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.

 

 

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TRC Unleashed 97 – Noise Pollution

**WARNING: WE APOLOGIZE FOR ANY BAD AUDIO IN THIS PODCAST. THAT IS, ASIDE FROM THE USUAL BAD AUDIO OF US TALKING**

On episode 97 we celebrate week two of Gamecock football, and we lament week two of a Tbone-free TRC Unleashed. Fortunately for us, the one and only @BeatClem does a fantastic job of filling in and imparting his knowledge upon the podcast. Among other things the guys discuss:

  • How @BeatClem passes the time while we’re not beating Clem
  • The ease of the Missouri win, despite an early 10-0 deficit
  • Is this team fool’s gold?
  • Is Deebo a Heisman contend…of course he’s not don’t be silly
  • The Ginger Ninja Hayden Hurst
  • Dante Kinlaw. Or is it Javon Sawyer. Or Sante Jawyer.
  • How awful is Todd Ellis as a pxp guy
  • What the future holds for this Gamecock team

Click the graphic below to stream or listen to us on iTunes, and enjoy!

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Snap Judgments – 2017 USC @ Missouri

Photo courtesy of The State.

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 31-13 victory over Missouri.

Expectation Management? Nah, we’re good. Two weeks into the season, South Carolina football is 2-0. If you’re being honest, on September 1 I think the vast majority of you would’ve signed up for (and not been terribly upset with) a 1-1 record after two games. The thought of this Gamecock team beating an on-the-rise, senior-laden North Carolina State team at a neutral site, followed by an SEC road win over a high-powered Missouri team, seemed like it might be a bit of a stretch.

But now, admit it, you’re peeking down the schedule a little bit, aren’t you? The next two games at home are definitely winnable. Then you have a tattered and torn Texas A&M squad, followed by an Arkansas team that is searching for its identity. At Tennessee will be a tough one, as will a home date against what appears to be a good, veteran Vandy squad.

What am I suggesting?  I’m suggesting that if things go to form our game in Athens on November 4 could be worth a lot more than lower-tier bowl jockeying. I know, some of you out there right now are thinking “HEY MAN WE NEED TO TAKE IT ONE GAME AT A TIME”. And my reply to that is no, as fans, we don’t. We can look ahead and speculate and talk about match-ups as far down the road as we want. Nothing we say or write as fans is going to impact what happens this week against Kentucky one bit. Now Will Muschamp, HE needs to take it one game at a time, as do all his coaches and players.

We haven’t had a tremendous amount of fun or success as a program the last three years. I personally think we deserve this limited success we’re having right now. And we deserve to think ahead and hope and dream about what this team might be able to do down the road. I realize we’re still in rebuilding mode, with a coach who has been on the job for all of 15 games. But because we somehow still reside in a stinky division where a handful of traditional powers can’t seem to get their act together, we have a shot.

We’re 2-0, have fun and dream big Gamecock fans.

Momentum. Momentum is not a tangible thing. It can’t be measured. But you know it when you see it, and when Drew Lock hit Jason Reese for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, you knew they had momentum on their side.

You also saw South Carolina reverse that momentum in the span of three plays and 30 seconds of game time. First, Deebo Samuel returned his second kickoff for touchdown in two weeks. Then, freshman Jamyest Williams intercepted his first career pass on the first play of Missouri’s next possession. The very next play Samuel took an end around 25 yards for a 14-10 lead. In all the Gamecocks would outscore the Tigers 31-3 after that early deficit.

Three plays, 30 seconds, 14 points. Momentum.

Lucky 13. Very few people predicted anything short of a shootout Saturday. Most score predictions I saw had both teams in the 30s or 40s, which seemed very reasonable considering Missouri’s explosive offense and porous defense. Even though we lost the yardage battle for the second week in a row, we were able to hold the Tigers to an astounding three points over the last 43 minutes of game time. That’s a real testament to the job T-Rob is doing with this defense.

Lock’d Up. Let’s not get caught up in Drew Lock’s non-SEC numbers any more, shall we?

Mr. Roper. Kurt Roper may have had his best game calling plays for South Carolina on Saturday night.  He was patient and stuck with the run game even though it was getting stuffed early. We also saw more creativity and formations out of the run game as well. After this week I believe more than ever that Roper has a long-term plan for this offense, and it’s evolving nicely. (Yes, even the jet sweep to Hayden Hurst.)

Here’s an excellent breakdown by Ben Breiner from The State of some of the offensive play calling. 

Wild thing. Jake Bentley seems to come out throwing a little wild early in games. He did it again Saturday and missed two touchdown opportunities on the first drive. Maybe before the first drive of the game the coaches should tell him it’s the second quarter already.

