Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 41-17 loss to Georgia.
Chasers. When we woke up on November 29, 2015, Kirby Smart was the odds on favorite to become the next head football coach at the University of South Carolina. Athletic Director Ray Tanner had courted Houston’s Tom Herman, reportedly come to an agreement in principle, and then was turned down. Smart, the defensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban for eight years, was the next logical choice. He was interested in becoming a head coach, and it seemed like a matter of time before he would be introduced in Columbia.
By the end of that day things had changed dramatically. Mark Richt was fired by Georgia, fresh off a 9-win regular season. The Bulldog brass were frustrated with the lack of championships despite Richt consistently keeping Georgia among the top 10-15 teams in the country and winning five SEC East titles and two SEC championships. It was clear when they fired Richt they had only one coach in mind to run their program – Kirby Smart.
It was an easy decision for Smart to return to his alma mater and take over a 10-win team with more than enough talent to compete in the SEC. South Carolina hired Will Muschamp a short time later.
I bring this up not to say we’d be better off with Smart than we would Muschamp, there’s no way to know that. No matter who took over at South Carolina, he was going to have a significant uphill battle, and Muschamp has done a more than adequate job to this point. I bring this up because it appears for the first time in 30+ years Georgia has the right man at the helm of their program, and that’s terrible news for South Carolina.
Georgia has had everything in place for years to be an ultra elite program but has been unable to put it together consistently on Saturdays. With Smart at the helm their recruiting, which was excellent to begin with, has gotten better and their play on the field finally looks like that of a consistent SEC and national championship contender.
Let me put it this way – Will Muschamp took a 3-9 Gamecock team to six wins in his first year, nine wins in his second year, and has vastly improved recruiting and the overall culture around the program. And during that period we LOST significant ground to Georgia.
I have no idea what the answer is now that the sleeping giant in Athens has been awakened. I sure hope Will Muschamp does.
Whipped. The first half of yesterday’s game was somewhat encouraging, and was pretty close to what I expected to see from the two teams. It was clear that Georgia was the more talented team, but aside from a flukey pick six and a shanked punt the Gamecocks had scrapped their way to a pretty even game.
The second half was a completely different story, and is what you often see when a supremely talented team go up against an average team. The average team can scratch and claw to keep the game close, but eventually talent and depth is going to take over. That’s exactly what happened as Georgia carved up the Gamecocks on their first three drives of the second half, covering 75, 75 and 86 yards in a display of brute force and lightning speed.
On that second 75-yard drive it was clear the Gamecock defense was whipped. I saw quite a few people on Twitter use the word “quit”, which is a really lazy and disrespectful take unless you’ve had experience with 6’6″, 330 lb. offensive linemen shoving you around for 60 minutes. Our guys were still playing hard, they were just physically and mentally beaten.
Speed Kills. Georgia’s first touchdown of the second half was a great example of the talent discrepancy between the two teams. Mecole Hardman, a former 5-star recruit, took a simple swing pass that put him one-on-one with former walk-on Steven Montac. Montac didn’t take a great angle to begin with, but still had a chance to at least draw even with Hardman and push him out of bounds. Instead, Hardman turned on the jets and blew by Montac, shedding his attempted tackle and cruising in for the back breaking TD.
Gameplanning. Opening the first two series going empty backfield and no huddle was a very strange decision. Also, it was obvious we were hell bent on getting Deebo the ball, while Georgia was hell bent on letting anyone but him beat them. We waited way too long to start trying our other options. We have too many offensive weapons to focus so much on just one.
Bentley Takes. Hoo boy the Jake Bentley takes over the last 24 hours. The one I probably agreed with the most was the most basic:
It’s not the way we want to describe our QB after 22 games as the starter, but it’s hard to argue otherwise. He’s not awful, but he’s also not a guy you can trust to put the offense on his back and lead to victory against a good defense. He’ll make some great throws (touchdown to Edwards yesterday) but he’ll also make some mind-numbing decisions (pick six against Clemson last year).
I get the “wasn’t his fault” arguments, there are definitely some of those. But you can’t point to very many big game performances that make you confident that he’s going to have more big game performances. After 22 college games you usually know what your guy is, and for Bentley that is average. I’ll give you slightly above average if you push me.
He can certainly improve, and he’s easily the best we’ve got. But for this team to exceed expectations, Bentley has to start to exceed personal expectations.
Hype. Let me make one thing clear – nothing the South Carolina media team does has any impact on the football team’s performance on the field. That said, until we start winning some of these big games I’d like to see us tone down some of these over-the-top uniform reveal and hype videos. It’s borderline embarrassing when you have a day like yesterday.
Also, no script helmets for a while. Bad memories.
What’s Next. Our chance to win the SEC East is gone, and in retrospect never really existed in the first place. I believe we can still win eight, maybe nine games if we can not let yesterday’s game beat us twice. That game needs to be flushed, and we need a good performance against Marshall to re-instill some confidence.
Clemson is a loss, don’t @ me. Besides that we have a couple of wins on our schedule and a whole bunch of toss-ups. Buckle in. Hopefully we won’t have any more performances like yesterday in our bag.