1989 Gamecock Flashback

This blog post and the accompanying audio were originally posted prior to the 2013 season

Following a steroid scandal at USC, the disappointment of the way the 1988 football season ended, and then the tragic passing of Coach Joe Morrison in early 1989, new head coach Sparky Woods had his work cut out for him. But he guided the Gamecocks to a 5-1-1 start before Todd Ellis was lost for the season with a knee injury. A late season swoon (something we would all become familiar with over the years) and a humiliating 45-0 loss to Clemson followed.

Also covered in this edition of Buckshots – from Bugginout to Gustavo Fring, a young Steve Spurrier, and how hurricane Hugo nearly wiped out the Georgia Tech game.

Click here to stream.

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Enjoy!

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1988 Gamecock Flashback

This blog post and the accompanying audio were originally posted prior to the 2013 season

The 1988 Gamecock football season was one of the more eventful in our program’s history, and not for good reasons.

In a 10-day stretch our 6-0 and eighth-ranked Gamecocks lost on the road to a 1-4 Georgia Tech team, and a few days later a huge steroid scandal was exposed at USC by Sports Illustrated. The story of Tommy Chaikin can be found here, and I encourage you to read it if you never have. The future of South Carolina football was very much in doubt, in our minds if not in reality, during that time.

After a late season swoon (sound familiar?) that included a 59-0 loss to Florida State, a loss at Clemson, and a loss to Indiana in the Liberty Bowl, we thought we would have a respite from bad football news for a while. Unfortunately, that was far from the case.

Head Coach Joe Morrison died tragically after playing racquetball at Williams-Brice Stadium on February 6, 1989. Not only was this a huge blow to the University, it also happened THREE DAYS before National Signing Day. Within two weeks Sparky Woods was hired from Appalachian State to try to put the pieces back together.

I’m trying to keep these flashbacks short and concise – under 10 minutes, but this one does run long because so much happened in 1988. (Plus I bore you with a couple of personal stories.)

Oh, and on a side note, the music in each Buckshots will come from the year we are featuring. I’m sure you recognize both songs so far, 1987 was “Walk Like and Egyptian” by The Bangles, and in the this episode we have “Faith” by George Michael. (Don’t judge, I’m just trying to give you a flavor of the time!)

Click here to stream.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Enjoy!

1987 Gamecock Flashback

This blog post and the accompanying audio were originally posted prior to the 2013 season

After our discussion on the last TRC Unleashed about 80s and 90s Gamecock football seasons, I had the urge to piece together all the seasons since my Freshman year (1987). And instead of writing about those seasons, which would take years, I decided to record short recaps in the form of Buckshots (a mini-podcast idea that never went anywhere).

So starting with 1987, I’m going to try to give a pseudo-recap of each season leading up to the start of the 2013 season. The purpose is to try to recapture the mood of the program, the major players, and some important/interesting/depressing games. Most of what I’m doing here I’m going on memory, so feel free to correct my ever-eroding memory in the comments section below.

One note I left off this episode, the Todd Ellis TD to INT ratio in 1987: 10-24.  Ugh.

There are two ways to listen:

Click here to stream

Click here to listen in iTunes

Thank you and enjoy!

 

Snap Judgments – 2017 USC @ Georgia Edition

(Photo: AP/John Bazemore)

 

 

 

 

 

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-10 loss to Georgia.

In a loss, progress. There are no moral victories. However, there are losses from which you can take away positive impressions of your team. South Carolina entered Saturday as roughly 25-point underdogs to top-ranked Georgia. The Gamecocks had played unevenly over the course of their first eight games, not particularly gaining (or earning) the respect of the college football public at large. Meanwhile, Georgia had steamrolled everyone in their path, sans a one-point win over Notre Dame on the road, while beating the brakes off their SEC opponents by an average of 32 points. There was very little reason to believe USC could keep this game interesting for the national CBS audience, hence the huge Vegas spread.

But the Gamecocks did keep the game interesting, trailing by a touchdown at the half and 11 points at the end of the third quarter. The game wasn’t completely put away until a Jake Bentley interception with just under two minutes left in the game. While it would’ve taken a minor miracle at that point to even tie the game, there were plenty of the Bulldog faithful holding their breath up until that play.

Georgia was clearly the more talented and deeper team. Their offensive and defensive lines were dominant, and behind future NFL stars Sony Michel and Nick Chubb they out-gained the Gamecocks by nearly 200 yards on the ground. But the Gamecocks never appeared intimidated and never lost their confidence, which can’t be said for a lot of USC teams who have faced hostile environments and/or top 10 teams in the past.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy with the loss. We missed some opportunities to make the game closer or even pull a monumental upset. But at the same time, I was very proud of our guys, and think this team might be closer than we thought to being pretty good.

Then again, as I said last week, maybe we will just forever be the team that plays to the level of its competition. This week against Florida will be a good test of that theory.

Muschamp 2.0. I’m not a fan of hypotheticals, but do me a favor and go through a little exercise in your head – pretend Will Muschamp’s failed stint at Florida never happened. Forget all the preconceived notions you had of him when he was hired. Pretend Muschamp was a hot young defensive coordinator at Texas that Ray Tanner was able to lure to South Carolina to rebuild our program.

