Snap Judgments – 2021 Clemson @ USC Edition

Photo courtesy of greenvilleonline.com

Our Clemson Problem. From 2009 to 2013 Steve Spurrier and South Carolina owned Clemson like no other time in the rivalry’s history. Clemson had consistently good (not great) teams, finishing in the top 25 three times and the top 10 twice, which made the winning streak that much sweeter. As the streak grew I even commented multiple times about how the Gamecocks were “in the heads” of Clemson. The Tigers came to fear the block C when they saw it, and despite their best efforts they couldn’t find a way to beat USC.

The game in 2014 at Clemson started swimmingly for South Carolina. The Gamecocks took the lead on a 20-yard Pharoh Cooper run and the same refrain echoed in my mind – even at 6-5 -we’re in their heads. Alas, it didn’t last long, as Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman and Artavis Scott proceeded to gash a porous USC defense and end the five-game losing streak. It was a turning point for Clemson as a football program, and a turning point in the rivalry.

Since then, there has been one close game, in 2015. Miraculously a Spurrier-less squad hung tough and lost 37-32 against a Clemson team that would eventually lose the 2016 National Championship game to Alabama. In the games since then we have lost by 49, 24, 21, 35 and 30. That’s an average losing margin of 31.8 points over five games, and it’s embarrassing and unacceptable in a rivalry that was lopsided in the first place.

I’ve preached in this space about being competitive against elite competition. Our track record against Clemson the last five years is the opposite of competitive. Other than recruiting and coaching better I don’t know what the answer is. Spurrier famously took down the “beat Clemson” signs in the USC locker room and said “I want to beat everybody” and in effect de-emphasized the importance of the rivalry.

Regardless of how we get there, it is becoming critical that we start closing the gap on Clemson. And in a year with many positive accomplishments by our new coaching staff, I’m afraid the gap widened even further last night.

We have to get them out of our heads.

If you had told me… I lost count of how many tweets I saw last night after our caning that said something to the effect “if you had told me back in August we’d be 6-6 and going to a bowl game yadda yadda yadda”. People have to right to prop up Shane Beamer and the job he has done this year to squeeze six wins out of this schedule with this level of talent*. I’m on the Shane train too, somewhere in the middle of the caboose looking for a comfortable place to sit down.

*Side note: for those still talking about going from two wins last year to six wins this year dare I remind you we played an all-SEC schedule last year and didn’t have the luxury of playing Eastern Illinois, East Carolina and Troy.

My problem with the “if you had told me back in August” argument is we’re skipping everything that helps us form our opinion of this team. We have sliced and diced every game and have come to many conclusions that may or may not support our being happy with six wins. If you’re happy that’s great, and if you’re not particularly happy, I think that’s ok too, because HOW we got here is just as important as the record. Let’s review:

  • Eastern Illinois – whatever, we could’ve rolled out the JV squad and beat them by 20.
  • East Carolina – very bad offensive performance, escaped an average group of five team by 3 points.
  • Georgia – landed some shots, but overall completely outclassed by the best team in the country.
  • Kentucky – bad, bad, bad home loss to a decent team, missed opportunity because our offense stinks.
  • Troy – typical mid-season struggle against a team we should dominate. (FYI, Georgia State beat them by four touchdowns yesterday.)
  • Tennessee – embarrassing loss to another team with a first-year head coach.
  • Vanderbilt – needed a minor miracle to beat the absolute worst team in power five.
  • Texas A&M – have I used the word embarrassing enough yet? TAMU finished 8-4 by the way.
  • Florida – YAY, fun game!
  • Missouri – Boo, horrible game against a team we should be benchmarking ourselves against.
  • Auburn – Wow, big upset, hope for the Clemson game!
  • Clemson – …………….

When you look at it that way, maybe it gives you a different perspective on those six wins and how we got here. There is still a LOT to be cleaned up. We need to assert ourselves against teams like Vandy and Troy, we need to pass Kentucky and Missouri sooner rather than later, and we need to be able to play competitively into the fourth quarter against Texas A&M, Georgia and Clemson.

I’m not telling any of you to not be positive, please do. But the realistic side of me tells me we may have further to go than the Florida or Auburn games tell us.

Satter-fired. Marcus Satterfield has been relieved of his offensive coordinator duties by almost all Gamecock fans. Whether or not Shane Beamer actually does it remains to be seen. But this offense has been the main point of pain for us the entire season. Satterfield has stated, somewhat arrogantly, that this offense if one that is “being run on Sundays”. That’s nice, but on Saturdays it has ranked 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC in pretty much every major category.

One way to overcome talent deficiencies on offense is through scheme. We need someone creative, and someone who can scheme against the level of defenses we play week in and week out. Here’s hoping there’s a new OC under the Christmas tree.

The QB Carousel. Also needed under the Christmas tree is a QB from the transfer portal. If there’s one thing we all know is that most teams cannot be great without a great signal caller, and I don’t think we have one on the roster at the moment. You can make your case for Luke Doty or even Colton Gauthier, but there is no real evidence either one is “the guy”. If there is an opportunity to make the QB room better through the portal, we HAVE to do it.

Help wanted: Wide receivers. What the heck is going on with every receiver we have besides Josh Vann? Aren’t there other guys on scholarship? Geez.

What’s Next. I apologize if these Snaps are bringing you down, but my realistic side seems to kick in when I actually have time to write. The truth is I really, really like Shane Beamer and the positive energy he has brought to the program. His style is not my favorite all the time, but that’s just the old man in me coming out. More than anything, I want this program to WIN, and I want it sooner rather than later because I’ve been at this for a long time. And I’m obnoxiously competitive, ok?

Anyway, I’m excited about the opportunity to see this team play in any bowl game (even Birmingham!) and about how recruiting is shaping up. We need a big influx of talent over the next few months, and I think the way the program has progressed will allow us to get it.

See you next month, Go Cocks!

Snap Judgments – 2021 USC @ Texas A&M

Use your eyes. I didn’t get to watch a lot of the Gamecocks 44-14 loss to Texas A&M last night because I was busy watching my beloved Atlanta Braves earn a trip to the World Series. And thankfully the Braves are in my life, because Gamecock football continues to be an exercise in futility and disappointment.