Identity crisis. Javon Kinlaw made his presence known Saturday night with two batted passes and one blocked kick. Unfortunately for him he was continually identified as Dante Sawyer. I’m not sure the announcers ever mentioned Kinlaw by name at all. After Kinlaw’s first pass break up, the announcers even told a story about Sawyer and how he played at East Mississippi Junior College of Last Chance U fame, all the while with the camera trained on Kinlaw.

Keep doing your thing big man, we see you.

New number 1? Someone asked after Ty’Son Williams’ breakout performance against Missouri if he would be the new number one tailback. At this point I believe the answer is no, unless Rico Dowdle is banged up. Dowdle has earned his stripes, and while it’s been tough sledding for him so far this year it’s hard to see him being displaced at the first running back to see the field. I do believe we will see the carries split between the two, which will be a good thing, and AJ Turner spelling them on third downs.

Jam, oh jammmmm. As mentioned above, Jam Williams picked up his first pass interception. Which is a good reason to post this masterpiece by @kevroshay:

Go Cocks, whip Kentucky.

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Pre-Snap Read – South Carolina @ Missouri

Photo courtesy thestate.com

As South Carolina fans, Missouri is one team you look at on the schedule every year and pretty much think “yeah, that should be a dub”*. And every year the game turns out to be a very even match-up, whether both teams are good, bad, or somewhere in between.

*not a slam on Missouri, I’m willing to bet they think the exact same about us.

Missouri’s football program it not that dissimilar from South Carolina’s: a long history of mediocrity sprinkled with some terrible seasons and some outstanding seasons. Mizzou has a huge advantage over USC in conference championships (15-1), but upon closer inspection all of those titles came before 1970. There are loads of five, six and seven win campaigns for the Tigers, and they’re just as likely to be 8-4 as they are to be 4-8 during any given season. They had a string of 13 consecutive losing seasons from 1984 through 1996, but have won four division titles since 2007 (two in the Big 12 and two in the SEC). That 2007 team was ranked first in the country and tied at halftime of the Big 12 Championship Game with a spot in the BCS Championship Game on the line. Unfortunately for them Oklahoma pulled away in the second half.

Their place in the SEC still feels like a strange fit, but as each year passes we get more used to it. I’d never suggest they don’t belong, because they have proven they do with those two previously mentioned East Division titles.*

*How the hell did those happen again? I mean, I know the East has been down, but come on. USC, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida all look at 2013 and 2014 and just shake their heads at how they let Mizzou somehow three card monte their way to Atlanta.

Missouri entered this year on the heels of back-to-back losing seasons, finishing 5-7 in 2015 and 4-8 last year. Their only conference win in ’15 was over the Gamecocks, and last year’s game was a win by USC, but a little too close for comfort. Since Missouri entered the SEC the Gamecocks lead the series 3-2, but the Tigers won both non-SEC games – the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 2005 Independence Bowl.

There have been some wild games between the two teams, including that 2005 bowl game (epic fourth quarter collapse by USC), the Miracle in CoMo, and a second epic fourth quarter collapse in a season full of epic fourth quarter collapses by the Gamecocks in 2014. Each team has a relatively comfortable win in the series, but for the most part when these two teams collide you can expect a game that goes down to the final minutes. I don’t expect tomorrow night to be any different.

USC defense vs. Missouri offense. [Breathes heavily into paper bag.] This matchup frightens me. Yes, I know they slaughtered Missouri State, not Ohio State. But Missouri is one of the few teams in the SEC that has the depth and breadth of skill players that are comparable to South Carolina’s. We all know Drew Lock can play. Damarea Crockett is an outstanding tailback, and his backups Ish Witter and Larry Roundtree aren’t too shabby. Both J’Mon Moore and Johnathan Johnson went over 100 yards receiving last week. And they have big, athletic pass-catching tight ends.

Missouri will score points, and probably a lot of them. Lock will get them to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball faster than anyone we will play all year, so we’ll need a lot of guys to play on the defensive side of the ball. That can lead to a lack of continuity and create assignment confusion, particularly with newcomers like Jamyest Williams and Keisan Nixon. We’ll need to create at least three turnovers, and we’ll need a handful of third or fourth down stops, which is something we haven’t been great at in the Muschamp era.

It’s cliché, but we can bend, just don’t break.

USC offense vs. Missouri defense. A lot of our fans are extremely optimistic about how our offense is going to perform against their D. I think we have the potential to score a lot of points tomorrow, but as Connor Tapp pointed out on this week’s TRC Unleashed, Kurt Roper’s offense has a tendency to disappear for long stretches at a time. In the second half last week against NC State, with a chance to make things a lot easier on themselves, the Gamecocks had consecutive scoreless drives of 3 plays, 3 plays, 3 plays, 4 plays and 3 plays. That’s five consecutive possessions with one first down. We have way too many weapons to bog down like that, even against a defense the caliber of NC State.

