The Graduate Transfer Program is a Load of Crap

LambertGreyson Lambert, a graduate transfer from the University of Virginia, looked a lot like Tom Brady Saturday night while lighting up the Gamecocks like a Christmas tree.

Like UGA, the Gamecocks have a graduate transfer (Isaiah Johnson) starting for them as well.  After watching the dumpster fire that was our defense last year, I (like all Gamecock fans) was thrilled to see Johnson come onto the scene.  Whether or not he will make a difference remains an open question.  After watching Lambert torch our secondary, of which Johnson is supposed to be an integral part, I’m not terribly impressed.

No, this post is not sour grapes, as I was squarely in the Everett Golson to USC camp. Instead it’s about the continued erosion of the traditional “student athlete” model in intercollegiate athletics. The fact of the matter is that major college football (and basketball) players are now free agents. As long as they graduate and meet certain transfer requirements, any player can leave one school and play at another school the next year while dodging the traditional transfer penalty of one year on the sidelines.

And why is the graduate transfer phenomenon a thing? Money, that’s why. Just like all the other methods used to get talented athletes on the field, universities around the country have bought into yet another way of getting an enhanced product that can be packaged as “college” ball. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for great players and competition. I’m just sick and tired of all the hypocrisy perpetuated by the NCAA and the universities. Graduate students from UVA, Kansas, or NC State are no more “students” of the new college they play for than the Kentucky basketball freshman who go to just enough classes in the fall semester so they can remain eligible in the spring, or the UNC athletes who were enrolled in all those “paper classes” for the last 20 years.

The graduate transfer rule is simply the latest example of a way to get guys on the field who can help your team win, and win fast. Everybody is doing it. Saturday night I watched an ex-FSU quarterback throw a TD pass to an ex-Oregon St. wide receiver. Both are now wearing Alabama uniforms. I’m pretty sure those guys aren’t at Bama for some fascinating new graduate program.

And let’s face the honest truth, the vast majority of fans couldn’t care less whether or not the star QB or point guard hangs out at the student union, attends classes, or graduates. They just want the wins and the excitement that comes from it all.  I get it.

I’m just ready for everyone to drop the bs and fancy eligibility rules and call college football and basketball what it is – a club system that effectively serves as a minor league.   Sure, there are the athletes who are academically gifted and would be in college anyway.  Some of the graduate transfers likely fall into this category. Rationales such as these only serve to muddy the truth: college athletics (again, I’m talking about D1 football and basketball here) aren’t about college, and haven’t been for quite some time. The fact that the NCAA and the university presidents continue to hold onto the “collegiate athletics” fiction while billions of dollars are made (and spent on coaches and facilities) is ridiculous, and insults the intelligence of the fan bases, which are composed at least partly of alumni who actually went to college for college.

Do I expect this post to change anything? Not a chance. Do I feel better after writing it?  Not really. USC’s “student athletes” still got their butts royally kicked by UGA’s “student athletes” and I’m still ticked off about it.

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To the Residents of Gamecock Hateville

Live shot of a Gamecock message board
Live shot of a Gamecock message board

A lot of fans of South Carolina athletics live in Hateville, a place that exists in cyberspace where mostly anonymous fans spend their time and efforts thinking up negative things to say about the teams they otherwise cheer for on a regular basis.

Before you call me an apologist, a sunshine pumper, or anything of the sort, let me make it clear that I am fine with, and often engage in, healthy criticism about the teams I pull for, including South Carolina. Healthy criticism is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what goes on in Hateville. In Hateville fans go over the top. In Hateville, it’s common to call coaches lazy and to question their qualifications to even be a coach at this level. In Hateville folks have all the answers.

The haters tell us about all the huge mistakes these lazy and uncaring coaches made in the game they watched from their couch. The haters then go on to tell us what they recommend to fix the problems they have identified.  Most of these recommendations center on benching the quarterback or firing the coach.  For example, a couple of years ago, a large contingent of USC haters wanted to bench some guy named Shaw in favor of some guy named Thompson.  This year, a large contingent of haters were absolutely convinced that all of our defensive coaches except Grady Brown were completely clueless and should never have been hired in the first place (meanwhile the D of our old defensive guru, Ellis Johnson, then at Auburn, was getting torched on a weekly basis). At the present time, a bunch of haters want to fire Coach Holbrook because the baseball team is in a big slump.

I’ll be the first to admit that in football our defense was terrible last year and that coaching/recruiting had something to do with it (but not having Jadeveon Clowney around anymore may have been a slight factor). I’ll also be the first to admit that our baseball team is not as good as any of our teams in the recent past. These are facts and they are indisputable.

I just happen to believe that the reasons for unsuccessful results are far more complicated that an allegation that Coach Sands is “lazy” or that Coach Holbrook is too much of a “good cop.” And by the way, how do the haters have all this information about the commitment and toughness level of our coaches? It seems that all the inhabitants of Hateville have firsthand knowledge of their daily routines and habits. What I think actually happens is that they read some snippet on the internet or twitter given by an “insider,” or uttered by a 17-year-old recruit, take it to be the gospel truth, and then they draw some sort of grand conclusion from it.

I have a couple of theories on why USC’s version of Hateville has so many residents these days: recent success and social media.

As eloquently espoused by Buck in a blog post a couple of years ago, it’s fair to say that we recently experienced what he termed the Golden Age of South Carolina athletics. This Golden Age was largely a result of the success by the football and baseball teams. While success is great, it also results in two things that aren’t so great: bandwagon fans and unrealistic expectations.  I am of the belief that most residents of Hateville are bandwagon fans who don’t appreciate success like the fans who were supporters when wins were harder to come by. The bandwagoners jumped on board when times were good, and in short, they got spoiled. Only a select few football teams go 33-6 over a 3 year span. Only a select few baseball teams win back to back championship, and even fewer play for three titles in three years.

What some fans fail to appreciate is that the football and baseball teams didn’t have much room for improvement. To the contrary, they had nowhere to go but down (I know, we could have won the SEC championship, but what we accomplished in football over a three-year span was pretty incredible in hindsight). When a team loses after having some success, it stings more. And when it stings, some folks get angry and start pointing fingers.  After all, losing has to be somebody’s fault. You couldn’t have just gotten beat by a better team that was cycling up while you were cycling down.