The USC offense has been sad all year long, ranking 13th in the SEC and not even on the radar nationally in most statistical categories. Vandy hero Zeb Noland got the start last night at QB because of Luke Doty’s season-ending surgery, and because he presumably gave the Gamecocks the best chance to “win”. He proceeded to go 7-12 for a whopping 30 yards, mostly because he was running for his life because our dog of an offensive line continued their substandard play. (We had SIX yards of total offense 3/4 of the way through the game.)

The USC defense has been somewhat of a bright spot for most of the year, playing above their talent week in and week out. Last night they appeared to walk out on the offense like a cheated on spouse – “hey, if you’re not going to try to save this relationship I’m not going to try either.” The Texas A&M offensive line shoved our guys around all night long and created freightliner-sized holes to run through.

Special teams? Well, giving up a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown barely two minutes in kinda helped set the tone for the game.

TRC member Tbone flew right by criticizing Shane Beamer last night and went all in on Ray Tanner. And I wasn’t mad about it. Six years ago Tanner plucked Will Muschamp off the garbage heap hoping he could right the South Carolina ship even though he flopped at Florida, a place much easier to win at than Columbia, SC. Then after the Muschamp experience failed miserably, Tanner quickly zeroed in on Shane Beamer,

Beamer sold Tanner and the USC brass on his enthusiasm and love for the university. Never mind that Beamer had never been a coordinator, much less a head coach, or that we were competing with absoutely nobody for his services. I don’t really recall anyone saying he was a rising star in the coaching ranks or somebody who should be on lists for teams looking for a coach. This was a concern that was covered up quickly by slick videos and tears and enthusiasm and LOVE.

Before anybody goes off the deep end and thinks I’m calling for Shane Beamer to be fired, I’m not. But if you’re not concerned about how this season has played out you’re not paying attention. No we don’t have great talent, but the coaching mistakes we’re seeing are glaring. For the “give him time” crowd, you’re missing the point. What you want to see in a first year is progress, that kids are getting the schemes, making fewer mistakes each week, being COMPETITIVE. We have seen the exact opposite of that, especially the last three weeks.

28-0 first quarter deficit to Tennessee (who also was a train wreck and has a first year head coach.)

Last second touchdown to beat Vanderbilt by one point. (Vandy lost 45-6 at home to Mississippi State last night.)

44-0 deficit to TAMU before we scored a point.

At South Carolina we’re used to our football program being average, that’s our brand. But getting embarrassed is where we should draw the line as Gamecock fans, and the last three weeks have been downright embarassing. And don’t give me the “lack of talent” angle either. You can’t tell me we don’t have at least comparable talent to Tennessee and much better talent than Vanderbilt.

It is highly concerning, and it’s all on Ray Tanner at this point for taking such a risk for a head coach.

Finally, I see a lot on Twitter about who the real fans are, and how “real fans” wouldn’t turn on the team. First of all, I’m turning on the adults in charge, I’ll never turn on the guys who put on the pads day in and day out.

Second, if you’re not pissed off at what you’ve seen so far this year, then I’d argue you’re not the real fan. We deserve better. @3×5 said it best last night:

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – Vanderbilt @ USC Edition 2021/

(Photo courtesy of greenvilleonline.com)

A win is a win? When Vanderbilt took a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter over South Carolina yesterday, I pretty much decided there would be no real positives to take from this game, win or lose. After all, this was a Vandy team that hadn’t won an SEC game in 15 tries, lost by three touchdowns to East Tennessee State, needed a last second field goal to beat the worst team in FBS (UConn), and lost by a combined 104-0 to Georgia and Florida. Sure, we’re dealing with a rebuild and a first year head coach, but Vanderbilt is a never-been-built whose football history makes South Carolina look like Notre Dame in comparison.

With about two minutes left and Vanderbilt well within field goal range to extend their lead to 20-14, I tweeted this:

Now, I know better. And I knew better as soon as I hit send, and walked that tweet back before the game-winning drive even began. (We don’t delete tweets for the most part, because we believe owning our stupidity is a path to growth, and deleting something that eventually turns out to be wrong is cowardly.)

But even though Zeb Noland rescued us from the fire yesterday, the point of that tweet still stands. Who are we if we lost to THAT Vanderbilt team? Or even come that close to losing to that Vanderbilt team? I was highly critical of our team last week when we fell behind to Tennessee 28-0 in the first quarter. Someone on Twitter came back at us with “well what did you expect this season under a first year head coach?”

I’ll tell you what I expect, to not be 13th in the league in almost every statistical offensive category. To not have to kick a last second field goal to beat East Carolina. To not lose a game to rebuilding and first-year head coach having Tennessee before the first quarter is over. To not struggle against the likes of Troy and Vanderbilt. To not commit boatloads of penalties and have critical turnovers every game. To not have to question at least one major coaching decision every week.

Look, I know who we are, I’ve been at this for 30+ years. I don’t expect us to compete for championships, quite frankly, but I would love for us to at least be COMPETITIVE. We have at least the resources of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and they continue to be more competitive than us year in and year out for the most part. And occasionally they’re pretty darned good.

Somone will accuse me of being a miserable Gamecock fan. I can assure you I’m far from it. I will admit that I am fiercely competitive and despise losing at anything, but the part of me that used to carry a Gamecock loss around with me for several days is long gone. But I do like to still write about it, and I try to tell the truth as I see it.

The truth is, we deserve better. And we should all expect more.

Old man yells at cloud. I feel like I have to repeat this every week, but I really like Shane Beamer. He has done a fine job of selling a family atmosphere to both the players and the fan base. He wins every press conference, and like last night, when one of his kids jumps in his arms at the end of game and he has a big smile on his face you can’t help but think “awwwwwwww”.

However, you know what Shane Beamer I really like? The Shane Beamer I saw with about two minutes left against Vandy. He was pissed, stressed, and had a look on his face like “how is this happening”. He looked like a football coach who wanted to chew somebody up and down for allowing this to happen.

This is probably going to sound idiotic, but I don’t mind the positivity that comes out of Beamer. But there are also times to be an old school football coach. This blog lived off of making fun of Dabo Swinney for being a “cheerleader” instead of a coach for years. And don’t deny it, you did as well. It would be hypocritical of me to sit here and say I love it when Beamer does it but hate it when Dabo does it. I don’t particularly like it when either does it.

