Snap Judgments – 2019 Charleston Southern at South Carolina

(Photo courtesy of postandcourier.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 72-10 victory over Charleston Southern.

Temper, temper. Your expectations that is. Trust me, I’m not trying to be a downer because there were plenty of things to get excited about as we watched the Gamecocks run up and down the field against an overmatched and undermanned Charleston Southern squad. Ryan Hilinski had a spectacular debut at QB. We had two running backs go over 100 yards, including Kevin Harris doing his best Earl Campbell impersonation. The defense played like a Will Muschamp defense is supposed to play. However…

It WAS Charleston Southern.

Some folks jumped us for tweeting that on Saturday, saying it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, football is football, we’ve played down to our competition many times before, etc., etc. Which, hey, fair enough on the point that we’ve struggled with teams like them before. But, that was easily the worst team on our schedule this season, and we did exactly what we were supposed to do to them – drag them. You don’t get any extra credit from this stodgy old blogger for winning in the manner you’re supposed to against highly inferior competition.

There were encouraging signs coming off a terribly disheartening loss to North Carolina, but the fact is Muschamp and company didn’t have to make any tough decisions, Hilinski wasn’t under any pressure, there were running lanes the size of Assembly Street for our backs, and the CSU offensive line was tissue paper. That won’t be the case for the next ten, eleven, twelve or thirteen games (see, optimism!).

For those of you thinking “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST ENJOY THE VICTORY”, trust me I did. It was fun to watch all those new and/or young guys out there contributing. There are few things better than a South Carolina football game where the outcome is never in doubt for the good guys. I just don’t think a 62-point win over an FCS team means our problems are solved.

Hope in Hilinski. Make no mistake, Saturday’s star was Ryan Hilinski. The true freshman came out and played about as well as he possibly could, completing his first twelve passes and finishing 24-30 for 282 yards and two TDs, and threw in a rushing TD for good measure. He was calm, poised and collected running a college offense for the first time, and validated all the excitement we’ve had about him since he arrived on campus.

Again, things get exponentially tougher against Alabama this week, but Hilinski made his first impression count.

Offensive stars. The Gamecock offense was sharp this week, and a lot of guys got to show off their wares to the home crowd. Dakereon Joyner was electric, racking up 67 total yards and given the QB position a dimension that will be needed down the road. The aforementioned Kevin Harris bulldozed his way to 147 yards and three TDs on six whole carries, Mon Denson had 9-118, Rico Dowdle 10-87 and Tavien Feaster 6-64. Overall the Gamecocks rushed for a program-best 493 yards while averaging 13 yards per carry.

I’ve been very cautiously optimistic about the running back position lately, and now I’m just optimistic.

Farewell to Jake? When we tweeted last week during the UNC game that the Jake Bentley era was over at USC, we certainly didn’t expect it to end this way. With word coming down that he would be having season-ending surgery to repair his broken foot, you have to believe his career at South Carolina is likely over. You have to believe Hilinski is the future, even if he stumbles some during the course of the season. It would be hard to imagine Bentley coming back next season and winning the job just for one year. Logically, it seems like he would rehab, enter the transfer portal and play in 2020 for a team that will be able to showcase his talents for NFL scouts.

That said, I appreciate the person and player Jake Bentley has been at South Carolina. We’ve been mostly positive about him and defended him on this blog and our other properties. Only recently have I thought it might be time to go in another direction, and I’m sad for Jake and his family that it had to happen this way. He brought us some great moments at USC, and there’s no reason to do anything but thank him for his hard work for or football program and our university.

Thank you Jake, you will be missed.

Go Cocks.

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Snap Judgments – 2019 South Carolina vs. North Carolina Edition

(PHOTO: thestate.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-20 loss to North Carolina.

Trust your eyes. Yesterday, when we still had a chance to win the game against North Carolina, I fired off two pretty uncharacteristic tweets:

These tweets were uncharacteristic for a few reasons. One, while I comment on the play of our players on a regular basis, I try not to be overly critical. (These are still 18-22 year old young men, after all.) Two, I’ve been very, very patient with Will Muschamp, defending him and hoping against hope he was going to become the head coaching superstar he seemed destined to be ten years ago. Three, I can’t think of a time in my entire life when I would’ve advocated for a true freshman quarterback to play over a fourth year senior quarterback.