I expect a lot more out of the run game this week, and a lot more targets for Hayden Hurst and KC Crosby. I keep calling for more variety on offense and I think this is the week we get it. Missouri doesn’t have the talent on defense to get to Jake Bentley, cover our ends and backs on the second level, or cover Deebo and company in the secondary.

The bottom line is we cannot waste possessions. It’s very possible this could be a who-has-the-ball-last kind of game, and if we turn the ball over or fail to hold serve when we’re on offense, we’re likely going to lose. We have to be crisp, don’t fall behind the sticks, don’t turn the ball over and don’t commit major (10-yards plus) penalties.

Special teams. I don’t know jack squat about Missouri’s special teams. I’ll be optimistic and assume they’re below average and we’ll win this phase.

Muschamp vs. Odom. Two defensive gurus having their teams battle it out in the trenches. Just the kind of low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game you would expect. LOLJK.

What’s it all mean. If the Gamecocks can get out of CoMo tomorrow night with a win, that bodes well for our chances in the SEC East. The media bandwagon started to build after our (somewhat) surprising win last week, and an SEC road win would open a lot more eyes to this team. What looked like a 7-5 or 6-6 Gamecock team prior to last week starts to potentially look special with a 2-0 start.  Division favorite Georgia is down a starting quarterback, Florida is a mess, Tennessee is questionable, and Kentucky and Vanderbilt are definitely beatable at home. It’s a long road, but who knows.

My head is telling me we find a way to lose this game due to one of those offensive funks I mentioned above. But my heart wants to hold out hope in 2017 as long as possible, so I’m going to say the USC pulls this one out 45-41.

Go Cocks.

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TRC Unleashed 96 – 1-0 Is Better Than 0-1

TRC Unleashed is finally back, although minus one member of the team. Connor Tapp from 247Sports fills in for Tbone and joins Buck and Gman to review South Carolina’s season opening win over North Carolina State. The trio talks offense, defense, and don’t forget SPECIAL TEAMS PEOPLE. They also cover what went on over the weekend in the SEC and explain why your should never pull for Tennessee (as an example).

You can stream from the site by clicking the logo below, or check us out on iTunes, and enjoy!

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Snap Judgments – South Carolina vs. North Carolina State

Photo courtesy thestate.com

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 35-28 victory over North Carolina State.

Elite. Make no mistake, the victory Saturday over North Carolina State was a complete team effort. Offense, defense, special teams, and all the sub-groups that make up those units had significant contributions in the mild upset of a dark horse contender for the ACC title. But this game was about two guys in particular – Deebo Samuel and Jake Bentley.

Samuel electrified the crowd by taking the opening kickoff of the season back 97 yards for a touchdown. He later scored on a quick slant from six yards out, and then snared a 39-yard rope from Bentley with one hand that is an early candidate for play of the year. One year ago we still weren’t completely sure what we had in Samuel. When healthy he showed flashes of brilliance, but a balky hamstring kept him from reaching his full potential each of the last two seasons. Now Samuel is having high praise heaped on him from national media outlets. Completely healthy, he is the go-to playmaker this team has been missing since Pharoh Cooper took his talents to the NFL.

Meanwhile, Bentley is also drawing high praise after his performance yesterday. His numbers won’t exactly put him in the early Heisman conversation (17-29/215/3 TD/1 INT) but the leadership and poise he showed are those of someone well beyond his years. Oh, and about that elusiveness and arm strength:

Bentley was far from perfect. He missed a handful of easy throws, and had one ill-advised deep ball early that should’ve been intercepted. But regarding those, there is one thing of which we can be assured – he will work hard to correct, and will correct, those mistakes.

The fate of the 2017 season, at least offensively, rests on the shoulders of these two guys.

Statistically speaking. Uh, if you haven’t already, don’t look at the statistics. Just don’t. I know, the only statistic that matters is the final score, but it is a little disturbing that we were doubled up in total yardage and allowed a 400-yard passing game to a slightly above average ACC quarterback.

As we found out last year, bend but don’t break is great when it works, but you can’t rely on it week in and week out. Our pass rush improved as the game went on, but our coverage skills, particularly on one side of the field (cough, King, cough) did not. I loved how some of our young guys looked on the defensive line and at linebacker in particular, but we desperately need to find a way to get off the field on third down more often.

D-lighted. On the bright side, DJ Wonnum and Kier Thomas in particular had very good games on the defensive line, helping the Gamecocks record four sacks on the day while the Wolfpack’s all-world defensive line only had two. In addition, linebacker TJ Brunson racked up 16 (!) tackles and fellow ‘backer and freshman Sherrod Greene showed great speed and aggressiveness while he was on the field. Jamyest Williams took his lumps in the secondary, but he was often matched up against Jaylen Samuel, arguably NC State’s best offensive player. All the freshmen and sophomores in the defensive rotation acquitted themselves well despite the high yardage total given up, which bodes well for the future of the defense.