Here’s the gist, and I keep saying it but I think a lot of people aren’t really getting it – at the end of the day winning matters. It doesn’t matter what your personality or sideline demeanor is if you produce wins instead of losses. Winning cures all, and losing…well, we all know what losing does.

I have high hopes that Beamer will start winning, and winning big. And then he can come out in a Dumb and Dumber tuxedo and dance a jig after every first down for all I care.

Bad choices. Last week we let a defensive end throw a pass that was intercepted in the end zone and yesterday we passed on three points to go for it on 4th and 5. Like I said, I feel like every week we’re talking about at least one terrible coaching decision by this staff. Personally, I need to feel good that these coaches can handle the pressure of making basic football decisions on game day.

Noland to the Zebscue. After the first two drives of the game yesterday, Luke Doty just didn’t have it. And he threw two really, really bad interceptions that could’ve easily cost us the game late.

Zeb Noland finally came in with a minute and a half left because Doty had a *cough cough* “flare up” in his foot. Noland looked like Joe Montana as he marched the Gamecocks to the winning touchdown.

I am indeed beginning to question the long-term viability of Doty as a difference making QB. Yes, he’s still very early in his career, but there aren’t even really flashes of that “it” factor that good signal callers have. Has the OL been terrible? Yes. Has Doty been hurt? Yes. So there are reasons/excuses for his lack of great play other than he’s not very good. But we need to find out what he is soon, or we have decisions to make about transfers in the offseason.

Oh, and if he’s still hurt, STOP PLAYING HIM UNTIL HE GETS WELL.

Game balls. Zeb, of course. And welcome back Xavier Legette. And way to keep balling Jaylan Foster.

What’s next. Texas A&M, a team that has all of the sudden found itself in the last two weeks. A very tough challenge for the Gamecocks, but a good chance to show that competitiveness we’ve been talking about.

Go Cocks.

(Not so) Snap Judgments – 2021 Kentucky @ USC Edition

USC QB Luke Doty hobbles for a few yards against Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of si.com)

Kentucky Blues. On October 7, 2000, South Carolina eked out a 20-17 win over Kentucky in Lexington. That began a run of ten straight and 13 out of 14 victories over the Wildcats for USC. (Strangely, the only loss was during the Gamecocks’ SEC East title season in 2010.) Some years during that run the Gamecocks were a little bit better than Kentucky, and some years they were a LOT better than Kentucky. But there was no question during the Holtz and Spurrier years that South Carolina was a better PROGRAM than Kentucky. Better players, better teams, better recruiting, pretty much better everything.

And that’s the way it should be, right? The universe decided long ago Kentucky was going to be elite at basketball, and football would forever be relegated to being a second-rate opponent worthy of scheduling for homecoming. As USC fans, we decided Kentucky should be a dub roughly 13 out of every 14 years for all eternity.

But in 2013 UK turned their program over to Mark Stoops, an uninspired hire that felt like they were simply scraping the bottom of the Stoops brothers barrel hoping for a little magic. As it turns out – while they haven’t exactly built a title contender up in Lexington – Stoops continues to field teams that are a royal pain the butt for USC. How much of a pain in the butt? After Saturday’s 16-10 loss to UK, Carolina has now dropped seven of its last eight to the ‘Cats.

There was a lot of excitement and anticipation going into Saturday night, and rightfully so. Hope springs eternal, and the fightin’ Shane Beamers had given us no reason to NOT expect an early statement victory over a middling SEC team.

Alas, it turns out middling SEC teams play pretty good football, especially against teams coming off a 2-6 season with a new head coach and a ton of unproven players on both sides of the football. The Wildcats had hosses along both lines of scrimmage, playmakers on the edge, and a bulldozer disguised as a running back. Even when they tried to give us the game, we couldn’t take it from them.

As much as it pains me to say, at this point in time Kentucky has a better football program than we do. And until we start beating them again, we should stop looking down our noses like we’ve beaten them 13 out of the last 14.

Scatterfield. What happens when you can’t pass, catch, run or score? You become statistically the worst offensive team in the SEC. (I’m currently not counting Vanderbilt as a team in the SEC for obvious reasons.) Take away the opening game victory over Region 4-AAAA Eastern Illinois (or was it Eastern Iowa? Or Eastern Indiana?) and the Gamecocks are averaging a measley two touchdowns per game.

I don’t have to tell you savvy readers, but scoring two TDs per game in this day and age is pretty…hmmm, what’s the word here…oh yeah, pathetic. I know, I know, one game was against Georgia, a team that basically has an NFL defense. And one was against Kentucky, which has, um, potentially an NFL player or two. And one game was against East Caroli…ok I quit. Pathetic was the right word.

So what’s the problem? Well, a lot of it is players who can’t make plays either because they’re simply not good enough or because they’re hurt (more on that later). A much more frightening possibiity is that Marcus Satterfield simply isn’t very good at his job. Based on some interactions this weekend a few of you have aleady come to that conclusion. I’m not there yet, and probably won’t get there soon based on the fact nobody would be a good offensive coordinator with that offensive line, a hobbled QB, running backs who aren’t living up to their billing, and for some reason a couple of our receivers are playing with oven mitts on their hands.

Of course there’s this to make you feel better:

MASTERMIND!!!

Wounded Walking. Something I have to continue to remind myself is how playing with and/or recovering from injuries can impact a player. I’ve been disappointed we haven’t seen the explosive MarShawn Lloyd this season that we were all expecting. But even when cleared to play, players coming back from an ACL, particularly running backs, often aren’t the same for two years.

Everyone keeps saying Kevin Harris doesn’t look the same, and he doesn’t. Twice on Saturday night he was stonewalled by a guy his size or smaller that he would have steamrolled last season. He had a mysterious back procedure in the preseason that must have been worse than we’ve been told.

And then there’s the case of Luke Doty. There was fear that Doty had broken his foot in preseason practice, but then we were told it was a sprain and he would be back early in the season. But now it turns out…his foot was broken!

Last year Luke was more of a “reckless abandon” kind of guy, but he’s obviously not running well and is ducking out of bounds as soon as possible when he does run. Now we know why.

So when three of your top weapons are not close to 100%, that’s a pretty big contributor to why your offense might not be clicking.

