Photoshop courtesy of the supremely talented Jorge Stevens – @jorge_stevens.)
Former Gamecock standout Jonathan Martin joins TRC Unleashed to discuss his years with Lou Holtz and what it took to go from 0-11 to Outback Bowl Champions. The crew also discusses:
Be sure to hang around after the final music to hear a special profanity-laden (for us) blooper!
Click here or click the graphic, and enjoy!
Steve Spurrier has done wonders for the University of South Carolina football program, becoming the winningest coach in school history and guiding the team to 40 wins (and counting) the last four years. The complaints about the HBC have been few and far between recently, but one of the primary knocks on Spurrier in his nine years as head coach at the University of South Carolina has been this:
His inability to bring an elite high school quarterback into the program.
It has been perplexing, one of the great offensive minds in the history of college football unable to bring in top shelf talent at the position which he knows the best.
Some of the names he has signed since 2005 include Tommy Beecher, Cade Thompson, Chris Smelley, Aramis Hillary, Reid McCollum, Andrew Clifford and Tanner McEvoy. Of those seven only Clifford completed his eligibility at USC.
Of course we all know the saga of the one elite quarterback Spurrier did bring in, Stephen Garcia, and we have guys currently on the roster in Dylan Thompson, Brendan Nosovitch and Connor Mitch whom we think have a chance to be very good.
But it was an unheralded recruit out of Flowery Branch, GA, that has now staked his claim as the not only the best quarterback of the Spurrier era, but quite possibly the greatest Gamecock quarterback of all time - Connor Shaw.
Shaw passed on offers from the likes of East Carolina, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and West Virginia (he had no other SEC offers) to sign with USC and Steve Spurrier, one of his football heroes.
Shaw could’ve been just another one of those guys, another signal caller who couldn’t grasp the offense or handle the day-to-day grind of being a Steve Spurrier quarterback. But Shaw is a coach’s son, and a damn tough one at that.
The Head Ball Coach took a liking to Shaw during the recruiting process, and when he arrived in Columbia as an early enrollee in the spring of 2010, he immediately moved his way up the depth chart and by the start of the season was the back-up to the established Stephen Garcia.
Shaw came in for the first time in the 2010 season opener against Southern Miss and threw a touchdown pass, then got some snaps the next week against Furman.
In the fourth game of the season, Spurrier shocked everyone by turning to Shaw in the fourth quarter of a one-score game against Auburn after Garcia had fumbled on back-to-back possessions. Twice Shaw led the Gamecocks into Auburn territory only to throw interceptions in what turned out to be a 35-27 loss. But despite the turnovers Shaw showed composure in moving the USC offense that night. If we didn’t notice it, Spurrier surely did.
The rest of the 2010 season the team belonged to Garcia, and besides taking his first big knockout shot in a loss to Arkansas, Shaw’s season was relatively uneventful.
During 2011 fall practice Spurrier teased us all by telling us he didn’t know who the starting quarterback was going to be in the season opener against East Carolina. I mean, surely the incumbent, the Senior, the man who led us to the SEC East title the previous year would start under center, right?
Wrong. Days before the ECU game Spurrier announced Shaw would start over Garcia, simply stating that Shaw had had a better fall practice.
Shaw was shaky in that start, and Garcia came to the rescue to lead the Gamecocks to a 56-37 victory, and seemingly order had been restored. But, despite a big win over Georgia in Athens the following week, Garcia never got in the groove. Mediocre play in wins over Navy and Vanderbilt, and a horrible performance in a crushing defeat to Auburn led Spurrier to make the switch back to Shaw.
A different Shaw showed up that Saturday against Kentucky, confident and ready to take the reins once and for all. He threw for 311 yards and 4 TDs in a 54-3 rout of the Wildcats. When Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the team the following week, we knew we had to ride or die with Connor Shaw the rest of the way.
Shaw led us to huge back-to-back road victories over Mississippi State and Tennessee (critics always seem to conveniently forget these games when they argue he can’t win a big game on the road.) Following a loss to an outstanding Arkansas team, Shaw willed the Gamecocks to a tight win over Florida, and then passed for 217 yards and ran for 90 in a win over The Citadel.
