Defense is Key to South Carolina vs. Clemson Winner

November 21, 2012

As crazy as it might sound, the key to Saturday night’s game between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers, is defense.

However, when you take a second to think about it, it’s not as out there as you think.

The Gamecocks defense has been one of the top in the country in 2012, but has struggled against the option and pass heavy teams.

Of course, Clemson does not run the option, but QB Tajh Boyd has been putting up spectacular numbers the last few weeks.  Add on the running of RB Andre Ellington and the big play abilities of WR Sammy Watkins and WR DeAndre Hopkins, the Clemson offense can be almost impossible to stop.

The key to South Carolina’s defensive success will be getting pressure on Boyd.  If Gamecocks’ Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo Ward cannot get pressure on the Tigers’ quarterback, it will expose the defense’s biggest weakness, the mediocre cornerbacks.

D.J. Swearinger has been all over the field, legally and illegally (quite regularly) tackling the ball-carrier and making big defensive plays in the secondary.  But Clemson has as many weapons offensively as anyone the Gamecocks have faced this season.

The health of Jadeveon Clowney is crucial.  Clowney sat out last week’s game against Wofford to rest his foot and knee injuries.  If he does not play, the Gamecocks will not be able to get the consistent pressure on Boyd to slow down Clemson’s offense.

Clemson’s defense is a little surprising, and it might not be as bad as people say it is.

Take a look at these numbers–19, 27, 7, 49 (loss), 31, 31, 17, 13, 20, 10, 48–that’s how many points the Tigers have given up in each game this season.

While there are a couple of numbers that stick out, there have been several good defensive performances this season.

Clearly, Clemson’s best defense, is its offense.  But the Tigers’ defense will have it a lot easier if Gamecocks’ QB Connor Shaw does not play.  Since the injury to RB Marcus Lattimore, the offense’s success solely rests on Shaw’s ability to make plays.

Shaw is the key to the Gamecocks offense, and his back-up, QB Dylan Thompson has not shown he can beat a top-ranked college program.

For South Carolina to win this game, they will need both Shaw and Clowney available to play, and hold Clemson to fewer than 40 points.  If not, the Gamecocks’ offense will not be able to keep up.

So, it’s simple, defense is the key to determining who wins this game.

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Connor Shaw vs. Dylan Thompson: An Unexpected QB Controversy [UPDATED]

September 17, 2012

9/18/2012 UPDATE:  Gamecocks Head Coach Steve Spurrier said in his weekly press conference on Tuesday that Connor Shaw will start against Missouri.

For the first time in several years, it looked like the South Carolina Gamecocks would not have to deal with a quarterback controversy.

But after QB Connor Shaw had to leave Saturday’s game versus UAB with a re-injury to his right shoulder, it appears that’s where Gamecocks’ head coach Steve Spurrier has found himself.

Dylan Thompson has provided the Gamecocks with an aerial assault that has not been seen since early 2011, in the last two weeks.  However, one could argue that was against two significant lesser teams.

Shaw, who admitted Saturday that he has a small fracture in his injured shoulder, is back in a day-to-day mode, and no one will know his availability until later this week.  This will probably be something that goes on the rest of this season.

That puts the spotlight on Dylan Thompson, who had only played mop-up duty until replacing Shaw against Vanderbilt, and earning the start against East Carolina.

Thompson has proven he can put up great numbers against lesser teams, even making it look like at times the old “Fun n’ Gun” Spurrier days from Florida.  But the big question will become whether or not that translates into SEC play.

This is where the history of Steve Spurrier factors in to where the Gamecocks go from here.  That is a long history of rotating quarterbacks in a game.

South Carolina fans remember the back and forth game between Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia against Arkansas a few years ago.  But Spurrier also did it at Florida with Jesse Palmer and Rex Grossman, or even going back to the rotation of Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise.

This will probably be the answer to this controversy, depending on Shaw’s health.  Spurrier’s best option is to go with whoever has the hot hand, whichever player is moving the offense more efficiently and effectively.  The opponent will also make a difference.

But this is still Shaw’s job to lose.  He is the guy who has proven that he can win the big game in the SEC.  Thompson has merely put up great numbers against significantly weaker teams.

Both quarterbacks have different skills, but you have to go with the guy who got you mentioned in the national championship picture, unless Shaw’s health or performance, gives you reason to play somebody else.

Also, when in doubt, you’ve got a decent (sarcasm) running back in the back-field.