I agree that we should have higher expectations that we have had in the past. I’m all for striving for more wins than we historically have been able to muster. That said, I realize that the path to sustained success is steep and winding. Occasionally our teams are going to swerve off the path and actually go backwards. This happens when every team you play (many of which have more tradition and more resources that you do) is trying to beat you as bad as you are trying to beat them.

One thing that really chaps me about Hateville: haters come across with an attitude that our coaches and administration don’t care, and that they are making emotional decisions about the retention of coaches. Personally I think this is total BS. Call me naïve, but I believe that our coaches and administrators are genuinely trying to win and would never retain a coach who they didn’t think could win. I find it preposterous to think that proven winners like Steve Spurrier and Ray Tanner would purposely retain coaches just for the hell of it. But the residents of Hateville think otherwise. How they know this, I’m not sure.   Maybe it’s the same way they know that our defensive coaches, save Grady Brown, are all lazy and stupid.

These past couple of weeks have been particularly busy in Hateville. The huge baseball slump has generated a steady diet of Fire Coach Holbrook message board posts and tweets. Coach H has been accused of ruining the precious baseball program, basically based on the rationale that he’s too much of a nice guy. You all know what they say about nice guys: that’s right, they finish last. I’m as disappointed as anyone that we aren’t winning more baseball games this year. I want that to change. But I’m also aware that baseball is a cruel game, a game where breaks tend to even out.

While I agree that we aren’t as talented, I think part of the issue (not the blowouts, mind you) is that the breaks have evened out a bit. During one stretch, this team lost 4 consecutive one run games in conference. One run games are a lot about breaks. During the championship years we always seemed to get the breaks. This year we just haven’t. Is some of that a lack of talent? Maybe. Is some of that a coaching issue? Maybe. I really can’t tell you, and I’ve been following baseball pretty closely for most of my life. People have forgotten that the 2010 team was pretty underwhelming late in the year. They forgot because the team then got hot as a firecracker and went on the win the national championship.

Why did that seemingly unremarkable team get hot and win it all while the Kip Bouknight and Justin Smoak-led teams never make it to Omaha? Who the hell knows. If you can figure it out, please let me know.

Social media also contributes to the hater attitude and the existence of haters because of the mob mentality that can spring from anonymous commentators piling on when a particular hater viewpoint is given. It becomes a feeding frenzy on the poor sap who filled out the lineup card or drew up the X’s and O’s. Haters want the coach to go as soon as things start going wrong. They want a new coach in place as fast as they can tweet it (because the unknown new coach is of course better than the current coach). Because certain things can happen so much faster these days, haters want failure to be remedied at light speed (think about how pissed off folks get when the wifi is slow). Instant gratification is what they are after. I really wish it worked that way in sports but it just doesn’t. Sometimes you have to endure rough patches when the talent level drops or the breaks all go the other way. That’s pretty much how it goes for every football program not named Alabama and every baseball program not named LSU, and even LSU has had some bad teams in recent years.

[Update: We just won the Vandy series. I wonder what the haters are gonna hate about this week. I’m not too worried. I’m sure they’ll find something.]

The Gamecock Defense – A Reality Check

Photo: gogamecocks.com
Photo: gogamecocks.com

South Carolina was bad on defense this year.

Check that, South Carolina was very bad on defense this year.

It’s pretty clear to the entire fan base that a bad defense caused this team to finish 6-6 rather than 9-3 or 10-2.  While these are pretty obvious statements, the explanation as to why is not as simple as some folks are making it out to be.  Yes, coaching is likely a part of it. But this issue deserves a deeper look.

During the regular season and after it mercifully came to an end, the majority of the fan base zeroed in and pinned the defensive debacle on one man:  Lorenzo “Whammy” Ward.  And why not?  Isn’t he the coordinator of this bunch of guys who seemed to always be out of position and who bounced off ball carriers at an alarmingly high rate?  Shouldn’t the coordinator of a defense coming off back to back to back 11-2 seasons be better than that?  Well, yes and no.

As fans (and bloggers) we get the luxury of sitting back and playing Monday morning quarterback after every game and season. It’s pretty easy to say we should have blitzed more or played man to man instead of zone after watching the games. But what do we really know about this stuff? I’ve been an avid college football fan my entire life (to give you a clue, I was a Freshman during the “Rodney” game) and think that I know more about the sport than the majority of the folks who have never played or coached the game (of which I am one).

I know they can run a  base 5-2 (in the old days), a 3-4 or a 4-3. I know they can play man or zone. I know they can blitz or not. I know what a stunt is. I know what the Mike is and what the Will is. I know what a Dime package and a Nickel a package look like. I know what a prevent defense looks like (and boy do I hate prevent defense). I know who the boundary corner is and who the field corner is. In short, I know a lot of stuff about defense.

Even with all of my armchair knowledge, however, I’ll admit that I pretty much have no clue how to coach a college defense. So everyone pontificating about how crappy a job Coach Ward did coaching our defense this year needs to slow down a little bit. The guy coached us when we were good on D and has now coached us when we were bad on D (Note: the previous guy who coached us when we were good on D just got fired, again).  Did he make some bad coaching moves? Probably, but I’m not going to write that I know what those moves were. Why not? Because despite all of my observational knowledge of college football, I’m not qualified to do so.

Folks are going to say that Ward obviously sucks because the results are bad and this is a results business. I get that. There’s no trophy for 2nd place. But despite my feeling that we could use a little shake up on D, I’m not going to join in the mob who want to tar and feather Coach Ward. Like with most positions of high scrutiny, the defensive coordinator gets far too much individual credit when the D does well and far too much criticism when the D stinks.

So if it’s not all coaching, what else is it?

If you listened to our last TRC podcast, you heard Tbone and me having a healthy debate on this subject. While I’ve been following college football for a long time, I’ve also followed that other sport that goes hand in hand with it: recruiting. As most knowledgeable fans realize, recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. Without good players your team is going to struggle-it’s as simple as that.

Without reading ahead (no cheating), tell me what three things the following Gamecocks have in common: Jadaveon Clowney, Kelsey Quarles, Cliff Mathews, Johnathan Joseph, Victor Hampton, DeVonte Holloman, DJ Swearinger, Jimmy Legree, Stephon Gilmore, and Devin Taylor?