Scatterfield Part Deux. Marcus Satterfield last week said you can’t get a running back in a good rhythm when he has to share the field with three other guys, and he promised to scale back the running back rotation. The casualties were ZaQuandre White, who got zero carries and I think zero snaps at running back, and Lloyd, who got one snap and one carry if my eyes didn’t deceive me.

The biggest surprise of the season continues to be Juju McDowell, who doesn’t really care who he has to compete with for playing time, he just makes plays.

Those types of dudes we need, you know.

To go or not to go. So real quick – down 13-7 in the fourth quarter, you have fourth and medium or you can kick a 40-something-yard field goal to cut the lead to 13-10. You go for it, you don’t make it, Kentucky drives down and kicks a field goal to make it a two score game with four minutes and change left to essentially seal the game.

So for me, and I’m not saying I’m 100% right, I’m kicking the field goal. You extend the game and put pressure on Kentucky to play perfect football. Not making that fourth down conversion was also demoralizing, as was Chris Rodriguez picking up eight yards per carry on the way to that game clinching field goal for the Wildcats.

“But we had the right call on fourth down and the ball hit him right in the chest.” Right, and he dropped it. If you go for it, you have to be sure you have the players who can execute and ensure you get a first down. When you don’t have playmakers (and for the most part we don’t) that’s the risk you take.

“But we still lost by six so that field goal wouldn’t have mattered any way.” You can’t assume the game would’ve played out exactly the same way, because it wouldn’t have. Maybe Kentucky fumbles the ensuing kickoff and we recover. Maybe Kentucky returns the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. Maybe, maybe, maybe. You have to make the decision in the moment, and we made the wrong decision.

Wait, did I just say I was 100% right? Oops!

What’s next. A 3:30 pm game against a Troy Trojans team we should whip soundly…hopefully. And hopefully we’ll find some offensive weapons we can depend on.

So let’s just kick their butts and get ready for Tennessee shall we?

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2021 USC @ Georgia Edition

Jalen Foster snags one of his two interceptions on the night. (Photo courtesy of thestate.com)

Dog days. On October 12, 2019, the South Carolina football team went into Athens and pulled off one of more improbable upsets over Georgia in the history of our rivalry, 20-17. At that moment in time there was a feeling of, “hey, maybe Muschamp has figured this thing out”. Indeed he did not have it figured out, as the fortunes of both schools have gone in drastically different directions since that day.

South Carolina would win three more games under Will Muschamp against 13 losses until he was fired at the end of the 2020 season. Included in those 13 losses was a glorified scrimmage against Georgia last year that illustrated just how far USC had fallen behind the Bulldogs. The talent disparity was borderline embarrassing and the lack of effort from USC signaled the end of a bleak era.

Going into last night’s game USC was a 32-point underdog, which I think (but never confirmed) was the largest point spread the Gamecocks have faced since joining the SEC in 1992. Throughout the game the talent gap was on full display, as Georgia’s defensive line pushed us around, and their offense easily converted third downs and got behind our defensive backs for long scores multiple times.

But despite the 27-point loss, there was something different about last night. There was hope. Not the kind of hope that kills you, but the kind of hope that breeds more hope. The Gamecocks fought hard against what is most likely the best team in the country at the moment, and while we didn’t land nearly enough punches, we were able to land a few.

Are we anywhere close to the level of Georgia right now? No, not really. But we’re closer than we were a year ago in both attitude and talent. This is a year for Shane Beamer to build momentum and gain ground on not just Georgia, but all of the teams ahead of us.

Last night was a glimpse of just how far we have to go.

Cool hand. Zeb Noland has done an admirable job and has been a good story for us the first two weeks of the season. But after having his hand stepped on in the first series last night, we were able to get our first look at Luke Doty in 2021.

Doty is still a little raw, but it was quite obvious to these untrained eyes that he has a skill set that no one else on our roster can match. He obviously can move around inside and outside the pocket, which adds another dimension to our offense. I was also impressed by his arm strength, which is something I don’t recall from his limited action last year.

Regardless, it’s obvious he is our QB1 and will be for the foreseeable future. I’m looking forward to watching him break out over the next few weeks.

Unmarked Vann Again. Josh Vann continued to cement himself as our number one receiving threat with three catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. He had another acrobatic 40-ish yard catch called back when the replay officials said the ball touched the ground, which it clearly DID NOT…maybe.

BROOKSIE. Jalen Brooks made what might turn out to be the catch of the year. Brooks has potential to be a solid number two receiver, but he has to start making the easy catches along with the hard ones.

Boneheaded. On one of Vann’s catches he immediately jumped up and mugged over the Georgia defender, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Now look, you can get mad at the stupid rule, and you can get mad at the stupid SEC official for throwing the stupid flag. But eventually our guys have to realize they’re putting the team in a hole with these types of antics, and we’re not nearly good enough to be able to absorb those types of penalties. Shane Beamer expressed frustration with it as well after the game, saying he’s had to talk to the team about it after each game this year. Clean it up fellas.

Boneheaded Part II. With about half a minute left in the second quarter USC stopped Georgia on third down just on our side of the field. Not wanting to concede the half, Shane Beamer called a timeout. I liked it! Who knows what could happen – bad snap, blocked kick, long punt return – give it a shot I say!

What happened next is Georgia punter Jake Camarda pinned the Gamecocks down at the one-yard line with 32 seconds left in the half. The choice to me was clear – run a QB sneak once, let the clock run out and we get the ball to start the second half down by two scores and feeling pretty good.

Instead, we ran play action against a defensive line that had been destroying us all half. Doty dropped NINE YARDS DEEP in the end zone, and was swarmed and sacked for a safety. We then kicked to Georgia, who hit a couple of long passes and added a field goal as the half expired. Five crucial points that took the air out of a team that was still in the game, only two scores down.

I know it’s taboo to criticize Shane so early after he’s done so much so well, but this was a boneheaded decision. What exactly were we going to accomplish from 99 yards away in 32 seconds? Against THAT defense? Some of the arguments I heard in favor were:

  • “We need to be aggressive, unlike Muschamp!” – Muschamp lacked aggressiveness when we had the ball in plus territory with 30 seconds and three timeouts left. This was not the same. The situation matters. Also, for the second week in a row, quit bringing up Muschamp.
  • “The o-line was playing so poorly the QB sneak was just as much of a risk.” – Please, please stop.
  • “We weren’t going to win anyway, take a shot!” – I’m certain our coaches were not thinking this, even if some of the more pessimistic fans were.

