Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 17-13 victory over North Carolina:
A win is a win is a win. Look, folks, this might sound silly given it was the first game of the season, but this was a must win. With road games coming against UGA, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Tennessee, and home dates against LSU and Clemson, a loss to UNC would’ve given us very little room for error just to reach bowl eligibility. We didn’t seem to play with that kind of urgency for most of the game, but we made the big plays when they absolutely, positively had to be made. To win the games we are supposed to win, and maybe pull and upset or two along the way, consistent growth will be needed on both sides of the ball.
But for now, we’ll take the win and enjoy our long weekend. And who knows, maybe the Tar Heels turn out to be a pretty good team and this win looks a lot better in November.
Bending, not breaking. The rebuilt Gamecock defense looked much the same as last year’s group during most of the game, giving up huge chunks of yardage between the twenties. As The State pointed out, despite limiting the Tar Heels to 13 points, the Gamecocks gave up 440 yards and seven yards per play, which would’ve ranked last in the NCAA in yards per play last year.
But the Gamecocks came up with some key sacks, and of course three huge red zone interceptions to limit the damage. All in all, USC held UNC to only three points on three red zone opportunities, which is insanely good.
Is this defense improved? Definitely. But how much remains to be seen. Our defensive line upgrades were obvious, and our linebackers were solid as expected. The corners still gave a lot of cushion at the line of scrimmage last night, and when the UNC protection held up it was a pretty easy game of pitch and catch. Also, I have no doubt Isaiah Johnson is going to be a solid, solid player, but he was a little wild last night. He picked up an early personal foul penalty, and took a few bad angles and looks to be the type of guy who goes for the kill shot instead of wrapping up and making a tackle. Still, I like him a lot, and will chalk up last night to first game jitters.
Sack exchange. Last year we averaged 1.08 sacks per game. Last night we had four. We are more than one-quarter of the way to our entire sack total for last year. Isn’t getting pressure on the quarterback fun? Kudos to the defensive coaches and all the linemen who have worked so hard in the offseason. Special shoutout to Kelsey Griffin, who as I admitted last night, honestly didn’t know was still on the team. 😦
Mitch, please. Speaking of first game jitters, Connor Mitch had the proverbial deer in headlights look during the first quarter last night. He settled down and his short passes were mostly on target, and he made some nice runs, but we had no vertical game whatsoever. I’m not sure how much fault to put on 6 for that, as I’m afraid we are sorely lacking playmakers at the wide receiver position. Interested to see how he’ll respond in front of the home folks next week.
And the good news: 0 turnovers.
Evil person of slightly above average intelligence. Steve Spurrier said he called a lousy game last night, and I agree with him. But more annoying than simply the play calling is the fact the play calls aren’t making it to the field until late in the play clock. We’ve seen it for too many years now, the QB and other offensive players looking to the sidelines waving their hands in the universal sign for “COME ON, HURRY UP!” This gives very little time for the QB (or the coach) to survey the defense and change the play if necessary. It can also cost us to burn valuable time outs. I don’t expect this to get fixed overnight because it’s been going on for years, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
(Side note: a delay of game on the first play of the season???)
House call. We’ve had a lot of fun at the expense of Shon Carson over the 12 years he’s been at South Carolina. But in the third quarter when we hadn’t seen him on the field at all – no kickoffs, no snaps at running back – I was honestly starting to feel bad for him. This was no way to spend his last season after all his ups and downs.
Then, bang, he’s in the game and off to the races with what turned out to be the winning touchdown, and I was giggling like a little schoolgirl. Good on you Shon, good on you. Now go do it again.
Carolina Skai. At one point yesterday I told my wife Pharoh Cooper was our best football player BY FAR. After last night I must say I don’t believe that any more. I’d go so far as to say Skai Moore is the Pharoh Cooper of the defense, the one player we couldn’t afford to lose on that side of the ball. He’s well on his way to an all-SEC season.
Machine Gun Kelly. Sit down for this, but (with the exception of a non-existent return game) special teams were downright great last night, led by walk-on punter Sean Kelly. Most people will focus on Kelly’s 17-yard run on a fake in the first quarter, but he averaged a stellar 46.2 yards per punt, and looked very adept at dropping the ball inside the 20. He’s going to be a nice weapon.
Also, Landon Ard was killing kickoffs out of the end zone, and the steady Elliott Fry went 1-for-2, with his miss coming from somewhere near North Wilkesboro.
Outlook. I feel like I’m coming off a bit negative as I wrap this up, so let me just state that I’m thrilled with the win last night. I just believe we have a lot of problems to fix, including one potential major problem that we can’t fix this year – talent. The biggest issues are on the offensive side of the ball, where we still don’t know what we have at QB and where we have only one player capable of changing a game.
That’s not to say we can’t still win more than we lose, but the game last night didn’t change my position that the ceiling for this team is probably 8 wins.
I can tell you that I’m looking forward to a little revenge next week against Kentucky.
Thanks for reading. Go Cocks!