One: They all play Defense.

Two: They all hail from the State of South Carolina.

Three: They are all former Gamecocks.

I almost had a fourth thing to add:  The NFL. With the exception of Hampton and Legree, I believe that all of them have played meaningful snaps in an NFL game.

Have we had other defensive stalwarts who were not from South Carolina? Sure – a few actually (Antonio Allen, Melvin Ingram, Darien Stewart and Travian Robertson come to mind). This is also a nice list, but you’ll notice that it’s a much shorter than the other one.

So what, you might be asking? What does this have to do with anything?  Well, the “so what” is recruiting top-tier talent to complete with the likes of UGA, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Texas A&M and the other schools in our league is extremely difficult. The top players from the states near South Carolina (our recruiting territory) tend to stay in state to play football (or if they don’t stay in state, they go to a “superpower” or “brand” like Alabama or Auburn-and make no mistake, we are nowhere near superpower status despite our recent success). If we get a good player from another state it’s usually a guy who was undersized or under the radar (Allen or Eric Norwood come to mind, and no, UGA did not offer Norwood).  And we’ve benefitted greatly from a down cycle in the state of North Carolina (all schools) and at Tennessee, and therefore have been able to snag guys out of NC who might have stayed in state or called Rocky Top home (Ingram, Robertson, and Chris Culliver come to mind). Our state has a population base much smaller than Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina and produces far fewer D1 football prospects than those states. This is a simple fact. Steve Spurrier and company have done an outstanding job of corralling the home-grown talent  these past few years. One result of those efforts was a better defense. The South Carolina natives I listed above were stars at the college level. Some of these guys are starring in the NFL.

So what happened? A talent drop, that’s what. The talent level in state is down and has been down for the last few years. If you follow recruiting, this is pretty obvious. There simply haven’t been as many elite level players being produced in the state for us to keep home and man our D (or our O for that matter: see Lattimore and Jeffery).

We had three guys from South Carolina play significant snaps on defense this year. Philip Dukes and two guys named Gerald Dixon. These three guys are decent players but nobody is mistaking them for Jadeveon Clowney or Devin Taylor. Here are the home states of some of our other contributors on D:

  • Georgia – Sharrod Golightly, TJ Gurley, Brison Williams, Rico McWilliams, TJ Holloman, Chris Moody, Marcquis Roberts, Bryson Allen-Williams, Chaz Elder, David Johnson, Darius English
  • North Carolina – JT Surratt (probably our best player on D this year with apologies to Brison Williams and Skai Moore), Abu Lamin
  • Alabama – Jonathan Walton, Taylor Stallworth
  • Florida – Skai Moore, Jordan Diggs, Al Harris, Chris Lammons
  • New Jersey – Kaiwan Lewis

Why have we gone out-of-state to recruit these guys? Because the guys in the state of South Carolina were not as good as them, that’s why. And when you go out-of-state you sometimes have to take chances on guys that are undersized, or on guys that are good enough but in danger of not making it academically. Some of these guys pan out, and some of them don’t. We’ve had a bad run of guys not panning out. We’ve had a bad run of missing on guys who had academic issues and couldn’t get in here but got in elsewhere (like Lorenzo Mauldin at Louisville, a probable 1st or 2nd round pick in the upcoming NFL draft).

The point I am making is that it is very difficult to pull elite level players out of other states when you are a school like South Carolina. You can get good players, but elite players from out-of-state almost always go elsewhere (one recent exception: Bryson Allen-Williams, a Ward recruit out of Atlanta, had offers from everyone but came here-this was a rare recruiting victory of its kind). Without elite talent, it’s tough to be consistently successful against the teams we play, no matter how good you are at scheming from the sideline.

So why did the talent in the state of South Carolina drop? There are no solid answers, you just have to chalk it up to a bad cycle. We have to hope that the in talent level gets better and that we are able to keep the guys home. Plus, we absolutely have to keep our current recruiting class in the fold. This class, composed largely of players who saw us go 33-6 during their high schools careers, are mostly from out-of-state (again, there’s very little elite talent in state this year). The only reason we got in the door with some of them is because we went 33-6, which looks “elite”. A 6-6 season put a big damper on the perception of our program. And know that the schools around us are seeking to take advantage.  This is one reason why Ward and the other coaches, the coaches who have the relationships with these recruits, are still on staff. Until we have something that they perceive as better to show them, this is absolutely the right move. You might ask how a school like Auburn can afford to fire its D-coordinator right after the season?  Because Auburn is a brand.

You might also be asking how a team like Missouri, who we out-recruit every year, is better on D than us. I’m not saying that coaching has nothing to do with it. I think Missouri has performed well on defense the last couple of years without guys who would be considered elite recruits. Coaching is a part of it and I think they have done a  great job with what they have. We certainly need some of that.

Lastly, it ain’t so easy to play defense these days with the new-fangled offenses and such. For you veteran fans like me, an Iron Bowl with a 55-44 final score is absolute blasphemy.  Bear Bryant probably turned over in his grave last week. Oh, and that was our former DC, Ellis Johnson, who gave up, or was blamed for giving up, the 55.

All this being said, do I want Will Muschamp on the sidelines running the D next year?  Damn straight I do. I hope he can coach up our guys and get us better on D.  With the guys we have returning and the talent coming in (if we keep it), the potential is there. Plus, the perception of long-term stability with Muschamp as the possible next head coach at USC can do nothing but help.

But Coach Boom knows the above described recruiting landscape a lot better than I do.  So color me skeptical until we see him announced in Columbia.

If he doesn’t come, don’t be too surprised if Coach Ward is running the D again next year.

By Any Means Necessary

022812-CFB--Dabo-Swinney-TOUGH-TEST-JW-PI_20120228130314575_660_320

Before anyone suggests this is a sour grapes blog post by an excuse-making Gamecock fan, let’s get one thing out of the way: Clemson beat us Saturday fair and square. They were the better team and deserved to win. It’s true and undeniable.

With that said, let’s get to the point of this post.

