David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of Georgia’s win over South Carolina.
NO. 11 GEORGIA 41, NO. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA 30
STUD HOSS: Welcome to the party, Mike Davis. Folks knew you were good, but man, what a performance you put on on Saturday. Davis had the numbers – 16 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown, including a 75-yard burst past the defense on a routine off-tackle play – but also had a fine game off the ball, blocking for Connor Shaw, trying to do whatever he could to get a win in his home state. Ice bag strapped to his right thigh afterward, being lauded for his accomplishments, Davis sat there in need of the world’s biggest hug. That’s the mark of a champion – he doesn’t want to hear how good he played if the team lost. Davis is making himself the focal point of the offense and opening options for Steve Spurrier and his game plan – with the receivers playing well and Shaw able to run through defenses, USC can become dangerous, even explosive on offense (which may very well be needed over the next 10 games). He compares so favorably to Brandon Bennett – big up top, able to bowl over and past people, but still quick enough to out-run anybody when he gets a full head of steam. He’s going to be fun to watch the rest of his career.
LIL’ NICKY: I never meant it as an insult, I swear. It just seemed to me that Nick Jones was only ever going to be a quality wide receiver if Dylan Thompson was on the field. I figured it was some of that Upstate voodoo happening, because whenever Jones caught a pass, Thompson was usually the one throwing it. So much for that theory. Jones was the best receiver on the field on Saturday, and as a USC staffer simply pointed out, he does nothing but catch the ball. Not flashy, not a breakaway guy, not a Terrell Owens can’t-wait-for-the-TD-dance player, Jones just does his job and does it well. In his last four games dating to last year, he has 17 catches for 241 yards. Pretty much coming out of nowhere to catch two touchdowns against the Bulldogs just keeps spreading the pages of the USC passing playbook.
NO PROBLEMS HERE: Nothing more USC’s offense could have done to win that game. Outside of Shaw’s fumble, the offense played very well. Davis did the heavy lifting, then Brandon Wilds ran in a touchdown. Shaw rushed for 75 yards and threw for 228. Jones’ emergence forced someone to cover him, which in turn allowed USC to unleash graceful gazelle Shaq Roland for three late-game catches, including a leaping catch that looked like he was about to dunk the ball. All of these options are going to come in handy if the season goes like Saturday’s game.
YOUNG STAD: I don’t think I was the only one casting a raised eyebrow at the warm-ups when Cody Waldrop went to the locker room and Clayton Stadnik started practicing with the first team. Look, there’s a reason Shawn Elliott constantly praised Waldrop as head and shoulders above anyone else – he was. It’s not that he said Stadnik was bad, but Waldrop was clearly the guy to start. Well, Waldrop was hurt, and Stadnik was the backup, so get on in there, son, and don’t lose your head. He didn’t. Stadnik did high-snap several balls, but only one got away from Shaw, and that loss was negated on the very next play. Odds are that Stadnik will start again next week since Waldrop can rest against Vanderbilt and then have the bye week to completely recover, and Saturday’s performance had to rest some concerns.
SUPER FRY: Elliott Fry knocked in a 36-yard field goal with no issues and his only bad moment came when he missed a PAT on a bad snap. That could have loomed large if USC’s defense had come to play, but it didn’t end up being as bad as it could have been. The good thing for USC is it can feel confident from 40 yards in about scoring points. And speaking of special-teams plays looming large in this rivalry, how about that one? A missed PAT four years ago led to a USC loss in Athens. A punt return for a touchdown was huge two years ago in a USC win. The Gamecocks got back in this one when Georgia punter Collin Barber straight dropped a punt. Just weird how they always happen when USC and Georgia collide.
* THE PRINCE: Jadeveon Clowney played hard. An insane stat afterward said that Georgia actually gained far more yards when he was on the field than it did when he was off (which was frequently). Stats aside, he’s affecting the game plan. But boy, is that a double-edged sword (asterisk explanation below).
THE SITUATION: No question that USC faces a major roadblock in trying to get to the SEC Championship Game. Many think that Georgia won’t lose two more games this season, which would spring USC past this loss only if USC didn’t lose another SEC game. It doesn’t look good, surely. But it’s not over. There’s nobody that can say that a catastrophic injury or just a terrible day awaits for the Bulldogs. What has to work for the Gamecocks is that they keep believing it can happen, whether or not it actually does. It doesn’t, hey, USC will still have double-digit wins and play in a major bowl game.
D-SGUSTING: We could all chatter on til doomsday (and we would be justified) about how awful USC’s defense was on Saturday. Giving up the most yards in three seasons will do that. Where to start?
* Clowney being on the field had Georgia running plays to the other side all day, which was expected. What was also expected was for Chaz Sutton to have a monster season since he could get all those tackles. Hasn’t happened so far. And moving Clowney to the middle so he could “make plays,” like he’s asking, would that really solve it? He moves to the middle, statistically the best place since he can go to either side, is going to mess up the defensive front and other alignments. Move him to the other end spot, and the offenses will just run the opposite way.
*Linebackers are young, and that’s not going to go away. But man, how many times did they not get to the gaps, not fill them in time to prevent a long gain? Look, it’s no crime to be run over by Todd Gurley (in the words of Cedric the Entertainer, that guy is a grown-(censored) man). What’s problematic here is that USC couldn’t even slow him down.