MIA. The Gamecock run game was non-existent yesterday, which for the moment we will attribute to the stout front seven of NCSU. In a mild upset, AJ Turner got second team carries at tailback over Ty’Son Williams. I’m not sure if that’s a product of Turner’s longevity and good standing with the staff, or if he’s actually outplayed Williams in the preseason. Regardless, neither had an impact on the game, with Turner getting one carry for two yards, and Williams not being credited with a rushing attempt and catching one pass for five yards.

Also missing were our pass catching tight ends. Preseason All-SEC selection Hayden Hurst had a man-sized block on Rico Dowdle’s second touchdown run, but caught only one pass for minus two yards on the day. Neither K.C. Crosby nor Jacob August had a catch. Maybe it was a product of NC State’s defense, but we’ll need production from that position for our offense to be all it can be.

Prevent(s you from winning). The Gamecocks punted to the Wolfpack with 1:38 left in the first half and up by seven. NC State took possession on its own 21 and proceeded to march 79 yards in 10 plays for the game-tying touchdown. How the hell do you get off TEN plays in 1:38? Well, if the defense mostly rushes three and gives a 10-12 yard cushion and doesn’t guard the boundary, turns out it’s pretty darned easy. I still haven’t figured out what the staff was thinking.

Under center. On our final offensive possession, Jake Bentley went under center on second down. I was actually thinking earlier in the week if I could remember Bentley taking a snap under center, and I couldn’t. That second down snap was the first time I can ever remember it happening. I thought it was odd timing given the danger of fumbling a snap in that situation.

However, I do like the fact we are practicing at least some under center. There’s not much worse than a fourth-and-inches situation and seeing a team line up in the shotgun.

Harmon-ized. Sophomore Kelvin Harmon led the Wolfpack in receiving with 10 catches for 114 yards. You may remember Harmon as a former Gamecock commit who spurned the Gamecocks when Steve Spurrier retired. Harmon was the target for NCSU quarterback Ryan Finley on the Wolfpack’s last ditch attempt to tie the game. That would’ve been quite a kick in the jubblies.

Hold the LOLs. Last year at this time we were looking ahead to facing a Mississippi State team that had just been upset by South Alabama. We all had a good laugh at their misfortune, and while we weren’t chalking up a victory quite yet, we certainly felt good about the possibility of going into Starkville and getting the W. We received our comeuppance in the form of a 27-14 beatdown that wasn’t nearly that close.

Yesterday we watched in amazement as Missouri State rolled up 35 points and moved the ball at will against next week’s opponent, Missouri. It was once again LOL-worthy seeing a future conference opponent get shredded like that. However, the Tiger defense tightened up in the second half while their offense never slowed down, scoring 72 points and finishing with 815 total yards.

I’ve seen a lot of Gamecock fans feeling confident about this game, thinking “they won’t be able to stop us, and surely our defense is better than Missouri State’s”. All I can say is, not so fast my friend. Yes, our defense is probably better, but that doesn’t mean this won’t be a shootout. Remember, we gave up a boatload of yards to an offense yesterday that is not nearly as potent as Missouri’s. This game will be a battle, and the fact the Tigers have been installed as a 4.5 point favorite, I think the folks in Las Vegas agree.

Go Cocks.

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Pre-snap Read – South Carolina vs. North Carolina State 

LET’S GOOOOOOOOO

We had every intention of recording a preseason podcast last night. But due to my lingering extreme tiredness after spending most of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning vomiting my guts up in a Washington, D.C. hotel room, I decided to sleep instead. (You ever been alone and sick in a hotel room 700 miles from home? It is the WORST man. You revert to being a 3-year-old whimpering and crying for mommy to make it all better.) Anyhoo, instead of a podcast here’s a pseudo preview of tomorrow afternoon’s opener against NC State.

Saturday? What is this voodoo about us kicking off our first game on a Saturday anyway? If you wanted one final sign that the Spurrier era is officially over, this is it. The HBC loved being the “first game” of the season and all the attention that came with the Thursday night slot. In Spurrier’s 11 years at the helm we opened on Thursday night nine times.

Will Muschamp? I’m not sure he gives two rips about when the first game is played. I would expect to see us opening on the first Saturday most years from here on out. Either way, we know we’ll either be 1-0 or 0-1 come Sunday morning.

