Snap Judgments – 2018 USC @ Florida Edition

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(Photo: thestate.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 35-31 loss to Florida.

The Haunting of Will House. The tenure of Will Muschamp as head coach of Florida was an unmitigated disaster. Much of his failure was attributed to his inability to change his antiquated approach to coaching – run the ball, play good defense, grind out the victory. Now don’t get me wrong, running the ball and playing good defense are cornerstones of good football, but his style was much more indicative of a 1970’s or 1980’s brand of football. While running the ball and playing good defense are still great things in and of themselves, they mean different things in today’s world of college football, and his inability to evolve led to his ouster at Florida.

When he was hired at South Carolina he promised a more advanced brand of offense led by Kurt Roper. Roper failed, Muschamp turned to Bryan McClendon, and to us was promised an even more fast-paced, high-scoring offense. While the results have been uneven throughout the season, there is no question the offense has been more productive, more diverse and more exciting. This was no more evident than the Ole Miss game last week and the first three quarters of the Florida game today.

Then came the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, while Florida was mounting a comeback and grounding our defense into a fine powder, McClendon and Muschamp decided they were going to run the ball and bleed clock like the lead was five touchdowns. Gone was the aggressiveness, and soon gone were the lead and the win. Jake Bentley, who was having a solid game, only threw the ball three times in the fourth quarter while the Gators caught and passed the Gamecocks on the scoreboard. It was a moment when Muschamp went back to his old school mentality – run clock, play defense, escape with the win.

Except we didn’t. Instead, we blew a 17-point second half lead and missed a chance at a solid conference road win against a top-15 team. It was classic Muschamp. A Muschamp we hoped and prayed was dead and gone.

But the ghost of Will Muschamp’s time at Florida still haunts us. We hired this guy, we knew what we were getting – a stubborn ol’ bastard who is going to live or die with the football principles he learned back in 1982.

I hope he has changed and this was just a blip. He has certainly grown and evolved while at South Carolina. But if he doesn’t continue to grow and evolve, and has many more moments like the one he had today, the ghost of Gainesville Will Muschamp may cause the death of Columbia Will Muschamp.

Wet paper bag. I’m having a hard time being overly critical of our defense considering all the injuries we’ve had to endure. The biggest loss came this week with the news Bryson Allen-Williams wouldn’t play against Florida (we’ve since been told he’s out for the rest of the regular season).

With that said, the way Florida ran on us today (62/367) was an embarrassment. It’s particularly embarrassing considering Muschamp’s reputation as a defensive guru. Since Muschamp has been at South Carolina the defense has been below average at best, when we were essentially led to believe “at least we’ll have a good defense” with him at the helm.

We need a serious infusion of talent and depth, and we need to get healthy before we’ll ever be able to compete with the big boys. We’ve made a significant leap forward this year on offense, we’ll need the same next year on defense.

QB1. Jake Bentley had another good day, throwing for 239 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. Today it was against one of the better defenses in the SEC, although the naysayers (fewer and fewer each week) will point out his one pick came at a time when we needed a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.

What they will conveniently ignore is that he was on point almost all game until the coaches took the ball out of his hands in the fourth quarter. Winning the game would not have required anything special from Bentley, it would have just required the coaches letting him do what he had been doing all game.

Deebo. It started to hit me today, we’re in the twilight of Deebo Samuel’s career as a Gamecock. He had a spectacular day, with 120 yards receiving, 78 yards in kick returns and a fumble recovery on a muffed Florida punt. I’m bummed we’ll only get to see him four more times.

Freak. One play never determines the outcome of a football game. But one play today could’ve made things a lot easier for the good guys. With USC leading 31-14 and just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Florida was facing a 3rd and 8 from their own 37 yard line. A stop by the Gamecocks would come close to putting the last nail in the coffin.

After a bad snap that 99% of the time results in a lost yardage play, Feleipe Franks rolled to his right and completed a pass to Trevon Grimes for the first down. On the way to the ground, Grimes obviously fumbled and it was clearly recovered by Jaycee Horn, but the play had already been whistled dead. From that point it was all downhill for the Gamecocks.

Accepting mediocrity. I saw several comments after the game today along the lines of “we have to stop accepting mediocrity.” I’m dead serious here, I’m not sure what that means. As fans there is really only one thing we can do to facilitate change in our programs, and that’s stop going to games. Am I wrong about that? I mean, if people really want Muschamp fired, or Tanner fired, or somebody else fired, don’t you hit them in the pocketbook? Don’t you express your displeasure by spending your discretionary income somewhere else? The powers that be sure aren’t going to make a change based on your tweet or your Facebook post.