* That pass where Clowney gets through and grabs a handful of Aaron Murray’s jersey, affecting the throw and turning it into a jumpball, and Michael Bennett still comes down with it? T.J. Gurley was late coming over to grab it, and Jimmy Legree was out-jumped for it. That gave Murray all the confidence he needed. USC couldn’t pressure him if he handed off, and if the Gamecocks stacked the box, he threw over and past them. Those 10-yard slants gashed USC all day and forced it to back up, and Murray took advantage. He was 17-of-23, and his receivers dropped at least four passes right in the hands. Not scared in the least.
* Six of 14 third downs converted, and two of three fourth downs, including fourth-and-13 and third-and-13, which went for an 85-yard touchdown. All the sugar in a bag of Dixie Crystals couldn’t make that taste sweet.
PANTSED: Georgia scores, onside kicks, recovers in the first quarter. Hell of a play-call by a hell of a coach who was feeling the pressure to win. You win by shaking things up. Nothing USC could do about that.
NOT SO FAST: Two more illegal substitution penalties for USC, which brings the total to five on the season. Lot of youth on defense, I get that, but is it that hard to know when you’re supposed to go in/come out, and which guy you’re replacing?
HARD HEAD: Look, I wrote earlier this week that I love Shaw’s toughness. I truly believe he would be the only player since Ronnie Lott that if you told him he was going to have to miss a few weeks with a broken finger, he’d tell you to just cut it off. Problem is, when he takes off and runs, he’s got to learn to start sliding. Got to. Not only will it keep him healthy for the season, it will keep him from diving in head-first and giving alert defenders a chance to knock the ball loose before his knee touches the ground, which cost USC a possession after he’d just run for the first down.
KICK THIS: Landon Ard sailed his opening kickoff out of bounds for the second straight week (to his credit, he knocked the fool out of the rest of them). Shon Carson debuted as a kick returner and ran straight ahead into piles of tacklers, avoiding or not seeing gaps on either side of the field.
TARNISHED: Shaw threw long, and Busta Anderson was there. I’ve seen it too many times, and in harder situations than those. Touchdown magnet, that kid is. So when he bent backwards as the ball came in, and there was no place for it to go but between his numbers, I boxed off the play in my notes like I always do for a scoring play. And then had to scribble it out. Somehow, he let that ball bounce out of his mitts. It looked like he was surprised the ball got through a sea of opposing hands, but it still hit him where it should have. Did it cost USC? No, the Gamecocks scored on that drive anyway. But boy, it opened another question – where are these tight ends that are supposed to be the best duo in the country?
EYEBLACK: Shaw had Bruce Ellington open on the left sideline, and threw it perfectly, and Ellington never saw it. Sun got in his eyes. Yes, this happens in football, too.
THE CALL: Trailing 41-30, USC drove to the Georgia 3-yard-line, where Davis bulled to the 1. On fourth down, the play was the same that had resulted in a touchdown on the previous drive – Davis option pitch right side. I get that it had worked once, and I also get the usual side that when the play-call works, you’re a genius, and when it doesn’t, you’re a twit. Didn’t work this time, surely. Georgia was camped, staying back for the pitch, and Davis was stopped. Now, trailing 11, USC probably would have had to go for two there. Who knows if the Gamecocks would have gotten it, which would have meant a lot of difference if they got the ball back? Still, that was the final nail in the coffin. A play that results in a lot of finger-pointing, although with the defense the way it was, it’s hardly the only thing to blame.
YOU WANT TO STEP OUTSIDE?: I’ve had what doctors call a little bit of a temper problem ever since I was born. I get that. I also get that when you’re a coach watching your players get smacked around and you’re trying to come up with a solution, on a hot day in a need-to-win situation, tempers may get frayed. That being said, with all the talk about how Clowney needs to realize the cameras are on him every play, some of the coaches need to realize that they can also be in the lens. There is no excuse, none, for Kirk Botkin and Deke Adams to get into a screaming match on the sideline, and have to be separated by Lorenzo Ward (and even Brison Williams, who I’m sure wondered with the rest of us just what was going on down there). Botkin didn’t let a forearm shiver deter him from expressing his opinion, and Adams looked like he wanted a few more words as he was pulled off, until each calmed down and went about their businesses. Ward brushed it off as things happening on the sideline, and Spurrier said he didn’t know about it, but would take care of it. I know that this kind of thing probably goes on all the time and nobody knows about it, but this one was caught on camera. On a day where nothing went right defensively, this is the kind of thing that screams “dissension” to the public.
NO SWAGG: Spurrier mentioned after the game that he was looking at the defense and realizing how young those players are, and how there was no D.J. Swearinger around to lift them. It didn’t help that one of the players that’s supposed to be leading, cornerback Victor Hampton, got himself suspended for the first half for violating team rules, then got toasted on a couple of plays when he returned. Hampton is a very strong talent, blessed with the instincts and ability to spawn a productive pro career, but my, he can still be so immature at times. Case in point – the suspension, and then his tweet after the game. It reads, “Who starting rumor saying I was suspended.” Now, whether this was an attempt at humor or not, it’s not the kind of thing you want to read after a poor performance. Was this loss because of Hampton? Of course not. But if he was serious with that comment, acting like he sat out for other reasons and going against the facts of the matter, which were clarified by Spurrier before and after the game well, you can think what you want about leadership and whether it’s being expressed.
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