For years, all we have heard from the Upstate is that Dabo Swinney is a good Christian man who cares about his players above all else. He tells the mamas that he’s going to take care of their boys. On some level you have to hand it to Dabo and say job well done. He’s been able to convince the Clemson faithful and a bunch of talented recruits that he is doing it differently than the other guys; that Clemson is a special place with different priorities. A very large segment of the Tiger fan base (about 99% by my rough calculations), has eaten this fantasy up with a spoon.

But Dabo knows what all other coaches know: winning cures all ills and covers up all flaws. Fan bases are willing to overlook just about any transgression, fault, or risk if their team is winning.

Take Florida State for example. This year Jimbo Fisher has gone from a respected coach to an absolute joke for his repeated, uncompromising support of Jameis Winston, no matter what kind of crap Winston pulls. There is simply no way an average player gets the chances Winston has gotten. You know it. I know it. Every fan in America knows it.

Why does Fisher continue to support Winston and brush aside his transgressions?  Because he wants to win big and knows that he would not win big without Winston at quarterback. Winning trumps everything. In this case, winning trumps justice and the need to discipline a young man who is in desperate need of discipline. Winston has obviously been coddled his entire life by coaches and teachers in awe of this talent. This has continued at Florida State. Fisher has failed Winston the person. He may justify it by saying that he is taking care of it “off the field”. Well, the only way to affect someone like Winston, if that’s even possible at this point, is to take away the thing that’s most important to them. That would be football. And that ain’t happening.

 Which brings us to Dabo.  Blessed with a talented young quarterback but faced with a possible sixth straight loss to their hated rival, Dabo had to be feeling pretty good going into the Georgia Tech game. After all the Gamecock D had proven to be downright awful, and his talented young QB had recovered from an unfortunate thumb injury.

Then, out of nowhere, disaster struck. The young QB went down again, this time with a knee injury.  After the injury the Georgia Tech game turned from a likely Clemson win into a dumpster fire as Cole Stoudt scored a bunch of points for the other team. Dabo and his braintrust had to be shell-shocked. While Stoudt had struggled in prior games, it now became abundantly clear that there was no way they could enter battle against the Gamecocks and hope to win with this guy at the wheel.

After a couple of days of what appeared to be top-secret MRI exams, it was reported that young Mr. Watson did not have a dreaded ACL tear, but instead had a “strain” or “bruise” or something like that. As it turns out, it’s pretty clear that he suffered a partial ACL tear that he finished tearing in practice a few days prior to the Ga. State game. That’s right, in practice. Instead of resting his injured star, the player he promised mama that he was going to protect, he put him out on the practice field with a partially torn ACL to see what he could do. Well, what he did was finish tearing that sucker.

Now, faced the choice of playing Stoudt or a supremely talented but injured Watson, what did Dabo decide to do? Play Watson of course. Why you ask?  Because Dabo wanted and needed to win. The fan base would not have put up with a sixth straight loss, which would have been on the table with Stoudt at QB (Stoudt proved Dabo right in his limited playing time in the game, after an obviously injured Watson limped off the field when he wasn’t even touched).

What about the welfare of Watson you ask?  Well, what about it.  The party line out of Clemson will be that it was Watson’s choice and that he couldn’t hurt it any worse at that point.

Of course an 18-year-old kid is going to want to play. You can’t give the kid that choice. If he has any competitive drive at all he’s going to choose to play in his rivalry game every time. Coaches, the “adults” in the room, are supposed to intervene and make such decisions for the not fully-formed athletes in their charge. Today lots of doctors and former players (including Emmitt Smith, arguably one of the three or four best running backs in the history of the NFL), have come forward to say that Watson should not have played, that playing risked further injury and problems with the knee down the road.  Dabo and his folks surely knew this. Just like he knew that bringing Tajh Boyd back for his Senior year risked his draft placement.

Winning trumps everything. In this case, winning trumps the well-being and future of a talented young man.

Am I singling out Dabo?  No, I’m just pointing out that Dabo is just like most other coaches. They do whatever it takes to win.  Damn the consequences.

Frank Martin: My Take

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Photo credit: gogamecocks.com

Tons of hot takes flowed on Twitter when the suspension of Frank Martin was handed down for verbally abusing Duane Notice. And the situation will bubble to the surface again when the SEC Basketball Tournament starts this week in Atlanta and Martin returns to the bench. So you can pile our hot take on top, and it goes a little something like this:

I like Frank Martin and I’m glad he’s our coach. I supported the hire and I support Coach Martin going forward. I like his intensity. I like that he seems to care so much about the players and about building our men’s basketball program.

I also absolutely, wholeheartedly support Ray Tanner’s decision to suspend Coach Martin. Since the suspension was announced, there’s been a split of opinion on whether or not the suspension was the right thing to do. Count me among those who are baffled and befuddled by those who feel the administration should have ignored what he said, something that Martin has now admitted to be a major problem.

Those criticizing the suspension have thrown out various reasons for their position: that we knew what the intense Coach Martin was about when we hired him; that there are many “cussing” coaches like Martin in the college game; that the suspension of Martin exemplifies the “wussification of America”; that the coach-player relationship should not be monkeyed with by the administration; that the kind of things Martin said to Duane Notice are par for the course and those who “didn’t play the game” simply don’t understand.

Guys and girls, this is NOT about intensity. This NOT about cussing. This is NOT about toughness. Instead, this is about human dignity. No college coach under any circumstances should ever say what Frank Martin said to Duane Notice, in public or private. I’m wondering if those criticizing the decision actually know what Coach Martin said. Because if they did, I can’t imagine how they can argue that it was ok. Martin didn’t just say use some salty language in front of Notice. No, he called this 18-year old kid in front of him, playing in a basketball game, a “f***ing asshole”. Again, focus on the actual words here. If you think this is ok, and you have kids, then I feel for your kids.

Let me ask you: in what universe is it acceptable for a coach to talk to his 18-year old player like that? I’m certainly glad it’s not acceptable at my university. I applaud Tanner and the university for standing up for what is right. And it’s not like Martin wasn’t warned. In his post-suspension press conference Martin disclosed that he and Tanner had been talking about this for weeks, and that he understood that he had a problem. Heck, he had even publicly apologized to Brenton Williams for a verbal onslaught levied earlier this year. For folks to say all of this is ok, that we should sit back and watch a man make a jerk of himself and our university, is inexcusable and frankly embarrassing.

