Pre-Snap Judgments – Gamecocks 2018 Offense

edwards
The underappreciated Bryan Edwards

“While I breathe, I hope.” – Theocritus, or Cicero, or Steve Spurrier (depending on who you ask)

Man, so many people are seriously bullish on the 2018 Gamecock offense. I guess there are reasons – the return of Deebo Samuel, a veteran, battle-tested QB, a solid OL, a new fast-paced offense, and an offensive coordinator not named Kurt Roper. But I’m hesitant to jump on the bandwagon just yet for an offense that finished 12th out of 14 teams in the SEC last year in yards per game, rushing yards and points per game.

I’m by nature optimistic, but if I have two words for the Gamecock offense it’s these:

Show me.

Position by position, here’s why I’m optimistic, and at the same time very nervous, about the offense:

Quarterback. Jake Bentley enters his third season as starter with quite a bit left to prove. The way he played as a freshman gave us all great optimism that we were going to have an all-SEC guy under center for two more years, and then he’d probably bolt to the league. But he didn’t particularly show a lot of improvement from his freshman to sophomore years, regressing in QB rating, TD to INT ratio and completion percentage.

To become the team we want to be, Bentley is going to have to temper his emotions, particularly early in games, and be a more consistent with the intermediate and deep ball. A great example is the first series of the Missouri game last year when he badly overthrew Hayden Hurst twice on balls that would’ve been touchdowns. Sure, we went on to win that game going away, but an early touchdown would’ve decreased my beer consumption by at least three.

I’m not down on Jake Bentley by any stretch, but for this team to be exceed expectations, he is going to have to be something he has not been thus far in his career – special.

Behind Bentley is a trio of players who have combined to throw exactly one college pass – Michael Scarnecchia, Jay Urich and Dakereon Joyner. It’s hard to envision any of these guys getting any significant playing time barring injury, although Joyner may be the most likely candidate to be thrown in as a change of pace/run package kind of guy.

Running back. This position has been an enigma for the last couple of years. On paper this seems like an area of strength for the ‘Cocks, but in reality none of the guys on our roster have taken advantage of their opportunity to become “the guy”. I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter getting upset when our running back group isn’t mentioned among the best in the SEC, but in reality, what have they accomplished individually or as a group to earn that kind of publicity?

Rico Dowdle might be the most talented of the group, but has battled nagging injuries that have prevented him from reaching his full potential. After an encouraging freshman season where he rushed for 764 yards on 5.7 ypc, those numbers dropped to 251 yards on 3.8 ypc. Ty’Son Williams was the victim of some odd coaching decisions last season and probably didn’t get as many carries as he should have, but still averaged 5.0 ypc and ran for 471 yards. I would bet on one of those two guys becoming the “bell cow” that Will Muschamp is looking for.

AJ Turner is personally one of my favorite Gamecocks, and led the team in rushing last year. He has been a dependable performer in his two years in the garnet and black, but it’s obvious the coaching staff doesn’t view him as the guy to carry the primary load.

Mon Denson had his moments last year and has a fantastic attitude, but I’d be surprised to see him get more than a few spot carries. Waiting in the wings will be freshmen Deshaun Fenwick and Lavonte Valentine.

Wide Receiver. I ran into Gamecock running backs coach Bobby Bentley at the airport a couple of months ago and without prompting there was one guy he mentioned above all others – Deebo Samuel.

“To have a successful season we need him healthy,” Bentley said.

And who am I to argue. In the first two-plus games of last season Deebo might’ve been the most valuable player in the country, scoring six touchdowns on catches, runs and returns. A healthy number 1 for 12+ games might result in an all-time season for a Gamecock receiver.

On the other side you have Bryan Edwards, who is quietly moving up the receiving record books at South Carolina. He might be the most under appreciated player on the roster right now. He needs to cut down on the drops, but it’s hard to not be excited about he and Deebo back on the field together.

When you team them up with the electric Shi Smith and the Alshon-like OrTre Smith, Jake Bentley has no shortage of targets on the outside.

After the top four there are plenty of guys who can catch the ball, but it’s going to be hard for any of them to get a significant number of targets. It probably won’t happen this year, but look for freshman Josh Vann to be a breakout star at some point.

Tight end. This position obviously took a hit with the departure of first round draft pick Hayden Hurst, but there are plenty of bodies to try and fill his shoes. Jacob August, KC Crosby, Evan Hinson, Kyle Markway and Kiel Pollard will battle for time. I would expect to see August (blocker) and Crosby (pass catcher) get most of the early reps as veterans who have seen a lot of playing time. Hinson and Pollard are intriguing prospects, however.

Hinson is an outstanding athlete and might have the highest ceiling of all the tight ends. But the most intriguing to me is Pollard. I watched him several times in high school when he played wide receiver, and he was the proverbial man against boys. I think he’s been frustrated a little having to wait his turn, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rise to the top of the pack by mid-year.

Offensive Line. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about this offensive line you don’t already know. Zack Bailey is a masher and moves back to his natural guard position. Sadarius Hutcherson at the other guard spot has gotten rave reviews. Dennis Daley and Blake Camper will man the tackle spots and have had their ups and downs, and Donell Stanley will take over at center.

Depth is always critical on the offensive line, and there’s a lot of inexperience behind those guys. If the offense goes from running 60 plays per game to 90 plays per game like the staff wants, we’ll need plenty of big bodies.

The thing is, usually when we think we have a great offensive line they underachieve, and when we think we’re going to stink on the OL they play pretty well. So in the immortal words of Cousin Eddie Johnson, “I don’t know.”

How’s that for analysis.

Offensive coordinator. I’ll say this about Bryan McClendon, I’m thrilled for him. I love the guy, think he’s worked hard and deserves this opportunity, and is a fantastic recruiter and representative for USC. I am also pretty excited about having a faster paced offense.

That said, I think it was a risky choice for Will Muschamp to tap someone with four quarters of coordinator experience to bring him out of his career-long offensive funk. McClendon did a nice job in the Outback Bowl after a slow start, but only time will tell if he is the man for the job.

The bottom line. I truly believe this offense will be the best of the Muschamp era, but it’s only year three and the bar is very low. There is a lot of potential, and on paper I can understand why there is excitement. But there is simply no history of sustained offensive success with these guys to guarantee we’ll take a significant step forward.

At the same time, there are plenty of examples of veteran teams that “put it all together” and greatly exceed their past accomplishments. If the potential we see on paper translates to the field the way we hope it will, this season could be a great one.

While I breathe, I hope.

 

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Snap Judgments – 2017 USC @ Georgia Edition

(Photo: AP/John Bazemore)

 

 

 

 

 

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-10 loss to Georgia.