But yesterday I snapped. And judging be the response to these two tweets, most of you snapped as well. After an offseason where it felt like we might be gaining ever so slightly on our competition in the SEC East – HARD WORK IS PAYING OFF Y’ALL SPURS UP – we proceeded to tie our shoelaces together in the locker room and stumble all over the field for four quarters against an ACC team that won a grand total of two games last year.

From here on out I’ve decided to trust my eyes. To trust what I see.

What I see in Will Muschamp is a stubborn old-school coach who refuses to make changes to his style to keep up with the modern game. Muschamp doesn’t care about style points. He’d prefer to get a lead, sit on that lead, and try to choke the life out of the other team and win a 17-13 slugfest. I know that because of how often we default to ultra-conservative play calling when we have the slightest of leads. Play defense and win the field position battle are great fundamental strategies of 1980s football. But in 2019 doing those things resulted in almost 200 yards of offense and two touchdowns in two possessions for North Carolina. Muschamp is not going to change. And his style is not going to win many games in today’s college football, much less at the University of South Carolina.

What I see in Jake Bentley is a quarterback who hasn’t improved much, if at all, since he first took snaps for the Gamecocks as a freshman. He’s had his good moments over the years, but those moments are always counterbalanced by plays and days like yesterday. His emotions get the best of him, he becomes hesitant, unsure of himself, and allows those emotions to affect his mechanics. A lot of things lost that game yesterday, don’t get me wrong. Bentley didn’t call the plays, he didn’t give up consecutive 98 and 95 yard drives, he didn’t miss blocks and miss tackles. But he has the ball in his hands on every offensive snap, and had a chance to win that game for us yesterday. And he didn’t come close.

What I see in this Gamecock program is mediocrity. Aside from a couple of years in the 80s, and the run from 2010-2013, mediocrity is all I’ve ever seen in this program. Maybe change would just result in the same thing we’ve seen for the better part of 100 years, but sitting still with Will Muschamp…as the kids say, that ain’t it chief.

The Ray Way. A lot of folks tweeted at us yesterday about the role of Ray Tanner in all this. And again, use your eyes, these folks ain’t wrong. Tanner got a head start on the head coaching search when Steve Spurrier walked out mid-season. He had Tom Herman on the hook, but couldn’t land him. There are a lot of stories about why, but the fact remains Tanner couldn’t close the deal. He then turned to Kirby Smart, and in the dead of night had Georgia outmaneuver him and steal Smart away.

There were still hotshot coaches out there we could’ve landed – Lincoln Riley, Dino Babers, Justin Fuente – but to my knowledge we only interviewed Riley and deemed him too young and inexperienced to lead such a high-profile program like South Carolina (insert eye roll). These guys didn’t fit the SEC “profile”. So here we sit, with an SEC retread who can recruit pretty well but has not yet proven he can coach his way out of a paper bag.

Ray Tanner was a hall of fame baseball coach who wanted to be an administrator, and we rewarded him with a job he’s unqualified for because he won a lot of baseball games. Now the football program is paying for it. Other programs may follow.

Frosh. I watched freshmen Bo Nix and Sam Howell lead their teams to wins yesterday. Why not Hilinski? Let’s go.

Offensive. I’ve brought this up before, but the decision to hire Bryan McClendon as our offensive coordinator looks a little worse all the time. We had a chance to hire an experienced OC with FBS play calling experience. Instead, we decided to hire a good guy who might have some potential on the cheap. Muschamp couldn’t afford to do that, but his stubbornness won out again.

Defensive. Depth on the d-line, good linebacker play, a top-notch secondary, and THAT’S what we get?

Hype. I catch a lot of flak because I don’t particularly care for the hype videos our social media/video team posts. Don’t get me wrong, they are simply doing their job, and they do the best job in the country. But to post these uber-dramatic videos that make it sound like we’re going to war, the players are working so hard for YOU, we’re building a program you can be proud of, SPURS UP RAH RAH RAH – and then go out and lay an egg like we did yesterday, it just makes us look foolish. So don’t get mad at me if a hype video doesn’t make me want to run through a brick wall.

What’s next. Obviously Will Muschamp isn’t going to get fired any time soon, because Ray Tanner has been not only supportive, but effusive in his praise about how Muschamp runs the program. But Muschamp is losing the fan base quickly. The landscape of college football has changed. People are spending their entertainment dollars on this team, and they’re getting nothing but heartache in return. It’s ok to be mad, and it’s ok to vent. Hell, I don’t even go to games and I’m letting my anger flow.