Some of the protesters have implied that this is an infringement on liberty – that we and Martin should have the liberty to say and do what we want. Well, liberty has its limits. One of those limits is calling a kid you are supposed to be coaching and molding a f***ing asshole.

I’m a long-time listener to South Carolina radio legend and TRC friend Phil Kornblut. While I agree with him most of the time, this time he got it wrong. Dead wrong. Kornblut said that Martin’s actions didn’t hurt anyone, and because of that we “holier than thou” types should just get a grip. After hearing the Martin presser I think it’s pretty clear that this has at least hurt Martin, his wife, and his mother. Martin himself acknowledged that it hurt the university.

And of course no one has even mentioned Duane Notice much in all of this. While I’m sure Duane is a tough kid, studies show that verbal abuse is still abuse. Has Martin been verbally abusing Notice and others for a while (and I’m not talking about cussing)? Who knows. I certainly hope not. But condoning such actions sends the message to the world that it’s ok to abuse and degrade those we are supposed to be coaching or raising. Is that really the message we want to send?

Coach Martin fell short (surprise, we all do). Kudos to him for admitting his mistake and promising to work on things. Kudos to Ray Tanner and USC for sending the correct message. To those of you who still think what Martin did was just fine, I would encourage you to do a little soul-searching. It’s ok to admit you were wrong. Martin did.

The Spin, Excuse and Insult Zone: The Noisy Aftermath of the Fivepeat

islandpacket.com
islandpacket.com

Since the Fivepeat became a reality, many Clemson* fans have sucked it up and admitted the obvious: that they were beaten, again, by the better team. There are certainly some reasonable and rational Clemson* folks out there who understand that college football success is mainly about blocking and tackling better than, and holding onto that funny shaped object more than, the other guy. The other stuff that folks talk and write about, for the most part, is just noise.

Well, the noises coming out of many orange and purple types since the game has been pretty humorous, and in some respects a little bit sad. Admittedly, I remember similar garbage being spewed by many of our fans over the years when we got our arses handed to us in November. In essence, the losers of the game want to make themselves feel better about their deficiencies by making excuses and/or disparaging the opponent.

The list goes a little something like this:

  • No Class. Sure, you won the game, but we have more “class” than you.  If winning the game requires us to act like you, we’d rather lose.
  • The Gift.  You didn’t beat us; we gave it to you.
  • You Cheated.  You don’t play fair-we would never do that.
  • Unfair Advantage.  You get players we can’t get.
  • You Were Lucky.  But for a couple of weird bounces, we would have won.

Well, let’s just knock these out one by one…

  • The whole “class” argument is so tired and ridiculous.  Over my many, many years of football viewing, I have witnessed fans on both sides who act like total idiots and embarrass those of us who try to be civil about this stuff.  After all, it’s football, not life and death.  Many CTU fans love to make the case that Dabo is “classier” than the HBC.  I gather this is based on the fact that our coach jabs at Clemson* on occasion. To this I say:  GROW UP!  Again, this is a GAME played by boys. It’s supposed to be fun. And guess what:  To the winner go the spoils.  In this case, the “spoils” are bragging rights.  The winner is supposed to talk a little smack.  That’s the whole point.  What’s even more puzzling is that Clemson* fans still want to declare Dabo the classiest of the classy, even after his now infamous rant.  I think I speak for most Gamecock fans in saying that we will be paying him back for that childish tirade for quite some time, if not forever.  And while I’m on this subject, let me address some bellyaching I have heard about some “fivebombing” photos recently taken with the Dabo.  A Clemson* radio host recently devoted a large part of his show to this subject, lamenting that it isn’t “classy” and is an insult to Dabo (who is after all, a man of the people).  Again, it’s a rivalry.  I think poor Dabo and his seven-figure salary (earned by coaching a bunch of boys to tote a ball around) can take it.  Quit with the bitching and moaning.  It’s unbecoming and downright pathetic. A guy who can insult our team and university the way he did cannot be fivebombed because he is “classy” and might get his feelings hurt? Man up Clemson*. Please.
  • A common theme emanating from the upstaters is that they are actually the better team, with the better QB, but “gave” us the game by turning the ball over 6 times.  Funny but I don’t recall any pick sixes or fumble returns for a TD.  Instead, I recall a 17 play, 80-yard drive after the first interception. And don’t tell us that you are better because of Hot Rod’s runs or the total yardage stats. The fact remains that we out rushed CTU, again. And the time of possession was lopsided in our favor, again. Boyd flaked out when facing our D, again.  Five in a row is no fluke, it’s a trend. While this game was not exactly like the last four, it was similar in many respects: all of the wins have been by double digits; all the games involved forced turnovers; all the games involved decisive drives by our offense at key times. The QB debate is laughable. Boyd threw more interceptions in the last three minutes of the game than Shaw did all season. Sure, Boyd has all the flashy stats built up against a cupcake schedule. CTU can have Boyd and his stats. We’ll take Shaw and his wins. Give credit where credit is due.
  • The cheating claim is rich given the history of the series (can you say “pushoff”). But blaming a loss on a flinch by a center on 4th and 1 is kind of weak, don’t you think? First of all, I don’t think Shaw “cheated” when he gained 12 yards on 3rd and 13. I guess the Clemson* faithful have conveniently forgotten about that play. Instead, they are focused on an alleged intentional flinch by our center on 4th and 1. They pay no mind to the fact that EVERY team in that situation tries to draw the other team offsides. I mean its down right routine for a team to shift around a bunch and bark out a hard count. The offensive team is going to do whatever is necessary to induce movement. It’s only a penalty if it’s called, right (see pushoff again)? The downside? Five yards. Cheating? Hardly. Standard football protocol in that situation? Absolutely. How about NOT jumping offsides after a timeout. How about NOT giving up 12 yards on 3rd down. That damn karma (see pushoff) will get you every time.
  • When we win there’s always a faction of CTU fans who want to make the “academic” argument, that the guys beating them couldn’t have gotten into Clemson*. Again, this is an excuse meant to divert attention from the facts. The facts are that all major football schools in the ACC and SEC compete for the same players. Special admits abound on every roster. For the most part, it’s not a bunch of walk on Rhodes Scholars running around the last Saturday in November. Do we want our guys to graduate and be successful? Sure. But let’s not kid ourselves. These guys are on campus, at both schools, to play football. If a player can help a team win, chances are he will eventually find his way to the field. This is the case everywhere, including Clemson*. None of the big boys make the academic argument when they lose.
  • The “you were lucky” claim is yet another failed attempt to mask the truth-that the better team won. Brison Williams wasn’t “lucky” when he read pass and made the interception, and Chaz Sutton wasn’t “lucky” when he ripped the ball away from Boyd. “Losers find a way to lose and winners find a way to win.” I can’t take credit for this statement, but I heard it after the game and thought it pretty much summed things up on this “lucky” argument. The turnover margin during the Fivepeat is plus 12 (15 to 3) in favor of the Gamecocks. That doesn’t sound like luck to me. Sounds like a winner and a loser.

