Snap Judgments – 2016 USC @ Clemson Edition

WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!! (Photo: thestate.com)

WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!! (Photo: thestate.com)

Embarrassment. Last week after the Western Carolina game I wrote that we just needed to chalk that game up as an anomaly. It was a bad game before our annual contest against our biggest rival, and surely we were going to pull things together and play a competitive game against Clemson.

Instead, the game against the Catamounts should have set off flashing red lights and sirens all over the place. Our bend but don’t break defense that had experienced extraordinarily good fortune in the red zone for most of the season was gashed by one of the worst teams in the FCS. If we couldn’t get off the field against WCU, what in the world made us think we could against Clemson? Yes, our red zone defense had been stellar for most of the season, mostly due to timely turnovers – some born of good plays by the defense, but some that could be attributed to boneheaded plays by our opponents.

The fact is our coaches never wanted to be a bend-but-don’t-break defense, that’s just the way things played out over the course of the season. I guarantee you Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson would’ve preferred we stop teams before they ever got over the 50. But we simply weren’t good enough any phase of our defense to stop teams between the twenties, and we had to rely on stopping them once they were faced with a smaller field to work with.

Unfortunately, there was no bowing up, no locking down, and most certainly no luck for the Gamecocks on Saturday night on any part of the field. Clemson was light years better on offense than we were on defense. They were more physical, faster and more talented across the board and it showed more than at perhaps any other time in the history of the rivalry. The game was quite literally over at 14-0, and the Tigers could have scored 80 points if they had felt so inclined.

What about our offense against their defense? It was no better. Our turnstile offensive line was beaten on virtually every play. Our freshman quarterback who couldn’t be rattled was beyond rattled. We couldn’t run, couldn’t pass, and had to resort to a trick play to avoid being shut out.

The 2016 Carolina-Clemson game was the thing of nightmares. It was domination, and it was swift and decisive. It was also a complete and total embarrassment.

NO-ffense. A few years ago I was the offensive coordinator for a youth football team. I remember one game in particular where we were not only not moving the ball, but were losing yardage on practically every play. We had decent skill players, but our offensive line was atrocious. Around the third quarter I starting hearing rumblings of frustration from the fans in the stands, which were right behind us. The rumblings grew louder, until finally I heard…

“COME ON COACH!”

I had literally run ever play in the playbook (granted, they were kids, it wasn’t a very big playbook) and nothing was working. I was helpless.

I remembered this when I saw some folks complaining about Kurt Roper on Saturday night, and I felt kind of bad for him. I could just imagine him sitting in the press box looking at his play sheet wondering what the hell in front of him might work. I know there are plenty of your who think Roper is a bad OC. There are some who think he is a good OC, but doesn’t have the talent (OL specifically) to run his offense at the moment. I lean towards the latter personally, but will admit that may only be wishful thinking.

What I do know is very little of what he had planned for Saturday night had a chance of working. Not because he had a game plan, and not because his guys did know what they were supposed to be doing. It was because they didn’t have the ABILITY to do what needed to be done. They didn’t have the ability to beat the man in front of them. And until we fix that, our offense will always look pedestrian, or worse.

Onward and upward. Last week on our podcast we were asked what could put a damper on this season. Well, a 56-7 loss to our rival has certainly done it for the time being. Our bowl destination, opponent, and a positive outcome in that game could certainly put some salve on the wound, but there is obviously quite a bit of work to be done.

As far as next year, I still think this team can be a contender for the SEC East title, mostly because just about everyone will be a contender for the SEC East title. But seriously, we found a quarterback in Jake Bentley, and skill players in Rico Dowdle, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards that should make the offense more consistent and more explosive provided the offensive line can improve. On defense we need significant help at defensive end, linebacker and safety, and will hopefully find that in the offseason. I think an 8-4 regular season would not be too much to ask for 2017.

Can we close the gap on Clemson? I certainly think so, mostly because they should come back to the pack a bit next year. Now, some Tiger fan will get a hold of this and tell me about all the talent they have waiting in the wings, which is fine. But they have to replace the best quarterback in school history, who also happens to be the best player in the country and will be a first-round draft pick. They have to replace a first-rounder in Mike Williams and others who will be in the NFL next year including Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman, Carlos Watkins and Ben Boulware.

The last two seasons have cemented Clemson as a recognized national brand, and that’s something we’ll have to deal with for a while. The best way to deal with it is to recruit better, coach better and play better. All those things are on Will Muschamp, and he has his work cut out for him.