Spurrier, Garcia Create Crazy Day in Gamecock Country

October 11, 2011

Spurrier criticizes reporter in morning press conference; School Dismisses Stephen Garcia

Whether it was South Carolina Gamecocks Head Coach Steve Spurrier’s rant against a columnist, or the end of the Stephen Garcia era, it has been a crazy day in Columbia, South Carolina.

It is truly a day in the life of the fifteenth-ranked team in the country.

Hardly.

It all started this morning at Spurrier’s weekly press conference.  Before ever sitting down, he explained that The State’s sports columnist Ron Morris is the second journalist he has had to ‘disassociate’ himself from in 26 years of coaching.

The rant comes as Spurrier criticized the truthfulness of a story during the spring about WR Bruce Ellington trying to be a two-sport star, after starting his career with the Gamecocks as a point guard.  Ellington does intend on playing basketball as well this season.

Spurrier was upset of Morris saying that he ‘poached’ Ellington away from the basketball program.

Spurrier has the right to give his opinion on this, and he has a right not to talk to anyone he does not want to.

However, a display in front of all of the reporters, both print and television, is a poor way to solve the matter.  It brings shame on Spurrier and the football program.

Fans also believe that Morris is the one to blame.  The truth is that he comes out the winner.

It is Morris’s job to analyze and critique sports as a columnist.  His job is not to glorify the Gamecocks’ football or any athletic program.  It is to give his opinion on different items, and that includes pointing out the positives and the negatives.

The second news item came early Tuesday afternoon, as Athletics Director Eric Hyman announced the dismissal of fifth-year senior QB Stephen Garcia.

Garcia’s dismissal comes after Connor Shaw threw for four touchdowns in a big win against Kentucky.

The dismissal stems from Garcia’s suspension over the Summer, and according to reports, tested positive for alcohol and marijuana.

Hyman released this statement earlier today: “Being a student-athlete at the University of South Carolina is a privilege, not a right, and we remind all of our student-athletes that there are consequences for their actions.  For Stephen to return to and remain with the football squad this fall, we agreed on several established guidelines.  Unfortunately, he has not been able to abide by those guidelines and has therefore forfeited his position on the roster.  We wish him the best of luck as he moves forward in life.”

The dismissal ends the collegiate career of one of the most controversial players at South Carolina.

Garcia was suspended on five different occasions, most recently during Spring Practice and through the summer.

Garcia finished his career with 7,597 passing yards, only the third quarterback in school history to reach the 7,500 plateau.  He was 20-14 as the school’s quarterback.

There clearly would not be a sixth chance for Garcia.

Just an average day in Columbia, right?


Vintage Spurrier Shines in Gamecocks Beat-down of Kentucky

October 8, 2011

Connor Shaw threw for over 300 yards, and South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier displayed some of his old ‘Fun ‘n Gun’ offense from Florida, as the Gamecocks (5-1 overall, 3-1 in the SEC) defeated the Kentucky Wildcats (2-4, 0-3) 54-3 Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Gamecocks’ running back Marcus Lattimore added 102 yards rushing, and the defense held Kentucky to just 96 yards and six first downs.

“It was a good win for us.  The defense was outstanding.” said Spurrier.  “We had a balanced attack.  We got over 600 yards.  We haven’t done it much.”

The Gamecocks totaled 639 total yards of offense against the Wildcats in Shaw’s first start at quarterback, replacing the ineffective Stephen Garcia.

Shaw also believed his preparation for this game, as opposed to his start against East Carolina, made the difference.

“In Charlotte I don’t think I was as prepared as I was (today).  They let me know early in the week (this time), so I just had a good mindset coming into it,” said Shaw.  “My teammates were really helpful and the o-line came to me and said we have your back.”

While confidence may be on the back of South Carolina, the Wildcats lost any they might have had entering this game.

Kentucky only managed 96 yards of total offense, and turned the ball over six times.

“Ugly is how you can describe it.  Especially offensively, (we) had a chance to make a play early in the first half, wide open guy but threw it inside and [they] made an interception,” said Kentucky Head Coach Joker Phillips.  “[We have] an offense that can’t make plays, can’t stay on the field, an offense that turns the ball over six times, numerous times on first down.”

Wildcats’ quarterbacks Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith combines to complete only 4 of 26 passes attempted, throwing four interceptions, for only 17 yards.

Phillips said that his team will use the off-week to figure what will work on offense.  They face Jacksonville State on October 22nd.