Look, we’re not quite three years into the Muschamp regime. While I certainly have my concerns about the long-term prospects for the program, it is not even remotely an option to fire him any time soon. He’s taken the team to a bowl in each of his first two years and will take them to another bowl this year after inheriting a 3-win team. Because we’re going to win one or two fewer games this year than last year is not a fireable offense. (I got news for you, we might win even less next year with the schedule we have.)

I’ve been at this for more than 30 years, and I get as frustrated as anybody on days like this. I don’t know if we’re on the right track or not. But I realize I have very little control over who’s in charge.

Hang on a second, looks like Ray Tanner is calling.

Go Cocks.

 

 

 

 

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Snap Judgments – 2018 South Carolina @ Ole Miss Edition

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How. (Photo courtesy The State)

Here comes the sun. South Carolina entered Saturday’s game against Ole Miss with the season on the line. Saddled with three losses to top 25 teams and no particularly impressive wins*, a loss to the mediocre Rebels would’ve pushed the Gamecocks further down the SEC pecking order. With four games left, two being presumed losses at Florida and Clemson, a groan-inducing trip to Shreveport or Birmingham for bowl season was staring USC down like my wife when I tell here there weren’t any fresh avocados at Trader Joe’s.

The game itself was a roller coaster, with both offenses moving virtually at will for three quarters. Any time one of the offenses didn’t hold serve it felt like a turning point in the game. But the Gamecocks came up with just enough stops in the first 45 minutes, then clamped down on the potent Rebel offense in the fourth quarter. When the smoke cleared USC had a 48-44 conference road victory, and you can never turn your nose up at a conference road victory in the SEC.

Ole Miss is a very dangerous team, but they are not a very good team, and a loss would have been devastating to our postseason hopes. Instead, we moved to 5-3 with two home games against very beatable opponents that should get us to the 7-win mark, and a step above the entry-level SEC bowls.

In addition, that “presumed loss” to Florida doesn’t look so presumed any more after they were dismantled in the Swamp by Missouri. A team once ranked in the top 10 now looks vulnerable, and South Carolina could be catching them at the right time. That could get us to eight wins a trip back to Florida for bowl season. Given the stress this season has caused us, I think we’d all sign up for that.

*Don’t get me wrong, ALL wins are good wins. 

QB1. By just about any measure Jake Bentley had his best game of the season on Saturday, if not the best game of his career. Bentley went 22-32 for 363 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and one rushing touchdown. Besides the gaudy stat line, he was under control, in command of the offense, and as accurate as we’ve seen him in a Gamecock uniform.

And yet, there are still naysayers who point out he was playing against the worst defense in the SEC. These are fans (much smaller in number these days) that are still calling for Michael Scarnecchia to get his shot, and fans that have completely lost the desire to see Jake Bentley do well or compliment him in any form or fashion at the risk of having to admit their opinion was wrong.

I feel like I’ve typed this before so forgive me if I’m repeating myself – Jake Bentley is still far from perfect. I expect he will struggle again at some point this season considering he will be facing a pretty good defense in Florida and (gulp) a borderline NFL defense in Clemson. Two and a half years in he is still a work in progress, but it appears he is getting better. It just hasn’t happened as fast as we would have liked.

I can’t believe I’m breathing life into this dead debate, but here’s the bottom line – Bentley gives us the best chance to win at quarterback and it is not close. Michael Scarnecchia had a legendary day against Missouri, one for which he will always be remembered in Gamecock lore. But he is also the guy who was beat out by Connor Mitch and Brandon McIlwain. So for those of you who still want to see Bentley benched, please stop, especially on the heels of his best day as a Gamecock. Celebrate and enjoy these kids when they do well, and don’t pile on when they don’t.

Adjustments. South Carolina gave up an embarrassing 600 yards of offense to Ole Miss through three quarters. The defensive line was getting very little push, and Rebel receivers were finding large pockets downfield in the middle of our zone to pick up chunks of yards. On the ground they picked up almost five yards a carry. It didn’t help that our defensive backfield has been decimated by injury.

But according to Will Muschamp, the staff decided to switch from man to zone in the fourth quarter. From that point on we looked like the ’86 Bears, holding Ole Miss to an astonishing 18 yards on 19 plays.

Why did it take so long? Playing man to man defense is more taxing to the individual DB’s over the course of 60 minutes. According to Muschamp, we simply didn’t have the horses to run man for much more than a quarter.

Punishment. A sorely underrated play in the game was actually a 15-yard personal foul on South Carolina. With under two minutes to go in the third quarter and the Gamecocks down 37-34, JJ Enagbare picked up a roughing the passer call that briefly knocked Rebel quarterback Jordan Ta’amu out of the game. He returned to the game, but was never quite the same. (It was the “I don’t really want to be here any more” look.) Later in the fourth quarter, TJ Brunson and Rick Sandidge did a number on Ta’amu that had him getting up slowly again. Never underestimate the impact of a good shot to the quarterback (although we’d prefer it didn’t draw a penalty).