He took over a program almost completely devoid of talent that went 3-9 the season before he arrived, having been abandoned by their head coach midway through the year. His first team improved by three games in 2016 and lost in overtime in a bowl game. His second team became bowl eligible before the end of October and if things go as expected will increase its win total by two more games in 2017.

No, I don’t like the fact that Muschamp will almost always punt on 4th and 5 from the opponent’s 40-yard line. No, I don’t like how he runs out the clock at the end of the half with a 1:30 to go and three time outs. No, I don’t like that he doesn’t go for a kill shot after a turnover in plus territory.

Know what I do like? Winning. And so far the Will Muschamp method has worked at South Carolina. I  can complain about his in-game decisions on occasion, but the overall results so far are pretty good. If you can get over what you remember about his Florida days, the results are damn good.

Kurt-ailed. I still don’t know what to make of Kurt Roper. Over the course of this season I’ve called for his head and I’ve called him a very good coordinator. Statistically he appears to be directing one of the worst offenses in the SEC. But he’s also been limited by injuries across the offensive line and the loss of his best player (Deebo Samuel) and his best running back (Rico Dowdle). A lot of people were hammering him again on Saturday, but I personally didn’t think he called that bad of a game against one of the best defenses in the country.

That said, there are still plenty of offensive weapons on this team, and the statistics don’t lie. Honestly I’m starting to run out of runway in my defense of Kurt Roper.

Hold your comments I might change my mind next week.

Backs to the wall. South Carolina’s run game, to put it mildly, has been the team’s biggest disappointment in 2017. Our running back situation has become pretty dire, and looking across at the other sideline on Saturday only accentuated that point. Not one tailback for South Carolina would be able to crack the four-deep on the Georgia roster. The Bulldogs have future NFL stars in Michel, Chubb and DeAndre Swift, while Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield would probably start at USC. Dowdle has been hurt and was not performing well prior to his injury, and AJ Turner and Ty’Son Williams have had their moments but are far from the type of game-breaking back we desperately need. We can only hope the light comes on for one of these guys or the next recruiting class brings one in. Otherwise our run game will continue to suffer.

King for a day. We thought Jamarcus King was a pretty good corner most of last season, until he had that moment. You know, the one where he got carried five yards on the back of Mike Williams for a Clemson touchdown. From that point we found multiple ways to criticize him, some deserved, some probably not.

But King has rebounded the last few weeks and is once again playing like the best cornerback on the team. Against Georgia, even when he had passes caught against him he was pretty much in the back pocket of the receiver the whole way. He has certainly regained his confidence just in time for the home stretch.

Of course, before his recent slump Rashad Fenton was being lauded by some as the best Gamecock corner ever. Just goes to show, when you play corner you’re only as good as what you do with the next pass thrown your way.

Lying in wait. Florida is a mess right now. In their first game after Jim McIlwain was ousted from Gainesville, the Gators were pummeled by Missouri 45-16 for the Tigers’ first conference win of the year. South Carolina has opened as a 9.5-point favorite at home and all signs point to an easy win for the Gamecocks. But hold up.

Remember that whole playing to the level of your competition thing? Yeah, that’s kinda our curse. Also, Florida will have had a week to stew over the humiliating performance in CoMo and will most certainly come out with more life and fight than they had last week. Despite all the Gators’ problems, I have a feeling this will be a typical South Carolina-Florida root canal game.

Worst case scenario. Clemson won the national title last year and is primed to make the college football playoff once again this year. Georgia has a cakewalk to the SEC Championship and even if they lose that game might make the playoff. The thought of Clemson back-to-back national championships or Georgia following the Tigers’ title with one of their own is enough to make me abandon the game of football altogether.

Go cocks, beat the Gators!

Snap Judgments – 2017 Vanderbilt @ USC Edition

(Photo: postandcourier.com)

6-2 (4-2). We often talk about managing expectations around here. Prior to the start of this season most people had South Carolina winning anywhere from five to eight games, with the majority of predictions coming in at 6-6 or 7-5. That seemed very reasonable considering the mess that Will Muschamp inherited, and that the majority of the talent on his team had played either one or zero seasons of college football. After Saturday’s 34-27 win over Vanderbilt, what we have experienced is probably the best-case scenario for Muschamp and the Gamecocks, having won six games before the end of October.

(Let’s not play the “could’ve been” game, because I will see your frustrating losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M and raise you a nail-biter against NC State and a semi-miracle win over Louisiana Tech.)

The downside, if you can call this a downside, is the competition has been worse than we could’ve possibly imagined. NC State is USC’s best win by far, but was proven to be no more than a “good” team after getting hammered by Notre Dame on Saturday. Louisiana Tech is a mediocre 4-4 against a mostly G-5 schedule.

When you evaluate the SEC games the Gamecocks have played, their four wins have come against four of the five worst teams in the conference. Those four teams are a combined 1-18 in their conference games. The two conference losses have come against decent teams, but teams outside of the top 25.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bring anyone down here. I think we’re very much ahead of schedule in the Will Muschamp era with timely assists from a couple of struggling SEC programs. The Gamecocks will be favored in two games and will be heavy underdogs in two more down the stretch. Hold serve and USC will finish 8-4 (5-3) and be heading to a bowl game in a place not named Shreveport or Birmingham. That’s a major step forward in year two for Will Muschamp and Co.

