Snap Judgments – 2019 South Carolina @ Tennessee Edition

Chasing. (Photo: AP/Wade Payne)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 41-21 loss to Tennessee.

Hard Knox. Over the course of the last several months I didn’t hear much worry from Gamecock fans about our biennial trip to Knoxville. When looking over the schedule our game against Tennessee was generally though of as an easy win for us at best, and a toss up at worst.* That led me to write and post on Friday night about our frightening history of games in Neyland Stadium. I mostly wrote this as a sort of warning to the South Carolina faithful – don’t take these guys lightly, even when we’re good and they’re bad, we seem to have a tough time at their place.

The game couldn’t have started any better, with Ryan Hilinski hitting Shi Smith for a 75-yard catch and run touchdown on the game’s first play. Then the game couldn’t have gone any worse, with Tennessee outscoring the good guys 41-14 in a whitewashing rarely seen in this series in the last 20 years. In the darkest recesses of my mind I didn’t see us getting whipped by three touchdowns and getting goose-egged 24-0 in the second half. It was a supremely frustrating performance, so much so that I left at the end of the third quarter to attend a birthday party to which I arrived ON TIME. I don’t have to tell you that’s extremely out of character for me.

Two weeks ago the South Carolina football team was flying high after beating fifth-ranked Georgia in Athens. Those questioning Will Muschamp were quieted. There was no one asking about buyouts, or making lists of coaching candidates. The program was finally trending up, and on the right track.

Last week against Florida the Gamecocks let one get away. The lead story was the poor officiating, but USC had chances to make plays and pull a second consecutive top ten upset, but couldn’t get it done.

On Saturday, the bottom fell out. Tennessee has been a program in disarray for years. Poor administration, botched coaching searches, bad hires, players with questionable character, transfers, a long SEC losing streak, you name it. Then they started 2019 with a home loss against Georgia State, and entered our game at 2-5 even though they had been playing better of late. But the butt of all SEC jokes ambushed Muschamp and company. They were better prepared, faster, more confident, and looked more like the 1999 Volunteers than the 2019 Volunteers.

So here we are, back where we were after the first week of the season, picking up the pieces after a horrible loss. The good will of the Georgia win is gone. Completely gone. After a mere two weeks.

*I know, this game terrified some of you.

Meltdown. I didn’t get to write a Snap Judgments after the Georgia game, but I think I tweeted something to the effect that our defense was finally starting to look like a Will Muschamp defense. Against the Vols, we got no pressure and gave up 351 yards passing to a quarterback who Tennessee fans dread seeing play and a true freshman seeing his first significant playing time as a collegian. We were consistently shoved around and wide receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway seemed to running through our secondary with a ten-yard force field around them for most of the game. (Both those guys are full-grown men by the way).

I think some of our defenders may have been a little full of themselves after the Georgia game. Maybe this will be a wake up call. Or maybe the Georgia game was an anomaly.

Offensive. After complaining about Bryan McClendon and the offense, I was told by one Twitter follower that I was wrong and I should “break down some film and show the issues”. Well, I don’t really have time to break down film, and I’m not sure I know enough about RPM’s and screen door passes and drawing plays to tell you what’s going on. What I do know is this:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears we’ve regressed in most major offensive categories. If we were a great offensive team to begin with that would probably be acceptable, but we were no better than middle of pack in the SEC last year.

Put the blame on a freshman quarterback if you want, but watching Jim Chaney of Tennessee scheme the hell out of us on Saturday with a below average QB and a *gasp* freshman QB made me long for a real live veteran offensive coordinator.

If we want to continue to be unimaginative and middling on offense, we’re in good shape. If not, we need to open our pocketbooks and hire someone who has a proven track record.

QB1. Speaking of freshman quarterbacks, I have no problem with Ryan Hilinski at this stage of his career. He was thrown into a tough situation, has been getting pummeled in every game, and keeps coming back. He needs to get better, and he will, but right now we have to take the good with the bad.

The Muschamp Dilemma. Ah, yes, so we meet again. First of all, let me state for the record, no one from this blog or Twitter account has ever uttered the words “fire Muschamp”. If you can find evidence to the contrary please share it with us. First of all, calling for his firing would be futile, because it is obvious Ray Tanner is going to live, and likely die, with this hire. Second, nobody listens to us anyway. Third, believe it or not, we really really want Muschamp to succeed at South Carolina, even though we don’t think it is likely.

Once again, this is about using your eyes. Tell me what you see. If you throw out the Georgia game (but please don’t, cling to it like grim death) this has been a program of inconsistency and mediocrity under Muschamp. We’ve been slightly above average at our very best, and average to below average the rest of the time. Even our 9-4 season didn’t see us beat a team of real consequence. Add his time at Florida to his time here and what do you see? After seven-plus years as a head coach, nobody is calling Will Muschamp a coaching superstar.

And stop with the Spurrier argument. Please stop. Spurrier was given a ton of rope because he earned it long before he ever set foot in Columbia. Muschamp has yet to show he can be a successful head coach anywhere, so he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. And if your argument is “it took Spurrier seven years and he’s a hall of famer we should give Muschamp more time”, how much time do you want to give him? Fifteen, twenty years? Lord knows, I’ll likely be dead by the time we hire our next head coach.

I know this is going to make some of you mad, it already has on Twitter. That’s not my intention, it’s just a matter of calling it like I see it. You might see it differently, so I’ll make you an offer if you have a strong opinion in the other direction –

Write a story in defense of Will Muschamp and this coaching staff, email it to us at rubberchickensblog@gmail.com, and we’ll publish it. Not kidding, if you want a voice, this is your chance.

Until then, go Cocks, beat Vandy.

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Hard Knox-ville: As Always, This Halloween Tilt Will Provide Some Scares

(Photo: 247 Sports)

South Carolina at Tennessee – the thing of which nightmares are made.

