Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-21 victory over 18th-ranked Tennessee.
Easy like Sunday morning. If you take Gamecock football as seriously as I do (which is WAY too seriously) then Sundays the last two years have probably been pretty miserable. We’ve lost a lot of games, and even the games we’ve won haven’t felt that great. I’m embarrassed to admit I let losses affect my mood, usually not outwardly, but I certainly will let myself dwell on a stupid football game longer than I should.
Saturday night’s win over Tennessee was a long time coming for Gamecock fans, and everything about this Sunday was a little better. This wasn’t just an upset win over a top 20 team, this was a night where we regained a little hope in our program, and hopefully saw a glimpse into the future. We saw good, young players who will be joined by more good, young players over the next few years. We saw dynamic playmakers and that Will Muschamp defense we’ve heard so much about. The fun, and hope, was back for South Carolina football.
Now we get find out if it’s for real next week against Missouri.
Rico Suave. Rico Dowdle continues to impress, and for the first time last night I saw a little bit of Marcus Lattimore in his game. He has power and vision similar to Lattimore, and on his longest run of the night he showed a little bit of shake we never saw from Marcus.
I know, I know, comparisons to Lattimore are pretty silly at this point. But you have to admit he’s the most exciting freshman back we’ve seen at USC since number 21. Dowdle has shown Gamecock fans from his first game he has a chance to be special, and last night his performance put the entire SEC on notice.
Quarterback of the now. I laughed last night when the television announcers called Jake Bentley the Gamecocks’ “quarterback of the future”. There is no “future” with Bentley any more, there is only now. He has been so impressive the last two weeks that, like Dowdle, it’s impossible to not get excited when you think of how good he can be.
Bentley’s numbers are not mind-blowing, but he’s making the throws he needs to make and he’s not making mistakes. That sounds incredibly cliché, but a cliché is a cliché for a reason. He hasn’t come close to throwing a pick in 46 attempts over two games while throwing four touchdown passes. Most importantly, we’re 2-0 in his starts.
I have one complaint, he probably is holding the ball a little too long instead of getting rid of it, as evidenced by Tennessee’s six sacks last night. But at the same time, it’s hard to fault him for eating it instead of making a bad decision throwing it.
Toss that package. The plan to use Brandon McIlwain in short yardage situations is probably shelved for the near future. On our first series he came in on third and one and predictably lost a yard. On our second series he faked the run (surprise!) but then threw about 10 yards short of an open Hayden Hurst. I want to use Brandon in the worst kind of way, but until we figure out a way to put him in situations/plays where he can be successful it’s not worth it.
Coaching corner. Aside from the above two plays, I really liked the game the coaching staff called last night. Two plays in particular stood out, and they were both on our final series. The first came on 3rd and 7 from our own 49 yard line with just under three minutes left. The Muschampball playbook would typically call for another safe run, then punt the ball and try to finish the game off on defense. At that point I tweeted something along the lines of “don’t be a coward, throw the ball and get the first down”. Well, nobody likes to be called a coward, so Muschamp/Kurt Roper trusted their freshman QB and called a pass play that resulted in a 9-yard catch by Hayden Hurst for a first down. This allowed the Gamecocks to run off another two minutes of game clock.
The second came on 4th and 3 from the Tennessee 35 with 46 seconds left. It was about as no-mans-land as you can get from a play call standpoint. You can’t go for it and risk giving Tennessee good field position when they only needed a field goal. That’s on the fringe of Elliott Fry’s makeable distance, so trying a field goal would be too risky as well.
The only option left was to punt. But instead of punting from the 35, Muschamp ran his offense back out and tried to draw Tennessee offsides. It was a great call, because you had nothing to lose except 5 yards that didn’t make a difference to Sean Kelly’s punt at all. It won’t go down in the annals of great coaching, but it showed a good awareness of all the options available in that situation.
Reverse Dobbs’d. Joshua Dobbs has made a small career out of shredding South Carolina defenses. In two previous meetings with the Gamecocks, Dobbs accounted for 757 yards (556 passing, 201 rushing) and 7 touchdowns in Volunteer victories. Those are Heisman-level statistics.
Fortunately for us, last night the Tennessee senior played like a nervous freshman in his first SEC road game. He only had 161 yards passing, 27 yards rushing, and he threw two interceptions and lost one bizarre fumble that wasn’t really his fault. Many of his passes didn’t come close to his target. I haven’t watched a lot of Tennessee football this year, but I’ve heard some rumblings that Dobbs hasn’t been great. Still, it was shocking to see how bad this guy was after the way he played against us in ’14 and ’15.
Quick hitters. Dante Sawyer was only credited with two tackles last night, but he is quickly becoming the most disruptive force on our defensive line…Jamarcus King should get all-SEC consideration. Along with Chris Lammons, he will definitely get strong consideration for preseason all-SEC next year…Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards are going to give SEC coaches nightmares the next two years, and KC Crosby is a nice complement in the slot. The offensive skill pieces are coming together. Now, about that offensive line.
Bowl projections. I can’t even believe I’m putting this in Snap Judgments. I laughed last week when a couple of national outlets had us in a bowl game. But now the odds are definitely in favor of us reaching the postseason. We will be favored in two of our remaining games – Missouri and Western Carolina – and the Tigers are banged up and playing like the worst team in the SEC right now. If we win the ones we’re supposed to win and lose the ones we’re supposed to lose, we’ll finish 6-6 and be playing in December. Most seem to have us playing in the Belk Bowl.
Boneheads. A few of our guys have to get their emotions in check quick, fast and in a hurry. Chris Lammons has been channeling his inner Chris Culliver on a weekly basis and getting away with it. Last night he lost it to an extreme degree, throwing a body shot and couple of punches to the helmet (why?) of Juwan Jennings of Tennessee. His ejection ultimately didn’t cost us, but losing arguably your best defensive player due to sheer lack of self-control and stupidity is maddening. To his credit he apologized via Twitter and promised to not let it happen again. Let’s hope not.
Another guy who seems to be dancing on the ledge with his emotions is Ulric Jones. Jones has survived multiple position switches to make himself a valuable member of the defensive line rotation. He’s often seen gesticulating, whether in celebration or anger, and last night picked up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty because of it. If you can’t control your emotions, you shouldn’t play, it’s that simple.
Finally, my man Crosby almost cost the team big with his dance celebration at the end of the deciding touchdown. Now, is the rule stupid? You bet, let the kids have a little fun, Crosby wasn’t hurting anybody or anything with his dance. But does the rule exist? Yes, and I’m sure the coaches have reminded them over and over. Dance on the sidelines, not in the end zone.
Juju on that beat. *whispers* Regarding Cosby, truth be told that was one stylish-ass TD and celebration.