The fact is:  we blocked, tackled and protected the ball better than Clemson* did. That won us this game and the previous four.

Enjoy the victory and the Fivepeat. Ignore the noise, because that’s all it is.

How the SEC Changed the South Carolina-Clemson Universe

A conference affiliation and better players have led to a fundamental shift in the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry, and more moments like this.
A conference affiliation and better players have led to a fundamental shift in the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry, and more moments like this.

With the comet Ison streaking through our solar system, I thought it an appropriate time to write a little about the current universe that is South Carolina – Clemson* football.

In the last week or so I’ve heard a lot of talk from Clemson* fans about “restoring the universe.”  This is obviously a reference to the historical win-loss record in the series and their belief that the last four years have been some sort of celestial aberration from the norm, i.e., the stars are out of alignment.

Well, I’ve got some news for them:

The universe is now fundamentally different than it was during the vast majority of the time these two teams squared off against each other in November.  As much as Clemson* fans want to curl up next to the fire and take comfort in the series record, we all know that there’s a new reality, a reality that started in 1992 when South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference.

At TRC we have never misrepresented the past or the truth. We fully acknowledge that we had a pretty average football program around here for a long, long time.  It’s no secret that Clemson* emphasized winning at football more than we did, and the results showed up on the scoreboard.  With that out of the way, let’s talk about the here and now, the current universe in which these teams operate.

When USC joined the SEC we weren’t ready to compete, not by a long shot. It was a slow, difficult process building up the football program. During this same period Clemson* was still basking in the glow of its glory days of the 1980s.  Over the next decade or so nothing much changed on the surface.  Beneath the surface, however, keen observers could see the transformation that was taking place.  After several years of taking our lumps in the SEC, the overall strength and growth of the conference and all of its football prowess began to show in our product on the field.

Clemson* for a long time remained the more physical team in the series, with its traditional power running game and strength along both lines of scrimmage.  Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were known as a team with good skill position guys but one that was lacking where it mattered the most – in the trenches.  We could occasionally break through with a victory in the big game, but most years the result was a testament to the most basic of all football adages that games are won by running the ball on offense and by stopping the run on defense.  More times than not, Clemson* did this to us and we could not do it to them.

The SEC affiliation has brought better players and coaches to South Carolina.  This is largely a result of the power and money of the conference.  There’s no way Lou Holtz or Steve Spurrier would have come to USC but for our membership in the greatest conference in college football.  While our entry into the SEC was no quick fix for our football team, the gradual transformation of the program from a finesse team to a team emphasizing defense and ball control is obvious and profound.  No more do we have to move offensive lineman and linebackers to the defensive line late in the season.  The past few years we have been known as one of the national leaders along the defensive front, with players like Norwood, Ingram, Robertson, Matthews, Taylor,  and Quarles (oh, and some guy named Clowney) shutting down the opposition.

While we gradually built up our team with recruiting and an emphasis on defense, the upstaters decided to place an emphasis on finesse and the new fangled “up tempo” offensive system sweeping the college football ranks.  The power running game of the past has been replaced by the wide receiver screen.

Is Clemson* good at what they do?  Without question.  Are they capable of beating us tomorrow?  Sure, I believe they are.  Just like we had a chance and occasionally beat them before our membership in the SEC began to reveal itself, Clemson* can beat us tomorrow.  If they do, we will most assuredly be disappointed and down in the dumps for a while.

But will a Clemson* victory be an indication that the order of the universe has been restored, that the stars are now back in alignment?  No, not by a long shot.

The universe has shifted.  We know it.  They know it.  If they try to convince you otherwise by throwing the series record in your face, just smile and say three letters:

S-E-C.

*2012 ACC Atlantic Division Co-champions (even though they lost the regular season match-up against the other co-champions.)

Anatomy of “The Drive”: Gamecock Version

Bruce finishes "The Drive" as three Michigan defenders look on.
Bruce finishes “The Drive” as three Michigan defenders look on.

In football lore, it is known simply as “The Drive”.

It was the 1987 AFC Championship Game between the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos. Down by a touchdown with 5:32 left to play, John Elway led the Broncos on a 15-play, 98-yard drive to tie the game which they eventually won in overtime. “The Drive” was a legendary march that is universally recognized as one of the clutch moments in the history of the game. 

Until the final drive of the 2013 Outback Bowl, no drives by a Gamecock offense (in any era) deserve to be compared to The Drive.  The 1993 drive to win the Georgia game at Sanford Stadium probably comes closest, but that game was the first of a season in which USC finished 4-7 and Georgia finished 5-6.  A great drive in Gamecock history, yes, but it’s hard to put any meaningful historical context around it.  

Some impressive drives were longer and consumed more time and plays (see the 98 yard game-clinching  and time-eating drive against Tennessee in 2011), but none were more compelling, meaningful or magical than the final drive of the Outback Bowl this year.

Lost in the well-deserved hoopla surrounding “The Hit” (no explanation necessary) and the quick TD strike to Ace Sanders that followed it, is the fact that Michigan then methodically marched down the field to regain the lead.  At that point, we were down 28-27.  Three minutes and twenty-nine seconds remained in the game.  After a kickoff return by Sidney Rhodes (no, I’ve never heard of him either), things got really interesting:

1.  1st and 10, Gamecock 30-yard line.  Bruce Ellington 4-yard pass from Connor Shaw.  An unremarkable play, but a positive start (and Bruce’s first catch of the game – a sneak peak – it would not be his last).

