Snap Judgments – 2017 USC @ Tennessee Edition

Photo: postandcourier.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Cocks, relax on your open date.

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Snap Judgments – 2017 Arkansas @ USC Edition

Photo: thestate.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never kick. Never kick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Cocks, beat the  Vols.

 

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Snap Judgments – USC @ Texas A&M 2017 Edition

(Photo: thestate.com)

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

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

They didn’t look good for long.

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

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

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

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

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

Additionally, as @HJhughes79 puts it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Cocks, beat the Hogs.

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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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