Personality. Gene Chizik on the SEC Network said after the game that the Gamecocks have taken on the personality of head coach Will Muschamp – scratch and claw and do everything in your power to win, even if you don’t always look good doing it. Yep, that’s our brand.

Cardiac Cocks. Along those lines, The Big Spur tweeted today that the Gamecocks are 13-4 in one-score games under Muschamp. That’s a pretty incredible stat.

Hey Mon. Mon Denson once again proved why he is one of our favorite Gamecocks. As the third or fourth option at running back, there are times you forget he’s on the roster. But you’ve never heard a complaint, never heard a peep about Denson being disgruntled or disappointed in his playing time. He just works. And works. And works. And waits for his time to arrive.

On Saturday, with Rico Dowdle out with an injury and Ty’Son Williams slowed by one, his time arrived. All he did was respond with a career-high 102 yards on 12 carries, including a nice 69-yard run that led to the winning touchdown. Players with that kind of character combined with that level of talent are always welcome.

Pooch. Ole Miss obviously had a game plan to keep the ball away from Deebo Samuel on Saturday, they just did a very bad job executing it. The idea was to kick it short enough that an up back for South Carolina would field the ball, but the Rebel kicker kept sending the ball just a little too deep. Samuel took advantage with a 90-yard return for TD to open the game, and had a 38-yard return into Ole Miss territory in the fourth quarter that led to another touchdown.

This and that. Although our run game has been virtually non-existent for most of the season, the offensive line has been fantastic in pass protection from week to week…setting aside some inexplicable drops, has South Carolina ever had a more talented trio of wide receivers than Deebo, Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith? Going old school here, but the only ones I can think of would be Sterling Sharpe, Ryan Bethea and Danny Smith back in the mid-80s…Bentley had some fantastic throws on Saturday, but none better than the short touch pass to Josh Vann for his first career TD…it was good to see Jaylin Dickerson finally get on the field, and I must say, he didn’t embarrass himself. I hope he earned some more minutes with the coaching staff…early in the game it looked like Rashad Fenton would get dragged all over the field by all-SEC receiver AJ Brown, but Fenton shut him down in the second half.

Thanks for reading, and Go Cocks!

 

 

 

Snap Judgments – 2018 Texas A&M @ South Carolina

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 26-23 loss to Texas A&M.

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WOOPSIES! (Photo: gogamecocks.com)

Tick tock. We are now officially halfway through the 2018 football season (slightly more if we don’t get a chance to make up the cancelled Marshall game) and the game on Saturday was a perfect microcosm of the season so far. In other words, at various points during the game we were let down by the offense, the defense, special teams and coaching.

The offense was borderline putrid in the first half. Couldn’t establish the run, couldn’t throw an accurate pass, couldn’t catch a cold, and couldn’t score a single, solitary point. By the time the second half rolled around it was too late. Even though the Gamecocks battled back to tie the game, the hole that was dug in the first half proved to be too much to overcome.

I saw a lot of people praising the play of the defense on Saturday. I would like to point out they gave up 353 yards passing to Kellen Mood, and while they held to Aggies to 2.6 yards per carry they couldn’t get a crucial stop in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. A&M doubled up the Gamecocks in time of possession (which isn’t necessarily a telling stat, until it is). Yes, the defense was very good in the red zone. And I’m personally getting sick of the fact they continually have to be good in the red zone for us to have a chance. How about get some stops in between the 20s? We’ve been “bend but don’t break” every year that Will Muschamp has been here. I’m ready for our defense to play a little “don’t bend or break”.

Once, when we did get a stop, Bryan Edwards had a great punt return. Then he fumbled and gave the ball right back. Deebo Samuel hasn’t come close to breaking a kick return this year. (On the bright side, Parker White and Joseph Charlton continue to be excellent.)

From a coaching standpoint, we allowed Jace Sternberger to run free through our secondary for most of the game. Sternberger made comments after the game that “(Gamecock) safeties and linebackers kept miscommunicating about how they were going to guard me.” Muschamp denied that, saying Sternberger was simply a matchup problem. I’m not sure which is worse. Honestly, watching how open Sternberger was on most of his catches I tend to believe we were having communication problems.

This loss was a complete team effort, top to bottom. USC had so many chances to seize control of the game, but failed both mentally and physically to do so time and again. With half the season gone and still three wins needed to gain bowl eligibility, time is running out to salvage this season.