Extracurricular. It really made me sick(er) to wake up on Sunday morning and read about all of the accusations of racial slurs, disrespect, etc. being thrown around. I have mixed feelings about most of it and pretty strong feelings about one specific aspect. So here are my stream of consciousness thoughts:

  • Racial slur by a Clemson player – I’m not sure what to think of this. I find it hard to believe a Clemson player would direct a racial slur at a South Carolina player when the make-up of both rosters is overwhelmingly black. At the same time, it’s an odd accusation to just make up out of thin air. Something happened, but what we’ll probably never know.
  • Racial slur by a Clemson fan – Honestly, would anyone be surprised by this? And I don’t mean because it’s a Clemson fan, I mean because it’s a fan, period. Out of millions of Clemson fans, and millions of South Carolina fans, do you not think there are more than a handful of raging racists on either side? And do you not think those people would throw out a racial epithet if given the opportunity? It’s disgusting, it’s humiliating, and it is unfortunately part of the world in which we live. It’s not a South Carolina or Clemson problem, it’s an everybody problem. And it’s up to you and me to stop it when we see or hear it.
  • Disrespect, Part I – Ah, yes, the “d” word. I get it, nobody likes to have trash talked in their face then they’re getting their asses handed to them. The old man in me is always inclined to say “if you don’t like it then do something about it”. And if you can’t do something about it, don’t whine about it. But on the other hand, sometimes there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, even in the brutal game of football. Which brings me to…

Disrespect, Part II. So here’s what I had a problem with – the curtain call. I’ve seen a lot of curtain calls in my 40 years of being a sports fan, but never one quite as showy at the one at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Dabo Swinney took out a lot of his starters in the third quarter, including Watson, Williams and Scott. At that point, up by six touchdowns, it was obvious he was not going to need the services of those guys or his three remaining time outs. It would have been easy to do the curtain call right then and there, and have those same guys run off to the same applause they got later in the game.

Instead, that group sat until late in the fourth quarter. Swinney called time out, and when the Tigers ran back on the field the starters were back in. They stood to rousing applause, waving their arms and gesticulating to the crowd, until the play clock ran down and Swinney called another time out. They then ran off the field to more applause and smiles and hugs.

I’m sure it was humiliating for our guys to have to stand out there for the better part of five minutes and have their noses rubbed in the worst loss of their football careers. At that point all they wanted was for the clock to run out and get the hell out of there. Yes, yes, if you don’t like it, do something about it. But for Dabo Swinney to be such a champion of integrity and respect and doing things the right way, that was one hell of a bush league move.

I have no doubt in my mind Will Muschamp didn’t appreciate that one bit. Hopefully someday he’ll have a chance to do something similar in return, and he’ll pass.

Go Cocks.

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TRC Unleashed 93 – A Very Special TRC Thanksgiving

The Rubber Chickens return with some Thanksgiving musings ahead of the showdown with Clemson. Included:

  • How we’re doing in the game of life
  • Gamecocks we’re thankful for
  • Who’s the greatest Gamecock ever
  • What will it take to beat Clemson
  • Where is the Music City Bowl?
  • How early can you start drinking on Thanksgiving
  • Possible bowl destinations

Click the graphic below to stream this episode, or listen via iTunes right here, and enjoy!

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Snap Judgments – 2016 Western Carolina @ USC Edition

Photo: go gamecocks.com

Photo: go gamecocks.com

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 44-31 victory over Western Carolina. 

Flush it. I saw a lot of frustration coming from the Gamecock faithful in Saturday’s win over Western Carolina. Somehow, some of it was coming from our own Twitter feed, even though I’ve had years of experience dealing with poor Gamecock performances against overmatched teams. It seems to be in our DNA, no matter how good or bad our team is, to struggle against our “cupcake” opponents. Here are just a few examples:

  • 2006 vs. Wofford – A comfortable 27-10 lead was cut to 27-20 late in the fourth quarter, and USC needed a late defensive stop backed up to our own 10-yard line with less than a minute to go to preserve the victory. Team went on to win the Liberty Bowl.
  • 2008 vs. Wofford – Gamecocks led only 10-7 at half and 13-10 after three quarters. Team played in the Outback Bowl.
  • 2009 vs. SC State – Won 38-14, but USC was only ahead 10-7 at the half. Went on to beat Clemson and play in the bowl that shall not be named.
  • 2010 vs. Furman – Won 38-19, but in the fourth quarter we were only up 31-19 and the Paladins were driving. An 80-yard Stephon Gilmore interception return for touchdown sealed it. Furman’s Adam Mims blitzed us for 202 yards on 10 catches. USC would win the SEC East and play in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
  • 2011 vs. The Citadel – Won 41-20, but were only up 20-13 at the half against a team that would finish 4-7. Carolina would go 11-2 and win the Capital One Bowl.
  • 2012 vs. Wofford – Another 11-2 Gamecock team beat Wofford 24-7, but the game was inexplicably tied at seven through three quarters. USC would later win the Outback Bowl.
  • 2013 and 2014 we thankfully cruised over Coastal Carolina and Furman, respectively.
  • 2015 – I have no recollection of what happened against our FCS opponent during this year Senator.

So as you can see, we’ve had bad teams struggle against FCS teams, we’ve had average teams struggle against FCS teams, and we’ve had one of the best teams in USC history struggle against an FCS team. What does it mean? At the end of the day, not much. It simply means we historically struggle against teams we should pound, and about once every 25 years actually lose to a team in a lower division.

It’s no fun at all, but if you look around college football yesterday we weren’t the only ones who had our hands full. In some form or fashion Texas A&M, Kentucky, and even mighty Alabama had problems with their FCS brethren.