Look, this is of course forgivable, but it’s about risk/reward. Beamer took the blame for it after the game, and hopefully it will be a lesson learned. I like being aggressive, but again, the situation matters.

What’s next. The Kentucky Wildcats come to Williams-Brice next Saturday in a game I think our fan base is all of the sudden pretty confident about. UK struggled mightily against UT-Chattanooga yesterday, but they were impressive at times in their first two games, including a win over Missouri.

We’re still young, and a win over the Wildcats would go a long way confidence-wise. But this will be a tough, tough game, as it pretty much is every year. My gut tells me this entire year will be filled with inconsistent play, some really good, some really bad.

Which will we see next week? Heck if I know, check back for Snap Judgments next Sunday…

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2021 USC @ East Carolina Edition

Photo courtesy of thestate.com

A win’s a win. South Carolina took a right cross to the jaw at the opening bell yesterday, giving up a 75-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game to East Carolina. Then they took jabs and body blows for rest of the first half with penalties, missed assignments, turnovers and generally bad play at the game of football that led to a 14-0 deficit with about a minute left in the first half. With ECU poised to add to the lead, Damani Staley took advantage of a fortuitous bounce off a botched screen play and raced 63 yards to cut the lead to 14-7 and change the complexion of the game. The second half was no thing of beauty, but a stout defense, some key plays from Josh Vann and Juju McDowell, and a clutch kick from Parker White helped the Gamecocks escape Greenville with a 20-17 victory and a 2-0 record.

This was an ugly win, something we’ve become used to as Gamecock fans no matter the coach or roster. The good news is Shane Beamer managed the game beautifully down the stretch to make White’s kick about as anticlimactic as a game-winning kick can be. Beamer is the first USC coach in four decades to go 2-0 in his first two games as head coach. The schedule gets exponentially harder next week with a trip to Athens, but after games against a really bad team and a moderately competent team, the message is…so far, so good?

They have the Big Mac, we have the Big Mic. I watched JuJu McDowell last December in the Georgia AAAAAA state championship game roll up almost 300 yards of total offense, and I thought “wow, he’s a good ball player but it will be a while before he sees the field at South Carolina.” It was a reasonable thought considering we were bringing back the SEC’s leading rusher in Kevin Harris, our highest rated running back recruit ever in MarShawn Lloyd, and a very capable backup in Zaquandre White.

But with the game on the line yesterday it was McDowell who was in the game, and he produced. On the final drive, he ripped off runs of 8, 15, 5 and 16 yards to put White well within his range to hit the game winner. Throw in a 63-yard kickoff return on the previous drive when the Gamecocks tied the game, and it looks like we have quite a freshman ballplayer on our hands.

Unmarked Vann. Last week I lamented our lack of a big play receiver on the team. Yesterday Josh Vann finally looked like he might live up to the considerable hype he had coming out of high school, hauling in five passes for 116 yards and almost a touchdown. But beyond the stats, I’m a big believer in body language on the football field, and for the first time Vann looked like he WANTED to be the man.

Is our defense…good? Well, who knows, but after two games the defense appears to be better than it has been in recent years. The defensive line is salty, and the cobbled together back seven are flying to the football and for the most part not giving up explosive plays. Clayton White isn’t afraid to blitz, which I LOVE, and has called a really good first two games.

Blind leading the blind. Yesterday’s officiating crew called about the worst game I can remember an SEC crew calling, and that’s saying a lot. The most egregious (non) call is when they failed to overturn a Dakereon Joyner fumble when his entire lower leg was on the gound before the ball was pulled out. There was an blatant false start on the ECU left tackle in the third quarter that wasn’t called, but in our favor Z White was moving towards the line of scrimmage on Zeb Noland’s touchdown throw to Dakareon Joyner. Those are the ones that stick out off the top of my head, but I know there were many, many more.

And for the record, the Vann fumble at the goal line and the Vann TD that were called back were both the right call. One Twitter follower disagreed on the TD saying he was “transferring” the ball, but when you look at it over and over, he was still gathering the ball, not transferring it. Anyway, we won, so don’t matter.

Zeb. Zeb’s numbers turned out OK – 13/24, 214, 1 TD, 1 INT – but man he looked lost at times in the first half. He settled in the second half and made some very nice throws. I think he gets the start at UGA next week, but I’m certain we’ll finally get our first look at Luke Doty at some point.

Where there’s a Will. People are still strangely obsessed with Will Muschamp. Last week after the win over Eastern Illinois, we saw tweets of “a Muschamp team would never put away a team like that.” And after the win yesterday, “Muschamp never won games like that”. First of all, as bad as Boom was, neither of those statments are true. We actually had some moments of positivity under Muschamp, even though they may be overshadowed by his face plants.

Second of all, let…it…go. This is Shane Beamer’s program now, let’s judge him based on his merits and not those of the bumbling defensive guru who preceeded him.

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – Eastern Illinois @ USC Edition

Photo courtesy of thestate.com

Welcome back to Snap Judgments, where we give only cursory thought to what we’re about to say before we say it. Today we look at South Carolina’s 46-0 win over Eastern Illinois.

Beamer Y’all. From the time he was introduced as the new head football coach at South Carolina, Shane Beamer has felt like the right man for the job. Despite his lack of head coaching experience, he came in with an energy and passion for the job – and not just a head coaching job, THIS job – that has won over the fan base. He understands the importance of public relations in his position, and has “won” every press conference and media session he’s had to date, which in turn has endeared him to the Gamecock fan base. The million dollar question remains – is he a good enough football coach to lead this program back to relevance, and possibly even compete for championships?

I don’t think we got our answer last night against a pretty putrid Eastern Illinois team from the FCS. But as far as tests go against putrid teams from the FCS, I’d say we passed with flying colors. The offense, defense, and special teams were good enough to make this game a laugher before halftime. EIU was the perfect opening opponent for a team and a fan base scarred by the Muschamp era, an era that divided the program and the fan base, an era defined by antiquated decisions on the field, and an era that made us wonder how long it would be before we would ever be competitive again.