Mr. Brightside. Phew, felt good to get that off my chest. Here’s the good news – we are SO close. Even with all our problems we played a pretty darned good Texas A&M team to within 3 points. I believe Tennessee, Florida and Ole Miss are all winnable games as long as we stop making messes so big we can’t clean them up. Despite evidence to the contrary I believe the offense is going to get it going. I believe the defense is going to mature and is going to benefit greatly from the return of DJ Wonnum. The young guys we’ve been playing are going to continue to get better. The very cautious optimist in me is excited for the second half of the season.

Dropsies. You saw it, I saw it, the American people saw it. Our once proud wide receiver corps repeatedly torpedoed any chance we had to win the A&M game with crucial drops. If you haven’t already read it, Ben Breiner with The State did an excellent job of recapping all the lost yardage from Saturday. (Including Rashad Fenton’s crucial drop of an interception late.)

Red state vs. Blue state. The Jake Bentley/Michael Scarnecchia debate turned into a fierce political battle heading into the game on Saturday. Bentley didn’t help his cause for much of the first half, following his standard pattern of being too jacked up emotionally and overthrowing his receivers. When the offense did put together a promising drive Bentley ended it with easily the worst throw and worst interception of his career. Heading into halftime I even tweeted that I thought we needed to start Scarnecchia in the second half just to see if he could infuse some energy into an offense that had been shut out.

But Will Muschamp stuck with Bentley (probably because his dad is on staff I’M KIDDING PLEASE DON’T TAKE THAT SERIOUSLY) and Bentley responded splendidly. While he still didn’t always display pinpoint accuracy, he threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions. Again, the numbers would’ve been higher, and outcome could’ve been different without the butter fingers.

It was an impressive performance by any measure, and perhaps the most important play of the day for him was his scramble and dive for a first down in the third quarter. He was going balls out to get the win, and for the most part the anti-Bentley crowd recognized that and backed off…a little.

Boo birds. Our old pal Kevin McCrarey summed up our feelings about the booing in the first half more eloquently than we ever could.

The bottom line here is this – do your best to treat people with dignity and respect. Those guys on the football field, the folks next to you in the stands, the people you come into contact with online. I know it sounds trite and cheesy, but give it a try. Just because you wanted Scarnecchia to start and somebody else wanted Bentley, that doesn’t make them a moron, idiot, communist, and you won’t get shingles if you come into contact with them. Even though I was in the Bentley camp, each side had a reasonable argument for “their guy” to start on Saturday, and I wouldn’t have surprised or disappointed if had been 12.

But it was Bentley. And when Bentley ran into trouble his supporters didn’t “get what they deserved”, which is something I saw on Twitter more than once along with “I hope they’re happy”. We’re all on the same team here, folks. Just because you disagree over who starts a football game it doesn’t make you mortal enemies.

If that makes you mad that’s cool, I’m going to love you even more. Now come here and give me a hug.

How to win friends and influence people. I think we’re going to re-engineer this tweet and turn it into our core values for the blog.

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I’ve always thought our arrogance and inability to offer a basic level of sound analysis are two of our most endearing qualities.

Plus, not only do we have ties to the program, this is Ray Tanner’s burner account.

You folks enjoy the bye week. Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2018 Missouri @ USC Edition

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 37-35 win over Missouri.

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Worth the wait. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Shower power. This was a rough week to be a Gamecock fan. A demoralizing fifth straight loss to Kentucky had fans doubting everything they believed about the 2018 USC football team. A squad that was picked by many to challenge Georgia for the SEC East title had been throttled by the Bulldogs four weeks ago, then completely dominated by the up-and-coming Wildcats last weekend. The team that was supposed to take the next step towards relevance had actually regressed. To top everything off, Friday night it was announced backup Michael Scarnecchia, he of 13 passing attempts over four years, would be starting at quarterback against Missouri in place of the injured Jake Bentley.

The first half of the game against the Tigers didn’t do much to make the Gamecock faithful feel any better. Missouri ran up over 300 yards of offense in the first two quarters en route to a 23-14 halftime lead. USC certainly wasn’t awful on offense but were beneficiaries of a really dumb onside kick call that helped lead to their first TD. Honestly, at the break, it was hard to envision a path to victory for Carolina unless there was some divine intervention.

And then, to paraphrase an old Steve Spurrier saying, the good Lord smiled on the Gamecocks.

I was at home watching on TV, and when the SEC Network came back from a break they said it was pouring rain despite the sun still shining (the devil was beating his wife, for you good ‘ol southern folk). They said the rain was expected to pass shortly.

But it didn’t pass. It kept raining. And raining. And raining.

It rained the entire third quarter, and the Gamecocks took advantage of some serious stumbling and bumbling from the Tigers and ran off 17 straight points to take a 31-23 lead into the fourth quarter. It finally stopped raining and things evened out again, but USC made just enough plays and Parker White drilled a 33-yard field goal for the win.

