Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 48-34 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday:
Stock down. Normally I’d take a game like this for what it is, file it in the win column and simply appreciate a road victory in the SEC. But if we play like this against anyone left on our schedule besides Furman, we will lose. And lose big.
We had some ugly wins last year, including one over this very same Vanderbilt team at home, so this is not new territory for USC. But last year’s struggles usually involved lapses in concentration that lasted 1-2 quarters (Vandy, Kentucky) or simply being stymied by a good football team before imposing our will (UCF, Missouri). We at least played well for part of the game.
Last night was a full 60 minutes of frustration for coaches, players and fans alike. As I tweeted after the game, it was the most torturous 14-point win I can remember. I still don’t know what this team is – blown out by Texas A&M, a semi-convincing win over a very good East Carolina team, a seemingly season-defining win over Georgia, and then the almost disaster that was last night. We have a young team and I guess performances like this should be expected at times. But you would think at this point our program would be able to manhandle a program like Vanderbilt, which has been downright awful through the first three weeks of the season under first-year coach Derek Mason.
I hate taking road wins in the SEC for granted, but this one was painful, and does not give me high hopes for the rest of the season.
You’re so very special. Our special teams struggles have been well documented, and the season had gotten off to an average to above average start overall for the kicking units, which is a marked improvement. We’d blocked a kick, Elliott Fry had been excellent, Tyler Hull hadn’t kicked a ball backwards yet, and the return games hadn’t cost us any points by giving up a return or fumbling away our own return.
All that changed with the opening kickoff last night, when Vanderbilt returner Darrius Sims took it 91 yards to the house for a huge confidence boost to the struggling Commodores. The Gamecocks scratched and clawed throughout the next 2 1/2 quarters to finally seize a two-score lead, only to open the door for Vanderbilt to stay in the game by allowing a 100-yard return by Sims to cut the lead to 24-21. He appears to be quite literally untouched on both returns.
If you watch much football, you know that special teams’ scores are backbreaking for the team that gives them up. Giving up two special teams’ scores in one game to a team that matches up evenly with you means almost certain defeat. Fortunately we were playing Vanderbilt.
The rest of our special teams was fine last night, with Fry making all his field goal attempts and JT Surratt blocking another field goal. But if you’re a coach, having your name mentioned in a post-game presser in a negative context by Steve Spurrier is not a good thing. I hope “Joe Rob” figures things out, because if not he’ll be looking for employment come January, if not sooner.
Fumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’. The Gamecocks’ first series of the second half was indicative of the way the night went. After moving into Vanderbilt territory, a sequence of plays went like this:
- Catch and fumble by Nick Jones. Surrounded by Vandy defenders, somehow Jerell Adams with a combination of hustle and desire reached in the pile and pulled the ball out.
- Swing pass dropped by Mike Davis. The normally sure-handed Davis appeared to have at least first down yardage in front of him, if not more.
- False start penalty.
- Catch and fumble by Pharoh Cooper. After getting a first down, Cooper is stripped and the ball stays barely in the field of play. Lying out of bounds, Cooper reaches and barely touches the ball before a Vandy defender touches it, meaning the Gamecocks retain possession.
- Touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson to Shaq Roland.
On the night we also had fumbles by Dameire Byrd, which he punched out of bounds, and Davis, which gave the Commodores the ball back right after we blocked their field goal attempt.
King Tuttchdown. Pharoh Cooper was the player of the game last night, with 114 yards receiving and 74 yards rushing, including a 70-yard jaunt that for all intents and purposes put the game away. I’ve seen a few folks compare Cooper to Bruce Ellington, but as I’ve said many times, I think Cooper’s skill set compares more favorably to former Kentucky star Randall Cobb. While he doesn’t have as much speed as Ellington, so far Cooper has proven to be a much tougher and more effective runner out of the Wildcat formation, and also has solid route-running skills and dependable hands. King Tuttchdown is going to be a major part of the offensive game plan for a long time to come.
Bombs away. There were a lot of complaints when South Carolina opened the game with eight straight pass plays, and threw deep on at least three occasions in the first quarter. Two of those deep balls were overthrown by Thompson, and one was dropped by Shaq Roland. All three were open.
Even though we have Mike Davis in the backfield, I have no problem with the bombs away approach to start the game. This coaching staff sits in a room watching film all week, and obviously they saw something in the Vanderbilt secondary they felt they could exploit. The problem was not the play calling, it was the execution.
Team Thompson. Once again, Dylan Thompson had a solid night under center (or, from the shotgun if you will), going 22-37 for 237 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions. He seemed to be more willing to go to his check downs last night, and he put the ball in danger less than he had in the first three games. Thompson is on pace to become only the third Gamecock quarterback to pass for more than 3000 yards in a season, and has a legitimate shot at surpassing Todd Ellis’ 3206 yards passing in 1988. I’m not sure where this team would be without 17 this season. He’s easily the offensive MVP through the first quarter of the season.
Quiet. Where is the explosive Mike Davis from last year? He seems so close to breaking a long one, but hasn’t been able to get free in the secondary save his long touchdown run against ECU. He is currently 11th in the SEC in rushing.
Offensive. And by offensive, I mean the defense, which gave up 379 yards to a putrid Vanderbilt offense that didn’t score a touchdown until the second quarter of its third game. We have no pass rush, inconsistent linebacker play, and an inexperienced defensive backfield that doesn’t know how to turn and look for the ball. As Steve Spurrier mentioned last night, these guys are who we have, and we just have to figure out a way to coach and play better. Otherwise we’re going to have to score on just about every possession.
SEC Least. A lot of you won’t like this, but here goes: Georgia is going to win the East. Even though we beat them, they are still the best team in our division. We simply have too many issues to overcome to win as many games as we’ll need to. Missouri and Florida proved they are a pretenders yesterday with embarrassing losses to terrible (Indiana) and excellent (Alabama) teams, respectively. Kentucky and Tennessee surely aren’t ready to contend, and Vandy is Vandy. That leaves USC and Georgia, and with the Bulldogs remaining schedule, it’s hard not to put money on them. Either way, I feel sorry for whoever has to play the West champion. That side has the best collection of teams in any college football division EVER.
The HBC. If you think I’m being harsh on our boys and you haven’t watched Steve Spurrier’s post game presser from yesterday, give it a go. He is not a happy man. When the HBC ain’t happy, Buck ain’t happy.
Clemsoning. Please stop debating what the definition of “Clemsoning” is and just enjoy what happened in Tallahassee last night. (If you are a South Carolina fan who was pulling for Clemson for any reason please leave now while I try to find it in my heart to someday forgive you.) The fact that the phrase “Clemsoning” exists makes me happy, and I find it hard to believe any definition doesn’t fit what happened against Florida State, whether they were favored to win or not. Let’s look at the facts:
- Clemson had four trips in the red zone with zero points.
- Clemson had a first and goal inside the one yard line, didn’t get in running the ball, then had a snap sail over the head of the quarterback for a huge loss. The possession resulted in a missed field goal.
- After taking the lead and shutting down FSU for most of the night, a Clemson defensive back falls down on a 2nd and 24 play with six minutes left. The Seminoles connect on a 74 yard touchdown.
- Still, FSU hands the game to Clemson by throwing an interception with a minute and a half to go. With the ball in field goal range, Clemson fumbles on second down giving the ball back to the Seminoles.
- In overtime, facing a fourth and short, and not trusting their kicker, the Tigers go for it. They do not get it. FSU scores a touchdown on their possession to end it.
Clemsoning, not Clemsoning, who cares. By any other name that rose smells just as sweet.