There’s an old saying “it’s the hope that kills you”. In a recent episode of the fantastic TV series Ted Lasso the lead character says, “I disagree, it’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you.” At the end of the Muschamp era that lack of hope was killing us all.

I have no idea where the Shane Beamer era will take us, but one thing he has done has reinstilled that hope in all of us. And I dont’ know about you, but that’s good enough for me right now.

Zeb’s not dead, baby, Zeb’s not dead. The most fascinating national story surrounding USC last night was the ascension of Zeb Noland from graduate assistant coach to the starting job in the season opener. To hear anyone outside of South Carolina tell it, we plucked some 37-year old finanacial planner from behind his desk at BB&T because we were so desperately thin at quarterback. I mean, we were desperately thin don’t get me wrong, but we had the good fortune of being able to turn to a guy who was a starter for two schools, and when he wasn’t a starter played behind a first-round draft pick in Trey Lance and a future NFL quarterback in Brock Purdy.

Noland’s final numbers (13 of 22, 121 yards) won’t get him on any Heisman watch lists, but his four first half touchdowns were pretty impressive for a guy who had basically retired from football. Hopefully Luke Doty returns next week against East Carolina, but it’s good to know we have a steady hand like Noland if we need him.

The Stable. The Gamecocks were able to run for 258 yards without all-SEC running back Kevin Harris taking a snap. ZaQuandre White led the way with 12 carries for 128 yards, and redshirt freshman MarShawn Lloyd and true freshman Juju McDowell both showed flashes in their debuts in the garnet and black. This may be the most talented running back room we’ve had since…heck, I don’t know when.

Jordan Rules. Jordan Burch had the standout play of the night when he picked off an Eastern Illinois pass and returned it 61 yards for the Gamecocks’ final score of the night. Defensive linemen return passes for touchdowns every week, but I honestly can’t think of a DL I’ve ever seen look so comfortable and smooth with the ball in his hands.

Beamer Ball II. Are we in a new era of special teams excellence at South Carolina? It sure looked like it last night as the ‘Cocks blocked two punts, which were two more than we blocked all of last year. We also came close on two more. The cool part is you could tell the coaching staff had watched EIU film and know how to exploit their punt formation.

The bad and the ugly. We get accused of being negative when we’re not always positive, so to stay on brand we’ll just point out a few areas of concern we saw in real time last night. One, the offensive line was inconsistent at best. Yes, we finished with more than 250 yards rushing and I don’t recall us giving up a sack, but too many times the undersized EIU DL were in our backfield too easily. That won’t fly against the likes of Georgia. Two, we had too many penalties. I’m hoping we can chalk some of these to overexuberance, but if Beamer truly wants to “look like a well coached team” we can’t be shooting ourselves in the foot so much. And finally, we simply don’t seem to have any breakthrough talent at wide receiver, which means…

Ring my Bell, I’ll be your Muse. Jaheim Bell and Nick Muse both looked like real difference makers on offense, and we’re going to need them to be all year long.

Clemson lost. Clemson lost.

Looking ahead. As much as we’d like to think otherwise, East Carolina is going to be a real test next week. Last night was a mere glimpse into what kind of team we are going to be in 2021, next week in Greenville will tell us if our optimism is warranted, or if we’re in for a long season.

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – The State of South Carolina Football

Fast fail. In July of 2015 Steve Spurrier hastily called a press conference. Not a podium and microphone press conference, a Spurrier press conference. The kind where he stands somewhere random and holds court while beat writers jockey to get their iPhones and digital recorders as close to the HBC as possible.

Spurrier went on the attack, defending himself and Gamecock football against the “enemies” trying to tear down the program. This was in the wake of his infamous “gimme 2 or 3 more seasons coaching the Gamecocks” that was being used against him in recruiting. His press conference was widely decried by the media as petulant and paranoid. But in Gamecock circles, it energized us. We were like “hell yeah, Spurrier has a second wind” and our belief in him was renewed.

Little did we know it was the beginning of the end.

A 2-4 start led to Spurrier’s abrupt midseason retirement. While it was bad to lose our head coach in the middle of the season, it gave Ray Tanner a head start in a fairly rich pool of attainable coaches. But first we botched the Tom Herman hiring (no matter what you think of Herman today, that would’ve been an absolute home run hire at the time). Then we had Georgia pull an okey-doke on us and swoop in to get our plan B, Kirby Smart.

That left us with a small group that included Rich Rodriguez, Will Muschamp and Lincoln Riley. How Rodriguez ever made it that far is beyond me, but he managed to embarrass us by publicly turning down a job he was never offered. Riley, now the coach at a little school called Oklahoma, was deemed too young and inexperienced for such a big time job as South Carolina. Not mentioned in that pool were guys like Bronco Mendenhall and Justin Fuente, who are having success at Virginia and Virginia Tech, respectively.

So we hired Muschamp, the guy who was at best our third choice. Ray Tanner smiled and tried weakly to convince us Muschamp was the guy we were after all along, but we all knew that just wasn’t true. The man who was run out of Florida after only four years was merely a consolation prize.

But as Gamecock fans we jumped on board. What choice did we have.

Muschamp faired well in his first two years, taking a 3-9 team and going 6-7 in 2016 and then 9-4 in 2017. But there were deep flaws in those teams. Even in the 9-win season there was no real signature win. The second half of the bowl game gave us great hope heading into 2018 (and earned Bryan McClendon the offensive coordinator position), but masked a lot of problems we would not be able to overcome.

A humiliating 28-0 bowl loss at the end of 2018 gave way to a disheartening loss to North Carolina to start 2019, and the rumbling began. This was starting to look a lot like Muschamp’s Florida teams – no offensive identity, inability to develop a quarterback, lack of killer instinct when you have a lead, head-scratching in-game decisions. A signature win, (finally) over fourth-ranked Georgia in Athens got us all turned around. This Muschamp guy CAN coach, it’s just taken a little time.

But that game was fool’s gold. The Gamecocks completely collapsed and lost five of six games to finish the season. The last three games we scored one offensive touchdown. The season became a complete disaster.

So now we’re left with tough questions and tough decisions. Where do we go from here.