What makes this coming Saturday so interesting is it will be a true measuring stick for how much further we have to go. Kirby Smart inherited a ton of talent at Georgia, and, much to my dismay, has done a great job getting that program focused and playing up to its potential. Much like South Carolina, they have had the benefit of playing in the anemic SEC East, but even with that they are currently running neck and neck with Alabama as the best team in the country.

If the Gamecocks can go into Athens and give the Bulldogs a run for their money, it will go a long way in convincing recruits this team is on the right track.

Pre-Kurt-sor. Kurt Roper was determined to get the offense going early against Vandy on Saturday, calling eight passes on the first ten offensive plays. The first drive was actually fun to watch because we got to see the team move at a pace we’ve rarely seen this season. Later in the game we mixed in a couple of run formations I hadn’t seen before. In general, the run game has been much more creative the last couple of games.

The hope is Roper is becoming more familiar with his offensive personnel and is designing the game plan around them. I don’t think we’re going to bust out and drop 40 on Georgia this weekend, but I’m happy to see our OC open up the play book a little more.

Turner the burner. AJ Turner just sits back and waits for his number to be called. For some reason as fans we seem to dismiss and push him aside in favor of the Rico Dowdles and Ty’Son Williams of the world. Then, just when we need him most, Turner gashes Vanderbilt for 121 yards and a touchdown. And he ain’t even mad at us.

Fenton PI-land. Maybe Rashad Fenton was smelling himself a little too much heading into Saturday given how well he’s played so far this year. There was a lot of talk about how teams weren’t throwing his way, but the Commodores said “screw that” and downright picked on him to the tune of two touchdowns and two pass interference calls. We’ll see if other teams follow suit in the coming weeks, and see how 16 responds.

Train Wrecks. Florida parted ways with Jim McIlwain on Sunday, and Tennessee is sure to follow suit with Butch Jones no later than November 26. Bret Bielema at Arkansas and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M are still considered to be on the hot seat, and we know that Matt Luke at Ole Miss is not long for his coaching job. Ed Orgeron at LSU and Gus Malzahn at Auburn seem to be safe for now, but as we know that could change over the course of three hours on a Saturday. And is Missouri really going to stick with Barry Odom for the long haul?

In other words, more than half of the coaches in the SEC have been in trouble at some point this season. We could see an unprecedented amount of turnover this winter in the conference, which at least short-term could benefit the Gamecocks.

Get Smart. So far, I have been very wrong about Kirby Smart. I didn’t think he would be an upgrade over Mark Richt, but he has Georgia rolling like a freight train so far this season. To be fair, he inherited quite a number of talented players from Richt (Michel, Chubb, Thompson, Carter, Sanders just to name a few) but he has also killed on the recruiting trail so far, landing commitments from the top dual threat quarterback in the country as well as two 5-star running backs.

As you well know, Smart was probably a few days away from becoming the Gamecocks’ head coach after the Tom Herman debacle, but Georgia decided to part ways with Richt and Smart was their only candidate. Could Smart have done at USC what he’s doing at Georgia? No, definitely not. Aside from the talent gap on the rosters, selling the Bulldog program is much easier than selling the Gamecock program, especially in the talent-rich state of Georgia.

Will Muschamp will need to ratchet up the recruiting and the coaching to keep up with old pal Kirby Smart, who is off to a red-hot start in Athens.

Go Cocks, beat Georgia.

Snap Judgments – 2017 Bye Week Addition

South Carolina’s next mascot? Maybe!

Honorary Chicken and 2016 Southeast Region District 6 Pickle Ball Player of the Year Jorge (@jorhay) fills in this week to give some bye week snaps. Enjoy! 

How did the seasons get their name? Starting off with some non-football fare! We all know it’s called ‘fall’ because leaves fall and ‘spring’ because it’s when ‘spring break’ happens. But did you know winter used to be called “Fall, but for Snow, Not Leaves”? But that was too cumbersome, so they called it “Winter”, which is an acronym for “Whence It’s Now To Enter [Fall, but for Rain, Not Leaves, or Snow]” which is what they used to call spring. Summer was named for famous mathematician Euclid who was believed to be born on June 21. Mathematicians used to be called “summers”, before they discovered forms of math other than addition, so the season now bares his vocation. This is all true.

Oh and autumn came from the colloquialism “Audem”, as in “hey guys, audem leaves startin’ to fall!”

The most exciting play in football? If you ask me, there’s only one real answer: the pass.

Unsubstantiated take on a subject that is probably way more nuanced than it seems but I still think I’m right about. Official replays should take 30 seconds max. These five-minute official replay sequences are simply Refereeing Theater. “Look how thorough and careful we’re being — trust us coach, we looked at it from every angle. We should be praised for Getting It Right™.” No. Reviewable circumstances are rarely ambiguous, and if they are, then don’t overturn it because it’s Not Conclusive.

IMVHO, it should be as simple as this:

Ref: “The previous play is under review.”