2.  2nd and 6, Gamecock 34-yard line.  Shaw sacked for a 4-yard loss.  Some major doubt started to creep into the heads of the Gamecock faithful at this point.  Clock management is not great as time is now bleeding off rapidly.  The clock is at 1:58 when the ball is snapped on 3rd down after the sack. 

3.  3rd and 10, Gamecock 30-yard line.  Rory Anderson 7-yard pass from Shaw.  The ball is knocked from Anderson’s grasp as he hits the ground, but it’s eventually ruled a catch.  Seventeen seconds inexplicably run off the clock while the officials discuss the play (great officiating in this game, by the way).  When the ball is snapped on the 4th down play that follows, 1:21 remained on the clock.  At this point, we had used 2:07 of the game clock and gained exactly seven yards.  Nothing about this possession appeared to indicate that it would be something special.  To the contrary, it appeared to be a complete disaster.  Then, in an instant, everything changed.

4.  4th and 3, Gamecock 37-yard line.  Sanders 6-yard pass from Shaw.  Shaw dropped back and threw a dart to Sanders who beat his man on a slant route.  At this point, I am thinking that we might have a small chance to get into field goal range.

5.  1st and 10, Gamecock 43-yard line.  Sanders 7-yard pass from Shaw.  This is sort of a forgotten play in the sequence, but was pretty amazing in retrospect.  Shaw dropped back and was pressured.  In what appeared to be a desperation throw, he hurled one towards the sideline and found Sanders.  Honestly, I thought Shaw was throwing it away.  We are now under a minute to go, :52  to be exact.  Carolina called timeout #2, and now had one left.  In the ESPN booth, John Gruden and Mike Tirico discuss the shakiness of our field goal unit.  Gamecock fans everywhere were thinking the exact same thing. 

6.  2nd and 3, Midfield.  Sanders 7-yard pass from Shaw.  Left tackle Cory Robinson was whipped by his man who rushed in and grabbed Shaw around the waist.  He proceeded to sling Shaw towards the ground, but Shaw somehow stayed on his feet and hit Sanders on a shallow route across the middle.  Sanders turned upfield and made a move before being dropped.  After the play Shaw limped around in obvious pain.  The camera then panned to Sanders lying on the turf, also in pain.  He had tweaked a knee.  While Sanders was attended to, Shaw went to the sideline and removed his helmet.  He was clearly done.  On one play, we lost our QB and “ace” receiver.  Things were looking pretty bleak to say the least. 

The clock was down to :42. 

Enter Dylan Thompson.

7.  1st and 10, Wolverine 43-yard line.  Kenny Miles 3-yard pass from Thompson.  Thompson shook off any jitters with a quick completion to the sideline.  Solid play that went for positive yards and took little time.  A good start for #17.

8.  2nd and 7, Wolverine 40-yard line.  Thompson dropped back, avoided a sack, and ran out of bounds for a one yard gain.  Another play that is lost in the shuffle.  A sack here would have been disastrous.  Thompson avoided it and kept the drive alive.  Twenty-six seconds remained on the clock.

9.  3rd and 6, Wolverine 39-yard line.  Damiere Byrd 7-yard pass from Thompson on a middle receiver screen.  Looking back, it was an absolutely fantastic play call by the HBC.  Michigan came with a blitz.  Thompson calmly delivered a strike to Byrd who ducked in for a first down.

10.  1st and 10, Wolverine 32-yard line.  Thompson spiked the ball to stop the clock with :17 left.  The HBC was obviously saving his final time out for a field goal.  Or so we thought at the time….

11.  2nd and 10, Wolverine 32-yard line.  Thompson hits Ellington for a 32-yard TD.  Michigan came with a zone blitz.  All the Carolina receivers ran verticals, also known as streak routes. Three receivers (Cunningham, Anderson, and Nick Jones) lined up to the left, and two receivers (Ellington and Miles) lined up to the right.  Five DBs covered the receivers to the left of the formation and only two covered the ones to the right.  Ellington ran to an open spot and Thompson delivered a beautiful ball as he was nailed by a blitzer. Pandemonium erupted in Gamecock households everywhere.

The Drive was remarkable in several respects:

  • Shaw and Thompson were a combined 8 for 9 on the march.  The only incompletion was an intentional one to stop the clock.
  • The drive was started by Shaw (he ran 6 plays) and finished by Thompson (he ran 5).  Something tells me that the HBCs decision to give Thompson playing time earlier in the game was a good one.  I’ve watched a lot (too much) football in my day, and I can’t remember another instance where a backup QB finished a game winning drive after the starter was knocked out.
  • Both Shaw and Thompson avoided almost certain sacks that probably would have spelled doom.
  • The drive was completed with our star receiver on the sideline with a knee injury.  No Shaw, No Lattimore, No Ace.  No problem. [Recall that last year we finished up without Garcia, Lattimore, and Jeffrey]

In a game full of big plays, one of which was the play of the bowl season, the final drive has been overshadowed and almost forgotten.  Normally, a drive of this magnitude and containing such drama would almost certainly receive more attention and praise.  Without it, The Hit could not be credited with shifting the momentum in the game.  

While not a thing of beauty, the guts exhibited by Shaw, Thompson and Sanders symbolize the make up of the 2011 and 2012 Gamecock squads. 

To borrow from Ray Tanner, the “Win Anyway” attitude of these teams culminated and peaked in one glorious drive that, upon reflection, will likely go down as the greatest in Gamecock football history.

Gamecocks Have Seized Control of This Rivalry

Jadeveon Clowney & Co. have shifted the rivalry decisively in Carolina’s favor

The worm has turned…big time.

Yeah, we know that’s pretty obvious to most based on the winning streak and all, but we eternal pessimists at TRC occasionally need some convincing. Why? As lifelong Gamecocks fans, it’s sometimes hard for us to actually believe this transformation has happened.

I’ll admit it, as late as kickoff I had my doubts about Saturday’s outcome after learning that Connor Shaw was out. I’m just glad that the HBC and the team knew better.