It was one of the more bizarre games you will ever witness and I commend those of you who stayed through any portion of that rain. (I did it in the mid-90s against East Carolina with much less desirable results.) The term “must win” is overused in the sports lexicon, but beating Missouri at home was critical if this season is to have any decent level of success.

Thanks to a once-in-a decade weather occurrence, we are back on track.

Scar tissue. A week ago Michael Scarnecchia was a good-natured punch line. He was a fifth-year senior quarterback that had been passed on the depth chart multiple times over his career at South Carolina. Orth, Mitch, Nunez, McIlwain and Bentley were all deemed better options at the quarterback position than the 2-star Spurrier recruit from Fleming Island, FL.

“Put in Scarnecchia ha ha!” but we were never really serious, right? Because when it was announced on Friday that he would start, a collective “oh no” came up from the Gamecock faithful.

But now, after yesterday’s 20-35, 249 yard, 3 TD, 0 INT performance, he is cemented in Gamecock lore with the likes of Erik Kimrey. Scarnecchia was everything you would expect out of a fifth year senior quarterback. But most of the time you would expect that your fifth-year senior quarterback had thrown more than 13 passes in his career, and only ONE before this season.

In the spring Will Muschamp said Scarnecchia was unquestionably the backup to Jake Bentley, which was a little disappointing to us fans who were dying to see our shiny new Dakereon Joyner toy in action. But 12 displayed decision making, accuracy and most of all poise in ridiculous conditions, and now he’s a legend.

Beer’s on us Mike, you’ve earned it. And there’s no question you’re old enough.

Sooooo, what next? Well, we apparently have a quarterback controversy on our hands. I’ll give you my personal opinion, and I know based on Twitter comments that some of you will disagree, but here goes – if healthy, Jake Bentley is our starting quarterback.

I’ve stated in this space that Bentley has been disappointing in the fact that he hasn’t really improved since his freshman year. That said, I still think he gives us our best chance to win, and I still think he can and will improve.

What Scarnecchia did yesterday was brilliant and beautiful. But I have my doubts he can sustain it over a period of several games.

Offensive whoas. This would be a much different segment had we lost yesterday, but we’re willing to give Bryan McClendon a pass (ironically) on some of his play calling yesterday. Scarnecchia was put in a lot of difficult situations yesterday due to our unwillingness to pass the ball more frequently on first or second down. Yes, the rain was probably a factor, but we ran just as much on first and second down in the first half as we did the second. Once Scarnecchia showed us his chops, the reins should have come off.

On the flip side, the 2nd and 10 call from our own 46 on our final drive was the most brilliantly executed play of the day. The staff recognized something in the Mizzou coverage and lined up little-used Kyle Markway in the slot. Markway released down the seam on the snap uncovered, and Scarnecchia eyed him the whole way and hit him with a perfect strike for a 27-yard gain to put us in field goal range. It was football at its best.

As I said last week, BMac is still learning the job, and I hope he learned yesterday to trust his ball players.

Jaycee hut. Early in the third quarter, after USC had trimmed the Missouri lead to 23-21, Damarea Crockett broke loose for what appeared to be a backbreaking 70-yard touchdown run. Upon further review, Jaycee Horn swiped at Crockett’s feet and caused him to barely step out of bounds at the 11-yard line. A series of blunders by the Tigers led to a dropped punt snap and a blown scoring opportunity, all the result of great hustle by the freshman.

Horn has arguably been our best player on defense. He is a player and will be a mainstay on all-SEC teams the next few years.

BAWlin. When I say “arguably” above, it’s only because of Bryson Allen-Williams. BAW has finally turned into the player we all thought he would be coming out of high school, a high motor disrupter at the line of scrimmage.

Dead solid perfect. Parker White makes me feel good about placekicking again.

Onside dork. Despite Barry Odom’s denial that his first quarter onside kick attempt wasn’t really an onside kick attempt, it obviously was so I’m calling it one of the dumb coaching decisions of the year. You’ve got all the momentum, a newbie QB on the other side, and you do that? Duuuuumb.

Go Cocks, beat TAMU.

Snap Judgments – 2018 USC @ Kentucky Edition

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“HOWWWW HAVE WE LOST TO KENTUCKY FIVE YEARS IN A ROW?!?” (Photo: thestate.com)

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

This was some weekend. I’m tired. South Carolina lost. Clemson won. Georgia won. The Falcons lost (shut up Panther and Saints fans). It’s rare I ever get that “perfect weekend” any more with Clemson and Georgia’s recent success. But it’s also rare that all my favorite teams lose while all my most hated rivals win. So forgive me if I just want to put this one behind me.

With that said, I’m going to stray from my usual format and just go stream of consciousness for a while. I’m going to type my thoughts about the Kentucky game as I go, with no real organization of topic matter, mostly because I don’t have the energy to do it.