In a loss, progress. There are no moral victories. However, there are losses from which you can take away positive impressions of your team. South Carolina entered Saturday as roughly 25-point underdogs to top-ranked Georgia. The Gamecocks had played unevenly over the course of their first eight games, not particularly gaining (or earning) the respect of the college football public at large. Meanwhile, Georgia had steamrolled everyone in their path, sans a one-point win over Notre Dame on the road, while beating the brakes off their SEC opponents by an average of 32 points. There was very little reason to believe USC could keep this game interesting for the national CBS audience, hence the huge Vegas spread.

But the Gamecocks did keep the game interesting, trailing by a touchdown at the half and 11 points at the end of the third quarter. The game wasn’t completely put away until a Jake Bentley interception with just under two minutes left in the game. While it would’ve taken a minor miracle at that point to even tie the game, there were plenty of the Bulldog faithful holding their breath up until that play.

Georgia was clearly the more talented and deeper team. Their offensive and defensive lines were dominant, and behind future NFL stars Sony Michel and Nick Chubb they out-gained the Gamecocks by nearly 200 yards on the ground. But the Gamecocks never appeared intimidated and never lost their confidence, which can’t be said for a lot of USC teams who have faced hostile environments and/or top 10 teams in the past.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy with the loss. We missed some opportunities to make the game closer or even pull a monumental upset. But at the same time, I was very proud of our guys, and think this team might be closer than we thought to being pretty good.

Then again, as I said last week, maybe we will just forever be the team that plays to the level of its competition. This week against Florida will be a good test of that theory.

Muschamp 2.0. I’m not a fan of hypotheticals, but do me a favor and go through a little exercise in your head – pretend Will Muschamp’s failed stint at Florida never happened. Forget all the preconceived notions you had of him when he was hired. Pretend Muschamp was a hot young defensive coordinator at Texas that Ray Tanner was able to lure to South Carolina to rebuild our program.

He took over a program almost completely devoid of talent that went 3-9 the season before he arrived, having been abandoned by their head coach midway through the year. His first team improved by three games in 2016 and lost in overtime in a bowl game. His second team became bowl eligible before the end of October and if things go as expected will increase its win total by two more games in 2017.

No, I don’t like the fact that Muschamp will almost always punt on 4th and 5 from the opponent’s 40-yard line. No, I don’t like how he runs out the clock at the end of the half with a 1:30 to go and three time outs. No, I don’t like that he doesn’t go for a kill shot after a turnover in plus territory.

Know what I do like? Winning. And so far the Will Muschamp method has worked at South Carolina. I  can complain about his in-game decisions on occasion, but the overall results so far are pretty good. If you can get over what you remember about his Florida days, the results are damn good.

Kurt-ailed. I still don’t know what to make of Kurt Roper. Over the course of this season I’ve called for his head and I’ve called him a very good coordinator. Statistically he appears to be directing one of the worst offenses in the SEC. But he’s also been limited by injuries across the offensive line and the loss of his best player (Deebo Samuel) and his best running back (Rico Dowdle). A lot of people were hammering him again on Saturday, but I personally didn’t think he called that bad of a game against one of the best defenses in the country.

That said, there are still plenty of offensive weapons on this team, and the statistics don’t lie. Honestly I’m starting to run out of runway in my defense of Kurt Roper.

Hold your comments I might change my mind next week.

Backs to the wall. South Carolina’s run game, to put it mildly, has been the team’s biggest disappointment in 2017. Our running back situation has become pretty dire, and looking across at the other sideline on Saturday only accentuated that point. Not one tailback for South Carolina would be able to crack the four-deep on the Georgia roster. The Bulldogs have future NFL stars in Michel, Chubb and DeAndre Swift, while Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield would probably start at USC. Dowdle has been hurt and was not performing well prior to his injury, and AJ Turner and Ty’Son Williams have had their moments but are far from the type of game-breaking back we desperately need. We can only hope the light comes on for one of these guys or the next recruiting class brings one in. Otherwise our run game will continue to suffer.

King for a day. We thought Jamarcus King was a pretty good corner most of last season, until he had that moment. You know, the one where he got carried five yards on the back of Mike Williams for a Clemson touchdown. From that point we found multiple ways to criticize him, some deserved, some probably not.

But King has rebounded the last few weeks and is once again playing like the best cornerback on the team. Against Georgia, even when he had passes caught against him he was pretty much in the back pocket of the receiver the whole way. He has certainly regained his confidence just in time for the home stretch.

Of course, before his recent slump Rashad Fenton was being lauded by some as the best Gamecock corner ever. Just goes to show, when you play corner you’re only as good as what you do with the next pass thrown your way.

Lying in wait. Florida is a mess right now. In their first game after Jim McIlwain was ousted from Gainesville, the Gators were pummeled by Missouri 45-16 for the Tigers’ first conference win of the year. South Carolina has opened as a 9.5-point favorite at home and all signs point to an easy win for the Gamecocks. But hold up.

Remember that whole playing to the level of your competition thing? Yeah, that’s kinda our curse. Also, Florida will have had a week to stew over the humiliating performance in CoMo and will most certainly come out with more life and fight than they had last week. Despite all the Gators’ problems, I have a feeling this will be a typical South Carolina-Florida root canal game.

Worst case scenario. Clemson won the national title last year and is primed to make the college football playoff once again this year. Georgia has a cakewalk to the SEC Championship and even if they lose that game might make the playoff. The thought of Clemson back-to-back national championships or Georgia following the Tigers’ title with one of their own is enough to make me abandon the game of football altogether.

Go cocks, beat the Gators!

Snap Judgments – 2017 Vanderbilt @ USC Edition

(Photo: postandcourier.com)

6-2 (4-2). We often talk about managing expectations around here. Prior to the start of this season most people had South Carolina winning anywhere from five to eight games, with the majority of predictions coming in at 6-6 or 7-5. That seemed very reasonable considering the mess that Will Muschamp inherited, and that the majority of the talent on his team had played either one or zero seasons of college football. After Saturday’s 34-27 win over Vanderbilt, what we have experienced is probably the best-case scenario for Muschamp and the Gamecocks, having won six games before the end of October.

(Let’s not play the “could’ve been” game, because I will see your frustrating losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M and raise you a nail-biter against NC State and a semi-miracle win over Louisiana Tech.)

The downside, if you can call this a downside, is the competition has been worse than we could’ve possibly imagined. NC State is USC’s best win by far, but was proven to be no more than a “good” team after getting hammered by Notre Dame on Saturday. Louisiana Tech is a mediocre 4-4 against a mostly G-5 schedule.

When you evaluate the SEC games the Gamecocks have played, their four wins have come against four of the five worst teams in the conference. Those four teams are a combined 1-18 in their conference games. The two conference losses have come against decent teams, but teams outside of the top 25.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bring anyone down here. I think we’re very much ahead of schedule in the Will Muschamp era with timely assists from a couple of struggling SEC programs. The Gamecocks will be favored in two games and will be heavy underdogs in two more down the stretch. Hold serve and USC will finish 8-4 (5-3) and be heading to a bowl game in a place not named Shreveport or Birmingham. That’s a major step forward in year two for Will Muschamp and Co.