A 6-6 season would be a blessing at this point, but I’m not sure where those six wins are going to come from after what I saw yesterday. He better open the playbook and make some changes to his style or he’ll be the hottest defensive coordinator on the market in 2020.

Go Cocks.

State of Unrest

Word began circulating yesterday about mutual interest from the University of Cincinnati and Frank Martin regarding their head basketball coach opening. Frank’s name has been linked to other head coaching positions since his arrival in 2014, but this appears to be the most serious threat we have faced in regards to losing our hoops leader. At Cincinnati, basketball is king. At South Carolina, it is a very distant second (and maybe third). At Cincinnati, there is tradition. At South Carolina, there is not. At Cincinnati, there is administrative support. At South Carolina, it seems lukewarm at best. At Cincinnati, there is a rabid fan base. At South Carolina, there is a rabid fan base – when we’re winning.

I think when everything shakes out Frank will stay, which is what I would prefer. I love Frank, I love his personality, and I love his intensity. I don’t love the fact we have only experienced one season of real success in his tenure. And I don’t love the fact major in-state talent keeps fleeing the state like they’re being chased by a swarm of bees. I understand there are underlying circumstances in many of those cases, but we have to figure out a way to fix the situation if we are to ever experience sustained success.

If Frank does leave, it won’t be the end of the world. There is no guarantee that under Frank we are ever going to attain any level of sustained success. We can hire another coach who doesn’t get into any postseason competition and just mosey on our way. And that’s not as big a shot at Frank as you think. He’s not the problem.

The problem is multi-layered, and may or may not include Frank’s coaching ability or recruiting prowess. We may never know, because he’s fighting an uphill battle coaching basketball at South Carolina.

Ray Tanner. Is Ray Tanner giving Frank Martin all the tools he needs to succeed in the SEC or on a national stage? We all love Ray for what he gave us on the diamond. But as the years go by and there is more distance between those National Championships and where we are today, you have to ask if he is the leader we need.

He was hired because of what he accomplished in baseball, not because he was qualified as an administrator. He hasn’t done anything so far to get himself fired, but he also hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself as top flight athletic director. What’s his best move been since he’s been AD? Hiring Justin King? That is not a knock on King, he’s been fantastic, but if that’s the tallest feather you have in your cap as an athletic director…well, it’s not great.

Ray is a turkey sandwich on white bread. Nobody is going to turn it down if that’s all you’ve got for lunch, but at the same time nobody is going to brag to you about what a great lunch they had.

Social media. During football season – hell, during spring practice – we get a video a day getting us pumped up about the program. LET’S GO TO WAR LOOK HOW HARD WE’RE WORKING TO MAKE YOU PROUD SPURS UP GO COCKS at every turn. Did you see that for our Final Four basketball program? Rarely. They seem to get scraps.

Does this matter when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop? Sure it does. These kids love to be loved. They want to see themselves promoted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And the kids we’re recruiting want to see it too, don’t think it doesn’t factor into their decisions.

Colonial Life Mausoleum. I’ve harped on this for years and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, but where we play is a hindrance to our program. Almost 25 years ago Sam Cassell called the Dean Dome patrons “a wine and cheese crowd”. And despite the noble efforts of a select few, that’s what we have in the CLA.

I understand why we did it, but we did it at the expense of one of the great fan bases in the country. Because we wanted concerts and regionals and other events, we squeezed South Carolina basketball fans out of the equation. Having 7500 fans in an 18,000 seat arena for an SEC game on a random January weeknight doesn’t scream “basketball school”. Kids don’t want to play in front of fans dressed up as empty seats.

If we ever did decide we wanted to pour resources into our program, Auburn is the role model. They built a gorgeous 9,000 seat arena and gave students prime seats. They created a raucous environment that is fun and intimidating to play in. How I long for the days of the gritty, grimy Carolina Coliseum, where we stood in line for hours for seats directly behind the scorer’s table.

Unfortunately it’s people my age and older who demanded better seats because we gave all the money, and then we sit at the game eating popcorn with our legs crossed checking our work email to see if we missed anything.

Give the power back to the students.

Under Armour. Under Armour is a football brand, and not a great one at that. If we were better at football I probably wouldn’t mind it so much. Nike dominates the college basketball scene, dirty as they might be. Adidas is second, and UA needs binoculars to see them.

Again, I don’t know all the inner workings of our deal, why we decided to re-up with UA, but it’s hard to look at it from a basketball standpoint and call it good for our program.