So…

Kudos to Kentucky on their fifth straight win over us. This might be the first time in those five years they have a clearly better team than South Carolina. Some of you would argue that, and some of you would be wrong. I wouldn’t have said this before Saturday night, but I believe Kentucky has the talent and the coaching to actually threaten Georgia later in the year. For some reason Georgia seems somewhat vulnerable, and Kentucky has the best team they’ve had in…I don’t know, decades? I would still be surprised to see the Wildcats win the East, but they’re a very, very good team.

Even though Kentucky is really good, South Carolina played the worst all around game I’ve seen from them in years. Fumbles, interceptions, penalties, dropped balls, missed tackles, missed assignments, kickoff returners getting blown up by their teammates. Hell even the SECN play by play guy recognized it, dropping a “our pets heads are falling off” line from Dumb and Dumber on one particularly putrid Gamecock play. Why in the world were we so bad?

It starts at the top. Will Muschamp and the coaching staff once again didn’t have their team ready to play in what we would consider a big game. It’s a disturbing trend when you look immediately out-coached and outclassed against practically every team that is supposedly better than you. I promise you we are nowhere near “fire Muschamp” territory folks, but the clock is ticking. With every missed opportunity to put a stamp on the program the seat grows a little bit warmer. People have long memories, and “remember Florida?” is lurking in all our minds.

Our offense was a complete mess.

Bryan McClendon – I want him to succeed so bad, but as I stated back in December, I never wanted to turn the keys over to a guy who had never been a coordinator. It seemed like an odd move for a head coach whose downfall has always been a lack of offense to hire a newby to do the play calling. On one series against the Wildcats we went to a modified “Emory and Henry” formation that seemed to work. The drive ultimately failed, but why did we not see it for the rest of the game? Then, down by 14 with possessions at a premium, we were running the ball on 2nd and 12. We had a TWENTY play drive late in the game that showed no sense of urgency whatsoever. We needed to score twice and were running at a pace that looked like we were trying to run the clock out. McClendon will have plenty of time to prove himself, but right now he looks like a guy who is learning on the job.

Jake Bentley is still exactly what he was two years ago at this time – a nice quarterback who makes plays on occasion, but still hasn’t made THE play, or plays, when we need them. It is absolutely true he got very little help from his receivers Saturday night, I will concede that. But the fact remains he has not played well on the biggest stages.

On the flip side, STOP CALLING FOR HIS BENCHING. Despite his shortcomings, he is easily the best QB we have on the team, and he still has all the tools to become the guy we think he can be. Michael Scarnecchia is not going to give you a better chance to win. Some are calling for Dak Joyner to play and I’m not even sure he’s the third best QB on the team. Jake is the guy, we just need to pray he becomes THE GUY.

We don’t have a game-changing running back. It’s time to face it, we have some dudes that play well in spurts, but there doesn’t seem to be a bell cow back on the entire roster. Rico Dowdle continues to shrink against the big boys (noticing a trend?), AJ Turner is a third down/change of pace back. Ty’Son Williams seems to always be in the dog house or dinged up. Mon Denson will plow for four yards but is not a game breaker.

Aside from Shi Smith the receivers have disappointed. Presumably the strength of our team, we’ve been plagued by drops and the inability to get open. Bentley’s protection was very good Saturday night, but our receivers could not create enough space. What is up with Deebo? I mean seriously, we need to talk about what’s going on with him. I admire Bryan Edwards for taking responsibility after Saturday’s game for his poor performance. Now he has to play better.

Where are our tight ends? Are we not giving them enough targets because they’re not good enough to warrant them? I’m beginning to feel we’re missing Hayden Hurst way more than we thought we would.

I like our offensive line. I think they’re doing a very nice job, but the skill guys are just not pulling their weight.

The offense is 122nd in the nation in plays of over 30 yards. We have four. That’s pathetic with our receiving threats.

The defense played well in the second half, but as has been the case since JD Clowney left, we have no star power on that side of the ball. We lack size on the line and lack playmakers at linebacker. The secondary is playing pretty well considering how we’ve had to patch it together.

As Kiel Pollard said after the game Saturday, we talk way too much. I understand there’s a culture of trash talk in the game today, but when you’re getting your ass kicked it’s best to just keep your mouth shut until you’re no longer getting your ass kicked or the game is over, whichever comes first. I hope Jaycee Horn learned his lesson.

The hit by Kash Daniel on Jacob August was complete and utter trash. It was disrespectful, dangerous and there’s no place for it in today’s game. I’m an old school guy  that used to love that kind of stuff, but with the size and strength of players these days you’re literally talking about hits that could alter someone’s life, if not end it. But then again, what do you expect from a guy named “Kash”.