Muschamp and Tanner. Unless there is a stunning reversal, Will Muschamp is not getting fired. Despite only winning four games in his fourth year as head coach, he is going to survive because of an unbelievably horrible business deal made by Ray Tanner.

Tanner put his faith in a guy nobody else wanted four years ago, and then gave an extravagant buyout to the same guy who STILL nobody else wants. Barry Odom was just fired at Missouri after four years, and his buyout was less than two million dollars. Is Will Muschamp really worth ten times that number? It’s mind-boggling such an irresponsible deal would not only be agreed to by Tanner, but signed off on by the USC Board of Trustees. It’s insane.

Make no mistake, if Muschamp’s buyout was five million dollars, there would be a press conference today announcing his dismissal. He’s not being retained because he’s a good head coach, he’s being retained because we are not willing to buy him out.

So next year, at the helm will be the same guy who failed miserably at Florida, and has pulled the South Carolina program out of the ditch only to drive it right back in. Muschamp is a good representative for our university, he is a decent recruiter, he talks Xs and Os with the best of them.

Unfortunately, he’s just not a good head coach. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with him.

BMac. By all accounts a great recruiter, a great guy and a wonderful asset to our football team, Bryan McClendon has to go. I feel bad for McClendon because he was put in a very difficult position. Instead of hiring a proven play caller to try and fix the ONE THING that has dogged him in his head coaching career, Muschamp hired a guy who was never an offensive coordinator. Now he’s going to have one more chance to hire the right guy.

The players. Going into 2020 we lose our best defensive player (Javon Kinlaw) and our best offensive player (Bryan Edwards). We will have maybe one or two players listed on pre-season all-SEC teams, which whether you like it or not is an important measuring stick. Our recruiting class will be top 25, but number ten or worse in the SEC. We have no idea if Jake Bentley will return, and if not we have no idea if Ryan Hilinski is the player we thought he was going to be. We lose our top running back. We lose the best punter we’ve had in years. From a personnel standpoint, the outlook is bleak.

Recruiting. One prominent Gamecock twitterer/podcaster was fretting over losing our “top 20 recruiting class” if we let Muschamp go. First, the overall direction of the program is more important that one or two recruiting classes. Second, we struggle to beat teams, and often lose to teams that consistently have worse recruiting classes than us (see: Kentucky, Missouri, Appalachian State). Maybe we’re getting decent talent, but we’re letting it go to waste.

Use your eyes. We’ve said this a lot over the last couple of years. When you look at this football team and this coaching staff, what do you see. What I see is a middling SEC team that struggles to win games going away, and with one very notable exception fails to compete against teams with more talent than us.

We lost eight games this year, and five of them were by 20 or more points. FIVE. That’s unacceptable. That’s not competitive. As South Carolina fans we probably shouldn’t expect 10-win season after 10-win season, but is it unreasonable to expect we don’t get blown out in 40% of our games?

Hope. I’d say over the course of the ten years we’ve been running this blog and Twitter account we’ve been much more positive than negative. But it’s hard to be positive at the moment given what we’ve seen from the administration and coaching staff over the last few months. It has been severely mismanaged at the administrative level and our players have been victims of coaching malpractice on the field. Yet we are choosing to stay the course with a head coach who has never once proven he can be successful at it.

I hope one day someone can send this link back to us and say “haha you idiots wanted to fire Muschamp” because we’ve just won an SEC title. I hope Muschamp can make it work, I really do. I hope we can get this thing turned around and at least field a competitive team sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy.

Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2019 South Carolina @ Tennessee Edition

Chasing. (Photo: AP/Wade Payne)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 41-21 loss to Tennessee.

Hard Knox. Over the course of the last several months I didn’t hear much worry from Gamecock fans about our biennial trip to Knoxville. When looking over the schedule our game against Tennessee was generally though of as an easy win for us at best, and a toss up at worst.* That led me to write and post on Friday night about our frightening history of games in Neyland Stadium. I mostly wrote this as a sort of warning to the South Carolina faithful – don’t take these guys lightly, even when we’re good and they’re bad, we seem to have a tough time at their place.

The game couldn’t have started any better, with Ryan Hilinski hitting Shi Smith for a 75-yard catch and run touchdown on the game’s first play. Then the game couldn’t have gone any worse, with Tennessee outscoring the good guys 41-14 in a whitewashing rarely seen in this series in the last 20 years. In the darkest recesses of my mind I didn’t see us getting whipped by three touchdowns and getting goose-egged 24-0 in the second half. It was a supremely frustrating performance, so much so that I left at the end of the third quarter to attend a birthday party to which I arrived ON TIME. I don’t have to tell you that’s extremely out of character for me.

Two weeks ago the South Carolina football team was flying high after beating fifth-ranked Georgia in Athens. Those questioning Will Muschamp were quieted. There was no one asking about buyouts, or making lists of coaching candidates. The program was finally trending up, and on the right track.

Last week against Florida the Gamecocks let one get away. The lead story was the poor officiating, but USC had chances to make plays and pull a second consecutive top ten upset, but couldn’t get it done.

On Saturday, the bottom fell out. Tennessee has been a program in disarray for years. Poor administration, botched coaching searches, bad hires, players with questionable character, transfers, a long SEC losing streak, you name it. Then they started 2019 with a home loss against Georgia State, and entered our game at 2-5 even though they had been playing better of late. But the butt of all SEC jokes ambushed Muschamp and company. They were better prepared, faster, more confident, and looked more like the 1999 Volunteers than the 2019 Volunteers.

So here we are, back where we were after the first week of the season, picking up the pieces after a horrible loss. The good will of the Georgia win is gone. Completely gone. After a mere two weeks.

*I know, this game terrified some of you.

Meltdown. I didn’t get to write a Snap Judgments after the Georgia game, but I think I tweeted something to the effect that our defense was finally starting to look like a Will Muschamp defense. Against the Vols, we got no pressure and gave up 351 yards passing to a quarterback who Tennessee fans dread seeing play and a true freshman seeing his first significant playing time as a collegian. We were consistently shoved around and wide receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway seemed to running through our secondary with a ten-yard force field around them for most of the game. (Both those guys are full-grown men by the way).

I think some of our defenders may have been a little full of themselves after the Georgia game. Maybe this will be a wake up call. Or maybe the Georgia game was an anomaly.