You probably look at all these things and think “excuses”. But all these excuses add up to something tangible – a consistently mediocre basketball program. And my fear is we’re slipping back into being a consistently mediocre athletic department. We have now had national success in baseball, basketball and football, and as I sit here today it appears we have squandered it all.

Good thing the ladies’ basketball team isn’t experiencing any turmoil…

Snap Judgments – 2018 USC @ Clemson Edition

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(Photo: thestate.com)

Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 56-35 loss to Clemson.

The balance of power. In the fall of 2009, Clemson came to Columbia having won 10 of the last 12 games in its rivalry with South Carolina. Many of those years both teams were average and/or forgettable, but for the most part Clemson had the better teams, so it wasn’t a big surprise they went on such a run. But Clemson had something else during those years. They had an edge. They had “it” (whatever “it” is). You always had a sense they believed they were going to win, while South Carolina was just hanging on and hoping they wouldn’t lose.

In ’09 that changed. Once Stephen Garcia and company broke through that day with a dominating 34-17 victory, that orange helmet with the tiger paw wasn’t so intimidating. For the next four games the likes of Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney, Connor Shaw, Alshon Jeffery and DeVonte Holloman played for the team that was feared. When South Carolina and Clemson played from 2009-2013, it felt like Clemson had no interest being on the field with the guys in garnet and black. We were in their heads, and it showed particularly late in games. 

The balance abruptly shifted again in 2014. That year the Gamecocks had taken a significant step back in talent and wins, and the Tigers had a guy named Deshaun Watson shred them on a torn ACL in the annual showdown. Clemson was no longer intimidated by the block C. The shoe was once again on the other foot.

For the past five years Clemson has experienced unprecedented success, moving from “nice program” to “elite program”. They have a National Championship on their resume, several ACC titles, and have finished in the top four in the country the last three years. They have also had South Carolina beaten before the two teams ever stepped on the field the last few years. The Gamecocks have been outclassed by a mile in talent, but they have also looked afraid and intimidated, which are two things you absolutely cannot be on a football field.

Last night in Clemson the balance did not shift back to South Carolina, but we did see something out of the Gamecocks we haven’t seen in a while in this rivalry – fight. For the first time since 2015 (ironically our 3-9 season) we saw a team that wasn’t scared. We saw a team that took a punch, and then threw one right back.

Yes, we still lost by three touchdowns. But after the way we’ve been beaten the last two years, last night was certainly a step in the right direction to get this rivalry back on even footing. 

Rage against the dying of the light. No play better captured the effort the Gamecocks put in last night than the next to last play of the game. With about 30 seconds to go, Deebo Samuel took a 20-yard throw from Jake Bentley, turned it upfield and ran like his life depended on it. He desperately weaved through the Clemson defense in a lost cause and picked up another 24 yards before being brought down, and then popped up and sprinted to his position to get ready for another play. Bentley then completed one more pass to Rico Dowdle for another first down, and you could see Bentley run to the line of scrimmage calling for a spike so they could get one last throw to the end zone. But the referees didn’t stop the clock for a first down and the game ended. 

Even to the final second, these guys were trying to score just to stick it to the Clemson defense one more time – a meaningless touchdown that wasn’t so meaningless. 

Bravo Deebo. Samuel will leave South Carolina without a win over Clemson, but he will leave as one of the most dynamic playmakers in school history. He torched the vaunted Tiger defense last night for 210 yards on ten catches with three touchdowns. He was spectacular and will be greatly missed. 

The Snake. Jake Bentley has had some kind of year. We all know his story – preseason hype, uneven play, calls for the backup, then a resurgence. He capped off his comeback story last night by putting up video game numbers against one of the top defenses in the country, throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns. It was the greatest statistical performance by a Gamecock quarterback in history. 

Since the first half of the Texas A&M game Bentley has been that quarterback we’ve all been waiting for. The only continued knock was his performance against elite competition. He kicked that door in last night.

There has been very little talk of Bentley possibly leaving for the NFL since early in the season. I haven’t heard anything after his performance last night, but I’m wondering if scouts will start looking at him again. Keep in mind, the NFL doesn’t value “signature wins” like fans do. They value size, arm strength, footwork, etc. – all things that Bentley has. I highly doubt he’d be able to work his way into a first round draft pick in the 2019, but if he continues at this pace he could certainly be there in 2020. 