I’m obviously frustrated, and that has led to me be more critical than I really like to be towards a bunch of college kids that are busting their ass every day to get better. I don’t want that criticism to overshadow the fact that I have a ton of respect for the coaches, the players and everyone on the staff. I have no idea if all that work is going to result in more wins and fewer losses, but I do know I’ll continue to be there every week to find out.

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2018 USC @ Vanderbilt Edition

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Too Shi Shi (Photo: postandcourier.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 37-14 victory over Vanderbilt.

TCB. Listen, we don’t always win SEC games on the road by three touchdowns, so I can understand Gamecock fans being excited about and re-energized by yesterday’s win. Clinging to a slim six point lead at the intermission, South Carolina dominated the game in the second half, finishing with more than 500 total yards and holding Vanderbilt below 300. The game was far from clean, and we left a minimum of 14 points on the field, but all in all it was a nice bounce back from the thrashing we took at home against Georgia.

That said, I would describe the win as nothing more than “fine”. In the grand scheme of things, Vanderbilt is still Vanderbilt. Sure, they should’ve beaten Notre Dame at South Bend last weekend, and the entire ESPN College GameDay crew picked them to beat us. But the reaction nationally to our win was…well, there was no reaction. Nobody saw that score crawl across that screen and thought “wowwww, South Carolina is back baby!”

No, it wasn’t that. But it was a win that was vital more because a loss would’ve been devastating to the long-term outlook of this team and this season. Saturday in Nashville was nice, but at the end of the day it was nothing more than USC taking care of business, and we should all be grateful for that.

Keeping it 100. Rico Dowdle rushed for 112 yards and Shi Smith had 119 yards receiving, making them the first RB/WR duo to pull of that feat in the same game since the 2016 Missouri game (h/t @KershawsCorner).

Dowdle once again looked like himself after being bottled up and stone-handed in the UGA game. He benefited from a tremendous effort by the Gamecock offensive line, who looked as good in the run game as we’ve seen in a couple of years. Vandy killer AJ Turner and Ty’Son Williams added 64 and 48 yards respectfully, as USC put up a season high 273 rushing yards. Oh yeah Mon Denson also added a touchdown.

Shi Smith, meanwhile, has now led the Gamecocks in receiving in two of the three games this year, with a bizarre game in between where he was only targeted twice for 11 yards. It looks as if Bryan McClendon is set on using Deebo Samuel as more of a Swiss Army Knife in the offense, with pop passes, sweeps and shorter routes to get him in space. That leaves Smith and Bryan Edwards to take the lid off over the top, which they’ve both done at different times this season. Even with the possible loss of OrTre Smith to a knee injury, defenses are going to be forced to pick a poison when defending the Gamecock passing game this season.

Read and right. Jake Bentley had another solid game (19-28, 261, 1 TD, 1 INT) leading the offense. His accuracy is continuing to improve, and his deep ball touch seems to be coming along.

Bentley still needs to find a way to cut down on tipped passes and do a better job recognizing his backs in the flat. One tipped pass led to an interception and eventually points for Vandy as he failed to recognize a DE dropping into coverage. Other tipped passes are not 100% his fault as there are techniques in pass blocking that help keep defensive linemen’s hands down, but ultimately it’s up to Jake to get the ball through the lane uncontested.

As far as the backs in the flat, I’ve never seen defenses give up the RB so much space as I’ve seen in games (all games, not just USC games) this season. Getting the ball to a back one on one with a linebacker seems to be a guaranteed six yards these days.

Pace maker. Bryan McClendon has kept good on his promise to speed up the South Carolina offense. At the same time it’s a smart pace, not going fast just for the sake of going fast, and has yielded very nice results in our two wins this year. My only real complaint yesterday was throwing the ball four times after having separate 2nd-and-shorts in Vandy territory, including back-to-back low percentage fades when we had the Commodores on their heels. Run the dang ball BMac.

The Mountain. This pretty much speaks for itself, and Javon Kinlaw stands to make a lot of money next April.

Fenton Island and the Horn of Columbia. Rashad Fenton picked up his second interception of the season against Vanderbilt, and I literally did not hear the name Jaycee Horn mentioned yesterday. You know how good that is? You don’t think coordinators like to see freshmen DB’s covering their WR’s? Not these guys, they are rarely testing Mr. Horn and that speaks volumes.

BAWlin. Bryson Allen-Williams is a damn good Gamecock, and I’m glad to see him back and contributing. He was arguably the second most dominant defensive player on the field yesterday.

Cat Nip. It’s really hard to explain how Kentucky currently has a four game winning streak over South Carolina. But a few years ago it was just as hard to explain how South Carolina had a TEN game winning streak over Kentucky. That’s not a shot at either program, we’re just two middle of the road SEC football programs trying to get to that next level, right? How can one team dominate the other for such a long stretch? I don’t know the answer, football can be a strange game is all I can come up with.