[replay booth should already be watching the portion of the play in question when ref puts on headset] 

Replay booth: “Ah damn yeah, his foot was out of bounds. Ref, the pass is incomplete, actually.”

Ref: [takes off headphones] “The pass is incomplete, 2nd and 10.”

30 seconds, done.

But, but what if they have to reset the clock and the yardage?

Yes this is always the announcer’s excuse for why overturned calls take so long. And I say garbage. Just have another ref get that information during the 15 seconds the review, just in case. The information has to be readily available. It’s not rocket science.

To summarize, it is unacceptable that a replay ever takes more than 30 seconds. I have never refereed football. Do not @ me.

Food for thought. It’s likely that all the animal mascots from recent USC baseball teams are dead.

Next coach? When Will Muschamp retires in 2031 after six SEC championships and two national titles (avg. 17 ppg) who’s up next? Our list of candidates:

  • Connor Shaw Recruits his son, and invites his father to be an honorary walk-on; is now a Coach of a Coach’s Son’s Father, and the Coach-Father of a Coach-Father’s Grandson (coach’s son)

  • Bret Bielema – Out of work for a decade frankly just needs somewhere to crash.

  • Steve Spurrier – 86 years young, Spurrier (now half-cybernetic) wants to give it one more go will attempt to “blue pill” the Cock and Fire offense 😉 Will win 8 games in 2032 and promptly stop recruiting in 2033.

  • Stephen Garcia – Seconds after winning championship, players douse him in a keg of Keystone Light.

  • Whoever got fired by a powerhouse like three years ago. (Let’s face it this is gonna be what happens.)

DID YOU KNOW! 

  • Did you know Jake Bentley was supposed to be in high school last year

  • Did you know Hayden Hurst was a minor leaguer

  • Did you know Jamarcus King is actually a prince of a small Dutch protectorate in the South Caribbean

  • Did you know DJ Wonnum is right behind you

  • Did you know Ortre Smith is an anagram for Rot Hermits, which is the name of my new punk band

Kurt Roper Is Good But Also Bad. What’s the deal with Kurt, amirite? I mean the guy’s wasting our talent. Unless he’s not. After all, if the players aren’t executing the schemes it’s not his fault. Although, it’s kinda his fault if he’s calling plays that his players aren’t capable of executing. But you can’t just gut an entire offensive scheme because your guard’s not pulling fast enough…right? Then again, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Play the hand you’re dealt! Of course, since coaches recruit the players, you’re kinda dealing your own hand. So Kurt Roper is good, but might be bad. Or the opposite of that. I need to lay down.

I just broke my tibia. I just broke my tibia.

Possible new mascot names. Ole Miss will begin to use the on-field mascot Landshark, which is an outrage because changing things is always bad (except for definitely slavery and maybe Kurt Roper) but given the political correctification of America, it’s safe to assume that every program will eventually have to adopt a zany, internet-approved mascot. Gamecocks are nefarious betting-birds, so we’re probably gonna be among the earliest to be forced to change.

Safest to go with some abstract, soccery mascot:

  • USC Stormsand

  • USC Traintraffic

  • USC No Gain on First

  • USC Stansbury Eye Center Football Team

  • USC Three Stars

  • USC Chaun Gresham

  • USC Demetra

Looking ahead. Vanderbilt is next on our schedule.

Looking behind. We played Tennessee last week.

Looking down. I’m wearing Vans.

Looking up. Will Muschamp is in the AC duct.

Looking glass. Makes it easy to read small words

Looking for a Way Out.  A great song by Uncle Tupelo

I bet you are excited for the bye week to be over. 

Go Cocks, beat Vandy!

Snap Judgments – 2017 USC @ Tennessee Edition

Photo: postandcourier.com

Ugly as a brand. Saturday’s win over Tennessee was an ugly one, let’s be honest. But before I continue let me go ahead and state what a lot of you are thinking:

I DON’T CARE HOW WE WIN AS LONG AS WE WIN A WIN IS A WIN IS A WIN.

I agree totally, now unbunch your undergarments and let me talk about this, because it is quite possible you are going to need to get used to this fact:

After five and a half years as a head coach, Will Muschamp’s brand of football, win or lose, is ugly. It was like that at Florida, and is now like that at South Carolina.

Under Muschamp we will most likely never be clean and sleek and fast-paced. When we win we will choke teams out, just like we did to Tennessee on Saturday. We lumbered along against the Vols, punching them in the face on defense and tripping over our own feet on offense, looking like the football version of Rocky Balboa. It looked a lot like how his Florida teams used to play.

I’m sure there’s some part of Coach Boom that would love to roll up 600 yards of offense and 55 points in a blowout win. But even if we had the talent and play calling to do that, I guarantee you he would put the brakes on the offense long before we came close to reaching those numbers. It’s just in his DNA.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s a thing. And it’s a thing we need to get used to because there’s very little evidence to suggest Will Muschamp teams are anything else. If you want this program to be a Ferrari or a Porche, forget it. We’re a damn mud-covered 2007 Dodge 2500 with a dent in the left rear quarter panel and sounds terrible but by God runs just fine and gets us from point A to point B in the maximum amount of time allowed.