What makes this coming Saturday so interesting is it will be a true measuring stick for how much further we have to go. Kirby Smart inherited a ton of talent at Georgia, and, much to my dismay, has done a great job getting that program focused and playing up to its potential. Much like South Carolina, they have had the benefit of playing in the anemic SEC East, but even with that they are currently running neck and neck with Alabama as the best team in the country.

If the Gamecocks can go into Athens and give the Bulldogs a run for their money, it will go a long way in convincing recruits this team is on the right track.

Pre-Kurt-sor. Kurt Roper was determined to get the offense going early against Vandy on Saturday, calling eight passes on the first ten offensive plays. The first drive was actually fun to watch because we got to see the team move at a pace we’ve rarely seen this season. Later in the game we mixed in a couple of run formations I hadn’t seen before. In general, the run game has been much more creative the last couple of games.

The hope is Roper is becoming more familiar with his offensive personnel and is designing the game plan around them. I don’t think we’re going to bust out and drop 40 on Georgia this weekend, but I’m happy to see our OC open up the play book a little more.

Turner the burner. AJ Turner just sits back and waits for his number to be called. For some reason as fans we seem to dismiss and push him aside in favor of the Rico Dowdles and Ty’Son Williams of the world. Then, just when we need him most, Turner gashes Vanderbilt for 121 yards and a touchdown. And he ain’t even mad at us.

Fenton PI-land. Maybe Rashad Fenton was smelling himself a little too much heading into Saturday given how well he’s played so far this year. There was a lot of talk about how teams weren’t throwing his way, but the Commodores said “screw that” and downright picked on him to the tune of two touchdowns and two pass interference calls. We’ll see if other teams follow suit in the coming weeks, and see how 16 responds.

Train Wrecks. Florida parted ways with Jim McIlwain on Sunday, and Tennessee is sure to follow suit with Butch Jones no later than November 26. Bret Bielema at Arkansas and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M are still considered to be on the hot seat, and we know that Matt Luke at Ole Miss is not long for his coaching job. Ed Orgeron at LSU and Gus Malzahn at Auburn seem to be safe for now, but as we know that could change over the course of three hours on a Saturday. And is Missouri really going to stick with Barry Odom for the long haul?

In other words, more than half of the coaches in the SEC have been in trouble at some point this season. We could see an unprecedented amount of turnover this winter in the conference, which at least short-term could benefit the Gamecocks.

Get Smart. So far, I have been very wrong about Kirby Smart. I didn’t think he would be an upgrade over Mark Richt, but he has Georgia rolling like a freight train so far this season. To be fair, he inherited quite a number of talented players from Richt (Michel, Chubb, Thompson, Carter, Sanders just to name a few) but he has also killed on the recruiting trail so far, landing commitments from the top dual threat quarterback in the country as well as two 5-star running backs.

As you well know, Smart was probably a few days away from becoming the Gamecocks’ head coach after the Tom Herman debacle, but Georgia decided to part ways with Richt and Smart was their only candidate. Could Smart have done at USC what he’s doing at Georgia? No, definitely not. Aside from the talent gap on the rosters, selling the Bulldog program is much easier than selling the Gamecock program, especially in the talent-rich state of Georgia.

Will Muschamp will need to ratchet up the recruiting and the coaching to keep up with old pal Kirby Smart, who is off to a red-hot start in Athens.

Go Cocks, beat Georgia.

Snap Judgments – 2017 USC @ Tennessee Edition

Photo: postandcourier.com

Ugly as a brand. Saturday’s win over Tennessee was an ugly one, let’s be honest. But before I continue let me go ahead and state what a lot of you are thinking:

I DON’T CARE HOW WE WIN AS LONG AS WE WIN A WIN IS A WIN IS A WIN.

I agree totally, now unbunch your undergarments and let me talk about this, because it is quite possible you are going to need to get used to this fact:

After five and a half years as a head coach, Will Muschamp’s brand of football, win or lose, is ugly. It was like that at Florida, and is now like that at South Carolina.

Under Muschamp we will most likely never be clean and sleek and fast-paced. When we win we will choke teams out, just like we did to Tennessee on Saturday. We lumbered along against the Vols, punching them in the face on defense and tripping over our own feet on offense, looking like the football version of Rocky Balboa. It looked a lot like how his Florida teams used to play.

I’m sure there’s some part of Coach Boom that would love to roll up 600 yards of offense and 55 points in a blowout win. But even if we had the talent and play calling to do that, I guarantee you he would put the brakes on the offense long before we came close to reaching those numbers. It’s just in his DNA.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s a thing. And it’s a thing we need to get used to because there’s very little evidence to suggest Will Muschamp teams are anything else. If you want this program to be a Ferrari or a Porche, forget it. We’re a damn mud-covered 2007 Dodge 2500 with a dent in the left rear quarter panel and sounds terrible but by God runs just fine and gets us from point A to point B in the maximum amount of time allowed.

Ugly is our brand. And as long as wins keep coming with the ugly, I’m perfectly fine with it.

Roper hope. There are plenty of people who put the blame for our offensive struggles squarely on the shoulders of Kurt Roper. I’ve done it myself, and the members of TRC even had a frank discussion at halftime on Saturday about where we would turn if Roper was to be fired. Then, in the second half, he proceeded to direct the offense about as well as he has all season.

He began bringing a man in motion on running plays to give the appearance of a speed sweep, which froze Tennessee perimeter defenders enough to allow for some holes to open in the middle of the line. He gave Jake Bentley a read option play on which Jake kept twice on our touchdown drive for nice gains. He included some off tackle run plays which were bounced outside for big yardage on our crucial final drives. In other words, he realized a lot of the offensive game plan was not working so he made some adjustments that eventually helped us win the game.

I’m not saying I’m quite in Kurt Roper’s corner just yet. I’m still not sure why it took an entire half to fix some of the issues, which seem like simple sideline adjustments. And I’m not sure why most Saturdays our game plan doesn’t really spring into action until the game is already 1/4 over.

But I am saying maybe things aren’t always as bad as they seem, and maybe Kurt Roper isn’t always as bad as he seems.

Milk carton alert. Hayden Hurst disappeared against Tennessee on Saturday. He had zero catches on only two targets, and one rush for four yards. How do you not involve your all-SEC tight end more in your game plan? Honestly I think the Volunteers and their defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had a lot to do with that. They identified Hurst as the one man who was not going to beat them and designed their defensive strategy accordingly. That defense knew exactly where Hurst was on every play and had him bracketed most of the game. The beneficiary of that strategy was…

Plastic man. While Bryan Edwards didn’t have spectacular numbers (6-63), he proved why he is now the Gamecocks’ number one wide receiver. After a crucial early drop, he played with a toughness, fire and determination we hadn’t seen out of him before. He was the key player in the Gamecocks’ lone touchdown drive.