The next week Shaw put together one of the best games of his career, passing for 210 yards and 3 TDs and rushing for 107 yards and another score in a 34-13 rout of Clemson.
A Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska gave South Carolina their first 11-win season in school history, and finally Spurrier had the man he wanted leading the offense.
The 2012 season didn’t get off to the start the Gamecocks had hoped, with Shaw going down with a shoulder injury early in the first game against Vanderbilt. With Dylan Thompson ineffective, and despite excruciating pain, Shaw returned and simply willed USC to a win in Nashville.
He sat the following week, and a great game by Thompson against ECU started a debate that raged for a year and half – and still goes on in some minds – over who the starting quarterback should be.
Three straight wins set up a showdown with #5 Georgia, and in front of an ESPN national audience, Shaw and the Gamecocks played one of the most complete games in USC history, ripping the Bulldogs 35-7. Shaw completed only six passes, but amassed 162 yards and two TDs and also rushed for 78 yards and a TD.
The Gamecocks’ bubble was quickly burst with a close loss at LSU, and then a bizarre blowout loss at Florida that fueled the Shaw critics.
Shaw responded against Tennessee with a 356 yard, 3 TD performance on a day when Marcus Lattimore’s career at USC ended. Without Shaw’s performance that day the Gamecocks would have had a third straight loss and the season could’ve easily slipped away.
The next two weeks Shaw played and the Gamecocks won, but the beatings he had taken all year forced him to sit the finale against Clemson, and Thompson put together one of the legendary performances ever in the rivalry.
A still-injured Shaw and Thompson combined to lead the team to a dramatic win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl, and the program’s second consecutive 11-win season.
Coming into this season Spurrier talked of the two quarterbacks splitting time throughout the season, but early on it was evident that Shaw gave us the best chance to win week in and week out.
With the team sitting at 5-1, the season seemingly came crashing down on October 19 at Tennessee. Not only did we lose a huge divisional game to a bad Volunteer football team, but Shaw suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury. I personally expected the worst, and figured the best case scenario would have him returning late in the season.
But as Shaw has done so many times in his career, he set aside the pain and dressed for the Missouri game, even though we didn’t expect him to play. Dylan Thompson was not bad that night, but with the Gamecocks down 17-0, Steve Spurrier asked Shaw if he could play. We needed a spark, he said.
Not only did Shaw play, but he cemented his legacy on that night in a comeback for the ages.
This past Saturday Connor Shaw became the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history. This coming Saturday Shaw will run the zone read and throw the deep post for the last time at Williams Brice Stadium. One month from now, Shaw will don the garnet and black for the final time.
I wish I could be there Saturday, I really do. Because those of you who are will be seeing the best quarterback in South Carolina history, by almost any measure, for the last time on his home field. And I hope when he is introduced there are 80,000 plus fans on their feet saluting him for what he has done for this program.
There are those of you who will debate and disagree over whether Shaw is the best, and that’s fine. We can talk statistics and arm strength and measurables until we’re blue in the face.
But there is one measure on which we can all agree, and the most important legacy he will leave on South Carolina football.
Connor Shaw is a winner.
Some short, quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 70-10 victory over Coastal Carolina on Saturday:
Breather. For once it was nice to sit back and not stress over a South Carolina football game while it was actually being played. After Coastal Carolina’s first offensive play, a 25-yard completion, the game was thoroughly dominated by the Gamecocks. I think we all felt a little wary of the 10-1 Chanticleers and thought they might be able to hang around for a while. But fortunately we were able to pull away early, rest some starters, and reward some walk-ons for their hard work during practice.
Shaw me your wins. Connor Shaw became the all-time winningest quarterback at USC with his 25th win as a starter, passing Todd Ellis’ old mark. What makes the record even more impressive is Shaw reached that win total in 30 starts, while it took Ellis 43. (In the defense of all our signal callers prior to Shaw, he has had much better teams around him.)
I believe #14 will ultimately be remembered as the quarterback who bridged the era where we hoped for 6-7 wins, to the one where we expect 10 wins.