Ugly is our brand. And as long as wins keep coming with the ugly, I’m perfectly fine with it.

Roper hope. There are plenty of people who put the blame for our offensive struggles squarely on the shoulders of Kurt Roper. I’ve done it myself, and the members of TRC even had a frank discussion at halftime on Saturday about where we would turn if Roper was to be fired. Then, in the second half, he proceeded to direct the offense about as well as he has all season.

He began bringing a man in motion on running plays to give the appearance of a speed sweep, which froze Tennessee perimeter defenders enough to allow for some holes to open in the middle of the line. He gave Jake Bentley a read option play on which Jake kept twice on our touchdown drive for nice gains. He included some off tackle run plays which were bounced outside for big yardage on our crucial final drives. In other words, he realized a lot of the offensive game plan was not working so he made some adjustments that eventually helped us win the game.

I’m not saying I’m quite in Kurt Roper’s corner just yet. I’m still not sure why it took an entire half to fix some of the issues, which seem like simple sideline adjustments. And I’m not sure why most Saturdays our game plan doesn’t really spring into action until the game is already 1/4 over.

But I am saying maybe things aren’t always as bad as they seem, and maybe Kurt Roper isn’t always as bad as he seems.

Milk carton alert. Hayden Hurst disappeared against Tennessee on Saturday. He had zero catches on only two targets, and one rush for four yards. How do you not involve your all-SEC tight end more in your game plan? Honestly I think the Volunteers and their defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had a lot to do with that. They identified Hurst as the one man who was not going to beat them and designed their defensive strategy accordingly. That defense knew exactly where Hurst was on every play and had him bracketed most of the game. The beneficiary of that strategy was…

Plastic man. While Bryan Edwards didn’t have spectacular numbers (6-63), he proved why he is now the Gamecocks’ number one wide receiver. After a crucial early drop, he played with a toughness, fire and determination we hadn’t seen out of him before. He was the key player in the Gamecocks’ lone touchdown drive.

Favorable conditions. Facing an improving and confident Gamecock defense was a bad match-up for Tennessee, as they had already been struggling getting the ball in the end zone. Prior to their final 73-yard drive, USC had held UT to 180 yards of total offense and three and outs on half their possessions.

Tennessee has not scored a touchdown now in ten consecutive quarters, and next up for them is…gulp…Alabama.

Wonnum? Can’t have him. DJ Wonnum was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for the second week in a row, and has become the best edge rusher we’ve seen since a guy who wore number 7. Not too shabby for a guy we flipped from Indiana.

Fenton Island. Still no touchdown catches against Rashad Fenton, but he panicked a little at the end of the game and committed a bad pass interference. We still good though.

Headstrong. Taylor Stallworth picked up a ridiculous penalty in a critical situation on Saturday when he was flagged for continuing to play after his helmet came off. Unlike a lot of you, I don’t necessarily think this is a terrible rule. But I think it was poorly applied against Stallworth, who a) had his helmet ripped off, which should’ve been a penalty on UT, and b) lightly fell onto a guy who was in the grasps of someone else and already going down. The officials have to use some common sense in that situation as Stallworth was in very little danger of getting hurt at that point.

Continuing on that subject, Will Muschamp had an interesting quote on the penalty:

You know what, if a player decides he wants to stick his face in there without a helmet on, he’s making his own judgment. That’s what Will Muschamp would do. I would stick my face in the fire every time. It is a dumb rule.

First, that’s a fairly reckless take by Muschamp considering how high-profile head injuries are in today’s game.

Second, if your helmet comes off around a bunch of elite athletes who are still wearing theirs I hope your first thought isn’t, “hmmm, I wonder what Will Muschamp would do in this situation.”

“You got a home field timekeeper here”. With nine seconds remaining in the game color analyst Tommy Turbeville says “you’ve barely got enough time for two plays.” Tennessee got off three. I wonder if that clock operator knows just how bad all the Tennessee fans want Butch Jones gone.

Go Cocks, relax on your open date.

Snap Judgments – 2017 Arkansas @ USC Edition

Photo: thestate.com
Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 48-22 win over Arkansas.

Hope restored. Saturday at home against Arkansas was very much a make or break game for South  Carolina in the 2017 season. The win over North Carolina State looks better every week, but after disappointing performances against Kentucky, Louisiana Tech and Texas A&M, the season opener was feeling more like a fluke than a case of a good team beating another good team. Losing to a struggling Arkansas squad at home would’ve not only cast more doubt on our prospects for this season, but on the overall direction of the program under Will Muschamp.

What we got was that rare “breather” of an SEC game for the Gamecocks. Despite the occasional frustrating moment, the game was all but decided by the time the fourth quarter started. I don’t have to tell you that’s not a particularly common occurrence for USC football. The defense was spectacular and shut down pretty much everything the ‘Hogs wanted to do, while the offense did more than its share to help choke the life out of them.

Don’t get me wrong, no one is going to look at this as a season-defining win for South Carolina. But it might’ve been a season-saving win. Arkansas is on the fast track to firing the entertaining Bret Bielema, who is only 10-24 in SEC games since he arrived in Fayetteville. But at the same time it’s a team that took Texas A&M to overtime, and was within one score of sixth-ranked TCU until late in the fourth quarter. So the Razorbacks were certainly capable of coming into Columbia and causing trouble.