That said, when I was watching Kentucky drill Mississippi State last night, I actually started to feel better about our game. The hype is on the other foot now (despite Vegas making us an early favorite how in the world) and Kentucky will come in as the ranked team with a lot of momentum on their side. We’ll have the chance to knock them off their pedestal, much like we did in 2007 when we beat the 8th-ranked ‘Cats 38-23.

I can promise you this Kentucky team is no Vandy. They are tough and confident, and have an all-American running back in Bennie Snell. It will take our best shot.

I’m ready. Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – Coastal Carolina @ South Carolina 2018 Edition

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Rico……Suave (Photo: AP/Sean Rayford)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 49-15 season opening win over Coastal Carolina.

Beached. It’s a running, unfunny joke among South Carolina fans how we struggle to dominate “paycheck” games against teams like Wofford, Furman, Western Carolina and the like. The lone exception appears to be Coastal Carolina, whom we have now beaten 119-25 in two lifetime meetings after today’s victory. It’s nice to be able to relax in the second half of games and get the backups and their backups some live snaps. We all need more Coastal Carolinas in our lives.

McOffense. The focus was definitely on coordinator Bryan McClendon and the new-look Gamecock offense, and they didn’t disappoint. USC was crisp and sharp, and McClendon’s play calling played to our strengths and utilized just about all of the skill talent we have. The 49 points were the most in the Will Muschamp era, and the 557 yards were the second most.

We can debate how much of the playbook we showed, or if we held back on the offensive tempo, but one thing is for sure – this looks a hell of a lot better than Kurt Roper’s offenses so far.

Subdued. Nobody is really talking about it, but Jake Bentley looked like a different guy today. Statistically he had perhaps the best day of his career – 22/29, 250 yards, 4 TD and 0 INT. But the really encouraging sign is he seemed emotionally under control the entire time he was in there. One of the knocks on him in his first two years was he came out too amped up and he often missed easy throws, especially early in games. But today he looked calm and relaxed from the opening bell, and his play reflected that. Maybe he’s matured. Or maybe it’s his new haircut.

Oh snap. On the down side, the slow and low shotgun snaps from Donnell Stanley were noticeable in the first series of the game, and they never got any better. With the game out of hand, backup center Chandler Farrell came in and his snaps were much better. Problem is he’s not nearly the blocker Stanley is.

After the game Muschamp said it was something they noticed and would work to get corrected. My question is, has he been snapping like this in practice? And if so why has it not already been corrected?

Scripted. The helmets were badass.

Doppelgänger. Some guy who looks just like Will Muschamp went for it on two fourth downs in one series this afternoon. One was on OUR SIDE of the field. The real Will Muschamp is going to be pissed when he finds out.

Welcome back. Deebo Samuel and Rico Dowdle both missed large parts of the 2017 season with broken fibulas. Both returned with a vengeance today. Deebo had more than 100 total yards from scrimmage and a highlight-reel, one-handed touchdown catch. Rico rushed for 105 yards and had one rushing and one receiving touchdown, and looked trimmer and quicker than he was last year.

Other stars. As mentioned above, it’s a really good thing to run a lot of plays, because we have a ton of playmakers. Shi Smith, Bryan Edwards, Ty’Son Williams, Kiel Pollard, Randrecous Davis and Slade Carroll (!) all had noteworthy moments today. Also worth mentioning, the second team offensive line looked really, really good.

No name defense. The defense was solid today, holding Coastal to 238 yards. But no players really stood out after DJ Wonnum went down with an ankle injury. Particularly in the secondary, we have a lot of guys who are a lot of shapes and sizes and seem to move easily from corner to nickel to safety and back with ease. The d-line and linebackers were heavily rotated today. It will be interesting to see who makes it into the primary rotation as we move into SEC play.

Firsts. There were quite a few firsts today – freshman Jaycee Horn had his first career sack on a corner blitz. Pollard and Davis had the first touchdown catches of their respective careers. Twelfth year senior Michael Scarnecchia also had his first touchdown pass.

Hell on earth. I was watching from the comfort of my home, but it sounds like today was one of the hottest home games anyone can remember. Saturday games in Columbia at noon in September should be outlawed. I know we’re at the mercy of the TV schedule, but Ray Tanner needs to put up a fight to prevent it from happening again, for the safety of our fans.

Tom Tom. Elsewhere, almost former Gamecock head coach Tom Herman and his Texas Longhorns lost their opener to Maryland for the second consecutive year. Remember when everyone was so upset at Phil Kornblut because they thought he cost us our shot at Herman? I tell you what, people who believed that should be sending Korn thank you notes today.

Go Cocks, beat Georgia.

Pre-Snap Judgments – Gamecocks 2018 Offense

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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.

 

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.