1995 – My only trip to Knoxville for a game featured Steve Taneyhill vs. Peyton Manning. The Gamecocks took the opening kickoff and drove all the way to the Tennessee one-yard line, only to have a false start penalty stall the drive. The chip shot field goal that would’ve given South Carolina an early lead was blocked by Leonard Little and returned 90 yards for a Vol touchdown. It was all downhill from there as Tennessee went on to win 56-21.

2001 – The no. 15 Gamecocks and no. 9 Volunteers battled nip and tuck for three and a half quarters, but a Travis Stephens touchdown midway through the fourth quarter gave Tennessee a 17-10 victory. It was one of only three losses on the season for the Gamecocks.

2003 – Star freshman running back Demetris Summers ran for 158 yards on 27 carries and the Gamecocks played their first ever overtime game (I think) in Knoxville. But they lost in heartbreaking fashion as Tennessee scored a touchdown in their overtime possession after a USC field goal.

2007 – Talk about heartbreaking. The Gamecocks stormed back from a 21-0 halftime deficit to take a 24-21 lead late in the game. The Vols’ Daniel Lincoln hit a 48-yard field goal with five seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime, then made a 27-yarder in the first overtime period. Ryan Succop missed a 40-yarder with a chance to force a second overtime. At the time, had the Gamecocks won out, they would have won the SEC East (instead, they lost their last three regular season games).

2009 – The 22nd-ranked Gamecocks went into Knoxville against an aggressively average Tennessee team in their first and only year under Lane Kiffin. When the Vols ran out onto the field in black jerseys, on Halloween no less, the game was over. The Gamecocks gave the game away early, turning the ball over and falling behind 21-0 again. There would be no comeback this time, and UT went on to win 31-13.

2013 – Yeah, gross. The game that cost the Gamecocks a shot at an SEC title, and maybe even a national title.

2015 – The worst South Carolina team of the last two decades fell into a big hole again (sound familiar?), trailing by two touchdowns at the half. Once again they rallied to tie it up, and had a chance to win late, but Jerrell Adams fumbled at the Tennessee 13-yard line with :32 seconds left to play.

Even the wins in Knoxville have been pretty blah – 14-3 in 2011 when we had a vastly superior team, and 15-9 in 2017 when we dominated most of the game but needed a goal line stand at the end of the game to seal it.

That said, one of the great moments in Gamecock history happened in Knoxville in 2005 in Steve Spurrier’s first year as head coach. Josh Brown’s 49-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter gave the Gamecocks a 16-15 win, their first in Neyland Stadium. But as far as great USC performances in Knoxville, the list pretty much begins and ends with that game.

What am I expecting tomorrow? Who knows. What we need is an offensive breakout for this team. We’ve seen glimpses throughout the season, but it would be nice to see a four quarter performance from the offense where we put 35-38 points on the board and have the defense play at the level it played against Georgia. If we can pull that off, we should have a relaxing afternoon.

However, the Vols have been playing tough football, especially the last two weeks against Mississippi State and Alabama. So while there’s the performance I’m hoping for, there’s also the performance we’re most likely to get – a low scoring street fight that isn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter. As long as we come away with a win I really don’t care how we get it.

I’d just like to save all my scares and horrors for later in the week.

Snap Judgments – 2019 Florida @ USC Edition

“Excuse me sir, could I interest you in an eye exam?”
Photo: theathletic.com

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 38-27 loss to Florida.

Jobbed. First of all, let me state for the record, I hate people who perpetually blame referees, officials and umpires for the failures of their teams. It is indeed a loser’s mentality, and discounts the hard work, game planning and overall play of the opponent. Sometimes to win a game you have to overcome a bad call here or there to win, and typically there are many opportunities to do just that during the course of the game. I do my best to not blame officiating for the outcome of a contest.

(clears throat)

HOWEVER…

Yesterday against Florida was as close as I’ve seen since The Push Off to a game being decided by officials. Sure, we had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board or stop Florida from putting points on the board throughout the game. But if the referees had just been competent – that’s all we needed, competence – the Gamecocks’ chances of winning would have increased greatly.

There were calls that were questionable, but there were two calls that were absolute no doubters that gifted the Gators 14 points. Here’s a recap of a few:

  • Early in the third quarter the Gamecocks had taken a 17-10 lead after a Gator turnover and short touchdown drive. All the momentum was on the side of USC until Florida’s Dameon Pierce took a handoff 75 yards to paydirt on the first play of the ensuing drive. Except the play never should have happened. Florida right tackle Jean Delance came out of his stance before the snap, so the play should have immediately been blown dead. A false start or flinch by an offensive lineman is almost ALWAYS called because there is a dedicated official who looks for it. I saw it when the play started and couldn’t believe the play wasn’t whistled dead. On the Should’ve Called a Penalty scale (one to five flags) this one gets five flags.
  • The second part of that play – which seemed to upset a lot of you more than the false start no-call – is Florida wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland had a hold of Israel Mukuamu’s jersey for about 40 yards as he gave chase to Pierce. It was holding, plain and simple, but a very poor argument was made that almost pulling the jersey over Mukuamu’s head didn’t mean Cleveland necessarily gained an advantage. Conservatively I’ll give this four flags on the Should’ve Called a Penalty Scale.
  • With about 10 minutes to go in the game, Florida faced a 4th and 3 at the Gamecock 34 yard line. At the snap, Javon Kinlaw broke through the line and put pressure on Florida QB Kyle Trask. Kinlaw was basically tackled by a Florida lineman but no flag was thrown. Trask completed a pass for a first down, and the Gators took the lead for good on a TD pass on the next play. I’ve seen more obvious holds not get called, but I’ve also seen a lot less than that get called. That play gets three flags on the Should’ve Called a Penalty Scale.
  • Finally, with Florida leading 24-20 and South Carolina needing to hold them to a field goal to stay in the game, the Gators committed one of the most egregious pick plays you could ever imagine to free up Kyle Pitts for an easy touchdown. Analyst Greg McElroy called it immediately, which tells you how obvious it was. Instead of first and goal from the 15, the Gators for all intents and purposes put the game away.