M*A*S*H Unit. The defense gets a pass for last night (no pun intended). Clemson’s explosive offense took advantage of the Gamecocks missing their best player at all three levels, and multiple other key players. I doubt even at full health we would’ve won that game, but it sure would’ve been fun to find out. 

BMac. Bryan McClendon has come into his own the last few weeks. He continues to improve every week, and has thrown some innovative wrinkles into the offense that are fun and effective. I said before the season started that if he took the Gamecock offense into the top half of the SEC statistically it would be a minor miracle after our pitiful performance last year. Praise Jesus, BMac has done just that. 

Running it up. The controversy this morning, and you knew there had to be one, revolved around Dabo Swinney scoring a late touchdown instead of taking a knee and letting the clock run out. Let me be clear for any Clemson fan who may be visiting this site: I have no problem whatsoever with Swinney trying to score a late touchdown. The Tigers are positioning themselves for a top seed in the college football playoff. Style points matter. Beat every team by as many points as you can. I get it. 

The problem I, and many Gamecock fans had, was his explanation:

“Aw gee shucks man we was just running a basic play and they didn’t tackle him. How was I supposed to know we’d score hyuk hyuk.”

I mean, just shut up. Own the fact you were trying to score and I’d have a lot more respect for you. Don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by acting so innocent. Either take a knee or tell us you needed to score that touchdown for “insert any reason”. I could live with that. 

Then today he goes on a rant against some Clemson straw man who was apparently upset that they “only won by 21”. But Dabo being disingenuous is just, well, Dabo being Dabo. 

Onward and upward. Clemson fans are getting a good chuckle out of us claiming a “moral victory”. In the immortal words of my millennial friends – whatever. Losing sucks, but losing the way we lost last night is a lot more palatable than the way we lost the previous two years, I can tell you that. The Tigers are not happy at all that we’re taking satisfaction in punching their defense in the mouth repeatedly last night, and we can take some joy in that. 

I have no idea where we go from here, but it’s hard not to feel like the future is still bright. We need players, and a lot of them, on defense. The offense is shockingly better than I expected them to be at this point. Let’s roll Akron and then whoever we get in a bowl game, and get ready for 2019.

Go Cocks.  

Snap Judgments – 2018 USC @ Florida Edition

USCvsFLGM006
(Photo: thestate.com)

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

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

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

Then came the fourth quarter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Cocks.

 

 

 

 

Much Ado About Muschamp

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  1. Josh Kendall asked Will Muschamp about the election on Tuesday. Will Muschamp’s response has caused a stir.

2. Josh Kendall’s question was an innocuous attempt to get a quick soundbite about an important day in our country. He had no agenda. He wasn’t somehow baiting Will Muschamp. It was a softball. Josh Kendall is not an undercover agent for the University of Georgia and he is not at fault here.

3.  Despite his answer, Muschamp did actually know yesterday was Election Day.

4. I don’t know why Will Muschamp answered the way he did, but I almost immediately recognized he was being facetious. Maybe he was trying to make the point that he was solely focused on the Florida game. Maybe he was trolling Kendall. Maybe he was simply being a smartass. Maybe he was honoring his former boss.

5. Muschamp’s answer does not mean he does not care about his players. As a matter of fact there is a lot of evidence that he cares a great deal about his former and current players, and they feel the same way about him. He has actually put measures in place, including the hiring of Marcus Lattimore as Director of Player Development, to help players deal with life away from the game.

6. Muschamp’s answer is not indicative of some great systemic failure by Muschamp, the University of South Carolina, the Southeastern Conference, college football, or college sports in general to mentor and care for our kids.

7. Muschamp could’ve given an answer that was more pleasing to some folks and this whole episode could’ve been avoided. Or people could’ve taken his actual answer for what it was worth – about one grain of salt.

8. Will Muschamp is a meathead. I say that as a term of endearment. He’s a football lifer, a guy who played like a maniac and many times coaches in the same manner. He has gifs and memes making fun of his intensity. Some folks in the public eye are playing off this to make him look like a guy who chews up and spits out players and only cares about what they can do for him on the field. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

9. Despite an insane series of tweets from Bucky Brooks, Will Muschamp is not a racist and trying to discourage minorities from voting.

10. Shut up. Everybody. Please. Including me.

11. Beat Florida.

 

Snap Judgments – 2018 South Carolina @ Ole Miss Edition

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How. (Photo courtesy The State)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, and Go Cocks!