One year ago today. 365 days ago we were opening on the road at Vanderbilt (on a Thursday) with a new head coach and full of piss and vinegar. Based on strong spring game performance (which was basically a game of two-hand touch) we believed it was just a matter of time before Brandon McIlwain took over the starting quarterback job and held onto it for a very long time. We had yet to be introduced to a bevvy of newcomers, including Brian Edwards and DJ Wonnum. It would be several weeks before we were introduced to critical offensive pieces Rico Dowdle and Jake Bentley. And we were hoping against hope that Will Muschamp knew what the hell he was doing after a high-profile faceplant at Florida.

Muschamp has done a fantastic job of transforming the roster over the last 20 months, adding talent and a little depth. The verdict is still out, and the jury will be deliberating a while, but we are definitely in a better position today that we were last year in Nashville.

What we’re excited about:

Jake Bentley. It’s hard to not be excited about a kid with his poise and talent WHO SHOULD STILL BE IN HIGH SCHOOL…oh wait, never mind, that was last year. I dare say that after seven whole college football games, Bentley might be the most NFL-ready quarterback we’ve ever had at South Carolina. No, I don’t mean he’s ready to jump to The League today, but he has the measurables and intangibles that NFL scouts are looking for – size, arm strength, feel for the game, work ethic, and so on. The old saying goes you improve the most between your freshman and sophomore years, and if that’s the case we are all justified in expecting big things from number 19.

Weapons. Bentley has a ton of weapons to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Dowdle and AJ Turner are proven commodities in the backfield, and they’ll be joined by North Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams, a guy who many believe is the best of the bunch. Much has also been written about our veteran trio of pass catchers, Edwards, Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst. These six guys combined have all the skills needed to make something happen with the ball in their hands – power, elusiveness and speed. The only problem? There’s only one ball.

Freshmen – Offense. Even with six guys we know will get touches practically every game, the brothers Smith, OrTre and Shi (I know, they’re not really brothers) have created a lot of buzz in camp. OrTre is a big-bodied receiver who recovered from a broken foot his senior year of high school to participate in Spring practice and make an impression on the coaches. I’m hesitant to compare him to Alshon Jeffery before he ever takes a snap but…oh hell it’s still preseason and I’m not hesitant HE’S THE NEXT ALSHON JEFFERY.

Even though he was a heavily sought-after four-star recruit, Shi has been a bit of a surprise this fall. Muschamp announced him as a starter in a three-receiver set, so he has obviously shown some playmaking ability at practice. I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll try to get him the ball in space a couple of times on Saturday.

Skai. Welcome back number 10.

Other Linebackers – Any of Them. Skai and Bryson Allen-Williams are the dependable anchors of the defense. T.J. Brunson will be the other starter. I’m excited about the freshmen and newcomers we have at the position, but one or more will need to step up to spell the starters and to also give us some experience for the coming years. Davonne Bowen, Sherrod Greene, Eldridge Thompson, Damani Staley – I don’t care who steps up, but somebody has to.

Newcomers/Freshmen – Defense. Javon Kinlaw is a mountain in the middle and will help plug some of those big holes opposing running backs exploited last year. Aaron Sterling and Brad Johnson will hopefully give a shot of energy to what was an anemic pass rush. Keisean Nixon is the type of physical presence we need at the back of the defense.

But the guy on D to watch for is our very own Honey Badger, Jamyest Williams. He brings an attitude and competitiveness to the defense that we haven’t seen since DJ Swearinger. He is relatively small, but is extremely athletic and uses his hips and balance to allow him to match up with just about any receiver. Williams is the kind of guy that forces quarterbacks to make perfect throws.

What we’re concerned about:

The O Line. For our offense to have any success at all we need Jake Bentley to be upright and healthy. He was mostly healthy last year, but he was not upright nearly as much as we would’ve liked. Zack Bailey is a future starter in the NFL, but the rest of the line has a lot to prove. They’ll need to create holes for our backs, which will in turn create time for our quarterback, which will in turn allow Kurt Roper to mix it up with the playbook. The fierce NC State defensive line will be a good litmus test for this group.

The defensive backfield. We have veteran starters in corner Jamarcus King (who we hope has gotten stronger) and safety Chris Lammons (who we hope has learned to not throw punches at guys wearing helmets). There has been a lot of talk about Rashad Fenton possibly becoming the best corner on the team, and D.J. Smith is solid if not spectacular at the other safety position. Williams is a welcome addition at the nickel, but then the depth starts to fall off quite a bit. Jaylin Dickerson and Chris Smith are Freshmen who will miss the season due to injury, and Tavyn Jackson and Stephen Montac have battled injuries are expected to miss time. We cannot afford any more injuries in the back of the D.

Special teams. Lammons will be returning punts, which is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is he has shown flashes of being pretty good at it. The bad news is that’s 4-6 more opportunities for him to get dinged up and take him away from his primary role, as noted above. Kickoff returns I expect to be average to above average, but the kicking game is a hand-wringer at the moment. We still haven’t decided on a field goal kicker to replace Elliott Fry, and will also be trotting out a new punter.

