Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-20 loss to North Carolina.
Trust your eyes. Yesterday, when we still had a chance to win the game against North Carolina, I fired off two pretty uncharacteristic tweets:
These tweets were uncharacteristic for a few reasons. One, while I comment on the play of our players on a regular basis, I try not to be overly critical. (These are still 18-22 year old young men, after all.) Two, I’ve been very, very patient with Will Muschamp, defending him and hoping against hope he was going to become the head coaching superstar he seemed destined to be ten years ago. Three, I can’t think of a time in my entire life when I would’ve advocated for a true freshman quarterback to play over a fourth year senior quarterback.
But yesterday I snapped. And judging be the response to these two tweets, most of you snapped as well. After an offseason where it felt like we might be gaining ever so slightly on our competition in the SEC East – HARD WORK IS PAYING OFF Y’ALL SPURS UP – we proceeded to tie our shoelaces together in the locker room and stumble all over the field for four quarters against an ACC team that won a grand total of two games last year.
From here on out I’ve decided to trust my eyes. To trust what I see.
What I see in Will Muschamp is a stubborn old-school coach who refuses to make changes to his style to keep up with the modern game. Muschamp doesn’t care about style points. He’d prefer to get a lead, sit on that lead, and try to choke the life out of the other team and win a 17-13 slugfest. I know that because of how often we default to ultra-conservative play calling when we have the slightest of leads. Play defense and win the field position battle are great fundamental strategies of 1980s football. But in 2019 doing those things resulted in almost 200 yards of offense and two touchdowns in two possessions for North Carolina. Muschamp is not going to change. And his style is not going to win many games in today’s college football, much less at the University of South Carolina.
What I see in Jake Bentley is a quarterback who hasn’t improved much, if at all, since he first took snaps for the Gamecocks as a freshman. He’s had his good moments over the years, but those moments are always counterbalanced by plays and days like yesterday. His emotions get the best of him, he becomes hesitant, unsure of himself, and allows those emotions to affect his mechanics. A lot of things lost that game yesterday, don’t get me wrong. Bentley didn’t call the plays, he didn’t give up consecutive 98 and 95 yard drives, he didn’t miss blocks and miss tackles. But he has the ball in his hands on every offensive snap, and had a chance to win that game for us yesterday. And he didn’t come close.
What I see in this Gamecock program is mediocrity. Aside from a couple of years in the 80s, and the run from 2010-2013, mediocrity is all I’ve ever seen in this program. Maybe change would just result in the same thing we’ve seen for the better part of 100 years, but sitting still with Will Muschamp…as the kids say, that ain’t it chief.
The Ray Way. A lot of folks tweeted at us yesterday about the role of Ray Tanner in all this. And again, use your eyes, these folks ain’t wrong. Tanner got a head start on the head coaching search when Steve Spurrier walked out mid-season. He had Tom Herman on the hook, but couldn’t land him. There are a lot of stories about why, but the fact remains Tanner couldn’t close the deal. He then turned to Kirby Smart, and in the dead of night had Georgia outmaneuver him and steal Smart away.
There were still hotshot coaches out there we could’ve landed – Lincoln Riley, Dino Babers, Justin Fuente – but to my knowledge we only interviewed Riley and deemed him too young and inexperienced to lead such a high-profile program like South Carolina (insert eye roll). These guys didn’t fit the SEC “profile”. So here we sit, with an SEC retread who can recruit pretty well but has not yet proven he can coach his way out of a paper bag.
Ray Tanner was a hall of fame baseball coach who wanted to be an administrator, and we rewarded him with a job he’s unqualified for because he won a lot of baseball games. Now the football program is paying for it. Other programs may follow.
Frosh. I watched freshmen Bo Nix and Sam Howell lead their teams to wins yesterday. Why not Hilinski? Let’s go.
Offensive. I’ve brought this up before, but the decision to hire Bryan McClendon as our offensive coordinator looks a little worse all the time. We had a chance to hire an experienced OC with FBS play calling experience. Instead, we decided to hire a good guy who might have some potential on the cheap. Muschamp couldn’t afford to do that, but his stubbornness won out again.
Defensive. Depth on the d-line, good linebacker play, a top-notch secondary, and THAT’S what we get?
Hype. I catch a lot of flak because I don’t particularly care for the hype videos our social media/video team posts. Don’t get me wrong, they are simply doing their job, and they do the best job in the country. But to post these uber-dramatic videos that make it sound like we’re going to war, the players are working so hard for YOU, we’re building a program you can be proud of, SPURS UP RAH RAH RAH – and then go out and lay an egg like we did yesterday, it just makes us look foolish. So don’t get mad at me if a hype video doesn’t make me want to run through a brick wall.
What’s next. Obviously Will Muschamp isn’t going to get fired any time soon, because Ray Tanner has been not only supportive, but effusive in his praise about how Muschamp runs the program. But Muschamp is losing the fan base quickly. The landscape of college football has changed. People are spending their entertainment dollars on this team, and they’re getting nothing but heartache in return. It’s ok to be mad, and it’s ok to vent. Hell, I don’t even go to games and I’m letting my anger flow.
A 6-6 season would be a blessing at this point, but I’m not sure where those six wins are going to come from after what I saw yesterday. He better open the playbook and make some changes to his style or he’ll be the hottest defensive coordinator on the market in 2020.