Favorable conditions. Facing an improving and confident Gamecock defense was a bad match-up for Tennessee, as they had already been struggling getting the ball in the end zone. Prior to their final 73-yard drive, USC had held UT to 180 yards of total offense and three and outs on half their possessions.

Tennessee has not scored a touchdown now in ten consecutive quarters, and next up for them is…gulp…Alabama.

Wonnum? Can’t have him. DJ Wonnum was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for the second week in a row, and has become the best edge rusher we’ve seen since a guy who wore number 7. Not too shabby for a guy we flipped from Indiana.

Fenton Island. Still no touchdown catches against Rashad Fenton, but he panicked a little at the end of the game and committed a bad pass interference. We still good though.

Headstrong. Taylor Stallworth picked up a ridiculous penalty in a critical situation on Saturday when he was flagged for continuing to play after his helmet came off. Unlike a lot of you, I don’t necessarily think this is a terrible rule. But I think it was poorly applied against Stallworth, who a) had his helmet ripped off, which should’ve been a penalty on UT, and b) lightly fell onto a guy who was in the grasps of someone else and already going down. The officials have to use some common sense in that situation as Stallworth was in very little danger of getting hurt at that point.

Continuing on that subject, Will Muschamp had an interesting quote on the penalty:

You know what, if a player decides he wants to stick his face in there without a helmet on, he’s making his own judgment. That’s what Will Muschamp would do. I would stick my face in the fire every time. It is a dumb rule.

First, that’s a fairly reckless take by Muschamp considering how high-profile head injuries are in today’s game.

Second, if your helmet comes off around a bunch of elite athletes who are still wearing theirs I hope your first thought isn’t, “hmmm, I wonder what Will Muschamp would do in this situation.”

“You got a home field timekeeper here”. With nine seconds remaining in the game color analyst Tommy Turbeville says “you’ve barely got enough time for two plays.” Tennessee got off three. I wonder if that clock operator knows just how bad all the Tennessee fans want Butch Jones gone.

Go Cocks, relax on your open date.

Snap Judgments – 2017 Kentucky @ USC

Photo: thestate.com
Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 23-13 loss to Kentucky.

Fool’s Gold. I fell for it again. Just like in 1988 when we started 6-0 and were ranked number six. Just like in 2007 when we were 6-1 and ranked number seven. And any other year we started strong and flamed out. I ignored the signs then, and I ignored them this season after a 2-0 start.

No, we weren’t ranked in the top 10, and we’re much earlier in the season than those other years. But most of us were fooled that this was a good football team because nobody outside of Columbia, SC expected us to be 2-0 heading into our home opener against Kentucky. Oh I mentioned it on this blog, and talked about it on our podcast. The fact that we’d been outgained in our first two games, and actually doubled up by North Carolina State. But I said it sheepishly, not wanting to be the idiot who didn’t believe.

“The scoreboard is the only place it counts!” people told me.

“You’re absolutely right!” I replied.

But deep down I knew we couldn’t rely on the other team turning the ball over and not capitalizing in the red zone. I knew at some point our “bend but don’t break” defense would break. Sooner or later our lack of creativity in the run game and pathetic run blocking would cost us. Eventually our shortcomings would be laid bare for all of the college football world to see. Last night it all came crashing down.

I don’t have a disappointment meter to measure how bad I feel after a loss and compare them to other losses. All I can tell you is last night was right up there with the most disappointed I’ve been in Gamecock football in a long time. Right up there with Texas A&M, right up there with the Citadel, right up there with 56-7.

I have no one to blame but myself. When you invest in the fool’s gold thinking it’s the real deal, it’s not hard to figure out who the fool is.

Wasted. The Gamecocks came out of the gates like they had something to prove. Jake Bentley hit Deebo Samuel on a 68-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. After a deflating missed extra point, Skai Moore intercepted a Steven Johnson pass to give USC great field position. After gaining five yards in four plays, we missed a field goal. Then Kentucky once again gifted us the ball, turning it over on a fumble. We then lost five yards on two plays before Bentley threw an arm punt interception on third and long.

That was two extra possessions early in the game that could’ve broken the Wildcats’ backs and completely changed their ball-control game plan. Instead those were portents of things to come, as the Gamecocks had FIVE possessions inside the Kentucky 40 that resulted in no points.

Roper dope. Down 14-6, USC stopped Kentucky on their first possession of the second half and then picked up 18 quick yards on their ensuing possession. On second and two from midfield Rico Dowdle picked up one yard, but came out of the game after being shaken up on the play. Kurt Roper, obviously knowing he was going to run the ball to pick up one yard, put in 185-pound AJ Turner instead of 215-pound Ty’Son Williams. Turner was stuffed, creating a fourth and one. Even with a second chance to correct his mistake, Roper kept Turner in for fourth down, essentially ran THE SAME PLAY, and once again Turner was stopped and the ball went over to Kentucky.

To his (sort of) credit, Roper knew we couldn’t pick up a single yard when we needed it, so later in the game he called a modified sweep on fourth and goal from the one on a play that would’ve kept the Gamecocks in the game. The play was possibly horribly designed and definitely horribly blocked, and once again USC didn’t convert.

Those are the obvious blemishes from a terrible offensive game from Roper, but when you look at the entire body of work it was a complete, uncoordinated mess. No run game variety, a limited number of pass plays and you get 13 whole points, which will win you exactly zero SEC games.

Check your milk cartons. Big time running back transfer Ty’Son Williams was expected to be an integral part of the Gamecock run game this year. After a head scratching zero carries in the season opener, he broke out with a team high 14 carries for 78 yards against Missouri. With Dowdle struggling to find running room over the first three games it seemed natural that Williams would get his fair share of carries against the ‘Cats. Instead, another goose egg. Baffling.

Dowdling. Speaking of Dowdle, something seems not right about him so far this season. He looks very tentative and is not running with the same purpose he did last season. I’m wondering if he’s hurt or if the extra weight he added during the offseason is hampering him. He definitely doesn’t look like the same back.

Across the way. Meanwhile, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran called a beautiful game. The announcers said his plan was to “dink and dunk” until they had an opportunity to take a shot downfield. They never had to take a shot down the field because the dink and dunk worked so well. Despite a patchwork offensive line, Gran kept the Gamecocks off balance with misdirection, screens, and straight up power football when needed. Kurt Roper should pay attention.

Get off the field. South Carolina’s inability to get off the field on third down is becoming a huge problem. Kentucky was 6-for-8 in the first half and finished 9-for-16 last night. Not much can buzzkill your team more than being *this close* to forcing a punt and having the other team convert.

Four-peat. That’s four straight losses to Kentucky. It’s not an accident, it’s not a fluke. Kentucky is currently a better program than South Carolina.