Whining, sour grapes, poor sportsmanship, whatever you want to call it, we got jobbed yesterday. It’s a shame the Gamecocks didn’t get a chance to win the game based on how they actually played the game.

The Professor. We were hard on Will Muschamp earlier this year, going as far as saying it was never going to work with him at South Carolina. What has happened the last two weeks has once again given us a glimmer of hope. We didn’t get to write a Snap Judgments after the Georgia game, but that’s one of those “where were you” games that we’ll be talking about for years to come. It’s a shame we couldn’t follow that up with another top 10 upset yesterday, but we competed our rear ends off. Maybe this young team is figuring it out.

What we don’t need at this point are steps backwards. We need wins over Tennessee and Vanderbilt. We need a good showing and possibly a win at Texas A&M. We need to beat Appalachian State. And finally, we need to show Clemson we can compete.

We need continued progress. We need to build on that hope.

D Up, O Down. While the defense has started to play like the Will Muschamp defense we expected when he came here, the offense continues to struggle. Granted, Florida is an outstanding defensive team, and that had a lot to do with our pedestrian performance yesterday. But our play calling consistently leaves me scratching my head. The run game is the best it’s been in the Muschamp era, but our inability to pass protect and get receivers open is a concern.

H bomb. Ryan Hilinski continues to be a freshman. In other words, maddeningly inconsistent. I know…wait, let me rephrase that… I THINK he’s been injured on and off this season even though the coaches continue to tell me he’s fine.

He was stellar against Charleston Southern, outstanding against Alabama, bad against Missouri (hurt elbow?), ok against Kentucky, good against Georgia (for a half), and pretty bad against Florida (hurt knee?).

We had a chance to win the game yesterday on the strength of Hilinski’s arm. He missed at least four open deep balls in the first half that would’ve given the Gamecocks a cushion. Muschamp event mentioned those at the half, saying the Gators were daring him to go up top by crowding the line of scrimmage, and that Hilinski needed to hit those.

You know what they say the best thing about freshmen is? They become sophomores. Let’s hope Ryan becomes a sophomore, at least mentally, as soon as possible.

Fast Lane. Thank God for Tavien Feaster. Man, I’m happy for that kid and what he’s doing on the field for us this season. After Rico Dowdle went down with and injury, all Feaster did was rush 25 times for 175 yards and a touchdown. I never cared that he was a Tiger, I’m just glad he’s a Gamecocks.

On the flip side, I feel horrible for Rico Dowdle. The poor guy just can’t stay healthy. Here’s hoping he recovers quickly and can be back soon.

What’s next. Please do not sleep on Tennessee. Yes, they are a train wreck, but they’ve been a train wreck before and managed to ruin our season. They will not be a pushover, and I expect to be stressed for sixty minutes.

Go Cocks.

Not So Snap Judgments – 2019 Kentucky @ South Carolina Edition

Photo: Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA

Some no so quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-7 win over Kentucky.

Blue by you. On October 10, 2009, South Carolina defeated Kentucky 28-26. That win was the tenth consecutive for the Gamecocks over the Wildcats and completed a highly improbable decade sweep. Unbelievably the Wildcats broke the streak the following year, beating a Gamecock team that had just beaten top-ranked Alabama the week before and a team that would go on to win its only SEC East championship. (In other words, the most Gamecock loss of all time.) USC would then win the next three, making it 13 out of 14 games in our favor.

As we entered the annual tilt on Saturday night, the Wildcats were sitting on a just-as-improbable five-game win streak over the Gamecocks. The frustration level was such that the Kentucky game – THE KENTUCKY GAME – was circled on this year’s schedule as a must-win just to get the monkey off out back.

And dispose of that annoying primate we did, with a convincing 24-7 win that was as easy going an SEC game as we’ve seen in a while. The Wildcats never really threatened even though the Gamecocks never really pulled away, but you never got a sense that Kentucky was going to be able to mount enough offense to catch and pass USC.

The defense finally played like a Will Muschamp defense, shutting out the Wildcats and holding them to a paltry 128 yards before their final drive of the game. The offense produced two 100-yard rushers (Dowdle/Feaster) in an SEC game for the first time since 2001 (Watson/Pinnock).

It wasn’t always pretty, but snapping a 5-game losing streak to a middle-of-the-road conference opponent was downright georgeous.

The other news. Look, the streak is over, and that’s fantastic. The fans were outstanding, the stadium was loud, the uniforms looked great, and the game ended with the good guys with more points than the bad guys. It’s a pleasant way to go into an off week, we can relax and have a good off week before our showdown with Georgia.

However, this doesn’t mean things are fixed. The UNC game still happened. The Missouri game still happened. We’re still in for a lot of ups and downs over the next eight weeks, I’m certain. The hope, of course, is that this team has figured something out. That they’re learning how to compete week in and week out, at home and on the road.

But I go back to something I said in the offseason – show me. Don’t just show me once. Continue to show me every week, no matter the opponent. Then I’ll start to believe.

Calling his shot. Cole Cubelic says this was pretty cool, and I agree.

I’ve been pretty hard on Will this year, but I’ve always said he speaks the game as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. In 2016 he was one of the coaches in the ESPN Film Room for the Alabama-Clemson National Championship Game, and it was so impressive to hear him discuss formations and play calls. Every time he spoke he know exactly what he was talking about. The man knows the game of football, with that you cannot argue.

Let’s get physical. Kentucky had a five-game losing streak over South Carolina for one primary reason – they were tougher and more physical than us. The Gamecocks turned the tables Saturday night. USC was more physical in every aspect of the game, and it wasn’t close. That feels good.

The game plan. I watched Kentucky and quarterback Sawyer Smith a couple of times this season before Saturday. I thought, while not spectacular, he was more than competent enough to give the Gamecocks some trouble. I was wrong, he was terrible. Like 1999 South Carolina rotating seven quarterbacks terrible. It was obvious Travaris Robinson and company didn’t think Smith could beat us with the pass, employing a one-high safety and keying on the run most of the game. They were right.