After having a couple of days to reflect, I’ve arrived at some conclusions about our series with Clemson Tiger University, aka CTU.  While they have the overall record and all (big whoop), it is now crystal clear that we have caught them. And passed them. Like they are standing still.

To hammer this point home, here are some cumulative statistics from the four game winning streak:

  • Score: USC 124, CTU 54
  • 1st Downs: USC 80, CTU 57
  • Total Yards: USC 1574, CTU 992
  • Rushing Yards: USC 662, CTU 324
  • Passing Yards: USC 912, CTU 668
  • Time of Possession (Average): USC 37 minutes, CTU 23 minutes
  • Turnovers: USC 3, CTU 9

From these numbers, it’s clear that we are winning the old-fashioned way: by controlling the clock and winning the turnover margin. We now dominate the line of scrimmage. In short, we now beat them like they used to beat us.

I remember all too well when CTU used to intimidate us. They punished us with a bruising ground game and stuffed the run on defense.

Now, it is the Gamecocks who are doing the intimidating.

Today their fans are all whining about DJ’s hit on Andre Ellington and his post-annihilation antics. He’s a “thug” and such they are saying.

Puh-lease. Last time I checked, this is big boy football. At least on our end of things.

CTU can take their new choir-boy-we-love-everybody attitude and see how far that takes them. I can tell you, it ain’t taking them very far. Their league and their program are marshmallow soft. It’s not an accident that Nuk Dropkins, er Hopkins, dropped a couple of balls after DJ posterized Ellington. It’s all about toughness, depth and athleticism on the offensive and defensive lines.

We are committed to this brand of football as there is no other path to success in the SEC. You either keep up or get crushed.

From a quick glance around the internet, you can tell that reality is starting to set in in the Upstate. The kool-aid drinkers are suddenly in the minority. Finesse and trickery can overwhelm AA competition, but it simply does not cut it in the major leagues. And make no mistake about it, the SEC is The Show. If there was any doubt, yesterday’s results were a flashing neon sign to CTU and the ACC:

Mack truck coming through. Get your crappy Fiat out of the left lane.

Other Stuff:

Clowney-CTU Record Holder. Clowney set a Death Valley record for sacks in a game (breaking a record held by the great Bruce Smith). That’s more than William Perry, Michael Dean Perry, Daquan Bowers, Trevor Price, Ricky Sapp, and all the other CTU defensive lineman have had there. And Clowney has played there exactly once.

Morons. There are a few CTU fans who are still insisting, after all we have seen, that they have the better team. These folks either know absolutely zip about football or are so mesmerized by the cult of Dabo that they can’t see what it right in front of their face. Hell, even the cult leader admitted post game that we have the better team. He was very complimentary. Almost too complimentary. It’s almost like he wanted to get that out of the way so he could say he did it. We all know what’s coming next: the propaganda machine is in production mode. I can’t wait to see what it spits out this time.

Push-off Payback. The excuses are starting to leak out. But for the two interference calls against CTU in the 2nd half, they would have won. Never mind that we didn’t score on that drive, it was a clock and possession thing they say. Well, I’ve got two answers for that: 1. Jimmy Legree was ROBBED, and 2. no amount of bad calls (assuming, for the sake of argument, that they were) will EVER add up to egregious bad call that handed the Push Off game to CTU. Bad calls happen and they are a bitch. Deal with it.

Let’s get one for the thumb next year, then get that other hand ready to go. This streak may last a while.

Darth Visor: The Empire (Emperor?) Strikes Back

If there was any shred of doubt left, last night cemented that the HBC has clearly regained his swagger. 

Last night’s weekly call-in show – normally a dry, coachspeak preview of this week’s opponent interspersed with sometimes imbecilic fan questions – provided Coach a public forum to unload on a certain unnamed columnist at an unnamed Columbia based newspaper. 

And boy did he ever unload.

Using a tone and language usually reserved for Seminoles or Volunteers during his Gator days, Spurrier ripped into this so-called columnist with venom and fire.  The message:  Enough is enough.  No more unresearched columns designed to denigrate our program and the character of the HBC.  No more outrageous comparisons to Penn State.  No more back-stabbing from the home town paper.

As we all know, this feud between coach and writer has been going on for quite some time.  It started with the Bruce Ellington “poaching” comment, continued with an accusation that coach callously and carelessly played an injured Connor Shaw, and culminated with a comment that the program was starting to resemble the one at Penn State.

We have commented on the stormy relationship between coach and columnist before.  After yesterday’s written apology by said columnist and today’s bombastic response by the HBC, we have been contemplating our reasoned and carefully crafted response to the latest developments, and we present it here:

HELL YES !!!!!

For years our program has been pushed around by just about everybody-our conference foes, CTU, the media, you name it.   It’s long been “sport” to take pot shots at the moribund USC football team.  Well, things are a changin’. 

Yesterday was a landmark moment in the evolution of the program. The HBC’s rant was a statement that we are becoming, dare we say it, Big Time. 

For years the football team needed the local paper for publicity.  Now, it’s clear that the worm has turned.  The paper, faced with a shrinking readership and competition from all sides, needs the football program (and the other USC sports programs as well). 

There’s no denying that the sports page is by far the most important section of the paper.  Heck, on some days they don’t even publish other traditional sections.  Yet, they can’t help themselves.  They can’t seem to break from the days when all they had to write about was the negative stuff.  You would think that the paper would embrace the recent successes and rejoice in the fact that we finally have a coach who has an idea or two about how to win a football game.

In addition to winning, the HBC is (or should be) a newspaper man’s dream.  He speaks off the cuff and oftentimes gives the best quotes in the business.  The folks at the paper should realize that they have it pretty damn good under the circumstances.  

But what do they do?  They try to screw it all up by allowing a guy to repeatedly attack the character of the HBC.  While coach has his faults (well, don’t we all), I don’t think there are too many folks in the world of college football who would question his character.

We at TRC love the HBC and what he stands for. He’s called the Head Ball Coach for a reason.  In many ways he’s a throwback to a different era of college football  — an era when the players answered yes sir and no sir.  Yesterday he half way threatened to leave if the local paper continued to allow moronic columns by moronic columnists.   

Yesterday he drew the line.