We miss you Elliott Fry. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a larger Bronx cheer at Williams Brice than I did when Alexander Woznick hit the extra point after the Gamecocks’ late touchdown. Being that was the worst placekicking performance in years by USC kickers, it was well deserved.

We miss you HBC. We punted from the Kentucky 38-yard line in the first half. You old-schoolers can talk about field position and momentum and all that crap, but Steve Spurrier would NEVER punt the ball inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. And with our current offense and kicking situations, we need to take our shot every time we have a chance.

Deebo. I went to bed last night thinking Deebo Samuel was out for the season, and woke up this morning to the news he’d be out 5-6 weeks. How in the bloody hell does the head coach announce his best player is out for the season without being completely certain? Who told him to announce that? That was the final straw in what was a terrible day for the USC Athletics Department.

Spurs down. I give the Athletics Department a lot of credit for the changes they’re made over the last year. We’ve certainly made strides in the right direction. But yesterday couldn’t have gone much worse for the USC AD, and it started in August when we announced the “Blackout” for the Kentucky game. Somehow over the course of the last month, along with the Gamecocks’ hot start, this game became a sort of coronation for the rebirth of South Carolina football. Kentucky took notice, and came in with a bad attitude about it and shoved us around the field for three hours. No, the color of our uniforms didn’t cost us the game, but the hype machine made our terrible performance downright embarrassing.

On top of that, you had awful traffic heading to the game, low water pressure in the bathrooms, concession stand lines that moved at a glacial pace, misfiring fire towers at the entrance and the press conference Deebo debacle. We’ve seen better days.

Handshake-gate. There are conflicting reports on what happened with the handshake at the start of the game. Frankly I don’t care who is to blame, when it’s time to stick your hand out and wish the other captains well you freaking do it. To paraphrase Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, “we ain’t good enough to act like an asshole.”

Go Gamecocks, beat La Tech.

 

 

Snap Judgments – 2017 USC @ Missouri

Photo courtesy of The State.

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 31-13 victory over Missouri.

Expectation Management? Nah, we’re good. Two weeks into the season, South Carolina football is 2-0. If you’re being honest, on September 1 I think the vast majority of you would’ve signed up for (and not been terribly upset with) a 1-1 record after two games. The thought of this Gamecock team beating an on-the-rise, senior-laden North Carolina State team at a neutral site, followed by an SEC road win over a high-powered Missouri team, seemed like it might be a bit of a stretch.

But now, admit it, you’re peeking down the schedule a little bit, aren’t you? The next two games at home are definitely winnable. Then you have a tattered and torn Texas A&M squad, followed by an Arkansas team that is searching for its identity. At Tennessee will be a tough one, as will a home date against what appears to be a good, veteran Vandy squad.

What am I suggesting?  I’m suggesting that if things go to form our game in Athens on November 4 could be worth a lot more than lower-tier bowl jockeying. I know, some of you out there right now are thinking “HEY MAN WE NEED TO TAKE IT ONE GAME AT A TIME”. And my reply to that is no, as fans, we don’t. We can look ahead and speculate and talk about match-ups as far down the road as we want. Nothing we say or write as fans is going to impact what happens this week against Kentucky one bit. Now Will Muschamp, HE needs to take it one game at a time, as do all his coaches and players.

We haven’t had a tremendous amount of fun or success as a program the last three years. I personally think we deserve this limited success we’re having right now. And we deserve to think ahead and hope and dream about what this team might be able to do down the road. I realize we’re still in rebuilding mode, with a coach who has been on the job for all of 15 games. But because we somehow still reside in a stinky division where a handful of traditional powers can’t seem to get their act together, we have a shot.

We’re 2-0, have fun and dream big Gamecock fans.

Momentum. Momentum is not a tangible thing. It can’t be measured. But you know it when you see it, and when Drew Lock hit Jason Reese for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, you knew they had momentum on their side.

You also saw South Carolina reverse that momentum in the span of three plays and 30 seconds of game time. First, Deebo Samuel returned his second kickoff for touchdown in two weeks. Then, freshman Jamyest Williams intercepted his first career pass on the first play of Missouri’s next possession. The very next play Samuel took an end around 25 yards for a 14-10 lead. In all the Gamecocks would outscore the Tigers 31-3 after that early deficit.

Three plays, 30 seconds, 14 points. Momentum.

Lucky 13. Very few people predicted anything short of a shootout Saturday. Most score predictions I saw had both teams in the 30s or 40s, which seemed very reasonable considering Missouri’s explosive offense and porous defense. Even though we lost the yardage battle for the second week in a row, we were able to hold the Tigers to an astounding three points over the last 43 minutes of game time. That’s a real testament to the job T-Rob is doing with this defense.

Lock’d Up. Let’s not get caught up in Drew Lock’s non-SEC numbers any more, shall we?

Mr. Roper. Kurt Roper may have had his best game calling plays for South Carolina on Saturday night.  He was patient and stuck with the run game even though it was getting stuffed early. We also saw more creativity and formations out of the run game as well. After this week I believe more than ever that Roper has a long-term plan for this offense, and it’s evolving nicely. (Yes, even the jet sweep to Hayden Hurst.)

Here’s an excellent breakdown by Ben Breiner from The State of some of the offensive play calling. 

Wild thing. Jake Bentley seems to come out throwing a little wild early in games. He did it again Saturday and missed two touchdown opportunities on the first drive. Maybe before the first drive of the game the coaches should tell him it’s the second quarter already.

Identity crisis. Javon Kinlaw made his presence known Saturday night with two batted passes and one blocked kick. Unfortunately for him he was continually identified as Dante Sawyer. I’m not sure the announcers ever mentioned Kinlaw by name at all. After Kinlaw’s first pass break up, the announcers even told a story about Sawyer and how he played at East Mississippi Junior College of Last Chance U fame, all the while with the camera trained on Kinlaw.

Keep doing your thing big man, we see you.

New number 1? Someone asked after Ty’Son Williams’ breakout performance against Missouri if he would be the new number one tailback. At this point I believe the answer is no, unless Rico Dowdle is banged up. Dowdle has earned his stripes, and while it’s been tough sledding for him so far this year it’s hard to see him being displaced at the first running back to see the field. I do believe we will see the carries split between the two, which will be a good thing, and AJ Turner spelling them on third downs.

Jam, oh jammmmm. As mentioned above, Jam Williams picked up his first pass interception. Which is a good reason to post this masterpiece by @kevroshay:

Go Cocks, whip Kentucky.

Pre-Snap Read – South Carolina @ Missouri

Photo courtesy thestate.com
As South Carolina fans, Missouri is one team you look at on the schedule every year and pretty much think “yeah, that should be a dub”*. And every year the game turns out to be a very even match-up, whether both teams are good, bad, or somewhere in between.

*not a slam on Missouri, I’m willing to bet they think the exact same about us.