Meanwhile, the Gamecocks will take its new starting quarterback and much needed confidence to face Mississippi State in Starkville.

However, South Carolina’s Assistant Head Coach Ellis Johnson summarizes what this game, and last week’s loss against Auburn means for this Gamecocks team.

“One game doesn’t make a season, and one season doesn’t make a program,” said Johnson.  “We are going to continue to work and improve.”

Work and improve is definitely something this team will need, as three consecutive road games will define its 2011 season.


Gamecocks Struggle in Loss to Auburn

October 2, 2011

The South Carolina Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1) allowed a late touchdown pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen, giving the Auburn Tigers (4-1, 2-0) a 16-13 win Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Auburn RB Michael Dyer rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown, leading the more effective running game against South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore.  Lattimore rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown.

South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia was 9-for-23, passing for 112 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.  Garcia also rushed for 62 yards.

It continued the downward spiral of a team that could battle anyone offensively the first three weeks of the season.  After struggling to beat Vanderbilt last week, the luck ran out for South Carolina.

“Offensively, we could do nothing.  We were pretty sad, pretty sad the entire game,” said South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier.  “We couldn’t run the ball and we’re not a really good passing team.”

South Carolina held the lead for most of the second half after Lattimore’s 15-yard touchdown run in the middle of the 3rd quarter.

But 92 offensive plays by Auburn eventually wore down a South Carolina defense late in the fourth quarter, leading to the Tigers taking the late lead.

South Carolina next week takes on a Kentucky team that came back late in the fourth quarter and beat them last season.

In practice this week, Spurrier will have to find eleven guys that would like to play offense.  Spurrier, always known for his flashy offense, may only have to look at himself.

After weeks of putting all of the blame on Garcia, it’s time to look at Spurrier’s play-calling.

If Garcia was just a little above average, this would not be a problem.  If Spurrier would utilize his Heisman Trophy candidate running back, this would not be a problem.

Spurrier continues to push a passing game, and it has only led to heartache the last two weeks for fans.

This does not leave Garcia off the hook.  Throwing everything high and his best passes being to the other team is crucial to point out as well.

But even when the defense stuffs a talent like Lattimore, you have to keep going back to it to wear down a defense.

Instead, Spurrier is insistent in trying to have some passing game, working the run off the pass.

However, Spurrier’s best teams in his coaching career have had a solid running game, making the pass work off of the run.

Yet Spurrier’s play-calling eliminates the opportunity for the running game to work, and allow a fifth-year senior continue to look like a freshman.

Are the other quarterbacks just that bad.  What would it hurt to give someone else, Connor Shaw, Andrew Clifford, or even Melvin Ingram (he does everything else; fun to think about, but won’t happen in a million years) a drive?  You can always go back.

But Spurrier continues to run passing plays, putting Garcia in tough situations, that everyone knows he is not capable of executing properly.

Run the ball, and maybe that will open up the pass, even on the tough days.

We will see if the changes Spurrier promised in his post-game news conference, actually come true next Saturday against Kentucky.


2011 South Carolina Gamecocks’ Football Predictions

August 29, 2011

UPDATE (10/24):  Game scores or time/television included

With one week to go before the Gamecocks open their 2011 season in Charlotte against the East Carolina Pirates, it is time for my yearly predictions for every game this season.

The Gamecocks return a veteran team, as well as a team that has the experience of playing in the SEC Championship game against Auburn last season.  It is a team that has spent the offseason dealing once again with the off-the-field problems of QB Stephen Garcia.

However, Steve Spurrier hopes to ride on the shoulders of Heisman Award candidate RB Marcus Lattimore and potential first-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft WR Alshon Jeffery.

Here is the 2011 South Carolina season in “preview:”

September 3rd, East Carolina Pirates vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.; SC 56, ECU 37)

The Gamecocks open the season with a neural site game against the East Carolina Pirates.  In the past, the Pirates have been a team that is able to play great games against top-ranked opponents.

However, the Gamecocks open the season wanting to prove they are the 12th ranked team in college football, and a big win against the Pirates would go a long way in proving that the Gamecocks are ready to shine.

East Carolina might show early that they can hang with the Gamecocks, but the running attack led by Lattimore will be too much.

Gamecocks 42, Pirates 14

September 10th – South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Georgia Bulldogs (SC 45, UGA 42)

This game will be an early test again, but more to see if the Gamecocks are legitimate within the SEC.

Georgia returns star QB Aaron Murray, but the Bulldogs lost his biggest target, WR A.J. Green to the NFL.