Take it easy. I’m not sure if Ryan Hilinski was hurt against Missouri. I’m not sure he wasn’t hurt against Kentucky. All if know is about 90% of our passes were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Were they taking pressure off Hilinski? Or taking pressure off his elbow?

If it is the elbow we should all be grateful for the bye week. Because we’re going to need number 3 to sling it around the ballpark at some point this season.

Let’s all get healthy during the bye week and come back ready to kick Georgia’s ass*.

*quoting Ryan Hilinski’s prayer, which was hilarious

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2019 South Carolina @ Missouri Edition

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 34-14 loss to Missouri.

Hello darkness. Well, here we are again. It’s only been three weeks, but we’ve once again seen a Gamecock performance so bad that we’re digging up buyout numbers on Will Muschamp. A record-setting performance against Charleston Southern (lol) and a respectable showing against Alabama pulled us back from the ledge after the season opening debacle against UNC. We once again had some hope that the team might be a little bit better than we thought, and they had a chance to prove it against a Missouri team that we should, at minimum, be on equal footing with.

But once again, a Muschamp-coached team – a team “desperate” for a win according to Dakereon Joyner – looked completely lost from the opening bell.

The defense propped us up for most of the game until they crumbled under weight of Missouri’s time of possession dominance. The offensive game plan looked like the incoherent rambling of an insane man. We had exceptionally dumb penalties by young guys (R.J. Roderick) and veteran guys (T.J. Brunson) alike. We looked ill-prepared, poorly coached and completely outclassed. And the final score reflected it.

Two guys stood out by busting their asses to the final bell – Bryan Edwards and Javon Kinlaw. Both seniors. Both guys I don’t know what the hell we’re going to do without. Because despite all the talent we seem to have accumulated in our recent recruiting classes, I just don’t know if we have anyone on the sidelines who can mold them into a competent football team.

3 and out. Friday afternoon word started to leak that on-the-cusp-of-freshman-sensation Ryan Hilinski had an injured right elbow. That was bad news, obviously. As we crept into Saturday we found out Hilinski was with the team, was going to “give it a go”, was dressed out, and then was going to start. There was never any official word from the team that I’m aware of. Good news, right?

Wrong. Hilinski was a shell of what we had seen the previous two weeks. The accuracy we had come to expect through two whole games was completely gone. He missed receivers in every direction – high, low, left right – his bad passes did not discriminate.

Immediately we attributed it to the mysterious injury that we’d all heard about but were never officially told about. After the game, Will Muschamp told Todd Ellis something along the lines of “if he was hurt I wouldn’t have played him”. Okeydoke then.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire. And if Will Muschamp was honest with us instead of trying to be some dollar store Bill Belichik the fan base would be much more appreciative. How about a simple “he’s got an elbow but has been cleared to play and we think he’s out best option.” Instead, the further down the toilet this program goes, the more surly Muschamp gets. His circling of the wagons is alienating the fan base at a time when he should be communicating more, not less.

Speaking of Hilinski, and I realize it’s only been three weeks, but I worry about the kid. He took a beating last week, and then took another one yesterday, particularly later in the game. He was in obvious discomfort most of the day, yet the staff kept trotting him out there, finally waving the white flag and giving Dak Joyner a chance with about three and a half minutes left in the game.

It was another stubborn decision by a stubborn man, and it’s getting oh so tiring.

The buyout. When it comes to Muschamp’s buyout, somewhere between $18mm and $22MM apparently, there are a lot of folks saying “it ain’t gonna happen” because it’s too rich for our blood.

I’m not so sure of that. We’ve been pretty lucky with coaches leaving in that we haven’t had any extravagant buyouts recently. Is that a heck of a lot of money? Sure it is. But what’s the cost of letting this program continue to slide into the abyss while fans don’t come to game in droves and stop buying apparel and stop supporting the program in general.

The bigger question may be what to do with Ray Tanner. Tanner will probably hit us with another “vote of confidence” this week because he’s the guy who had to hire his third choice and make it look like it was his first choice. Many of your expressed on Twitter yesterday extreme displeasure with the job Tanner has done, and I’m right there with you. In case you missed it, I wrote this after the UNC game:

Ray Tanner was a hall of fame baseball coach who wanted to be an administrator, and we rewarded him with a job he’s unqualified for because he won a lot of baseball games. Now the football program is paying for it. Other programs may follow.

If this season continues to spiral out of control, trying to figure out the buyout situation will become of utmost importance. Because $18-20mm dollars will be lost in short order through season ticket cancellations, fewer donations, less merchandise bought, etc. The cost of getting rid of Will Muschamp will be high and painful, but what will be the long-term cost of keeping Will Muschamp?

And of even greater importance, is the guy who hired and extended Will Muschamp really the guy we want negotiating a buyout and hiring the next head coach at USC?

WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE RECRUITS. Somebody had the nerve to tweet to me that we shouldn’t fire Will Muschamp because of the recruiting classes he’s about to bring in. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. What good does a top 20 recruiting class do if you don’t have a staff that can develop talent and put winning game plans in place?

Just for giggles, Carolina’s last four recruiting classes were ranked 20, 25, 21 and 18 by 247 Sports. Missouri’s last four classes were ranked 25, 43, 43 and 43. Kentucky’s last four classes were ranked 38, 34, 30 and 37. Make your own conclusions.

But. With all that said, the odds are still high Muschamp will be our coach in 2020. And as much as I don’t think he’s our guy sitting here today, I’ll be pulling like hell for him to win every game.

Headline news. After yesterday’s abomination, waking up this morning we certainly didn’t need this:

It was an extremely unfortunate gaffe by The State, a newspaper that has drawn the ire of Gamecock fans literally for decades. To their credit, they offered a quick apology (not quick enough for most) and explanation (not acceptable for most), and stated they reached out to the Hilinski family (which many questioned).

For the record, I haven’t lived in Columbia since 1992 and simply don’t have the history with The State that many of you do. I don’t think there’s some conspiracy within the paper to make our university or its sports teams look bad.