It happens. And when it does you chalk it up to a bad day and then you flush it and move on. I don’t believe what happened against WCU is indicative of some greater problem, it only magnified some of the ones we already knew we had.

Seniors. Yesterday a group of kids played their final home game at Williams Brice Stadium. Most of them probably won’t read this, but I wanted to take a moment to thank them for their hard work and dedication to the USC football program. Because of this website’s purpose we occasionally have to say some not-so-nice things about some players, even though we try our best not to. I like to believe that most of these kids work their tails off to be good at their craft and represent the university in a manner in which we can be proud. Through a lot of ups and downs, I feel like this crowd has done that.

Team speed chills. One of our biggest issues all season has been team speed on defense. Will Muschamp has pointed it out more than once, faster guys get to the ball faster and therefore are able to get in better position to make tackles. We simply don’t have a lot of guys like that on our roster right now, and it showed against the Catamounts. Way too often we were a step slow once the WCU quarterback or running back got past the first line of defenders, and that led to a bad day stopping the run for the Gamecocks.

Uncle. Rico Dowdle solidified his status as one of the top freshman running backs in the SEC. He carried 21 times for 226 yards and made it look easy. I think we’ve mentioned him in this space just about every week since his debut, so I’m not sure what’s left to say. He’s finally starting to get the recognition he deserves from the national media, the recognition that Jake Bentley has been hogging the last few weeks.

The Burner. I mentioned this on Twitter during the game, but wanted to take a moment to give AJ Turner some love here. Besides being a darned good change of pace back all season, there are two moments that have stood out to me about this kid. One was on his 75-yard touchdown run to open the game against Texas A&M. If you go back and look at the replay, as he knows he’s about to score, somewhere around the five yard line he covers the ball up with both hands until he’s well into the end zone. As you probably know there have been multiple cases in college football of ball carriers dropping the ball before they cross the goal line, and suffering great embarrassment because of it. AJ Turner appreciates the ball and what it means when you take that ball over the thick line at the end of the field. He ain’t having none of that dropping the ball junk.

Then, against WCU, he had several successful carriers on a drive when he was taken out for a breather. When he looked to the sidelines and realized he was being taken out, he broke into a dead sprint all the way there. He didn’t have to, he could’ve jogged, but it’s in his nature to hustle every moment he’s privileged to play the game. You can’t help but love that.

Hate week. It’s here, and I have to confess I don’t feel any better about our chances this year than I did last year. Apparently Vegas doesn’t like our chances either, as Clemson opened as a 24-point favorite over the Gamecocks. Fingers crossed we can give them a game like we did last year, and maybe even more.

Go Cocks.

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Snap Judgments – 2016 USC @ Florida Edition

Photo: thestate.com

Photo: thestate.com

A long way to go. The three weeks before the Florida game were encouraging no matter how you look at it. Yes, we played three bad teams, but we beat three bad teams, which is something we haven’t seen much of since the end of 2014. After beating Miami in the Whatever it Was Called Bowl we went from a middle of the pack SEC team to arguably the worst team in the league, unable to beat teams that were proverbial “gimmes” for the better part of a decade. On top of that there was very little talent in the pipeline to give us hope that things were going to change any time soon.

Even midway through this season, before the debut of Jake Bentley, we had trouble moving the ball against bad defenses. But Bentley helped turn a 2-4 start into a 5-4 record heading into Florida, and the Gators appeared to be ripe for an upset. It seems a little foolish in retrospect, but the Gamecock Nation has never been accused of being particularly rational about their football program, for better or for worse. While it looked like our offense regressed, I think it’s explained more succinctly to say we just ran into a great defense.

Fact is the Gators exposed us for what we are – an average football team in a bad division. The good news is that’s an upgrade from what we were after the Georgia game – a bad football team in a bad division. Even with the somewhat lopsided loss yesterday, there is still reason for hope in the not-so-distant future. Guys like Bentley, Rico Dowdle, Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel will soon be joined by guys like OrTre Smith, Shi Smith, and Ty’Son Williams. On the defensive side we’ll add a spectacular playmaker in Jamyest Williams and a big impact safety in Hamsah Nasirildeen, along with more depth along the defensive line in MJ Webb and Javon Kinlaw.

Florida showed us we still have a long way to go, but we’ve covered quite a bit of ground since the beginning of September.

Jimmys and JOLes. One area where we need some serious help is along the offensive line. A lot of people think coaching is our problem, but my personal feeling is we need better players. Sean Elliott has done a fine job for us in his time at USC, and I think he’s been dealt a bad hand the last couple of years. Zack Bailey has drawn a lot of praise in recent weeks, and I think Cory Helms is a player. Other than that the group has been very inconsistent and at times downright bad.

Driven. Bentley continues to impress, even while getting his hat handed to him in Gainesville. He was consistently harassed by the Gators, getting hit and sacked drive after drive. All he did was hang in there and rally the Gamecocks to one late touchdown and come within an eyelash of a second that would’ve set USC up with an onside kick attempt.