Offensive. After complaining about Bryan McClendon and the offense, I was told by one Twitter follower that I was wrong and I should “break down some film and show the issues”. Well, I don’t really have time to break down film, and I’m not sure I know enough about RPM’s and screen door passes and drawing plays to tell you what’s going on. What I do know is this:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears we’ve regressed in most major offensive categories. If we were a great offensive team to begin with that would probably be acceptable, but we were no better than middle of pack in the SEC last year.

Put the blame on a freshman quarterback if you want, but watching Jim Chaney of Tennessee scheme the hell out of us on Saturday with a below average QB and a *gasp* freshman QB made me long for a real live veteran offensive coordinator.

If we want to continue to be unimaginative and middling on offense, we’re in good shape. If not, we need to open our pocketbooks and hire someone who has a proven track record.

QB1. Speaking of freshman quarterbacks, I have no problem with Ryan Hilinski at this stage of his career. He was thrown into a tough situation, has been getting pummeled in every game, and keeps coming back. He needs to get better, and he will, but right now we have to take the good with the bad.

The Muschamp Dilemma. Ah, yes, so we meet again. First of all, let me state for the record, no one from this blog or Twitter account has ever uttered the words “fire Muschamp”. If you can find evidence to the contrary please share it with us. First of all, calling for his firing would be futile, because it is obvious Ray Tanner is going to live, and likely die, with this hire. Second, nobody listens to us anyway. Third, believe it or not, we really really want Muschamp to succeed at South Carolina, even though we don’t think it is likely.

Once again, this is about using your eyes. Tell me what you see. If you throw out the Georgia game (but please don’t, cling to it like grim death) this has been a program of inconsistency and mediocrity under Muschamp. We’ve been slightly above average at our very best, and average to below average the rest of the time. Even our 9-4 season didn’t see us beat a team of real consequence. Add his time at Florida to his time here and what do you see? After seven-plus years as a head coach, nobody is calling Will Muschamp a coaching superstar.

And stop with the Spurrier argument. Please stop. Spurrier was given a ton of rope because he earned it long before he ever set foot in Columbia. Muschamp has yet to show he can be a successful head coach anywhere, so he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. And if your argument is “it took Spurrier seven years and he’s a hall of famer we should give Muschamp more time”, how much time do you want to give him? Fifteen, twenty years? Lord knows, I’ll likely be dead by the time we hire our next head coach.

I know this is going to make some of you mad, it already has on Twitter. That’s not my intention, it’s just a matter of calling it like I see it. You might see it differently, so I’ll make you an offer if you have a strong opinion in the other direction –

Write a story in defense of Will Muschamp and this coaching staff, email it to us at rubberchickensblog@gmail.com, and we’ll publish it. Not kidding, if you want a voice, this is your chance.

Until then, go Cocks, beat Vandy.

Hard Knox-ville: As Always, This Halloween Tilt Will Provide Some Scares

(Photo: 247 Sports)

South Carolina at Tennessee – the thing of which nightmares are made.

1995 – My only trip to Knoxville for a game featured Steve Taneyhill vs. Peyton Manning. The Gamecocks took the opening kickoff and drove all the way to the Tennessee one-yard line, only to have a false start penalty stall the drive. The chip shot field goal that would’ve given South Carolina an early lead was blocked by Leonard Little and returned 90 yards for a Vol touchdown. It was all downhill from there as Tennessee went on to win 56-21.

2001 – The no. 15 Gamecocks and no. 9 Volunteers battled nip and tuck for three and a half quarters, but a Travis Stephens touchdown midway through the fourth quarter gave Tennessee a 17-10 victory. It was one of only three losses on the season for the Gamecocks.

2003 – Star freshman running back Demetris Summers ran for 158 yards on 27 carries and the Gamecocks played their first ever overtime game (I think) in Knoxville. But they lost in heartbreaking fashion as Tennessee scored a touchdown in their overtime possession after a USC field goal.

2007 – Talk about heartbreaking. The Gamecocks stormed back from a 21-0 halftime deficit to take a 24-21 lead late in the game. The Vols’ Daniel Lincoln hit a 48-yard field goal with five seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime, then made a 27-yarder in the first overtime period. Ryan Succop missed a 40-yarder with a chance to force a second overtime. At the time, had the Gamecocks won out, they would have won the SEC East (instead, they lost their last three regular season games).

2009 – The 22nd-ranked Gamecocks went into Knoxville against an aggressively average Tennessee team in their first and only year under Lane Kiffin. When the Vols ran out onto the field in black jerseys, on Halloween no less, the game was over. The Gamecocks gave the game away early, turning the ball over and falling behind 21-0 again. There would be no comeback this time, and UT went on to win 31-13.

2013 – Yeah, gross. The game that cost the Gamecocks a shot at an SEC title, and maybe even a national title.

2015 – The worst South Carolina team of the last two decades fell into a big hole again (sound familiar?), trailing by two touchdowns at the half. Once again they rallied to tie it up, and had a chance to win late, but Jerrell Adams fumbled at the Tennessee 13-yard line with :32 seconds left to play.

Even the wins in Knoxville have been pretty blah – 14-3 in 2011 when we had a vastly superior team, and 15-9 in 2017 when we dominated most of the game but needed a goal line stand at the end of the game to seal it.

That said, one of the great moments in Gamecock history happened in Knoxville in 2005 in Steve Spurrier’s first year as head coach. Josh Brown’s 49-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter gave the Gamecocks a 16-15 win, their first in Neyland Stadium. But as far as great USC performances in Knoxville, the list pretty much begins and ends with that game.

What am I expecting tomorrow? Who knows. What we need is an offensive breakout for this team. We’ve seen glimpses throughout the season, but it would be nice to see a four quarter performance from the offense where we put 35-38 points on the board and have the defense play at the level it played against Georgia. If we can pull that off, we should have a relaxing afternoon.

However, the Vols have been playing tough football, especially the last two weeks against Mississippi State and Alabama. So while there’s the performance I’m hoping for, there’s also the performance we’re most likely to get – a low scoring street fight that isn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter. As long as we come away with a win I really don’t care how we get it.

I’d just like to save all my scares and horrors for later in the week.