Team Dylan. Dylan Thompson looked very sharp yesterday, which was encouraging. He has had a couple of mediocre outings this year, but he looked confident on the field yesterday, and the ball was coming off his hand like a laser. That Dylan is the guy who makes me optimistic for 2014.
Into the Wilds. Another guy who looked like he had something to prove was Brandon Wilds. After missing the last few weeks with a dislocated elbow, he appeared absolutely thrilled to be back on the field, and gives us a back-up to Mike Davis who can break tackles and get the extra yards we need in short yardage situations. I believe he has been missed more than we realize.
And while on the subject of running backs, I realize it was Coastal Carolina and we won by 60, but Jamari Smith looked very good in rushing for 103 yards yesterday.
King Tuttchdown. Steve Spurrier has seemed enamored with Pharoh Cooper since he arrived on campus, and now we know why. I’ve said since the first time I saw him on the field he reminded me of Randall Cobb, and he did his best Randall Cobb impersonation yesterday. Cooper had 168 total yards and two touchdowns – a spectacular diving catch and a 71-yard run out of the Wildcat. You have to wonder how much he will be utilized in the final 2 (or 3) games of this season, but you can rest assured he will be a major part of the offensive game plan in 2014.
Numbers game. As I mentioned above, another benefit to the blowout is the HBC was able to get a lot of players on the field we don’t typically get to see. I haven’t seen how many players took snaps yesterday, but there were a lot of names and numbers I had never seen running around at the W-B yesterday. Good for those guys, that’s a memory that will last a lifetime.
Wild Wild East. Texas A&M is now South Carolina’s last hope to make it to the SEC Championship Game after Missouri disposed of an inept Ole Miss squad last night. The Rebels shot themselves in the foot multiple times, but Mizzou seemed to be toying with them at times. Our overtime win at CoMo looks better every week.
Hate Week. Well, it’s here, and I have absolutely no idea what to expect next Saturday night. But I do expect some interesting quotes this week, and Vic Hampton and Brandon Wilds got things kicked off in yesterday’s post game:
Victor Hampton: "To me, I always feel like it’s a problem if your coach wants to win a game more than your players." He means you, Dabo.—
Ryan Wood (@rwood_SC) November 23, 2013
Brandon Wilds begins the week with a bang: "Of course, I've never lost to Clemson. So I don't really plan on losing to Clemson."—
Ryan Wood (@rwood_SC) November 23, 2013
Should be a fun week.
GO COCKS, BEAT THE HELL OUT OF THOSE TIGERS!
Little Help, Please?
TRC Unleashed bounces back from a lackluster effort after the Mississippi State game to give you an action packed hour of Gamecock entertainment. Included:
Click here or click the link to listen, and enjoy!
Some short, quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 19-14 victory over Florida on Saturday night:
Winning ugly. Florida deserves a tremendous amount of credit for coming in to Williams Brice and putting up a valiant fight on Saturday. They have been decimated by injuries, were coming off a home loss to Vanderbilt, and were starting a freshman quarterback who had never taken a snap in a game. But Will Muschamp and staff put together a game plan that nearly worked.
Florida tried to shorten the game by using a power running attack, and I think surprised the Gamecock coaches by not even considering pass plays in the first half, even on obvious passing downs (Florida’s first rushing TD was on 3rd and 14). But after rushing for 169 yards in the first half, the Gamecocks loaded the box and held the Gators to only 31 yards in the second. When forced to make throws, Skyler Mornhinweg eventually made a freshman mistake and was picked off by Jimmy Legree to seal the game.
It was an ugly win, and one that makes you wonder what we can realistically expect in our final three (four?) games. But an ugly win is fine, because there’s no such thing as a pretty loss.
Seven and Seven. There were times early in the season when Shon Carson looked like he might be losing his place on this football team. He was third team behind Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds*, had lost his kick returner job, and didn’t look confident or capable in the limited carries he was getting. There was even talk of taking the redshirt off of freshman David Williams when Wilds went down with an elbow injury. But Carson has gotten better each week, and with Davis nicked up last night, our offensive number 7 came up with the best game of his career with 102 yards on 13 carries, including a 58-yard run that set up the go-ahead field goal. Considering how much Carson has gone through since he’s been at USC, it’s good to see him making such a meaningful contribution.