His last throw was especially impressive. On fourth down under duress he threw an almost perfect pass off his back foot that was just off Hayden Hurst’s fingertips.

So for the folks who wondered how he would do against an elite defense, he did just fine, thank you. I think we’ll keep him.

DOH-fense. The up-and-down Gamecock defense had another down day yesterday. Credit them with forcing three more turnovers, but the run defense was porous and the pass defense was victimized by an efficient, NFL-style passing game that moved the Gators up and down the field almost at will. There was an obvious gap in team speed, and it really showed when Florida had the ball. Again, upgrades needed.

Elsewhere. Our neighbors lost their first regular season game in two years, and it was super fun to watch. Pitt’s offensive play calling made me envious (MORE UTAH PASS PLEASE) and their defense finally made a crucial play when necessary. But after the game, instead of tipping their hat to the Panthers, a lot of Clemson fans decided to go all X-Files.

A site called The Clemson Insider immediately after the game posted a story about how the head official was a South Carolina graduate and that this was somehow connected to their loss to a team that was a 21-point underdog. Not turnovers, not failed third and fourth downs, not a non-existent defense – but the officials.

Now let me say this, it’s ok to bitch and moan about the overall quality of officiating or some plays that didn’t go your way, that’s part of football. But when your team loses a game, please refrain from even intimating that the officials had something to do with it. Yes, they can impact a game, I’m still mad about Rod Gardner’s push-off. But I also recognize that there were about 100 things different – that we could control – that would’ve changed the outcome of that game.

In addition it’s an insult to a team like Pittsburgh and players like James Connor and Nathan Peterman who played the game of their lives to upset the number two team in the country. When you get beat, take it like a man and drop the loser mentality.

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Snap Judgments – 2016 Missouri @ USC Edition

Here I Am. (Photo: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)

Here I Am. (Photo: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)

My God the freshmen. Of course that’s a paraphrase from Larry Munson’s famous call about Herschel Walker in 1980, but I had to make it plural because it applies to two freshmen on this year’s South Carolina football team. Against Missouri both Jake Bentley and Rico Dowdle continued to put up un-freshman like numbers as the Gamecocks extended their winning streak to three games.

Bentley completed 22 of 28 passes (79%) for 254 yards and two 2 TDs, and has now completed 73% of his passes while averaging more than 200 yards per game in his three starts. Perhaps most importantly, he has six touchdown passes agains ZERO interceptions in 74 attempts. Of course he will eventually throw an interception, perhaps as soon as this weekend against the stout Florida corners, but what amazes me is I can’t think of a throw to this point where he’s even put the ball in significant danger.

Meanwhile, Dowdle ran for 149 yards and scored two TDs. It was his second consecutive 100-yard outing, and he now leads the team with a 5.1 average and 88 yards per game. Dowdle is a “wear down” back, the kind who can get stuffed early in the game but before long two yards per carry turns into six yards per carry and then eventually he rips off a long touchdown run like he did against Missouri.

The fascinating thing about these two guys is Dowdle didn’t play until game five (injury) and Bentley until game seven (coach’s decision). Even so, Dowdle is now the team’s leading rusher by over 100 yards, and Bentley is 39 yards from becoming the leading passer.

What if we would have had both of these guys playing at the beginni…sigh, let’s not think about it.

(No) QB battle. Will Muschamp said after starting Bentley against UMass that Brandon McIlwain would be able to compete for the number one quarterback job in the spring. Now, Bentley still has two challenging road games ahead of him this season (Florida, Clemson), but at this point there is not a chance that he is anything but the clear-cut number one guy heading into the spring and the 2017 season.

So what does this mean for McIlwain? Muschamp maintains that Brandon is an important part of this team going forward and has been a great teammate and has a fantastic attitude. I don’t doubt those last two things one bit, BMac seems like a great kid. But if his “part” on the team is carrying a clipboard for the next three years, you have to wonder if that’s the role he wants to play.

I Samuel 3:4. When Deebo Samuel went down with another hamstring injury earlier this year, I have to admit I just chalked him up as being injury prone and greatly lowered my expectations for him. I figured Bryan Edwards would be out number one target for years to come with the ever-dependable Hayden Hurst being the second option. If we got a few catches from Samuel that would be great, but he was never going to be number one material.

Maybe that reverse psychology worked, because since he’s been back he’s been proving himself as a worthy number one receiver week after week. He’s up to close to 80 yards per game for the season, and is a valuable runner when we need him. He gets tough yards after the catch and wins every 50/50 ball that comes his way. Let’s hope Deebo is here to stay.

Big play defense. The biggest plays of the game were turned in by the defensive players of the game – Rashad Fenton and Taylor Stallworth.

First, Missouri had gained some momentum after tying the game at 21-21 in the third quarter, and they had the ball in South Carolina territory with a chance to take the lead. The Tigers’ Drew Lock lofted a long ball down the right sideline that was slightly under thrown, and Fenton ran under it for the pick. The Gamecocks followed with their longest and best drive of the season, a 98-yard march that resulted in the winning points.