Missouri’s football program it not that dissimilar from South Carolina’s: a long history of mediocrity sprinkled with some terrible seasons and some outstanding seasons. Mizzou has a huge advantage over USC in conference championships (15-1), but upon closer inspection all of those titles came before 1970. There are loads of five, six and seven win campaigns for the Tigers, and they’re just as likely to be 8-4 as they are to be 4-8 during any given season. They had a string of 13 consecutive losing seasons from 1984 through 1996, but have won four division titles since 2007 (two in the Big 12 and two in the SEC). That 2007 team was ranked first in the country and tied at halftime of the Big 12 Championship Game with a spot in the BCS Championship Game on the line. Unfortunately for them Oklahoma pulled away in the second half.

Their place in the SEC still feels like a strange fit, but as each year passes we get more used to it. I’d never suggest they don’t belong, because they have proven they do with those two previously mentioned East Division titles.*

*How the hell did those happen again? I mean, I know the East has been down, but come on. USC, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida all look at 2013 and 2014 and just shake their heads at how they let Mizzou somehow three card monte their way to Atlanta.

Missouri entered this year on the heels of back-to-back losing seasons, finishing 5-7 in 2015 and 4-8 last year. Their only conference win in ’15 was over the Gamecocks, and last year’s game was a win by USC, but a little too close for comfort. Since Missouri entered the SEC the Gamecocks lead the series 3-2, but the Tigers won both non-SEC games – the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 2005 Independence Bowl.

There have been some wild games between the two teams, including that 2005 bowl game (epic fourth quarter collapse by USC), the Miracle in CoMo, and a second epic fourth quarter collapse in a season full of epic fourth quarter collapses by the Gamecocks in 2014. Each team has a relatively comfortable win in the series, but for the most part when these two teams collide you can expect a game that goes down to the final minutes. I don’t expect tomorrow night to be any different.

USC defense vs. Missouri offense. [Breathes heavily into paper bag.] This matchup frightens me. Yes, I know they slaughtered Missouri State, not Ohio State. But Missouri is one of the few teams in the SEC that has the depth and breadth of skill players that are comparable to South Carolina’s. We all know Drew Lock can play. Damarea Crockett is an outstanding tailback, and his backups Ish Witter and Larry Roundtree aren’t too shabby. Both J’Mon Moore and Johnathan Johnson went over 100 yards receiving last week. And they have big, athletic pass-catching tight ends.

Missouri will score points, and probably a lot of them. Lock will get them to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball faster than anyone we will play all year, so we’ll need a lot of guys to play on the defensive side of the ball. That can lead to a lack of continuity and create assignment confusion, particularly with newcomers like Jamyest Williams and Keisan Nixon. We’ll need to create at least three turnovers, and we’ll need a handful of third or fourth down stops, which is something we haven’t been great at in the Muschamp era.

It’s cliché, but we can bend, just don’t break.

USC offense vs. Missouri defense. A lot of our fans are extremely optimistic about how our offense is going to perform against their D. I think we have the potential to score a lot of points tomorrow, but as Connor Tapp pointed out on this week’s TRC Unleashed, Kurt Roper’s offense has a tendency to disappear for long stretches at a time. In the second half last week against NC State, with a chance to make things a lot easier on themselves, the Gamecocks had consecutive scoreless drives of 3 plays, 3 plays, 3 plays, 4 plays and 3 plays. That’s five consecutive possessions with one first down. We have way too many weapons to bog down like that, even against a defense the caliber of NC State.

I expect a lot more out of the run game this week, and a lot more targets for Hayden Hurst and KC Crosby. I keep calling for more variety on offense and I think this is the week we get it. Missouri doesn’t have the talent on defense to get to Jake Bentley, cover our ends and backs on the second level, or cover Deebo and company in the secondary.

The bottom line is we cannot waste possessions. It’s very possible this could be a who-has-the-ball-last kind of game, and if we turn the ball over or fail to hold serve when we’re on offense, we’re likely going to lose. We have to be crisp, don’t fall behind the sticks, don’t turn the ball over and don’t commit major (10-yards plus) penalties.

Special teams. I don’t know jack squat about Missouri’s special teams. I’ll be optimistic and assume they’re below average and we’ll win this phase.

Muschamp vs. Odom. Two defensive gurus having their teams battle it out in the trenches. Just the kind of low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game you would expect. LOLJK.

What’s it all mean. If the Gamecocks can get out of CoMo tomorrow night with a win, that bodes well for our chances in the SEC East. The media bandwagon started to build after our (somewhat) surprising win last week, and an SEC road win would open a lot more eyes to this team. What looked like a 7-5 or 6-6 Gamecock team prior to last week starts to potentially look special with a 2-0 start.  Division favorite Georgia is down a starting quarterback, Florida is a mess, Tennessee is questionable, and Kentucky and Vanderbilt are definitely beatable at home. It’s a long road, but who knows.

My head is telling me we find a way to lose this game due to one of those offensive funks I mentioned above. But my heart wants to hold out hope in 2017 as long as possible, so I’m going to say the USC pulls this one out 45-41.

Go Cocks.

Pre-snap Read – South Carolina vs. North Carolina State 

LET’S GOOOOOOOOO

We had every intention of recording a preseason podcast last night. But due to my lingering extreme tiredness after spending most of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning vomiting my guts up in a Washington, D.C. hotel room, I decided to sleep instead. (You ever been alone and sick in a hotel room 700 miles from home? It is the WORST man. You revert to being a 3-year-old whimpering and crying for mommy to make it all better.) Anyhoo, instead of a podcast here’s a pseudo preview of tomorrow afternoon’s opener against NC State.

Saturday? What is this voodoo about us kicking off our first game on a Saturday anyway? If you wanted one final sign that the Spurrier era is officially over, this is it. The HBC loved being the “first game” of the season and all the attention that came with the Thursday night slot. In Spurrier’s 11 years at the helm we opened on Thursday night nine times.

Will Muschamp? I’m not sure he gives two rips about when the first game is played. I would expect to see us opening on the first Saturday most years from here on out. Either way, we know we’ll either be 1-0 or 0-1 come Sunday morning.

One year ago today. 365 days ago we were opening on the road at Vanderbilt (on a Thursday) with a new head coach and full of piss and vinegar. Based on strong spring game performance (which was basically a game of two-hand touch) we believed it was just a matter of time before Brandon McIlwain took over the starting quarterback job and held onto it for a very long time. We had yet to be introduced to a bevvy of newcomers, including Brian Edwards and DJ Wonnum. It would be several weeks before we were introduced to critical offensive pieces Rico Dowdle and Jake Bentley. And we were hoping against hope that Will Muschamp knew what the hell he was doing after a high-profile faceplant at Florida.

Muschamp has done a fantastic job of transforming the roster over the last 20 months, adding talent and a little depth. The verdict is still out, and the jury will be deliberating a while, but we are definitely in a better position today that we were last year in Nashville.