Injuries. They have already taken a toll on our defensive backfield. There are a few positions like running back and defensive line where we could probably take a hit, but for the most part we need our starting 22 to stay as healthy as possible. One place where we cannot, and I mean CANNOT, have an injury is at quarterback. If Bentley goes down for any extended period of time we are blanking blanked.

Misc:

The ‘Pack. NC State is a middling ACC team, much in the way South Carolina has returned to being a middling SEC team. Unfortunately, tomorrow we’ll be catching one of the better Wolfpack teams in recent memory. As previously stated, they have an outstanding defensive line, but could be vulnerable in the back seven if Bentley gets time to throw. On offense, quarterback Ryan Finley is somewhere on the “meh” spectrum, but has excellent weapons on the outside in Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hynes. The ‘Pack will also be replacing their excellent tailback from last year, Matthew Dayes.

The Prediction. The final score will be 27-24. I don’t know who’s going to win, that’s why they play the game. But I expect an ultra-competitive, fun football game from the start.

The Season. Funny thing about football, sometimes you can have more talent and a better team, but not gain any ground record-wise over your previous team. I really like the talent on this Gamecock squad. But there is a lot of youth and too many question marks to think we’ll improve very much on our 6-6 regular season from last year, especially with the out of conference schedule as tough as it’s been in quite a while. My head says 6-6, but my heart says 7-5 and maybe a Belk Bowl appearance.

The great thing about today is 15-0 is still a possibility, and by God that’s exciting. Football is here my friends, we look forward to the ride with you.

Go Cocks.

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Reports: Kingston to Take the Reins of Gamecock Baseball

(Photo: baseballamerica.com)

Multiple media outlets are now reporting that South Florida’s Mark Kingston will be the next head baseball coach at South Carolina.

My official statement on this hiring:  MEH.

Mark Kingston will be announced at a press conference shortly, and Ray Tanner will sing his praises and call him a great recruiter and motivator. Kingston will give a fiery speech and “win” the press conference, and we’ll all feel a little bit better about not getting Kevin O’Sullivan or Brian O’Connor or even Monte Lee. All those things will happen, guaranteed.

But those things won’t completely cover up the disappointment. The disappointment of Tanner once again missing on his first, second, and maybe even third choices. The disappointment of getting a guy the vast majority of us had never even heard of before two weeks ago.

Think back to everyone’s list of replacements the day after Chad Holbrook was fire…er…resigned. There were at least a dozen names tossed around. Coaches who’ve won conference titles, regionals, super regionals, and College World Series titles. NAME coaches. Coaches who media and fans alike felt like a program like South Carolina wanted and deserved. Look at the words of Ray Tanner himself:

“I believe very strongly that our job here is a top three or top five job in the country so we’ve attracted a lot of really good candidates.”

With all due respect, a top three or top five job in the country shouldn’t be hiring Mark Kingston from South Florida. That’s not a knock on Kingston’s coaching ability and it doesn’t mean I won’t get 100% behind him as he tries to get us back to Omaha. That’s a knock on one of the great Gamecocks of all time, Ray Tanner.

It’s beyond obvious this wasn’t his first choice. If Tanner wanted Kingston from the beginning, he could have had him 30 minutes after the Holbrook resignation press conference. But Tanner had bigger fish in his sight. Fish that were playing well into the postseason, and one fish in particular that won a national championship. But in the end he couldn’t land that fish, and once again we’ve had to settle.

I’m going to be all in on Mark Kingston, as all Gamecocks should be. I’m going to pull for him like crazy, and I hope he succeeds will beyond our wildest dreams. But given the high hopes I had going into this search, it’s going to take me a little time to get used to the idea.

I’m also going to cross my fingers that he doesn’t block us on Twitter.

Go Cocks.

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Holbrook Resignation Complicated, But Not That Complicated

(Photo credit: ABC Columbia)

“For a program that measures itself by College World Series appearances and results, not making the 64-team field is unacceptable.” – Josh Kendall, The State, May 29

By every account, Chad Holbrook is a fine man. His son Reece fought and beat cancer, and Holbrook has spent much of his free time raising significant amounts of money to go towards pediatric cancer research. No matter what happens with his baseball career, he will have no accomplishment on the baseball diamond that will top that.

By every account, Chad Holbrook was an outstanding assistant baseball coach. In his 15 seasons at North Carolina the Tar Heels made 11 NCAA tournament appearances and three College World Series trips. As Associate Head Coach at South Carolina, he was instrumental in helping build a team that went to three College World Series’ and won two. When Ray Tanner took the job as South Carolina Athletic Director after the 2012 season, it was a foregone conclusion that Holbrook would take over, and I don’t think Gamecock fans had much of a problem with that. Holbrook had been groomed for many years, it was his time.