They made a huge mistake, mostly due to a clunky and inefficient editorial process that has people writing headlines without a real tie to the story. Personally I’m ready to move on. It sucks but I don’t need some virtual pound of flesh to make it right.

What’s next. Kentucky is next, and foolish me woke up this morning feeling like we’re going to win that game. We need a healthy Ryan Hilinski to do it, or we need a staff that’s honest with its fans to tell us he is indeed hurting, and Dakereon Joyner taking first team reps in practice this week. We also need fannies in seats, and I’m confident we’ll have a lot of them.

While I breathe I hope.

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2019 Alabama @ South Carolina Edition

(Photo: greenvilleonline.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 47-23 loss to Alabama.

Hi Tide. On October 9, 2010, the Alabama Crimson Tide came into Williams Brice stadium as the number one ranked team in the country, defending national champions and sporting a 19-game winning streak. South Carolina was a team and program still searching for a corner to turn early in their sixth season under legendary coach Steve Spurrier.

On a day none of us will soon forget, the Gamecocks pulled the 35-21 upset, and went on to have an unprecedented run of success for the program – an SEC East title followed by back to back to back 11-win seasons. It was the beginning of the salad days for Gamecock football.

This past Saturday, the Crimson Tide returned to Columbia for the first time since that day. In the 8+ years that have passed, Alabama has won conference and national titles and further established themselves as the premiere football program in the land. South Carolina, after those 11-win seasons, fell off a cliff. They watched their hall of fame coach figuratively and then literally quit, started a rebuild near rock bottom with an SEC East cast-off, and are currently trying to work their way back to the upper half of the conference.

The talent gap is so great between Alabama and South Carolina that the Gamecocks never really had a chance on Saturday, no matter how many times we tried to invoke the spirit of October 9, 2010. But they fought, and fought hard, and made a game of it for the better part of two and a half quarters. If you are violently opposed to “moral victories” then skip the second half of this sentence – but what I saw against Bama on Saturday was encouraging, especially after our week 1 debacle.

The key for the rest of this season is to keep moving forward, build on the performance from Saturday, and avoid any form of regression. Will Muschamp and Dakereon Joyner today talked about the team being “desperate” for a win going into Missouri. That is absolutely the right attitude for this week, and for the rest of 2019.

Meathead. We’ve established in this space that Will Muschamp is a meathead. But even so, the evidence is overwhelming that his players (current and former) love the guy. You can see it in the way they play the game – hard, fast and physical.

That said, the way the guy manages a game for 60 minutes continues to be troublesome. Yes, he had some out of character moments on Saturday that showed he may actually be willing to do some things differently – fake punt, fake field goal, going for it on fourth down, etc. Those were very much anti-Will.

But at the same time, you never feel like his decisions are part of a greater plan. They’re just in the moment, they’re the next move, without a lot of regard for the move after the move after the move. Or put more succinctly:

Two hand touch. It’s been talked about ad nauseam since the game, but my goodness our tackling was hideous and cost us huge chunks of yardage and points. It sounds like it’s a correctable thing (tackle first, rip the ball out second, instead of the other way around.) Let’s hope it gets corrected and fast.

IT. Ryan Hilinski is the truth. Aside from his natural, God-given talent, he seems to have IT. He showed incredible poise and leadership to be starting his first SEC game against THE football program of the millennium. I think he’s the kind of guy who is going to be able to keep us in games when we have no business being in those games. This is going to be fun.

Bad intentions. Rico Dowdle and Bryan Edwards are playing like there’s no tomorrow. Both are running with a renewed sense of purpose and quite frankly look like they’re ready to impale defenders with their projectile bodies every time they get a chance. Their stock has risen sharply early in the season.

Let it breathe. There’s not a ton we can take from the first three games of the season, except that we’re 1-2 when we fully expected to be 2-1. We had Charleston Southern completely overmatched, while Alabama had us greatly overmatched.

Missouri will be a great test of where we actually are, but I warn you to not take too much from the result, win or lose. I’m seeing a lot of folks saying “must win”, and I don’t believe that at all. CoMo is a tough place to play, and despite an opening week loss to Wyoming, the Tigers are playing very tough and confident football. A loss there does not end our season.

I think there may be wins on our schedule where we didn’t see wins before. I believe with weekly improvement we can beat Florida and give Texas A&M a run for their money. Vandy, Tennessee and Kentucky can all be had.

In this world of instant and unreasonable reaction, we tend to make judgments on an entire season based on one game (guilty as charged here). Let’s remember there’s a long way to go. Let the season play itself out. Let it breathe.

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2019 Charleston Southern at South Carolina

(Photo courtesy of postandcourier.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 72-10 victory over Charleston Southern.

Temper, temper. Your expectations that is. Trust me, I’m not trying to be a downer because there were plenty of things to get excited about as we watched the Gamecocks run up and down the field against an overmatched and undermanned Charleston Southern squad. Ryan Hilinski had a spectacular debut at QB. We had two running backs go over 100 yards, including Kevin Harris doing his best Earl Campbell impersonation. The defense played like a Will Muschamp defense is supposed to play. However…

It WAS Charleston Southern.

Some folks jumped us for tweeting that on Saturday, saying it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, football is football, we’ve played down to our competition many times before, etc., etc. Which, hey, fair enough on the point that we’ve struggled with teams like them before. But, that was easily the worst team on our schedule this season, and we did exactly what we were supposed to do to them – drag them. You don’t get any extra credit from this stodgy old blogger for winning in the manner you’re supposed to against highly inferior competition.

There were encouraging signs coming off a terribly disheartening loss to North Carolina, but the fact is Muschamp and company didn’t have to make any tough decisions, Hilinski wasn’t under any pressure, there were running lanes the size of Assembly Street for our backs, and the CSU offensive line was tissue paper. That won’t be the case for the next ten, eleven, twelve or thirteen games (see, optimism!).

For those of you thinking “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST ENJOY THE VICTORY”, trust me I did. It was fun to watch all those new and/or young guys out there contributing. There are few things better than a South Carolina football game where the outcome is never in doubt for the good guys. I just don’t think a 62-point win over an FCS team means our problems are solved.