But Muschamp’s boys didn’t let that happen. As a matter of fact they imposed their will and pushed around another SEC school for the first time in ages. And in the process, they restored some hope that 2017 could be a pretty good season after all.

Let’s hear it for the D. I have been more critical of the Gamecock defense than pretty much anyone I know. I haven’t trusted these guys because they have no superstars and I didn’t feel like the stats were telling the whole story on this unit. I’m here today to admit I’ve been dead wrong.

While “superstar” might still be a little strong for anybody on that side of the ball, Skai Moore has certainly returned to form as the ball hawk we all remember. TJ Brunson is a tackling machine, and nobody in the league or out of the league has dared throw it Rashad Fenton’s way more than a couple of times a game. And now DJ Wonnum has become that disruptive force on the defensive line that has been so badly needed. There are plenty more who deserve praise as well.

The net result is the Gamecock D has held every opponent it has faced below their per game scoring average. It probably took me too long to get there, and I’m knocking on wood as I say this, but I’m now a firm believer in the system and players we have on defense.

Once, twice, three times. Per ESPN, the Gamecocks had not scored a defensive touchdown since 2014, the longest such streak in the SEC. In the second half on Saturday, USC scored three touchdowns over the course of five Arkansas possessions. One other defensive score was overturned when the ‘Hogs runner was (barely) ruled down, and early in the game Jamyest Williams let a scoop and score opportunity slip through his hands.

This is 40. South Carolina scored 40 points for the second time in the Will Muschamp era, and for the first time against an SEC opponent. It was also the first time a Muschamp-coached team scored 40 points in a conference game since 2012. The opponent that day? You don’t want to know.

Roper hope. Kurt Roper kept the wolves at bay for at least one week with a nicely called game. He mixed up the run and pass very well, and if Jake Bentley had thrown a couple more accurate balls we could’ve scored more than 50. All this with a patched together offensive line. The only thing I wish Roper would do is take a page out of the Spurrier playbook and take a shot at the end zone when we force a turnover in plus territory.

Wake up call. If Jake Bentley played the first quarter the way he plays the last three he would be first-team All-SEC. Once again Bentley got off to a slow start on Saturday, completing only five of his first 15 passes for 28 yards. He followed up the slow start by going 11-16 for 171 yards and three touchdowns. He is now third in the league in yards and touchdowns, trailing two quarterbacks in Shea Patterson and Drew Lock who a) have wildly inflated numbers due to early weak competition and b) are often forced to throw the ball a lot because they are behind.

Never kick. Never kick.

D Will. I genuinely felt bad for David Williams on Saturday, after a performance he called “embarrassing, to be honest”. Williams came to USC as a highly rated running back and heir apparent to Mike Davis. He never hit his stride in Columbia, and any time he rose to the top of the depth chart he quickly slid back down. He saw the writing on the wall this offseason and transferred to Arkansas, where he’s actually found a little success in the Razorbacks’ offense.

I’m sure getting beat by almost four touchdowns in his return to Williams-Brice was not in his plans, and I’m not sure he expected to hear boos when he hit the field either. I’m not sure why some fans booed Williams, to my knowledge he was a model citizen at USC and never caused any problems on or off the field. Both Muschamp and Bielema had high praise for him, and I really wish the best for him going forward.

Knoxville. South Carolina returns on Saturday to a place filled with so many horrors it’s no wonder the game was traditionally played on Halloween weekend.

  • 2007 – Gamecocks mount a furious rally from 21-0 down at halftime to force overtime, only to lose a heartbreaker 27-24.
  • 2009 – Lane Kiffin, Tennessee in black jerseys, need I say more?
  • 2011 – Ugly, ugly 14-3 win over a terrible Volunteer team.
  • 2013 – Arguably the best Gamecock team ever falls on a last minute field goal.
  • 2015 – Another big deficit (17-0), another rally, Jerrell Adams fumbles deep in Volunteer territory with a chance to tie or take the lead.

That’s four losses in the last five tries in Knoxville, with all four incorporating some delicious new form of knife-twisting pain for Gamecock fans.

This week USC will face a Tennessee program that currently makes a dumpster fire look like a field of fresh lilies. They have a lame duck coach, players getting suspended for fighting with one another, crushing injuries on both sides of the ball, and a fan base collectively lined up at the edge of a tall bridge.

Still, the Volunteers are favored. Given our history in Neyland, this is not at all surprising.

Go Cocks, beat the  Vols.

 

Snap Judgments – USC @ Texas A&M 2017 Edition

(Photo: thestate.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-17 loss to Texas A&M.

Gigged. The Gamecocks had a chance to rebuild some good will Saturday night that had been lost over the last two weeks with a bad loss to Kentucky and a last second win over Louisiana Tech. After a shaky first quarter on offense in College Station, USC took control of the game behind the arm of Jake Bentley and a swarming defense. A touchdown pass from Bentley to OrTre Smith put the Gamecocks up 17-10  with 9:24 left in the third quarter, and the defense immediately held Texas A&M to a three-and-out on their next possession. Things were looking very good for South Carolina on the road in one of the most hostile SEC environments.