In 2013 Holbrook guided the Gamecocks to within a game of another CWS. Oddly, it was in the deciding game of that Super Regional series against his former team, UNC, that we began to see the first chink in his managerial armor. The crime? Sacrificing one of his best hitters, Joey Pankake, in the first inning of that game with no score. (Many will argue they saw issues long before this, but this is the first time I remember recognizing it as a significant flaw in his strategic thinking.)  Regardless, it was a very good season and nobody really complained about missing the CWS for the first time in four years.

In 2014 the Gamecocks shockingly lost to Maryland at home in the NCAA Regionals, with the final game being a 10-1 whitewashing. Again, you run into a hot team at the wrong time in the tournament and bad things happen. There was no need to panic at this point.

In 2015, USC went 13-17 in the SEC and missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. In the day and age of social media, and specifically Twitter, it was now time to panic. This Gamecock program, what we believed to be an elite national program, did not miss the NCAA Tournament. The fringe began to call for Holbrook’s firing, but the moderates among us knew that was not an option after only three years.

The 2016 season was a strange one. The cry for Holbrook’s head grew during the course of the season as, after starting the SEC slate 6-0 against Arkansas and Ole Miss, the team lost weekend series to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. But sandwiched around those losses were sweeps of mediocre to bad teams Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama. In the end, sweeping five series and not being swept in any resulted in a 20-9 conference finish and first place in the SEC East. That’s great, isn’t it? Call me foolish, but something just didn’t feel right.

As a host in the NCAA Tournament, with Clemson looming as a Super Regional opponent, the Gamecocks lost the opening game to Rhode Island (RHODE ISLAND) to fall into the loser’s bracket. Fortunately, the overall regional draw was extremely weak, and USC breezed past Duke, Rhode Island again, and then UNC Wilmington twice to make it to the Super Regional. Clemson lost their regional, and the Super fell into Columbia’s lap the following weekend. A red-hot Oklahoma State pitching staff rode into town and ended the season for South Carolina.

In my humble opinion, 2016 was fool’s gold for Gamecock fans. A weak bottom of the SEC combined with a fortuitous draw in the NCAA tournament led to the easiest path to a Super Regional we will ever see. Proponents of Chad Holbrook will always say “yeah, but they made a Super you idiot!” I can’t deny that, but look under the covers. There were still problems.

(Side note, SEC Tournament wins for Chad Holbrook to this point: 0.)

I won’t even rehash 2017, because you’ve heard it all. A preseason top five ranking turned into a complete disaster only rivaled by the 2014 football team in Gamecock lore. Players who were expected to take a step forward didn’t. The deep pitching staff was shallow as puddle. And Chad Holbrook continued to make mind-boggling in-game decisions, and even took a shot at our fans in frustration. It literally couldn’t have gone worse. Was all of this Chad Holbrook’s fault? Of course not, but this is life in sports. When things don’t go well, more often than not the head man takes the fall.

So now, after two weeks of back-and-forth about the future of Holbrook, he is gone. Some people will argue that he should still be our head man, but the evidence doesn’t support that. Consider:

Pros

2 Super Regionals

1 Regional

1 First-place SEC East Finish

40 win average

Cons

0 College World Series

2 Missed NCAA Tournaments

4-17-1 in series against top 50 RPI teams (2015-2017)

2 losing records in SEC play

8 straight series losses in SEC play (2017)

3 straight series losses to Clemson

3 SEC Tournament wins in five years (all this year)

2 humiliating blowout losses to UNC

Now look back at the opening quote from Josh Kendall. This was not a difficult decision. And please don’t throw out ridiculous hypotheticals – “so if Chad had made 5 straight Super Regionals should he have been fired?”. Of course not, context matters. And the context of the last five years is simply not good enough.

Finally, about our fans. Aaron Fitt wrote this ridiculous piece about Holbrook and Gamecock fans. First, to say Holbrook was dismissed…er, “resigned”…because the relationship with fans became toxic is an insult to Ray Tanner. All I’ve read about Ray Tanner is how hard he studies the facts of the situation and makes an educated decision based on those facts. The fact is Ray Tanner has higher expectations for this program, just like the fans. That’s why Chad Holbrook is no longer our coach.

And we have high expectations? And we’re spoiled? You’re damn right on both accounts. I can’t defend anyone spewing personal venom towards Holbrook or the players during games or on social media. We frankly don’t need those fans. But the vast majority of Gamecock fans are passionate, loyal, and devote an inordinate amount of time and resources to all our athletic programs, of which baseball is a crown jewel. We’re not going to take a back seat to anyone on the baseball diamond, and we’re not going to keep quiet when we feel a change is needed. No apologies here.