Hope in Hilinski. Make no mistake, Saturday’s star was Ryan Hilinski. The true freshman came out and played about as well as he possibly could, completing his first twelve passes and finishing 24-30 for 282 yards and two TDs, and threw in a rushing TD for good measure. He was calm, poised and collected running a college offense for the first time, and validated all the excitement we’ve had about him since he arrived on campus.

Again, things get exponentially tougher against Alabama this week, but Hilinski made his first impression count.

Offensive stars. The Gamecock offense was sharp this week, and a lot of guys got to show off their wares to the home crowd. Dakereon Joyner was electric, racking up 67 total yards and given the QB position a dimension that will be needed down the road. The aforementioned Kevin Harris bulldozed his way to 147 yards and three TDs on six whole carries, Mon Denson had 9-118, Rico Dowdle 10-87 and Tavien Feaster 6-64. Overall the Gamecocks rushed for a program-best 493 yards while averaging 13 yards per carry.

I’ve been very cautiously optimistic about the running back position lately, and now I’m just optimistic.

Farewell to Jake? When we tweeted last week during the UNC game that the Jake Bentley era was over at USC, we certainly didn’t expect it to end this way. With word coming down that he would be having season-ending surgery to repair his broken foot, you have to believe his career at South Carolina is likely over. You have to believe Hilinski is the future, even if he stumbles some during the course of the season. It would be hard to imagine Bentley coming back next season and winning the job just for one year. Logically, it seems like he would rehab, enter the transfer portal and play in 2020 for a team that will be able to showcase his talents for NFL scouts.

That said, I appreciate the person and player Jake Bentley has been at South Carolina. We’ve been mostly positive about him and defended him on this blog and our other properties. Only recently have I thought it might be time to go in another direction, and I’m sad for Jake and his family that it had to happen this way. He brought us some great moments at USC, and there’s no reason to do anything but thank him for his hard work for or football program and our university.

Thank you Jake, you will be missed.

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2019 South Carolina vs. North Carolina Edition

(PHOTO: thestate.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-20 loss to North Carolina.

Trust your eyes. Yesterday, when we still had a chance to win the game against North Carolina, I fired off two pretty uncharacteristic tweets:

These tweets were uncharacteristic for a few reasons. One, while I comment on the play of our players on a regular basis, I try not to be overly critical. (These are still 18-22 year old young men, after all.) Two, I’ve been very, very patient with Will Muschamp, defending him and hoping against hope he was going to become the head coaching superstar he seemed destined to be ten years ago. Three, I can’t think of a time in my entire life when I would’ve advocated for a true freshman quarterback to play over a fourth year senior quarterback.

But yesterday I snapped. And judging be the response to these two tweets, most of you snapped as well. After an offseason where it felt like we might be gaining ever so slightly on our competition in the SEC East – HARD WORK IS PAYING OFF Y’ALL SPURS UP – we proceeded to tie our shoelaces together in the locker room and stumble all over the field for four quarters against an ACC team that won a grand total of two games last year.

From here on out I’ve decided to trust my eyes. To trust what I see.

What I see in Will Muschamp is a stubborn old-school coach who refuses to make changes to his style to keep up with the modern game. Muschamp doesn’t care about style points. He’d prefer to get a lead, sit on that lead, and try to choke the life out of the other team and win a 17-13 slugfest. I know that because of how often we default to ultra-conservative play calling when we have the slightest of leads. Play defense and win the field position battle are great fundamental strategies of 1980s football. But in 2019 doing those things resulted in almost 200 yards of offense and two touchdowns in two possessions for North Carolina. Muschamp is not going to change. And his style is not going to win many games in today’s college football, much less at the University of South Carolina.

What I see in Jake Bentley is a quarterback who hasn’t improved much, if at all, since he first took snaps for the Gamecocks as a freshman. He’s had his good moments over the years, but those moments are always counterbalanced by plays and days like yesterday. His emotions get the best of him, he becomes hesitant, unsure of himself, and allows those emotions to affect his mechanics. A lot of things lost that game yesterday, don’t get me wrong. Bentley didn’t call the plays, he didn’t give up consecutive 98 and 95 yard drives, he didn’t miss blocks and miss tackles. But he has the ball in his hands on every offensive snap, and had a chance to win that game for us yesterday. And he didn’t come close.

What I see in this Gamecock program is mediocrity. Aside from a couple of years in the 80s, and the run from 2010-2013, mediocrity is all I’ve ever seen in this program. Maybe change would just result in the same thing we’ve seen for the better part of 100 years, but sitting still with Will Muschamp…as the kids say, that ain’t it chief.

The Ray Way. A lot of folks tweeted at us yesterday about the role of Ray Tanner in all this. And again, use your eyes, these folks ain’t wrong. Tanner got a head start on the head coaching search when Steve Spurrier walked out mid-season. He had Tom Herman on the hook, but couldn’t land him. There are a lot of stories about why, but the fact remains Tanner couldn’t close the deal. He then turned to Kirby Smart, and in the dead of night had Georgia outmaneuver him and steal Smart away.

There were still hotshot coaches out there we could’ve landed – Lincoln Riley, Dino Babers, Justin Fuente – but to my knowledge we only interviewed Riley and deemed him too young and inexperienced to lead such a high-profile program like South Carolina (insert eye roll). These guys didn’t fit the SEC “profile”. So here we sit, with an SEC retread who can recruit pretty well but has not yet proven he can coach his way out of a paper bag.

Ray Tanner was a hall of fame baseball coach who wanted to be an administrator, and we rewarded him with a job he’s unqualified for because he won a lot of baseball games. Now the football program is paying for it. Other programs may follow.

Frosh. I watched freshmen Bo Nix and Sam Howell lead their teams to wins yesterday. Why not Hilinski? Let’s go.

Offensive. I’ve brought this up before, but the decision to hire Bryan McClendon as our offensive coordinator looks a little worse all the time. We had a chance to hire an experienced OC with FBS play calling experience. Instead, we decided to hire a good guy who might have some potential on the cheap. Muschamp couldn’t afford to do that, but his stubbornness won out again.