 

 

 

Snap Judgments – 2018 Tennessee @ South Carolina Edition

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That’s my bike, punk. (Photo: thestate.com)

This week Jorge de los Gallos (@jorhay) fills in for Buck on Snap Judgments. Jorge is a former contributor to Garnet & Black Attack, has his Master of Arts in Siqq Edits, and is the author of The Yearly Pessimist: Predictions for South Carolina Football. 

JAKEY SHAKEY START? The narrative’s established at this point: we’re a slow-starting team. Behold how each of our drives ended this game, in chronological order:

Punt
INT
Field Goal
Punt
TD
TD
TD
Field Goal
Kneel out
Not unlike my journey from “first forays into the dating scene” to “being engaged,” it started out abysmally and ended with one knee on the ground (but unlike 2018 Gamecock football, my dating life is ending with a ring on my finger ha ha ha /weeps.)
Were the early gremlins all Jake’s fault? His first half line was 8-13 for 61 yards and a pick, which are HIGHLY UNSEXY NUMBERS. However, it would seem it’s partially the result of a few things out of Jake’s control. Other than the tipped interception (which, yes, can be blamed on Jake throwing a highly tipable ball), I thought Jake was eeeeeeh fine the first half and largely the victim of our offensive strategy, a few arguable P.I. no-calls, and UT’s success in extending drives (5 of 7 on 3rd downs.)
But! Would our strategy have been so run-forward if Jake had a better first half track record? What if Deebo Samuel had not created a highlight-reel touchdown out of yet another air-mailed touch pass? And despite UT’s success on 3rd downs and being +4 on time of possession, South Carolina actually ran two more first-half plays than Tennessee. We had our cracks at a big half.
In any case, I have a harder time evoking the “same ol’ first half Jake” argument this game than I have in the past. The goal was clearly “run it down their throats”–Muschamp was open about that. And for what it’s worth, that’s what we did.
A GOOD CASE OF THE RUNS. Evidently we like running all over teams from Tennessee. We’ve gone 5+ YPC in two conference games, those being Vanderbilt (5.69) and UT (5.6). Our next-best showing was nearly a yard worse per carry.
THREECO DOWDLE. It was damn fun to watch #5 execute his craft last Saturday. This was Rico Dowdle’s 3rd 100+ yard rushing performance of the season. He averaged a cool 10 yards per carry, [Butthead voice] totally scored, [/Butthead voice] and never went negative on a run. And also he didn’t fumble nope definitely didn’t check the stats
(Now someone tell Rico to stay in bounds when the game is sealable kthx.)
SPEAKING OF THREE. That’s the number of completions Jake Bentley had in the second half of this game. That stat blew my mind but it’s true. Granted, one was a 73-yard bomb, and another was a nice red zone touch pass to Ty’son Williams off a blitz recognition. Both of those could have gone for touchdowns had the receivers maintained balance for two and one more yard respectively. If they had, Jake’s got a 3-1 TD/INT line which is what the kids call “gooder optics”.
MORE LIKE TURD DOWN EFFICIENCY.  Bad day for the defense on third down, allowing a conversion of 11 of 16 chances. But man, props to Jarrett Guarantano for making some nice reads. If he wasn’t so slick on third, Tennessee’s night would have been a lot longer.
WONNUM THERE EVERY GAME. While our defense wasn’t necessarily living in the UT backfield, DJ Wonnum made a major statement in his return, sacking Guarantano twice, including the game sealer. Shades of JD Clowney’s strip-sack of Tyler Bray in 2012.
INJURY BUG MORE LIKE INJURY SWARM OF LOCUSTS. This is purely anecdotal but it sure seemed like we had a man down after, like, every other play. I know we can’t necessarily blame Jeff Dilman for this but can we anyway? This, a spate of reviewed plays, and some oddly-placed timeouts made for what felt like a grueling viewing experience.
TURN 0-VERS. We had exactly zero turnovers this game. We’re 2nd to last in the SEC in turnovers created, and tied for last in margin at -6. Turnovers are good, and fun to see happen and frankly, we should have more of them. This is just how I feel.
REMBER WHEN UT WAS A POWERHOUSE. Me neither.
Go Cocks.

 

Snap Judgments – 2018 Texas A&M @ South Carolina

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

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WOOPSIES! (Photo: gogamecocks.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 10.26.12 PM

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

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

You folks enjoy the bye week. Go Cocks.

Snap Judgments – 2018 Missouri @ USC Edition

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

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Worth the wait. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Cocks, beat TAMU.