Then, with USC up by ten midway through the fourth, Missouri was getting in position to cut into the lead. On third down and nine, Stallworth knocked down a pass headed to an open Tiger receiver that would have picked up the first down. On the next play they missed a field goal that would’ve brought them to within one score, and for all intents and purposes ended their chances of winning.

Turnover game. The Gamecocks are now plus-9 on the season in turnover margin, tops in the SEC. They are plus-8 on their three-game win streak, and didn’t have a turnover against Tennessee or Missouri.

Boom. Muschamp has started to silence some of his detractors during the win streak. There are still (IMHO) issues with his conservative coaching style on the offensive side of the ball, but what he and Travaris Robinson have done with the defense is nothing short of a miracle. Consider this: the defense consists of many of the same guys as last year, plus a few freshmen, and minus all-SEC standout Skai Moore. With that group they are solidly in the middle of pack defensively in the SEC, and haven’t allowed more than 28 points in any single game.

The path to Atlanta. Yes, there is a path to Atlanta, and I’ll let you look  that up somewhere else. But I do know that first and foremost it involves beating Florida in the Swamp, and despite their blowout loss to Arkansas yesterday, I can promise you it will extremely difficult. Florida’s offense is relatively anemic, but their defense is stacked with NFL talent. It will be a big challenge for our young skill players.

Now, for those of you who think it would be any sort of negative for us to win the division with a 4-4 record and have to play number one Alabama in Atlanta, I must ask you…

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?

First of all, a division title is a division title. Yes, we’d all rather be the champs of the the best division in the best conference, but I will certainly not turn my nose up at being the champs of the worst P5 division in the country. Look, we have ONE division title in 23 years in the SEC, why would you not want to be able to hang another banner.

Alabama, you say? So what if we go to Atlanta and get thrashed 48-3 by the Tide. We wouldn’t be the first team to get fustigated by ‘Bama, and we wouldn’t be the last. Playing in the SEC Championship Game is an incredible recruiting tool, and would be great experience for the young guys on the team.

That said, it ain’t happening folks.

Bowl eligible. One thing we are one step away from is bowl eligibility, which is something I wouldn’t have given us a snowball’s chance in Nick Saban’s living room of happening when we were sitting at 2-4. Look, I’ll say it, we’ll beat Western Carolina, and at worst finish 6-6. Anything else in 2016 is pure gravy.

Go Cocks.

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TRC Unleashed 92 – Juju on that Eminence Front

The TRC Unleashed crew discusses the big win over Tennessee this past weekend, plus covers a few more topics:

  • Buck finds out he’s the only one who hates Sandstorm
  • They still discuss what would be a good replacement
  • Oh yeah, football, how about that Rico Dowdle
  • Chris Lammons’ new nickname is Rocky
  • Ulric Jones is a large man
  • Twitter questions

You can listen via iTunes here, or stream the episode by clicking on the graphic below. Enjoy!

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Snap Judgments – 2016 Tennessee @ USC Edition

Juju on that beat. (Photo: gogamecocks.com)

Juju on that beat. (Photo: gogamecocks.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-21 victory over 18th-ranked Tennessee.

Easy like Sunday morning. If you take Gamecock football as seriously as I do (which is WAY too seriously) then Sundays the last two years have probably been pretty miserable. We’ve lost a lot of games, and even the games we’ve won haven’t felt that great. I’m embarrassed to admit I let losses affect my mood, usually not outwardly, but I certainly will let myself dwell on a stupid football game longer than I should.

Saturday night’s win over Tennessee was a long time coming for Gamecock fans, and everything about this Sunday was a little better. This wasn’t just an upset win over a top 20 team, this was a night where we regained a little hope in our program, and hopefully saw a glimpse into the future. We saw good, young players who will be joined by more good, young players over the next few years. We saw dynamic playmakers and that Will Muschamp defense we’ve heard so much about. The fun, and hope, was back for South Carolina football.

Now we get find out if it’s for real next week against Missouri.

Rico Suave. Rico Dowdle continues to impress, and for the first time last night I saw a little bit of Marcus Lattimore in his game. He has power and vision similar to Lattimore, and on his longest run of the night he showed a little bit of shake we never saw from Marcus.

I know, I know, comparisons to Lattimore are pretty silly at this point. But you have to admit he’s the most exciting freshman back we’ve seen at USC since number 21. Dowdle has shown Gamecock fans from his first game he has a chance to be special, and last night his performance put the entire SEC on notice.

Quarterback of the now. I laughed last night when the television announcers called Jake Bentley the Gamecocks’ “quarterback of the future”. There is no “future” with Bentley any more, there is only now. He has been so impressive the last two weeks that, like Dowdle, it’s impossible to not get excited when you think of how good he can be.

Bentley’s numbers are not mind-blowing, but he’s making the throws he needs to make and he’s not making mistakes. That sounds incredibly cliché, but a cliché is a cliché for a reason. He hasn’t come close to throwing a pick in 46 attempts over two games while throwing four touchdown passes. Most importantly, we’re 2-0 in his starts.