They didn’t look good for long.

The Gamecocks went three-and-out on their next four possessions, losing an astounding 30 yards of field position combined. Texas A&M unleashed the hounds on defense and found some rhythm on offense, and once they tied the score at 17 there wasn’t a lot of hope on our side that we could score again or stop them from scoring. What was a golden opportunity to tell the college football world “hey, we might be pretty good after all” turned into another in a long line of “almosts” for USC in conference road games.

Dominos. The standard arguments apply – it’s Kurt Roper, it’s the offensive line, it’s Will Muschamp, it’s our lack of a run game, it’s a lack of creativity in the offensive game plan (also Roper), it’s the lack of depth on both lines of scrimmage. The truth is, it’s quite possibly all of these things combined, and until we get at least one of them fixed we’ll never know the biggest culprit.

What happens is one thing goes wrong and the dominos start to fall. Saturday night our offense was not able to stay on the field long enough because for the most part we failed to establish a consistent run game. Once the defense was out there for enough plays they obviously ran out of gas and couldn’t stop the Aggies. Once we were put in must-passing situations our offensive line couldn’t hold up to the TAMU pass rush and Jake got killed.

Roper has had a season and a half and a bevy of skill players to help prove his ability to move this offense and score points. So far he hasn’t done that. At the same time, up 17-7 if we hadn’t run the ball on first and second down with a back that was gaining six yards per carry people would’ve screamed “RUN THE DANG BALL”. Instead, they’re yelling because we didn’t keep the foot on the gas and bury the opponent.

Kurt Roper has made himself an easy target based on the lack of production of our offense, but on Saturday night I think he was mostly victimized by our thin offensive line. Whatever it is, he needs to get it fixed or the cries for his head will only get louder.

Additionally, as @HJhughes79 puts it:

The USC Three-and-Outs. In addition to the four straight three-and-outs in the second half, the Gamecocks started the game with four straight possessions without a first down as well. The only reason we had four plays on one of those first half drives was because we recovered a fumble and missed a field goal. That means six of our fourteen possessions resulted in no first downs and we were off the field in an average of 1:37. That will wear a defense out.

T-bone’s Food for Thought. No coach has won an SEC title in the modern era who didn’t win at least nine games in his second season. I think it’s safe to say we aren’t going to win nine games. It’s also safe to say Kirby Smart at Georgia is.

On the other hand, we are 3-2, which is after five games is probably exactly where we are supposed to be.

Rocked. Jake Bentley is a hell of a football player, and we’re lucky to have him. He has a lot to learn and tons of room to grow, but it’s hard to imagine what our team would be without him. That said, if he keeps taking shots like he took on our next to last offensive play of the game and is allowed to keep playing we won’t have him around for long.

https://twitter.com/AthleteAdvisory/status/914570408451506176

I don’t care the situation, somebody – a Gamecock coach or player, a referee, anybody – has to see a guy staggering back to the huddle like that and stop the game. It’s not worth a serious brain injury to let a kid keep playing in that instance.

The Smith Brothers. It’s hard not to be excited about Shi and OrTre Smith. They accounted for both South Carolina’s touchdowns on Saturday night and will be centerpieces of this offense for the next four years. Now, how to get them the ball…

Winnables. Switching to optimist mode, South Carolina has winnable games coming up against Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Honestly the only two games left on the schedule that appear to be completely unwinnable are Georgia and Clemson. The key to the entire season might be getting Cory Helms and Zack Bailey back on the OL. If we can get them healthy and playing up to their potential 7-5 is not out of the realm of possibility. If not, well, basketball season is right around the corner.

Go Cocks, beat the Hogs.

Snap Judgments – 2017 Kentucky @ USC

Photo: thestate.com
Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 23-13 loss to Kentucky.

Fool’s Gold. I fell for it again. Just like in 1988 when we started 6-0 and were ranked number six. Just like in 2007 when we were 6-1 and ranked number seven. And any other year we started strong and flamed out. I ignored the signs then, and I ignored them this season after a 2-0 start.

No, we weren’t ranked in the top 10, and we’re much earlier in the season than those other years. But most of us were fooled that this was a good football team because nobody outside of Columbia, SC expected us to be 2-0 heading into our home opener against Kentucky. Oh I mentioned it on this blog, and talked about it on our podcast. The fact that we’d been outgained in our first two games, and actually doubled up by North Carolina State. But I said it sheepishly, not wanting to be the idiot who didn’t believe.

“The scoreboard is the only place it counts!” people told me.

“You’re absolutely right!” I replied.

But deep down I knew we couldn’t rely on the other team turning the ball over and not capitalizing in the red zone. I knew at some point our “bend but don’t break” defense would break. Sooner or later our lack of creativity in the run game and pathetic run blocking would cost us. Eventually our shortcomings would be laid bare for all of the college football world to see. Last night it all came crashing down.

I don’t have a disappointment meter to measure how bad I feel after a loss and compare them to other losses. All I can tell you is last night was right up there with the most disappointed I’ve been in Gamecock football in a long time. Right up there with Texas A&M, right up there with the Citadel, right up there with 56-7.