What we’re excited about:

Jake Bentley. It’s hard to not be excited about a kid with his poise and talent WHO SHOULD STILL BE IN HIGH SCHOOL…oh wait, never mind, that was last year. I dare say that after seven whole college football games, Bentley might be the most NFL-ready quarterback we’ve ever had at South Carolina. No, I don’t mean he’s ready to jump to The League today, but he has the measurables and intangibles that NFL scouts are looking for – size, arm strength, feel for the game, work ethic, and so on. The old saying goes you improve the most between your freshman and sophomore years, and if that’s the case we are all justified in expecting big things from number 19.

Weapons. Bentley has a ton of weapons to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Dowdle and AJ Turner are proven commodities in the backfield, and they’ll be joined by North Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams, a guy who many believe is the best of the bunch. Much has also been written about our veteran trio of pass catchers, Edwards, Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst. These six guys combined have all the skills needed to make something happen with the ball in their hands – power, elusiveness and speed. The only problem? There’s only one ball.

Freshmen – Offense. Even with six guys we know will get touches practically every game, the brothers Smith, OrTre and Shi (I know, they’re not really brothers) have created a lot of buzz in camp. OrTre is a big-bodied receiver who recovered from a broken foot his senior year of high school to participate in Spring practice and make an impression on the coaches. I’m hesitant to compare him to Alshon Jeffery before he ever takes a snap but…oh hell it’s still preseason and I’m not hesitant HE’S THE NEXT ALSHON JEFFERY.

Even though he was a heavily sought-after four-star recruit, Shi has been a bit of a surprise this fall. Muschamp announced him as a starter in a three-receiver set, so he has obviously shown some playmaking ability at practice. I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll try to get him the ball in space a couple of times on Saturday.

Skai. Welcome back number 10.

Other Linebackers – Any of Them. Skai and Bryson Allen-Williams are the dependable anchors of the defense. T.J. Brunson will be the other starter. I’m excited about the freshmen and newcomers we have at the position, but one or more will need to step up to spell the starters and to also give us some experience for the coming years. Davonne Bowen, Sherrod Greene, Eldridge Thompson, Damani Staley – I don’t care who steps up, but somebody has to.

Newcomers/Freshmen – Defense. Javon Kinlaw is a mountain in the middle and will help plug some of those big holes opposing running backs exploited last year. Aaron Sterling and Brad Johnson will hopefully give a shot of energy to what was an anemic pass rush. Keisean Nixon is the type of physical presence we need at the back of the defense.

But the guy on D to watch for is our very own Honey Badger, Jamyest Williams. He brings an attitude and competitiveness to the defense that we haven’t seen since DJ Swearinger. He is relatively small, but is extremely athletic and uses his hips and balance to allow him to match up with just about any receiver. Williams is the kind of guy that forces quarterbacks to make perfect throws.

What we’re concerned about:

The O Line. For our offense to have any success at all we need Jake Bentley to be upright and healthy. He was mostly healthy last year, but he was not upright nearly as much as we would’ve liked. Zack Bailey is a future starter in the NFL, but the rest of the line has a lot to prove. They’ll need to create holes for our backs, which will in turn create time for our quarterback, which will in turn allow Kurt Roper to mix it up with the playbook. The fierce NC State defensive line will be a good litmus test for this group.

The defensive backfield. We have veteran starters in corner Jamarcus King (who we hope has gotten stronger) and safety Chris Lammons (who we hope has learned to not throw punches at guys wearing helmets). There has been a lot of talk about Rashad Fenton possibly becoming the best corner on the team, and D.J. Smith is solid if not spectacular at the other safety position. Williams is a welcome addition at the nickel, but then the depth starts to fall off quite a bit. Jaylin Dickerson and Chris Smith are Freshmen who will miss the season due to injury, and Tavyn Jackson and Stephen Montac have battled injuries are expected to miss time. We cannot afford any more injuries in the back of the D.

Special teams. Lammons will be returning punts, which is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is he has shown flashes of being pretty good at it. The bad news is that’s 4-6 more opportunities for him to get dinged up and take him away from his primary role, as noted above. Kickoff returns I expect to be average to above average, but the kicking game is a hand-wringer at the moment. We still haven’t decided on a field goal kicker to replace Elliott Fry, and will also be trotting out a new punter.

Injuries. They have already taken a toll on our defensive backfield. There are a few positions like running back and defensive line where we could probably take a hit, but for the most part we need our starting 22 to stay as healthy as possible. One place where we cannot, and I mean CANNOT, have an injury is at quarterback. If Bentley goes down for any extended period of time we are blanking blanked.

Misc:

The ‘Pack. NC State is a middling ACC team, much in the way South Carolina has returned to being a middling SEC team. Unfortunately, tomorrow we’ll be catching one of the better Wolfpack teams in recent memory. As previously stated, they have an outstanding defensive line, but could be vulnerable in the back seven if Bentley gets time to throw. On offense, quarterback Ryan Finley is somewhere on the “meh” spectrum, but has excellent weapons on the outside in Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hynes. The ‘Pack will also be replacing their excellent tailback from last year, Matthew Dayes.

The Prediction. The final score will be 27-24. I don’t know who’s going to win, that’s why they play the game. But I expect an ultra-competitive, fun football game from the start.

The Season. Funny thing about football, sometimes you can have more talent and a better team, but not gain any ground record-wise over your previous team. I really like the talent on this Gamecock squad. But there is a lot of youth and too many question marks to think we’ll improve very much on our 6-6 regular season from last year, especially with the out of conference schedule as tough as it’s been in quite a while. My head says 6-6, but my heart says 7-5 and maybe a Belk Bowl appearance.

The great thing about today is 15-0 is still a possibility, and by God that’s exciting. Football is here my friends, we look forward to the ride with you.

Go Cocks.

Reports: Kingston to Take the Reins of Gamecock Baseball

(Photo: baseballamerica.com)
Multiple media outlets are now reporting that South Florida’s Mark Kingston will be the next head baseball coach at South Carolina.

My official statement on this hiring:  MEH.

Mark Kingston will be announced at a press conference shortly, and Ray Tanner will sing his praises and call him a great recruiter and motivator. Kingston will give a fiery speech and “win” the press conference, and we’ll all feel a little bit better about not getting Kevin O’Sullivan or Brian O’Connor or even Monte Lee. All those things will happen, guaranteed.

But those things won’t completely cover up the disappointment. The disappointment of Tanner once again missing on his first, second, and maybe even third choices. The disappointment of getting a guy the vast majority of us had never even heard of before two weeks ago.

Think back to everyone’s list of replacements the day after Chad Holbrook was fire…er…resigned. There were at least a dozen names tossed around. Coaches who’ve won conference titles, regionals, super regionals, and College World Series titles. NAME coaches. Coaches who media and fans alike felt like a program like South Carolina wanted and deserved. Look at the words of Ray Tanner himself:

“I believe very strongly that our job here is a top three or top five job in the country so we’ve attracted a lot of really good candidates.”

