Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 44-31 victory over Western Carolina.
Flush it. I saw a lot of frustration coming from the Gamecock faithful in Saturday’s win over Western Carolina. Somehow, some of it was coming from our own Twitter feed, even though I’ve had years of experience dealing with poor Gamecock performances against overmatched teams. It seems to be in our DNA, no matter how good or bad our team is, to struggle against our “cupcake” opponents. Here are just a few examples:
- 2006 vs. Wofford – A comfortable 27-10 lead was cut to 27-20 late in the fourth quarter, and USC needed a late defensive stop backed up to our own 10-yard line with less than a minute to go to preserve the victory. Team went on to win the Liberty Bowl.
- 2008 vs. Wofford – Gamecocks led only 10-7 at half and 13-10 after three quarters. Team played in the Outback Bowl.
- 2009 vs. SC State – Won 38-14, but USC was only ahead 10-7 at the half. Went on to beat Clemson and play in the bowl that shall not be named.
- 2010 vs. Furman – Won 38-19, but in the fourth quarter we were only up 31-19 and the Paladins were driving. An 80-yard Stephon Gilmore interception return for touchdown sealed it. Furman’s Adam Mims blitzed us for 202 yards on 10 catches. USC would win the SEC East and play in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
- 2011 vs. The Citadel – Won 41-20, but were only up 20-13 at the half against a team that would finish 4-7. Carolina would go 11-2 and win the Capital One Bowl.
- 2012 vs. Wofford – Another 11-2 Gamecock team beat Wofford 24-7, but the game was inexplicably tied at seven through three quarters. USC would later win the Outback Bowl.
- 2013 and 2014 we thankfully cruised over Coastal Carolina and Furman, respectively.
- 2015 – I have no recollection of what happened against our FCS opponent during this year Senator.
So as you can see, we’ve had bad teams struggle against FCS teams, we’ve had average teams struggle against FCS teams, and we’ve had one of the best teams in USC history struggle against an FCS team. What does it mean? At the end of the day, not much. It simply means we historically struggle against teams we should pound, and about once every 25 years actually lose to a team in a lower division.
It’s no fun at all, but if you look around college football yesterday we weren’t the only ones who had our hands full. In some form or fashion Texas A&M, Kentucky, and even mighty Alabama had problems with their FCS brethren.
It happens. And when it does you chalk it up to a bad day and then you flush it and move on. I don’t believe what happened against WCU is indicative of some greater problem, it only magnified some of the ones we already knew we had.
Seniors. Yesterday a group of kids played their final home game at Williams Brice Stadium. Most of them probably won’t read this, but I wanted to take a moment to thank them for their hard work and dedication to the USC football program. Because of this website’s purpose we occasionally have to say some not-so-nice things about some players, even though we try our best not to. I like to believe that most of these kids work their tails off to be good at their craft and represent the university in a manner in which we can be proud. Through a lot of ups and downs, I feel like this crowd has done that.
Team speed chills. One of our biggest issues all season has been team speed on defense. Will Muschamp has pointed it out more than once, faster guys get to the ball faster and therefore are able to get in better position to make tackles. We simply don’t have a lot of guys like that on our roster right now, and it showed against the Catamounts. Way too often we were a step slow once the WCU quarterback or running back got past the first line of defenders, and that led to a bad day stopping the run for the Gamecocks.
Uncle. Rico Dowdle solidified his status as one of the top freshman running backs in the SEC. He carried 21 times for 226 yards and made it look easy. I think we’ve mentioned him in this space just about every week since his debut, so I’m not sure what’s left to say. He’s finally starting to get the recognition he deserves from the national media, the recognition that Jake Bentley has been hogging the last few weeks.
The Burner. I mentioned this on Twitter during the game, but wanted to take a moment to give AJ Turner some love here. Besides being a darned good change of pace back all season, there are two moments that have stood out to me about this kid. One was on his 75-yard touchdown run to open the game against Texas A&M. If you go back and look at the replay, as he knows he’s about to score, somewhere around the five yard line he covers the ball up with both hands until he’s well into the end zone. As you probably know there have been multiple cases in college football of ball carriers dropping the ball before they cross the goal line, and suffering great embarrassment because of it. AJ Turner appreciates the ball and what it means when you take that ball over the thick line at the end of the field. He ain’t having none of that dropping the ball junk.
Then, against WCU, he had several successful carriers on a drive when he was taken out for a breather. When he looked to the sidelines and realized he was being taken out, he broke into a dead sprint all the way there. He didn’t have to, he could’ve jogged, but it’s in his nature to hustle every moment he’s privileged to play the game. You can’t help but love that.
Hate week. It’s here, and I have to confess I don’t feel any better about our chances this year than I did last year. Apparently Vegas doesn’t like our chances either, as Clemson opened as a 24-point favorite over the Gamecocks. Fingers crossed we can give them a game like we did last year, and maybe even more.