I have one complaint, he probably is holding the ball a little too long instead of getting rid of it, as evidenced by Tennessee’s six sacks last night. But at the same time, it’s hard to fault him for eating it instead of making a bad decision throwing it.

Toss that package. The plan to use Brandon McIlwain in short yardage situations is probably shelved for the near future. On our first series he came in on third and one and predictably lost a yard. On our second series he faked the run (surprise!) but then threw about 10 yards short of an open Hayden Hurst. I want to use Brandon in the worst kind of way, but until we figure out a way to put him in situations/plays where he can be successful it’s not worth it.

Coaching corner. Aside from the above two plays, I really liked the game the coaching staff called last night. Two plays in particular stood out, and they were both on our final series. The first came on 3rd and 7 from our own 49 yard line with just under three minutes left. The Muschampball playbook would typically call for another safe run, then punt the ball and try to finish the game off on defense. At that point I tweeted something along the lines of “don’t be a coward, throw the ball and get the first down”. Well, nobody likes to be called a coward, so Muschamp/Kurt Roper trusted their freshman QB and called a pass play that resulted in a 9-yard catch by Hayden Hurst for a first down. This allowed the Gamecocks to run off another two minutes of game clock.

The second came on 4th and 3 from the Tennessee 35 with 46 seconds left. It was about as no-mans-land as you can get from a play call standpoint. You can’t go for it and risk giving Tennessee good field position when they only needed a field goal. That’s on the fringe of Elliott Fry’s makeable distance, so trying a field goal would be too risky as well.

The only option left was to punt. But instead of punting from the 35, Muschamp ran his offense back out and tried to draw Tennessee offsides. It was a great call, because you had nothing to lose except 5 yards that didn’t make a difference to Sean Kelly’s punt at all. It won’t go down in the annals of great coaching, but it showed a good awareness of all the options available in that situation.

Reverse Dobbs’d. Joshua Dobbs has made a small career out of shredding South Carolina defenses. In two previous meetings with the Gamecocks, Dobbs accounted for 757 yards (556 passing, 201 rushing) and 7 touchdowns in Volunteer victories. Those are Heisman-level statistics.

Fortunately for us, last night the Tennessee senior played like a nervous freshman in his first SEC road game. He only had 161 yards passing, 27 yards rushing, and he threw two interceptions and lost one bizarre fumble that wasn’t really his fault. Many of his passes didn’t come close to his target. I haven’t watched a lot of Tennessee football this year, but I’ve heard some rumblings that Dobbs hasn’t been great. Still, it was shocking to see how bad this guy was after the way he played against us in ’14 and ’15.

Quick hitters. Dante Sawyer was only credited with two tackles last night, but he is quickly becoming the most disruptive force on our defensive line…Jamarcus King should get all-SEC consideration. Along with Chris Lammons, he will definitely get strong consideration for  preseason all-SEC next year…Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards are going to give SEC coaches nightmares the next two years, and KC Crosby is a nice complement in the slot. The offensive skill pieces are coming together. Now, about that offensive line.

Bowl projections. I can’t even believe I’m putting this in Snap Judgments. I laughed last week when a couple of national outlets had us in a bowl game. But now the odds are definitely in favor of us reaching the postseason. We will be favored in two of our remaining games – Missouri and Western Carolina – and the Tigers are banged up and playing like the worst team in the SEC right now. If we win the ones we’re supposed to win and lose the ones we’re supposed to lose, we’ll finish 6-6 and be playing in December. Most seem to have us playing in the Belk Bowl.

Boneheads. A few of our guys have to get their emotions in check quick, fast and in a hurry. Chris Lammons has been channeling his inner Chris Culliver on a weekly basis and getting away with it. Last night he lost it to an extreme degree, throwing a body shot and couple of punches to the helmet (why?) of Juwan Jennings of Tennessee. His ejection ultimately didn’t cost us, but losing arguably your best defensive player due to sheer lack of self-control and stupidity is maddening. To his credit he apologized via Twitter and promised to not let it happen again. Let’s hope not.

Another guy who seems to be dancing on the ledge with his emotions is Ulric Jones. Jones has survived multiple position switches to make himself a valuable member of the defensive line rotation. He’s often seen gesticulating, whether in celebration or anger, and last night picked up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty because of it. If you can’t control  your emotions, you shouldn’t play, it’s that simple.

Finally, my man Crosby almost cost the team big with his dance celebration at the end of the deciding touchdown. Now, is the rule stupid? You bet, let the kids have a little fun, Crosby wasn’t hurting anybody or anything with his dance. But does the rule exist? Yes, and I’m sure the coaches have reminded them over and over. Dance on the sidelines, not in the end zone.

Juju on that beat. *whispers* Regarding Cosby, truth be told that was one stylish-ass TD and celebration.

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TRC Unleashed Episode 91 – Everything’s Coming Up Bentley

The TRC trio returns after a short hiatus to discuss a too-close-for-comfort win over UMass and the debut of another freshman quarterback, Jake Bentley. Among other things, the boys discuss:

  • Playing Bentley – good thing or bad thing?
  • What happens now with Brandon McIlwain?
  • Our spooky scary defense
  • How freaking insider TRC is
  • Rubber Chicken Awards
  • Butt rankings (again probably not what you think)

Click here for the link via iTunes, or click the link below to stream, and enjoy!