With all due respect, a top three or top five job in the country shouldn’t be hiring Mark Kingston from South Florida. That’s not a knock on Kingston’s coaching ability and it doesn’t mean I won’t get 100% behind him as he tries to get us back to Omaha. That’s a knock on one of the great Gamecocks of all time, Ray Tanner.

It’s beyond obvious this wasn’t his first choice. If Tanner wanted Kingston from the beginning, he could have had him 30 minutes after the Holbrook resignation press conference. But Tanner had bigger fish in his sight. Fish that were playing well into the postseason, and one fish in particular that won a national championship. But in the end he couldn’t land that fish, and once again we’ve had to settle.

I’m going to be all in on Mark Kingston, as all Gamecocks should be. I’m going to pull for him like crazy, and I hope he succeeds will beyond our wildest dreams. But given the high hopes I had going into this search, it’s going to take me a little time to get used to the idea.

I’m also going to cross my fingers that he doesn’t block us on Twitter.

Go Cocks.

Holbrook Resignation Complicated, But Not That Complicated

(Photo credit: ABC Columbia)

“For a program that measures itself by College World Series appearances and results, not making the 64-team field is unacceptable.” – Josh Kendall, The State, May 29

By every account, Chad Holbrook is a fine man. His son Reece fought and beat cancer, and Holbrook has spent much of his free time raising significant amounts of money to go towards pediatric cancer research. No matter what happens with his baseball career, he will have no accomplishment on the baseball diamond that will top that.

By every account, Chad Holbrook was an outstanding assistant baseball coach. In his 15 seasons at North Carolina the Tar Heels made 11 NCAA tournament appearances and three College World Series trips. As Associate Head Coach at South Carolina, he was instrumental in helping build a team that went to three College World Series’ and won two. When Ray Tanner took the job as South Carolina Athletic Director after the 2012 season, it was a foregone conclusion that Holbrook would take over, and I don’t think Gamecock fans had much of a problem with that. Holbrook had been groomed for many years, it was his time.

In 2013 Holbrook guided the Gamecocks to within a game of another CWS. Oddly, it was in the deciding game of that Super Regional series against his former team, UNC, that we began to see the first chink in his managerial armor. The crime? Sacrificing one of his best hitters, Joey Pankake, in the first inning of that game with no score. (Many will argue they saw issues long before this, but this is the first time I remember recognizing it as a significant flaw in his strategic thinking.)  Regardless, it was a very good season and nobody really complained about missing the CWS for the first time in four years.

In 2014 the Gamecocks shockingly lost to Maryland at home in the NCAA Regionals, with the final game being a 10-1 whitewashing. Again, you run into a hot team at the wrong time in the tournament and bad things happen. There was no need to panic at this point.

In 2015, USC went 13-17 in the SEC and missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. In the day and age of social media, and specifically Twitter, it was now time to panic. This Gamecock program, what we believed to be an elite national program, did not miss the NCAA Tournament. The fringe began to call for Holbrook’s firing, but the moderates among us knew that was not an option after only three years.

The 2016 season was a strange one. The cry for Holbrook’s head grew during the course of the season as, after starting the SEC slate 6-0 against Arkansas and Ole Miss, the team lost weekend series to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. But sandwiched around those losses were sweeps of mediocre to bad teams Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama. In the end, sweeping five series and not being swept in any resulted in a 20-9 conference finish and first place in the SEC East. That’s great, isn’t it? Call me foolish, but something just didn’t feel right.

As a host in the NCAA Tournament, with Clemson looming as a Super Regional opponent, the Gamecocks lost the opening game to Rhode Island (RHODE ISLAND) to fall into the loser’s bracket. Fortunately, the overall regional draw was extremely weak, and USC breezed past Duke, Rhode Island again, and then UNC Wilmington twice to make it to the Super Regional. Clemson lost their regional, and the Super fell into Columbia’s lap the following weekend. A red-hot Oklahoma State pitching staff rode into town and ended the season for South Carolina.

In my humble opinion, 2016 was fool’s gold for Gamecock fans. A weak bottom of the SEC combined with a fortuitous draw in the NCAA tournament led to the easiest path to a Super Regional we will ever see. Proponents of Chad Holbrook will always say “yeah, but they made a Super you idiot!” I can’t deny that, but look under the covers. There were still problems.

(Side note, SEC Tournament wins for Chad Holbrook to this point: 0.)

I won’t even rehash 2017, because you’ve heard it all. A preseason top five ranking turned into a complete disaster only rivaled by the 2014 football team in Gamecock lore. Players who were expected to take a step forward didn’t. The deep pitching staff was shallow as puddle. And Chad Holbrook continued to make mind-boggling in-game decisions, and even took a shot at our fans in frustration. It literally couldn’t have gone worse. Was all of this Chad Holbrook’s fault? Of course not, but this is life in sports. When things don’t go well, more often than not the head man takes the fall.

So now, after two weeks of back-and-forth about the future of Holbrook, he is gone. Some people will argue that he should still be our head man, but the evidence doesn’t support that. Consider:

Pros

2 Super Regionals

1 Regional

1 First-place SEC East Finish

40 win average

Cons

0 College World Series

2 Missed NCAA Tournaments

4-17-1 in series against top 50 RPI teams (2015-2017)

2 losing records in SEC play

8 straight series losses in SEC play (2017)

3 straight series losses to Clemson

3 SEC Tournament wins in five years (all this year)

2 humiliating blowout losses to UNC

Now look back at the opening quote from Josh Kendall. This was not a difficult decision. And please don’t throw out ridiculous hypotheticals – “so if Chad had made 5 straight Super Regionals should he have been fired?”. Of course not, context matters. And the context of the last five years is simply not good enough.

Finally, about our fans. Aaron Fitt wrote this ridiculous piece about Holbrook and Gamecock fans. First, to say Holbrook was dismissed…er, “resigned”…because the relationship with fans became toxic is an insult to Ray Tanner. All I’ve read about Ray Tanner is how hard he studies the facts of the situation and makes an educated decision based on those facts. The fact is Ray Tanner has higher expectations for this program, just like the fans. That’s why Chad Holbrook is no longer our coach.

And we have high expectations? And we’re spoiled? You’re damn right on both accounts. I can’t defend anyone spewing personal venom towards Holbrook or the players during games or on social media. We frankly don’t need those fans. But the vast majority of Gamecock fans are passionate, loyal, and devote an inordinate amount of time and resources to all our athletic programs, of which baseball is a crown jewel. We’re not going to take a back seat to anyone on the baseball diamond, and we’re not going to keep quiet when we feel a change is needed. No apologies here.

I feel bad for Chad Holbrook, I really do. If you’ve ever lost a job it is horrible feeling, and can scar you for a long time. I wish him nothing but success in the future, and hope he bounces back quickly.

Go Cocks.