Our other number 7, you know, the guy on the defensive side, was vintage Jadeveon Clowney. Even with an injured foot, he was flying off the ball and seemed like he was in the backfield more times than not. This season has been a disappointment numbers-wise for JD, but anyone who watches him play week in and week out like we do know he’s still the best player in college football.
*Carson may be the number two back even when Wilds is fully healthy. Steve Spurrier did not seem too happy with Wilds when he claimed he had a sore hamstring and couldn’t play.
Just four kicks. Steve Spurrier hates kicking field goals. I mean, he HATES kicking field goals. But he knew the way Florida was playing last night that points were going to be at a premium. So when the offense stalled on multiple occasions, he called on true freshman walk-on Elliott Fry, who responded by hitting four of his five attempts. The Texan has been a revelation this season, and has been at the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season of special teams.
Busta move. As we wrote last week, the tight ends have not been nearly the threat this season that we expected them to be. But Busta Anderson came up big against the Gators with 3 catches for 69 yards. The biggest of those was a leaping 34-yard grab on 3rd and 9 from the Florida 36-yard line. Had he not made that play (and had he not been interfered with), the Gamecocks would’ve been faced with a tough decision down 14-13. It was arguably the play of the year out of our tight end position.
Whammy. For some reason Lorenzo Ward has been the target of a lot of criticism this season. He has taken a squad with the most inexperienced linebacking crew in the country and turned them into currently the third best defense in the SEC. Last night he did that thing we always talk about coaches needing to do – make adjustments. After halftime he put more people around the line of scrimmage, and the Gator rushing attack went away. Coach Ward deserves a lot more credit than he’s gotten this year.
Unsportsmanlike. I cannot tolerate stupid penalties, and under the HBC we haven’t seen too many over the years. But Jordan Diggs and J.T. Surratt committed two of the worst in recent memory, and they could’ve cost us a lot worse than they did. I’m sure they will be reminded of those penalties in practice this week.
Prayer on the Plains. The first piece to an SEC East title for the Gamecocks had been falling into place all afternoon as Auburn had been dismantling Georgia. But I watched in relative horror as the resilient Aaron Murray led the Bulldogs back, and saw them take the lead with under two minutes to go on a questionable touchdown run. My heart sank as Auburn lost yardage on their first three downs, and faced an impossible 4th and 18 from deep in their own territory.
Then, this happened.
Somehow I didn’t even react. I just watched and soaked in what I immediately knew was one of the greatest plays in SEC history. And a play that could very well get us to Atlanta the first weekend of December.
Wild, wild East. Speaking of, the path for both Missouri and South Carolina to the SEC Championship Game became a whole lot clearer yesterday. If Missouri beats Ole Miss and Texas A&M, they go. If they lose either, we go. Let the scoreboard watching commence.
Go Cocks, beat The Citadel!
With the Gamecock football season now three-quarters over (how the heck did that happen???), we thought a fun bye-week exercise would be to revisit some of our pre-season conventional wisdom and see how it’s holding up:
What we believed on August 28: Jadeveon Clowney is a Heisman candidate.
Reality on Nov. 8: Jadeveon Clowney is most certainly not a Heisman candidate. I’m even beginning to wonder where he will land on postseason All-SEC teams, if anywhere. Now, we all know he was hyped during the offseason beyond any level he could ever achieve, but his production has been below anything we would have imagined two months ago. Yes, he has nagging injuries and offenses have successfully schemed against him, but the season for him individually has been a disappointment. Fortunately, JD has proven to be a team player and seems to have taken more of a leadership role as the season has progressed. With four, and possibly five games left, I think he still has something spectacular in store for us.
Related: as Twitter followers @NateLord53 and @Aaronbost12 pointed out, Chaz Sutton was supposed to benefit greatly from all the attention Clowney would get on the field and have a monster season. While he has played better of late (see two big plays on Missouri’s final, ill-fated overtime drive), he has disappeared for long stretches this season.
