Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from Carolina’s 41-30 loss to Georgia last night:
Desperate. I don’t normally put a lot of stock in teams being “desperate” and that having any kind of significant impact once pads start popping. But yesterday we saw a Georgia team that played desperate football, and in turn put together one of their best games of the last few years. Their offensive playbook seemed to be several pages deeper and quite a bit more creative than it was last week against Clemson. They also played with more emotion than last week, and we saw what a home field advantage can mean to a team’s psyche. Georgia could afford to lose that game to Clemson. They could not afford to lose to South Carolina, and it showed.
Offensive. We’re very down on our defense today, which is natural the day after you give up 536 yards and 41 points. But please don’t forget how good this offense is for Georgia. It’s essentially the same group that gashed Alabama in the SECCG last year, and has IMO the leading candidate for the Heisman after two weeks in Todd Gurley. Plus, while the facts about Aaron Murray’s track record against top competition are hard to refute, I had a feeling he was going to play really, really well yesterday.
Game Planning. I wrote in a blog post before the season started that I thought it was silly to say teams would scheme and game plan against Jadeveon Clowney any more than they did last year. I was dead wrong. Both UNC and UGA have run away from his side of the field like he has the plague, and used a quick-release passing game and screens to neutralize his effectiveness. The problem is nobody else has stepped up on defense, most notably on the defensive line. Our line was touted as the best in the SEC, and one of the best in the country, but so far we haven’t remotely shown that.
Clowney Concern. Geez, man, this is getting on my nerves:
Does that really deserve a “Wow”? Does it mean we should start promoting Darius English for Heisman? There is nothing wrong with Jadeveon Clowney, move along now.
Youth Movement. We knew we had a lot of experience to replace on defense, and the lack of big game snaps, or snaps at all, really showed yesterday. Our inside linebackers too often allowed themselves to get caught in the wash on run plays to the inside, and our outside backers/spurs/safeties were too aggressive early in some plays which allowed Todd Gurley to bounce the play outside. Then there was the colossal mistake by our own Gurley, T.J., on the 85-yard touchdown to Justin Scott-Wesley. In a two-deep safety alignment, Gurley didn’t play “deeper than the deepest”, instead following inside receiver Michael Bennett, which allowed Scott-Wesley to run free. Ahmad Christian, thinking he had deep help, let him go. These are not talent mistakes, but mental mistakes that can only be corrected through live game reps. Gurley and rest of the guys will get better. I hope. UPDATE: In his Sunday teleconference Spurrier apparently said the long touchdown was not Gurley’s fault. I didn’t hear exactly what he said but it didn’t sound like he identified whose fault it was (Christian, I guess?). Anyway, I guess I misidentified the type of defense we were in, or maybe Spurrier was just protecting his player.
Todd Gurley Man. I will reiterate, given the competition he has faced and how he performed, he is the leading candidate for the Heisman right now. He is the best back in America.
Dropping the Mike. A guy who will be a candidate for best back in America down the road is Mike Davis. He had a second-straight “wow” game, and a second game in a row with a 75-yard run in which he showed a burst of speed we had no idea he had. Davis’ final tallies: 16 carries for 149 yards and four catches for 49 yards. I think it is safe to say after two games his is the centerpiece of our offense, and I can’t wait to see more.
Shaw Me Your Road Victories. I feel bad for Connor Shaw this morning. He has now been saddled with the “can’t win a big game on the road” tag forever, given that we don’t really play a marquis team on the road for the rest of the year. Shaw gave a typical Shaw performance yesterday, with some very good play surrounded by a few questionable decisions. But from this game it will be the fumble that is remembered, as we had just stopped UGA three-and-out on their first possession of the half. Shaw’s run had given us a first down deep, and the way we were moving it looked to be a given we would take the lead and seize early second half momentum. Shaw still accounted for more than 300 yards of offense and two TDs, but it was what he didn’t do that people will remember most.
Little Nicky Jones. Of all the people we talked about “stepping up” at the wide receiver position, nobody ever really mentioned the name Nick Jones. Aside from Davis and Shaw he was the other offensive star yesterday with six catches for 97 yards and two TDs.
Mild Shaq Attack. I have no idea why we waited until the fourth quarter to start throwing balls to Shaq Roland, but he looked awfully good when we did. He finished with three catches for 48 yards, including a spectacular leaping grab near the sidelines. I hope we see him emerge as our big play guy over the next few weeks.
Fourth and Inches. I didn’t agree with the play call on our failed forth and goal late in the game, but I don’t think it was for the same reason as most of you. There was a lot of screaming for a quarterback sneak after we didn’t score, but here’s the deal – we didn’t run a play all day yesterday with Shaw under center, and I don’t know for sure but I bet we didn’t last week either. That most likely means we practice it very little, if at all. Throw in the fact we were breaking in a new center, and the staff just didn’t want to risk losing the game on QB-center exchange. We ran something we knew. Unfortunately, it was a play UGA had seen and they were ready for it.
The Other Stadnik. Kudos to Clayton Stadnik for his performance yesterday. That is a tough position and a tough environment to get your first playing time. Aside from more high snaps than we would like to see, he seemed to play a pretty good game.
FIGHT! I have no real opinion on the kerfuffle between Deke Adams and Kirk Botkin from yesterday as it appears to just be a heat of the moment thing. Spurrier’s classic response? “At least they care.”
Overrated. My full stance on the “OVER-RATED” chant is here. I respect your opinion, but lighten up Francis, it’s just a chant.
Tall Bridge Alert. I was not surprised at the disappointment of Carolina fans yesterday after losing to our hated rival, but I was very surprised by how some folks took this loss to mean our season is doomed to mediocrity. Look, a little perspective here. When we looked at our 2013 schedule, there was little question playing the defending SEC East champion Bulldogs at their place would be our toughest challenge. Our chances were 50/50 at best. We didn’t play our best football, and we lost. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s what happens in the SEC. Yes, it’s terribly disappointing, but should not have come as a shock to anyone.
So where does this leave us? Well, our shot at the BCS National Championship is gone, that is almost certain (and maybe that never should’ve been a consideration anyway). Our shot at the SEC East title is greatly damaged, given UGA will now have to lose two conference games, which is unlikely.
But looking down our schedule we should be favored in every game the rest of the season, with the possible exception of Clemson. If we can run the table, we will likely finish top five and still have an excellent shot at an at-large BCS bid. I don’t think that’s a terribly crazy thing to think.
In past years our problem has been a lack of talent, or a lack of talented depth. That is no longer true. This is a talented team that was foiled yesterday by execution issues. Those can be corrected.
I choose to believe they will be. And if not, I’ll join you on that bridge.