This is a make or break season for Mark Richt, whose teams have struggles the last few seasons in the SEC, especially the Matthew Stafford days.

This will be a close game, but the Gamecocks are just a little too much for the Bulldogs.  Don’t be surprised if this game is won on special teams.

Gamecocks 27, Bulldogs 24

September 17th – Navy Midshipmen vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (SC 24, Navy 21)

The Gamecocks have struggled in past years defending the option, and the biggest test will be the Midshipmen.

Gamecock fans will remember the down-to-the-wire struggles against the Wofford Terriers (a FCS school), a team that runs the offense.

The best way for the Gamecocks to win wil be to give Navy a taste of its own medicine, and counter with Lattimore, trying to control the clock to limit Navy’s opportunities on offense.

This will be a trap game for the Gamecocks, but they should earn the victory in the first home game of the season.

Gamecocks 21, Midshipmen 17

September 24th – Vanderbilt Commodores vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (SC 21, VANDY 3)

For a team (Vanderbilt) that struggles to win one game each season, it is amazing how much the Gamecocks struggle against the Commodores.

However, this is the type of game that the Gamecocks need to win in blowout fashion, to get back-up QB Connor Shaw some much needed experience.

South Carolina will be the better team in this game, but the Gamecocks’ issue of playing down to some opponents will rear its ugly head once again.

Gamecocks 17, Commodores 10

October 1st – Auburn Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (Auburn 16, SC 13)

For some reason, Gamecock fans hold a grudge against the Tigers, but the Tigers were the better team last season.

Fans also believe that Auburn is going to be a terrible team, one year after their amazing national championship run.

Make no question about it, however, Auburn is not the same team they were one season ago, but they are not terrible.

They do return RB Michael Dyer, who will be the focal point of the offense.

The home-field advantage will be the difference in this game, but it will be a hard-nosed matchup between the two teams who battled for the SEC Championship.

Gamecocks 31, Tigers 27

October 8th – Kentucky Wildcats vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (SC 54, UK 3)

Much like Vanderbilt, South Carolina has a hard time finding a way to defeat Kentucky.

This was not more evident when last year, an injury to Lattimore stalled the Gamecocks’ offense while Randall Cobb led the Wildcats on a comeback win.

This season, the battle between these two teams will not change, even though South Carolina is the significantly better team.

The difference will be a healthy Lattimore, who will help to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

Gamecocks 28, Wildcats 14

October 15th – South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (SC 14, MSST 12)

This easily could be the game of the season in the SEC.  Both of these teams are equal.

Each team has is up-and-coming, with a sometimes inconsistent quarterback.  For the Gamecocks, Garcia, and for the Bulldogs, Chris Relf.

Bulldogs’ head coach Dan Mullen made this team competitve last season, and could make a run like Auburn did last season.

The difference in this game will be that it is played in Starkville, Mississippi.  This will be the game that ends the Gamecocks’ bid at an undefeated season.

Bulldogs 28, Gamecocks 24

October 29th – South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Tennessee Volunteers (7:15 p.m., ESPN2)

The second half of last year’s game between these two teams helped the Vols find its quarterback in Tyler Bray, replacing Matt Simms.

Bray helped to lead Tennessee to a bowl game in head coach Derek Dooley’s first season in Knoxville.

The Gamecocks will also try to get back to its winning ways, after losing its first (and likely only) game in 2011.

Tennessee will be more competitive in this year’s battle, and this has the potential to be a trap game for the Gamecocks, if the team begins to look ahead to Arkansas and Florida.

However, the Gamecocks will try to avenge the fumbling problems of the game two years ago in Knoxville.  The defense will make the difference for South Carolina.

Gamecocks 23, Volunteers 16

November 5th – South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (7:15 p.m., ESPN)

Last season, the Gamecocks were caught looking ahead to a game in Florida to try and win the SEC East.

A mediocre pass defense could not stop QB Ryan Mallett, as the Razorbacks throttled the Gamecocks 41-20.

Mallett does not return for the Razorbacks, and a severe injury to RB Knile Davis will end up making for a long season in Fayetteville.

The Gamecocks will get revenge on the Razorbacks, as Arkansas struggles to find an offensive identity without Davis.

Gamecocks 49, Razorbacks 17

November 12th – Florida Gators vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (12:00 p.m., CBS or 3:30 p.m., CBS or 6:00 p.m., ESPN2 or 7:45 p.m., ESPN)

Unlike last season, this game does not appear to have the postseason implications, a win meant advancing to the SEC Championship Game.