Defensive. Depth on the d-line, good linebacker play, a top-notch secondary, and THAT’S what we get?

Hype. I catch a lot of flak because I don’t particularly care for the hype videos our social media/video team posts. Don’t get me wrong, they are simply doing their job, and they do the best job in the country. But to post these uber-dramatic videos that make it sound like we’re going to war, the players are working so hard for YOU, we’re building a program you can be proud of, SPURS UP RAH RAH RAH – and then go out and lay an egg like we did yesterday, it just makes us look foolish. So don’t get mad at me if a hype video doesn’t make me want to run through a brick wall.

What’s next. Obviously Will Muschamp isn’t going to get fired any time soon, because Ray Tanner has been not only supportive, but effusive in his praise about how Muschamp runs the program. But Muschamp is losing the fan base quickly. The landscape of college football has changed. People are spending their entertainment dollars on this team, and they’re getting nothing but heartache in return. It’s ok to be mad, and it’s ok to vent. Hell, I don’t even go to games and I’m letting my anger flow.

A 6-6 season would be a blessing at this point, but I’m not sure where those six wins are going to come from after what I saw yesterday. He better open the playbook and make some changes to his style or he’ll be the hottest defensive coordinator on the market in 2020.

Go Cocks.

State of Unrest

Word began circulating yesterday about mutual interest from the University of Cincinnati and Frank Martin regarding their head basketball coach opening. Frank’s name has been linked to other head coaching positions since his arrival in 2014, but this appears to be the most serious threat we have faced in regards to losing our hoops leader. At Cincinnati, basketball is king. At South Carolina, it is a very distant second (and maybe third). At Cincinnati, there is tradition. At South Carolina, there is not. At Cincinnati, there is administrative support. At South Carolina, it seems lukewarm at best. At Cincinnati, there is a rabid fan base. At South Carolina, there is a rabid fan base – when we’re winning.

I think when everything shakes out Frank will stay, which is what I would prefer. I love Frank, I love his personality, and I love his intensity. I don’t love the fact we have only experienced one season of real success in his tenure. And I don’t love the fact major in-state talent keeps fleeing the state like they’re being chased by a swarm of bees. I understand there are underlying circumstances in many of those cases, but we have to figure out a way to fix the situation if we are to ever experience sustained success.

If Frank does leave, it won’t be the end of the world. There is no guarantee that under Frank we are ever going to attain any level of sustained success. We can hire another coach who doesn’t get into any postseason competition and just mosey on our way. And that’s not as big a shot at Frank as you think. He’s not the problem.

The problem is multi-layered, and may or may not include Frank’s coaching ability or recruiting prowess. We may never know, because he’s fighting an uphill battle coaching basketball at South Carolina.

Ray Tanner. Is Ray Tanner giving Frank Martin all the tools he needs to succeed in the SEC or on a national stage? We all love Ray for what he gave us on the diamond. But as the years go by and there is more distance between those National Championships and where we are today, you have to ask if he is the leader we need.

He was hired because of what he accomplished in baseball, not because he was qualified as an administrator. He hasn’t done anything so far to get himself fired, but he also hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself as top flight athletic director. What’s his best move been since he’s been AD? Hiring Justin King? That is not a knock on King, he’s been fantastic, but if that’s the tallest feather you have in your cap as an athletic director…well, it’s not great.

Ray is a turkey sandwich on white bread. Nobody is going to turn it down if that’s all you’ve got for lunch, but at the same time nobody is going to brag to you about what a great lunch they had.

Social media. During football season – hell, during spring practice – we get a video a day getting us pumped up about the program. LET’S GO TO WAR LOOK HOW HARD WE’RE WORKING TO MAKE YOU PROUD SPURS UP GO COCKS at every turn. Did you see that for our Final Four basketball program? Rarely. They seem to get scraps.

Does this matter when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop? Sure it does. These kids love to be loved. They want to see themselves promoted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And the kids we’re recruiting want to see it too, don’t think it doesn’t factor into their decisions.

Colonial Life Mausoleum. I’ve harped on this for years and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, but where we play is a hindrance to our program. Almost 25 years ago Sam Cassell called the Dean Dome patrons “a wine and cheese crowd”. And despite the noble efforts of a select few, that’s what we have in the CLA.

I understand why we did it, but we did it at the expense of one of the great fan bases in the country. Because we wanted concerts and regionals and other events, we squeezed South Carolina basketball fans out of the equation. Having 7500 fans in an 18,000 seat arena for an SEC game on a random January weeknight doesn’t scream “basketball school”. Kids don’t want to play in front of fans dressed up as empty seats.

If we ever did decide we wanted to pour resources into our program, Auburn is the role model. They built a gorgeous 9,000 seat arena and gave students prime seats. They created a raucous environment that is fun and intimidating to play in. How I long for the days of the gritty, grimy Carolina Coliseum, where we stood in line for hours for seats directly behind the scorer’s table.

Unfortunately it’s people my age and older who demanded better seats because we gave all the money, and then we sit at the game eating popcorn with our legs crossed checking our work email to see if we missed anything.

Give the power back to the students.

Under Armour. Under Armour is a football brand, and not a great one at that. If we were better at football I probably wouldn’t mind it so much. Nike dominates the college basketball scene, dirty as they might be. Adidas is second, and UA needs binoculars to see them.

Again, I don’t know all the inner workings of our deal, why we decided to re-up with UA, but it’s hard to look at it from a basketball standpoint and call it good for our program.

You probably look at all these things and think “excuses”. But all these excuses add up to something tangible – a consistently mediocre basketball program. And my fear is we’re slipping back into being a consistently mediocre athletic department. We have now had national success in baseball, basketball and football, and as I sit here today it appears we have squandered it all.

Good thing the ladies’ basketball team isn’t experiencing any turmoil…

Snap Judgments – 2018 USC @ Clemson Edition

Image from iOS
(Photo: thestate.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 56-35 loss to Clemson.