TRC-Unleashed-Button

 

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Snap Judgments – UMass @ USC Edition

Photo: thestate.com

Photo: thestate.com

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 34-28 victory over UMass:

Test drive. The Jake Bentley era at South Carolina started on Saturday (we think), and the freshman definitely gave us a lot to get excited about during a time in which we seemingly have little to get excited about. Bentley was poised, showed a strong arm and good touch. As Andre Ware pointed out on the broadcast, even though he is young he is not a “one read” quarterback. There were a couple of occasions where he was forced to look to his third receiver before making a throw.

The stage was definitely not too big for Bentley in his first college start, and it was a great first step. But the real tests will come over the next five games, which include a home game against Tennessee and road games at The Swamp and against Clemson. If he can show the same calmness and command in those games, then maybe our revolving door at quarterback will finally end.

Pumping the brakes. With 175 yards on 21 attempts through the first half, it looked like Bentley might have a chance to set some freshman records against the Minutemen. But Kurt Roper went ultra conservative in the second half trying to protect our first substantial lead of the season, and it almost backfired.

Fortunately with 4:32 left in the game Roper took the reins back off of number 4, and it resulted in a 25-yard completion and two pass interference calls that for all intents and purposes put the game away.

Dear Coach Roper, play to win, start to finish.

Back to the Future. This is the fourth time in two years we got a glimpse of our quarterback of the future, this time in the person of supposed-to-be-high-school-senior Bentley. The other three QBoFs have met with significantly different fates – transfer (Connor Mitch), position change (Lorenzo Nunez), bench (Brandon McIlwain).

Bentley was slated for a redshirt this year, and up until Saturday had watched and learned behind senior Perry Orth and fellow freshman and early enrollee McIlwain. Orth was good at times, but was wildly inconsistent and unable to get the Gamecocks into the end zone nearly enough. McIlwain was also inconsistent, and either his unwillingness to throw the ball down the field or the unwillingness of the staff to call vertical plays for him led to his undoing.

Enter Bentley, a good athlete with a powerful arm and an NFL body whom the staff wanted to keep the wrappers on until 2017. Why did they decide halfway through the season to burn his redshirt year? Two reasons IMO:

One, the staff didn’t expect the offense to be this bad this far into the season. Sure, there would be growing pains, particularly if true freshman Brandon McIlwain was the full-time starter, but I don’t think anyone expected to be 128 out of 128 FCS schools in scoring midway through the season.

Two, he improved so much over the first six weeks of the season it was seen as a last-ditch effort to salvage something positive out of this season. I believe Will Muschamp when he said early in the season that he’s not playing for next year, he wants to play the players who give him the best chance of winning now. Despite being halfway into the season, it was obvious the staff thought Jake Bentley gave USC the best chance of winning, for Saturday and beyond.

BMac. So what to make of McIlwain at this point? Hard to say. Some fans already have him filing his transfer papers. Some are still furious that he didn’t get a chance to throw the ball on Saturday, even though his inability to throw the ball is how he lost the job in the first place.

I still think there’s a plan for BMac, and I even think he’ll be given a fair shot to win the starting job in the spring. But in the meantime you might want to look at Kurt Roper’s final year at Duke if you want a clue as to how McIlwain will be used the rest of this year, and maybe beyond.

At Duke, Roper had a very good starting quarterback in Anthony Boone, but also employed backup Brandon Connette frequently. Connette is most remembered by Blue Devils as being a sure thing in short yardage and goal-to-goal situations, and finished 2013 with 14 rushing TDs and 13 passing TDs. Not bad for a backup, eh?

So if you’re angry about how McIlwain was used on Saturday just be patient. I think there’s definitely a plan, and if results in half as much production as Brandon Connette we’ll all be very happy.

DOH-fense. We have all praised the improvement of the defense this season over last, but with each passing game I get more worried. The defensive linemen can’t get off blocks, and with the exception of Darius English can’t generate a pass rush. The linebackers are average at best without Skai Moore in the middle. The safeties are just plain bad. The one bright spot it probably the spot we questioned most heading into the season, cornerback. Chris Lammons and JaMarcus King have been very, very good, and Rashad Fenton has been good in nickel packages.

But with Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd coming to town I start having flashbacks to 2014. And that ain’t good.

Bowl projections. Upset Tennessee and we can talk.

Killer Catch. Everybody was all over Jake Bentley’s first career touchdown pass talking about what a great throw it was. The throw was nice, but KC Crosby’s catch was flat out spectacular and deserves more recognition.

Classifieds. Wanted, one person who can catch a punt. Must have NCAA eligibility remaining. Other qualifications: none, just catch a punt.

Go Cocks.

 

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Snap Judgments – 2016 Georgia @ USC Edition

Sieve. (Photo: redandblack.com)

Sieve. (Photo: redandblack.com)

I told you so. I was against hiring Will Muschamp. Hated the idea. Thought he was our third choice at best and I was heavily influenced by his failure as a head coach at Florida. I was also against hiring Kurt Roper. Why would you hire the offensive coordinator from the same tenure, even if he was only there for one year? Flush that entire experience, start over.