The Gators are in a rebuilding mode, as Will Muschamp takes over following Urban Meyer’s resignation/retirement/sabbatical.

Even though the Gators return key players such as RB/WR Chris Rainey, TE/WR/QB Trey Burton, and QB John Brantley, it will still struggle to adjust.

This might be a little closer than last year’s, but South Carolina is still the better team and should be able to pull away late.

Gamecocks 28, Gators 17

November 19th – The Citadel Bulldogs vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (12:00 p.m., Pay-Per-View)

Much like last year, the ‘orange crush’ schedule is broken up by a lesser opponent.  This year, it is the task of The Citadel to play the role of the Troy Trojans.

This will be an opportunity for Spurrier to test out some plays that might come into play as the Gamecocks look towards the rivalry game against Clemson and the SEC Championship Game.

This should be an easy victory, but Gamecock fans know not to take these games for granted.

Gamecocks 63, Bulldogs 9

November 26th – Clemson Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (TBA)

For many Gamecock fans, this is the only game that matters on the schedule every single year.

At this point for the Tigers, they will have exceeded expectations, or there could be an interim coach for Dabo Swinney.

However, it is impossible to overlook the running ability of Andre Ellington and an always stout defense.  The development of Tajh Boyd at quarterback will make the difference.

This game always seems to turn on one play.  Once again, that play will go in favor of the Gamecocks.

Gamecocks 34, Tigers 21

There you have it, an 11-1 overall record in 2011, with a 7-1 record in the SEC.

The only hiccup for the Gamecocks will come against Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs have the edge as the game will be played in Starkville.

However, 11-1 will have the Gamecocks in the top 10 in the polls, and positioned back in the SEC Championship game.

It is important to caution that the key to the Gamecocks will be the first three games.  If they overlook the two non-conference games against East Carolina and Navy, the Gamecocks could easily start the season 0-3.

That would leave the Gamecock faithful shaking their heads wondering how and why.

As games are added (i.e. SEC Championship Game and a bowl game), the predictions will follow.


Don’t Let Potential Influence Garcia Decision

April 8, 2011

As everyone has been able to swallow the news of South Carolina Gamecocks QB Stephen Garcia’s indefinite suspension, the new question is what happens next?

Many Gamecock fans are tired of the fifth-year senior’s actions while others believe he should be given another chance.  Some still refuse to believe that Garcia might have a problem or accept that Garcia never lived up to his potential.

However, some people believe that Garcia should be reinstated in time for the 2011 season, simply because the team won’t be as successful otherwise.

For life-long Gamecock fans, this season potentially could be the program’s best, attempting to defend its SEC East title from a year ago.  Many people believe that no Garcia means no title defense opportunity.

If you reinstate Garcia just to ensure that this football team lives up to its 2011 predictions, it would be time to take a strong look at South Carolina’s priorities.

This would just further a divide that demonstrates that players are put on different levels.  If you are a key contributor, you can get away with things five times.  If you barely are a special teams player, you might get one shot.

Garcia must be treated like he is any other player.  In addition, it is important that Athletics Director Eric Hyman, Head Coach Steve Spurrier, and South Carolina President Harris Pastides work together to create a reinstatement program that gets Garcia the help he needs, while not bringing any shame to South Carolina any more.

I ultimately believe Garcia will be reinstated.  However, there must be strict guidelines that include counseling sessions, anger management, and leadership training.  Regardless of whether Garcia has an alcohol problem or not, he needs help.

There also is one final part to this reinstatement plan, if he brings any shame to the University of South Carolina in any way, it brings an immediate dismissal from the football team with no option to return.

The final move that Spurrier must do is name some other quarterback the starter.  Sophomore Connor Shaw would appear to be the likely candidate.  In order to regain his starting job, Garcia must prove like anyone else that he deserves it.  Even then, starting someone else, at the very least in the opener against East Carolina, would be a smart move.

No one wanted to see Garcia end his career at South Carolina the same way he began: suspended.  However, South Carolina has shown everyone that Garcia is not just anybody else, and for some reason deserves five to six chances.  Therefore, why should we expect how they handle him to change.

If South Carolina were to reinstate Garcia, just make sure it is for the right reason, not just because you fear disappointing fans and prognosticators in the fall.

By the way, isn’t this starting to sound a lot like the Weslye Saunders situation from last year?