The balance of power. In the fall of 2009, Clemson came to Columbia having won 10 of the last 12 games in its rivalry with South Carolina. Many of those years both teams were average and/or forgettable, but for the most part Clemson had the better teams, so it wasn’t a big surprise they went on such a run. But Clemson had something else during those years. They had an edge. They had “it” (whatever “it” is). You always had a sense they believed they were going to win, while South Carolina was just hanging on and hoping they wouldn’t lose.

In ’09 that changed. Once Stephen Garcia and company broke through that day with a dominating 34-17 victory, that orange helmet with the tiger paw wasn’t so intimidating. For the next four games the likes of Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney, Connor Shaw, Alshon Jeffery and DeVonte Holloman played for the team that was feared. When South Carolina and Clemson played from 2009-2013, it felt like Clemson had no interest being on the field with the guys in garnet and black. We were in their heads, and it showed particularly late in games. 

The balance abruptly shifted again in 2014. That year the Gamecocks had taken a significant step back in talent and wins, and the Tigers had a guy named Deshaun Watson shred them on a torn ACL in the annual showdown. Clemson was no longer intimidated by the block C. The shoe was once again on the other foot.

For the past five years Clemson has experienced unprecedented success, moving from “nice program” to “elite program”. They have a National Championship on their resume, several ACC titles, and have finished in the top four in the country the last three years. They have also had South Carolina beaten before the two teams ever stepped on the field the last few years. The Gamecocks have been outclassed by a mile in talent, but they have also looked afraid and intimidated, which are two things you absolutely cannot be on a football field.

Last night in Clemson the balance did not shift back to South Carolina, but we did see something out of the Gamecocks we haven’t seen in a while in this rivalry – fight. For the first time since 2015 (ironically our 3-9 season) we saw a team that wasn’t scared. We saw a team that took a punch, and then threw one right back.

Yes, we still lost by three touchdowns. But after the way we’ve been beaten the last two years, last night was certainly a step in the right direction to get this rivalry back on even footing. 

Rage against the dying of the light. No play better captured the effort the Gamecocks put in last night than the next to last play of the game. With about 30 seconds to go, Deebo Samuel took a 20-yard throw from Jake Bentley, turned it upfield and ran like his life depended on it. He desperately weaved through the Clemson defense in a lost cause and picked up another 24 yards before being brought down, and then popped up and sprinted to his position to get ready for another play. Bentley then completed one more pass to Rico Dowdle for another first down, and you could see Bentley run to the line of scrimmage calling for a spike so they could get one last throw to the end zone. But the referees didn’t stop the clock for a first down and the game ended. 

Even to the final second, these guys were trying to score just to stick it to the Clemson defense one more time – a meaningless touchdown that wasn’t so meaningless. 

Bravo Deebo. Samuel will leave South Carolina without a win over Clemson, but he will leave as one of the most dynamic playmakers in school history. He torched the vaunted Tiger defense last night for 210 yards on ten catches with three touchdowns. He was spectacular and will be greatly missed. 

The Snake. Jake Bentley has had some kind of year. We all know his story – preseason hype, uneven play, calls for the backup, then a resurgence. He capped off his comeback story last night by putting up video game numbers against one of the top defenses in the country, throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns. It was the greatest statistical performance by a Gamecock quarterback in history. 

Since the first half of the Texas A&M game Bentley has been that quarterback we’ve all been waiting for. The only continued knock was his performance against elite competition. He kicked that door in last night.

There has been very little talk of Bentley possibly leaving for the NFL since early in the season. I haven’t heard anything after his performance last night, but I’m wondering if scouts will start looking at him again. Keep in mind, the NFL doesn’t value “signature wins” like fans do. They value size, arm strength, footwork, etc. – all things that Bentley has. I highly doubt he’d be able to work his way into a first round draft pick in the 2019, but if he continues at this pace he could certainly be there in 2020. 

M*A*S*H Unit. The defense gets a pass for last night (no pun intended). Clemson’s explosive offense took advantage of the Gamecocks missing their best player at all three levels, and multiple other key players. I doubt even at full health we would’ve won that game, but it sure would’ve been fun to find out. 

BMac. Bryan McClendon has come into his own the last few weeks. He continues to improve every week, and has thrown some innovative wrinkles into the offense that are fun and effective. I said before the season started that if he took the Gamecock offense into the top half of the SEC statistically it would be a minor miracle after our pitiful performance last year. Praise Jesus, BMac has done just that. 

Running it up. The controversy this morning, and you knew there had to be one, revolved around Dabo Swinney scoring a late touchdown instead of taking a knee and letting the clock run out. Let me be clear for any Clemson fan who may be visiting this site: I have no problem whatsoever with Swinney trying to score a late touchdown. The Tigers are positioning themselves for a top seed in the college football playoff. Style points matter. Beat every team by as many points as you can. I get it. 

The problem I, and many Gamecock fans had, was his explanation:

“Aw gee shucks man we was just running a basic play and they didn’t tackle him. How was I supposed to know we’d score hyuk hyuk.”

I mean, just shut up. Own the fact you were trying to score and I’d have a lot more respect for you. Don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by acting so innocent. Either take a knee or tell us you needed to score that touchdown for “insert any reason”. I could live with that. 

Then today he goes on a rant against some Clemson straw man who was apparently upset that they “only won by 21”. But Dabo being disingenuous is just, well, Dabo being Dabo. 

Onward and upward. Clemson fans are getting a good chuckle out of us claiming a “moral victory”. In the immortal words of my millennial friends – whatever. Losing sucks, but losing the way we lost last night is a lot more palatable than the way we lost the previous two years, I can tell you that. The Tigers are not happy at all that we’re taking satisfaction in punching their defense in the mouth repeatedly last night, and we can take some joy in that. 

I have no idea where we go from here, but it’s hard not to feel like the future is still bright. We need players, and a lot of them, on defense. The offense is shockingly better than I expected them to be at this point. Let’s roll Akron and then whoever we get in a bowl game, and get ready for 2019.

Go Cocks.