That said, I sat back and watched Muschamp work. He recruited hard, he said all the right things, and that made it easier to accept the fact that he was South Carolina’s head coach. I did a little research on Roper and found out that, lo and behold, he’s actually not a bumbling idiot. He led some pretty good offenses at Ole Miss and Duke. I decided to wait and see.

So here we are. Half the season is over, we’re 2-4, and we have arguably the worst offense in the country. We have played average to bad defenses every week and are putting up a measly 14 points per game. The offense has been pathetic, pitiful, and depressing. So you know what I’m going to do about it?

Wait and see.

Sure, I’m going to complain about specific play calls and boneheaded coaching decisions such as not throwing to the sticks on 3rd and 4 or continuing to run our 180-pound tailback between the tackles when our offensive line can barely tie their shoes much less block SEC defensive linemen.

But I’m also going to remember along with that incompetent offensive line that ¾ of our offensive two-deep are underclassmen, we have a true freshman and a walk-on competing for the starting QB job, we have kids still learning a new system, we don’t have a feature running back (yet), and on top of that have been dealing with injuries to our two best offensive players. If you already have your mind made up about the coaching staff you’ll cry “excuses!”, but the reality is the previous staff left no experienced talent on the offensive side of the football. That’s not an excuse, that’s a fact.

Whether our offensive woes are the coaches or the players is a chicken or egg debate right now. I’m not smart enough to know the answer, and as smart as you are, you’re not either. So together let’s agree to keep on bitching about the offense, but let’s also agree there is plenty of blame to go around.

Right now, six games into the season, I’m going to refrain for saying “I told you so”. I’ll save that for a time when I’m actually right about it.

Speak, Roper, speak. Full disclosure, I haven’t watched any postgame press conferences and very few coach’s interviews since the new staff came in. But I’m puzzled about why Muschamp is not allowing Roper in front of a microphone at least occasionally. I have no opinion one way or the other on his not letting freshmen speak to the media, but I would certainly like to hear from the guy running the offense. Sure, you’d get a fair share of coachspeak I’m sure, but I would like to believe he’d be asked about specific plays or game situations where he could supply some perspective on his decisions. Until then, Muschamp is just feeding the beast that Roper is that bumbling idiot I mentioned before.

Blame game. You want somebody to blame for this situation, how about Ray Tanner? I still personally feel like the football coaching search was botched. Maybe Tom Herman was never coming here, but why was Justin Fuente seemingly not even on our radar? He’s doing a heck of a job at Virginia Tech now.

I love Ray Tanner. He seems like a genuinely good guy. He brought us the greatest athletic moments in our school history. But what exactly qualified him to be our athletic director? Winning a couple of national titles in baseball and because “he wanted to” shouldn’t have meant he got the job uncontested.

Maybe he will turn out to be a great AD, but if not we are screwed, and that’s my big fear. How do you remove a sacred cow like Ray Tanner from a position like that? It’s very similar to making Todd Ellis our play-by-play man. That was an awful decision that now cannot be undone unless he’s caught on camera kicking a basket full of puppies.

Carousel. I’ve advocated for both Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain this season, changing my opinion on an almost weekly basis. The reason I continue to change my opinion is I keep hoping the guy on the sideline is going to be a little better than the guy on the field, and it just hasn’t happened so far.

At this point, if we want a chance to win any of our remaining games I think we have to stick with Orth. McIlwain has shown zero ability to throw the football, and his running skills have been much effective than we all expected them to be. As bad as Orth can be at times, he still has the ability to move the team through the air. I still have high hopes for McIlwain. Hell, let’s have some perspective, he’s still only six games into his career.

Meanwhile, there are still those of you in the Jake Bentley camp. I’ll be shocked – SHOCKED – if he doesn’t redshirt. But Muschamp stated after Georgia that every position including QB was up for grabs. If there’s a time to give Bentley his chance, it would be after an off week and against a team like UMass. But he would have to be pretty damn good in practice to throw out that redshirt year.

Good news, bad news. The good news is the defense only gave up 21 points, and two of those touchdowns came on drives of 28 and 39 yards after an interception and a bad punt. The bad news is we gave up 328 yards rushing and let Georgia hold the ball for 10 more minutes than we did.

Even with the bad news, it’s hard not to praise the improvements the defense has made since last year. We’re causing turnovers, creating pressure and are even in the top 5 in the SEC in tackles for loss. At the beginning of the year the defensive backfield looked like a huge weakness, and they are arguably the best unit on the entire team.

Uni watch. Count me among the minority, but I think I like the white helmets and garnet jersey and pants the most of all our uniform combinations. We’re garnet, let’s go garnet.

Next. An open date, thank God. Then we welcome in a pretty bad UMass team in a game where we HAVE to have an encouraging performance and score more than two touchdowns. Hopefully this off week will help us figure a few things out.

Go Cocks.

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