What we believed on August 28: Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will split time at quarterback.
Reality on Nov. 8: Connor Shaw is the unquestioned leader of this football team. Sure, it sounded like a novel idea back in August. Last season Dylan Thompson had played great against Clemson, and had finished the game-winning drive in the Outback Bowl that Shaw had started, so he deserved some playing time, right? But when given a chance this year, Thompson threw a momentum-shifting interception against Vanderbilt, and had a lackluster performance in relief of Shaw at Central Florida.
When Thompson started at Missouri and couldn’t put points on the board through 2 ½ quarters, we had to turn to an injured Shaw to pick us up off the deck and engineer one of the great rallies in South Carolina history.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Dylan Thompson and can’t wait for him to lead the Gamecocks next year. I think he’ll be great.
But this is without a doubt Connor Shaw’s team.
What we believed on August 28: Georgia and Florida are our biggest competition in the East.
Reality on Nov. 8: Missouri and Georgia are our biggest competition in the East. When a mostly healthy Georgia team beat us in early September I thought our chances to win the East were dead. After all, when looking down Georgia’s schedule, who was going to beat them?
But no one could have predicted Georgia, along with Florida, would be decimated by so many injuries over the course of the season. At the same time, no one predicted Missouri’s quick rise to the top of the East.
With Georgia’s victory over Florida last weekend, it appears to be a three-team race to Atlanta, and given our schedule advantage, I still like our chances.
What we believed on August 28: We don’t have a go-to wide receiver.
Reality on Nov. 8: We don’t have a go-to wide receiver. But wait, on August 29 I thought that was a bad thing. It turns out the wide receiver corps has been very solid this year, with Shaw and Thompson spreading the wealth between Bruce Ellington (32 catches, 5 TDs), Damiere Byrd (29 catches, 4 TDs), Nick Jones (25 catches, 4 TDs), and, when he’s not in street clothes, Shaq Roland (11 catches, 3 TDs). Also of note, Kane Whitehurst has two catches for two touchdowns.
The go-to-receiver by committee has worked out well for us, and the good news is (barring something unforeseen), they will all be back next year.
What we believed on August 28: Our tight ends will be serious offensive weapons.
Reality on Nov. 8: Our tight ends have mostly been a non-factor. This has been as puzzling as anything we’ve experienced this year. Busta Anderson had proven himself as a quality threat at tight end over his freshman and sophomore seasons, and the reports of Jerell Adams size, speed and athleticism had us drooling to get him on the field. With the uncertainty at wide receiver, we were comforted by the fact we had these two guys. Throw in the talented Drew Owens and we had perhaps the best set of tight ends in the SEC.
But through nine games the three combined only have 25 catches and one TD, and to my knowledge no one has given a good explanation as to why we haven’t seen more production out of the position. Much like the Clowney situation, I expect Anderson or Adams to have at least one breakout game over the last three weeks.
What we believed on August 28: Mike Davis has a chance to be a decent running back.
Reality on Nov. 8: Mike Davis is a spectacular running back. We’ve said a lot about him in this space and talked a lot about him on our podcast, but Davis has been the biggest and most pleasant surprise of this season. We knew he had potential, but we had no idea he would have the best combination of size and speed we’ve seen at USC since George Rogers. He will be a first-team All-SEC back, and will probably make some All-America lists.
What we believed on August 28: Our linebackers are talented but will struggle because of their inexperience.
Reality on Nov. 8: Our linebackers are talented but have struggled because of their inexperience. But the light appears to be coming on for most of them. The last few weeks they have been playing faster and making fewer mistakes. Skai Moore is a star in the making.
What we believed on August 28: We will have several easy wins this year.
Reality on Nov. 8: We have had one easy win this year, and might (MIGHT, I say) have one more. As Spurrier said after one of our early, root-canal wins, it’s just who we are. For whatever reason, we have trouble putting teams away. The good news is, most of the time, we eventually do put them away.
Any surprises we’re missing?