I have no one to blame but myself. When you invest in the fool’s gold thinking it’s the real deal, it’s not hard to figure out who the fool is.

Wasted. The Gamecocks came out of the gates like they had something to prove. Jake Bentley hit Deebo Samuel on a 68-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. After a deflating missed extra point, Skai Moore intercepted a Steven Johnson pass to give USC great field position. After gaining five yards in four plays, we missed a field goal. Then Kentucky once again gifted us the ball, turning it over on a fumble. We then lost five yards on two plays before Bentley threw an arm punt interception on third and long.

That was two extra possessions early in the game that could’ve broken the Wildcats’ backs and completely changed their ball-control game plan. Instead those were portents of things to come, as the Gamecocks had FIVE possessions inside the Kentucky 40 that resulted in no points.

Roper dope. Down 14-6, USC stopped Kentucky on their first possession of the second half and then picked up 18 quick yards on their ensuing possession. On second and two from midfield Rico Dowdle picked up one yard, but came out of the game after being shaken up on the play. Kurt Roper, obviously knowing he was going to run the ball to pick up one yard, put in 185-pound AJ Turner instead of 215-pound Ty’Son Williams. Turner was stuffed, creating a fourth and one. Even with a second chance to correct his mistake, Roper kept Turner in for fourth down, essentially ran THE SAME PLAY, and once again Turner was stopped and the ball went over to Kentucky.

To his (sort of) credit, Roper knew we couldn’t pick up a single yard when we needed it, so later in the game he called a modified sweep on fourth and goal from the one on a play that would’ve kept the Gamecocks in the game. The play was possibly horribly designed and definitely horribly blocked, and once again USC didn’t convert.

Those are the obvious blemishes from a terrible offensive game from Roper, but when you look at the entire body of work it was a complete, uncoordinated mess. No run game variety, a limited number of pass plays and you get 13 whole points, which will win you exactly zero SEC games.

Check your milk cartons. Big time running back transfer Ty’Son Williams was expected to be an integral part of the Gamecock run game this year. After a head scratching zero carries in the season opener, he broke out with a team high 14 carries for 78 yards against Missouri. With Dowdle struggling to find running room over the first three games it seemed natural that Williams would get his fair share of carries against the ‘Cats. Instead, another goose egg. Baffling.

Dowdling. Speaking of Dowdle, something seems not right about him so far this season. He looks very tentative and is not running with the same purpose he did last season. I’m wondering if he’s hurt or if the extra weight he added during the offseason is hampering him. He definitely doesn’t look like the same back.

Across the way. Meanwhile, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran called a beautiful game. The announcers said his plan was to “dink and dunk” until they had an opportunity to take a shot downfield. They never had to take a shot down the field because the dink and dunk worked so well. Despite a patchwork offensive line, Gran kept the Gamecocks off balance with misdirection, screens, and straight up power football when needed. Kurt Roper should pay attention.

Get off the field. South Carolina’s inability to get off the field on third down is becoming a huge problem. Kentucky was 6-for-8 in the first half and finished 9-for-16 last night. Not much can buzzkill your team more than being *this close* to forcing a punt and having the other team convert.

Four-peat. That’s four straight losses to Kentucky. It’s not an accident, it’s not a fluke. Kentucky is currently a better program than South Carolina.

We miss you Elliott Fry. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a larger Bronx cheer at Williams Brice than I did when Alexander Woznick hit the extra point after the Gamecocks’ late touchdown. Being that was the worst placekicking performance in years by USC kickers, it was well deserved.

We miss you HBC. We punted from the Kentucky 38-yard line in the first half. You old-schoolers can talk about field position and momentum and all that crap, but Steve Spurrier would NEVER punt the ball inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. And with our current offense and kicking situations, we need to take our shot every time we have a chance.

Deebo. I went to bed last night thinking Deebo Samuel was out for the season, and woke up this morning to the news he’d be out 5-6 weeks. How in the bloody hell does the head coach announce his best player is out for the season without being completely certain? Who told him to announce that? That was the final straw in what was a terrible day for the USC Athletics Department.

Spurs down. I give the Athletics Department a lot of credit for the changes they’re made over the last year. We’ve certainly made strides in the right direction. But yesterday couldn’t have gone much worse for the USC AD, and it started in August when we announced the “Blackout” for the Kentucky game. Somehow over the course of the last month, along with the Gamecocks’ hot start, this game became a sort of coronation for the rebirth of South Carolina football. Kentucky took notice, and came in with a bad attitude about it and shoved us around the field for three hours. No, the color of our uniforms didn’t cost us the game, but the hype machine made our terrible performance downright embarrassing.

On top of that, you had awful traffic heading to the game, low water pressure in the bathrooms, concession stand lines that moved at a glacial pace, misfiring fire towers at the entrance and the press conference Deebo debacle. We’ve seen better days.

Handshake-gate. There are conflicting reports on what happened with the handshake at the start of the game. Frankly I don’t care who is to blame, when it’s time to stick your hand out and wish the other captains well you freaking do it. To paraphrase Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, “we ain’t good enough to act like an asshole.”

Go Gamecocks, beat La Tech.