Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s crushing 23-21 loss to Tennessee yesterday:
HBC. Before I start this, I want to make sure everyone understands I recognize that this program would be nowhere without Steve Spurrier. He has taken this program to the next level, and the level after that. But if we are ever going to get to the ultimate level – an SEC Championship and possibly a National Title shot, he cannot blow games like the one he blew yesterday.
And he blew it.
Football games are a symphony of plays and players and points and penalties and luck and missed opportunities and tons of other factors, and I believe putting the blame for a loss on one guy is pretty short-sighted. That’s definitely not what I’m doing here. But our chances of winning that football game would have been a lot better if Spurrier had made a couple of seemingly fundamental decisions in the second half yesterday.
First, on the last play of the third quarter Connor Shaw scrambled for a critical first down that put us at the Tennessee 45 to start the fourth quarter. We were leading 21-17 and were primed to put some distance between us and the Vols. Somewhat prophetically, during the commercial break the Gman texted us and asked, “Do you think HBC takes a shot here?” My response was “knowing him I wouldn’t doubt it.” Sure enough, on the first play of the 4th Shaw missed badly deep down the left sideline. On second down we ran some bizarre roll out play that looked doomed from the start. Stubbornly, Spurrier called the same play on third down and it looked even worse. (We ran the same play one more time with Dylan Thompson, the last offensive play we ran in the game. That play must be gangbusters in practice.) We punted, and the momentum we carried into the final quarter was gone.
I’m a big defender of Spurrier’s play calling, even when it doesn’t make sense sometimes. After all, he is one of the best offensive minds of all time. But Mike Davis at the time of the three straight incompletions had 18 carries for 132 yards, and despite Spurrier’s protestations that we had a lot of run plays that weren’t working, Davis was by far our best option. Not only did Spurrier not call 28’s number on that series, but he only had three carries for five yards in four possessions in the fourth quarter when a first down on either of our last two possessions could’ve possibly won the game. This shouldn’t be an “in hindsight” thing. Just give Mike Davis the damn ball.
Second, calling two timeouts on fourth down on our final possession was the most Les Miles thing ever. I love that Spurrier goes against conventional wisdom, and gambles more than I’m comfortable with at times. That’s part of his charm. But at that point in the game you have to trust your defense to win the game for you. And even though our the D was victimized by a spectacular catch on Tennessee’s last drive, we might still have had a chance if we had three timeouts instead of one.
If you’re going to go for it, then go for it. I can live with it because he’s the HBC and that’s what he does. But the amount of indecisiveness that leads to burning two timeouts at the end of a game where it is obvious you will probably need them is disturbing.
The Rocket. Mike Davis is starting to distance himself from other SEC running backs. His 21-yard touchdown run in the third quarter featured a jump cut that only be described as elite. Marshall Faulk elite. Barry Sanders elite. I’ve been hesitant to make comparisons to Marcus Lattimore, mainly because I think it’s too early in Davis’ career to have that discussion. But the fact we’re even thinking about Davis being better than Lattimore says a hell of a lot.
Team Shaw. Didn’t watch the replay of Shaw’s injury, but from what the other members of TRC told me it looked like a definite ACL. The fact that it looks like he will be out 1-2 weeks only strengthens the evidence that he is at least part robot. Seriously, I hope he can get back soon, and get those wins that will make him the winningest quarterback in South Carolina history. He deserves it.
Offensive. Shaw didn’t have his best game yesterday, which will bring out of the woodwork the ultra-smart bloggers who like to point out Shaw’s shortcomings on the road. (To whom I say please shut up once and for all.) It was our worst offensive performance of the season, but Shaw didn’t have a lot of help yesterday, from dropped passes to poor snaps to a below-average performance by the entire offensive line. It was a bad day for Ellington, Jones, Roland and company to go MIA. And unfortunately we continue to ask, where are our tight ends?
Speaking of Shaq. Shaq Roland didn’t help himself by dropping the first ball thrown his way in three weeks. I didn’t go back and look at how many snaps he got, but I don’t recall seeing him on the field after that. Watching a guy like Marquez North of UT make spectacular, game-changing catches makes me long for a weapon like that. We keep thinking Shaq will be that guy, but the clock is ticking.
Free Byrd. On the other side, Dameire Byrd continues to exceed expectations. He has become a tremendous weapon.
#Clowneycomin. I did not expect Jadeveon Clowney’s breakout game this year to come against Tiny Richardson, and neither did Tennessee. Obviously they watched last year’s game and how Richardson held Clowney in check for all but one very important play, and thought Tiny could do it again. They were wrong, and hopefully what we saw yesterday is what we’ll get from JD the rest of the way.
Hull No. Another horrible performance yesterday by special teams. Even the one guy we have come to rely on, Elliott Fry, missed his first field goal of the season. But for all that is good and holy, is Tyler Hull really our best option at punter?
The Amazing Race. I would’ve thought a loss at UT yesterday would’ve completely taken us out of the SEC East race, but yesterday was one of the more amazing days in SEC history in terms of upsets. In addition to USC, other teams to lose in upset fashion were Georgia, Florida (which granted doesn’t look like much of an upset), Texas A&M and LSU. I think we’re probably the second best team in the East right now, and have a good chance of finishing there. Missouri is one of the most surprising teams in the country, and going into the other Columbia next weekend and pulling out a win looks like a tall task.
But hey, yesterday, am I right?
Soothing. Yesterday was tough, just as any day the Gamecocks lose. But watching Florida State dismantle Clemson last night eased the pain a bit. There was a ton of talk about whether or not last night was a “Clemsoning”, or whether the Tigers “pulled a Clemson”. The fact that it was such a topic of conversation tells me that it’s a term that is here to stay, which warms my heart. In my humble opinion on this made up term, they definitely pulled a Clemson, no matter how good Florida State is. In one fell swoop they saw their National Championship and ACC Championship hopes dashed, and their Heisman Trophy candidate play one of the worst games of his career to effectively eliminate him from that conversation. And it was on the biggest regular season stage possible (the biggest ACC game in history!)
Oh, and lost AT HOME BY 37 POINTS.
If that’s not pulling a Clemson, I don’t know what is.
Go Cocks, beat Mizzou.