I feel bad for Chad Holbrook, I really do. If you’ve ever lost a job it is horrible feeling, and can scar you for a long time. I wish him nothing but success in the future, and hope he bounces back quickly.

Go Cocks.

 

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Did the Bunt Work? Midseason Report

With the season halfway through the books, @FeatherdWarrior from @DidtheBuntWork joins us to investigate…well, did the bunt work? (Note: statistics do not include last night’s game against Mississippi State.)

It’s been a long week folks. The 20-5 drubbing Carolina endured at the hands of the Tarheels has reignited the debate around the hotness of Chad Holbrook’s seat for a second straight year. The consensus seems to be that if it’s not hot, it’s definitely uncomfortably swampy. Given the intensity of that debate, I thought it might be a good time to take a detour and check in on our little project account @didtheBUNTwork.

The basics are pretty simple. To date, the South Carolina Gamecocks have executed 11 successful bunts out of 27 attempts. That’s a success rate of about .407, which looks pretty good if you’re comparing it to the team batting average (sitting at .274 at the time of this writing). However, keep in mind we’re defining a successful bunt as one that advances a runner who later scores, so comparing a bunt success ratio to a batting average isn’t exactly apples-to-apples. For one thing, even a “successful” bunt can result in an out. Assuming most of our bunts are sacrifices with zero outs, we’re essentially giving a bunt a whole inning of at-bats before we conclude whether it was successful. Therefore, I think I more appropriate benchmark would be to multiply the team batting average by 3 since, if the bunt weren’t an option, the team would have three outs to score the runner. In that case, a .407 success rate doesn’t look all that good next to an .822 success rate (.274 x 3), does it?

Before you say anything, I’m well aware of how crude this comparison is. This is the equivalent of a napkin scribble to settle an argument in a bar. For all the attention our bunting receives on Twitter, no one ever seems to address it in any kind of intellectually rigorous way. This is my attempt at doing so. I’m not trying to add Bill James’s sword to my throne or anything.

With that in mind, here are some other interesting nuggets I’ve pulled out from the data I’ve collected so far.

Eight bunts (.296) have failed to advance any runners. A major reason for utilizing the bunt is to guarantee advancing at least one runner at least one base. If we’re not even advancing a runner 30% of the time, how effective can that strategy be? Another 4 bunts (.148) only advanced a runner because the opposing team committed a fielding error. That means nearly 45% of the time (.444) our players cannot execute a bunt correctly. Granted, not all of our bunt attempts are sacrifices. Sometimes we actually bunt for a hit, but that’s extremely rare. So far this season we’ve successfully bunted for a hit a dismal 2 of 27 (.074) times.

For the season, the Gamecocks have logged a +31 weighted base runner differential. This is something I kind of made up, but basically you weight the bases 1-4 with 1st base being a 1 and scoring a run being a 4. So if a bunt advances a runner from 1st to 2nd, the WBD would be +1 (2 – 1 = 1), assuming the batter is called out. If the batter is safe the WBD would +2 (2 -1 +1 = 2). This means that, on average, the Gamecocks advance a runner 1.15 bases per bunt attempt. Six times a Gamecocks bunt has resulted in a 0 WBD and twice it has resulted in a negative WBD.

Danny Blair (.239 batting average) is the Gamecocks’ most prolific bunter with seven attempts.

Jonah Bride, the second best hitter on the team (.306) has accounted 6 of 27 bunts, twice the expected amount if you assumed the bunts were spread evenly throughout the order (9/27 = 3). Three of Bride’s bunts have been successful.

True to his word, Chad Holbrook has not bunted the 3rd or 4th place batter at all this season. He has, however, bunted the 1st and 2nd place batters a total 15 times.

So there you have it. It will be interesting to see how these numbers compare to the second half numbers considering our level of competition will have greatly increased. More than anything, I see this as a starting point for future discussions. If my attention span endures I’d like record Carolina’s bunting stats well into the future. I think it would be interesting to see how our success varies over the years. And I’d really like to be able to compare our bunting statistics with the rest of the SEC, but I just don’t have that kind of time.

 

Top 6 BAV. w/ At Least 50 ABs Batting Average Bunts Successful Bunts
LT Tolbert 0.324 2 1
Jonah Bride 0.306 6 3
Chris Cullen 0.303 1 0
Jacob Olson 0.298 0 n/a
Matt Williams 0.278 1 1
Alex Destino 0.277 0 n/a
Lineup Position No. of Bunts Successful Bunts
1 9 3
2 6 3
3 0 n/a
4 0 n/a
5 2 0
6 2 1
7 0 n/a
8 4 2
9 4 2
Inning No. of Bunts
1 0
2 1
3 2
4 2
5 4
6 4
7 6
8 4
9 2
10 2
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