NO. 5 AUBURN 42, SOUTH CAROLINA 35
P.M.: Pharoh and Mike, as in Cooper and Davis, had phenomenal games. Davis rushed 21 times for 88 yards and caught six passes for 85 yards with a touchdown, while Cooper caught seven balls for 127 yards and two touchdowns, adding 10 yards on two carries. Good things happen when the ball is in their hands. And maybe if these night kickoffs keep rolling down the pike, the marketing team can come up with something – “See P.M. in the P.M!” (It’s late. See why writers hate night games?)
WILE E. When Steve Spurrier is on, he’s hard to top with his play-calling. Pretty much everything he did worked on Saturday – being aggressive with the pass against a soft secondary, trusting Dylan Thompson to make fourth-down conversions, keeping the foot on the pedal. Any trick was possible, and mostly used – throwbacks to the QB, double-reverses, Cooper throwing from the Wildcat, the onside kick. The Gamecocks have to be aggressive due to their defense being so see below, and Spurrier was that. It was like there was a slot machine between his ears, and when he would see what Ellis Johnson was thinking, he’d pull the lever and it would come up triple cherries every single time.
SEE?: After the Vanderbilt kickoff return debacle, Spurrier told Joe Robinson to instruct his kicker to boot it out of the end zone instead of playing for the corners. Three touchbacks in five tries and a high of 14 yards on the two returns. Told ya.
SPELLCHECK: Shovel/Shuffle/Shuttle pass? However it’s spelled, when’s the last time USC ran one? It was a good time to flip to that page in the playbook.
TOUCH: Thompson faded a touchdown to Cooper on a play that hardly ever worked with Alshon Jeffery, who could catch a safe thrown off the Empire State Building. Shaq Roland continued to show his enormous skills by isolating his defender, creating separation and then stretching the ball across the goal line. If only Thompson didn’t have to be Joe Montana mixed with Johnny Unitas with a dash of Otto Graham and could just be what he is, the Gamecocks would be having a stellar season. He’s having to be perfect because he knows he’ll get no help on the other side of the ball.
GO FOR BROKE: Landon Ard tapped an onside kick through Sharrod Golightly’s running legs so that Skai Moore recovered it just at the 10-yard boundary. There should be instruction manuals written on that.
HELPING HANDS: Auburn fumbled away a punt and lost an onside kick. Its defense couldn’t cover a lot of third- and fourth-down plays. A facemask on a third-and-10. The Tigers did their best to gift-wrap this one.
HE SPIT COLD ICE:
As good as Thompson was on Saturday, he was also mind-numbingly bad in crucial spots. His first interception, when USC could have been two scores ahead, was a throw a fifth-year senior should never make. Yes, it appeared Jerell Adams stopped running the route, but Thompson succumbed to the pressure and lobbed a ball into the middle of the field. The Tigers immediately scored. He threw two more picks, one in the red zone and one on a Hail Mary. On a night the offense absolutely had to be perfect, Thompson made too many big mistakes. Is it solely his fault USC lost? Absolutely not. But he had his chances to help the Gamecocks’ disgustingly bad defense even more than he did.
NOW YOU DO IT?: First, it would have taken one amazing game-winning drive, with 85 yards to go in 68 seconds for a touchdown, and then a two-point conversion that Spurrier said he would have gone for (a decision I would have wholeheartedly agreed with, since there was no way USC’s defense could have come up with one or more stops in overtime). There wasn’t much of a chance. But then Alan Knott started rolling snaps back to Thompson. Give yourself the best opportunity. The Tigers are good enough without you helping them.
MISSED: Auburn had two players wearing the same jersey number (1) on the final play. That should have given USC one more crack at a Hail Mary to tie and/or win. Maybe somebody jumps to the moon or crouches to get the ball through a sea of hands and USC leads with no time remaining. Personally, I think USC’s defense would have still found a way to blow it.
BROKEN BEYOND REPAIR: Watching USC’s defense is worse than watching a political debate. At least in the latter, you can realize a brief glimmer of “I can get behind that” before the mud-slinging blots the camera one more time.
The Gamecocks gave up 395 rushing yards, 551 total. The Tigers knew damn well that all they had to do was run straight up the gut and it would probably work. To their credit, they did. After watching Mississippi State do the same thing to Kentucky’s defense earlier in the day and salt the game, I was wondering why oh, never mind.
At this point, I’m not sure who to blame. It’s certainly not the fault of Lorenzo Ward or any of his staff that USC’s defenders simply can’t tackle or stay in their fundamental positions. That’s something that you assume players can do. When they get to college, you’re teaching scheme and specific alignments, not the basics. USC has had to go back to the basics because none of its defenders seem to know that two arms closing on an offensive player can work most of the time.
Auburn averaged nearly 9 yards per play and scored touchdowns on six straight drives after USC made its first stop. That was briefly interrupted when the Tigers fumbled a punt away. Every time Auburn’s offense took the field, it knew it was going to score. The kicker knew he’d only have to make PATs since USC definitely wasn’t going to force a field goal.
After eight games, the defense is not going to get better. It just won’t. It’s left to the offense to try to score a touchdown every possession (and while capable, that’s an awfully tough row to hoe, asking guys already playing above their talent to be perfect every game) and then hope for the defense. Hope it gets a stop. Hope the offense screws up and never sees that safety underneath. Hope that, in the words of Spurrier’s pal Pepper Rodgers, “We gonna win this football game somehow. I don’t know how, but somehow, we gonna do it.”
A team needs much more than hope to win.
Ricardo Louis taking a routine run over left guard for a 75-yard untouched touchdown when it was 28-28 was Arkansas 2007 all over again. Remember that one? Don’t look it up. Like then, it took all momentum away and let every player on that team know that nothing they could do was going to help. USC is simply bad at defense.
If there is a bright spot, it’s that Tennessee and Florida are both horrendous offensively. If the Gamecocks can’t get a pass-rush against the starting Connect 4 board that serves as the Volunteers’ offensive line, or can’t impact Jeff Driskel (who has had a family of black cats walk across his football-career path) or freshman Treon Harris, there won’t be any choice but to make changes at the end of the season. It would be a move to save face, if nothing else.
The season can still be a good one, considering USC’s overall history. This program should never, ever be ashamed of “only” reaching a bowl game every year. There were a lot of seasons where that was as wistful of a dream as Buddy Ryan finding his way to the practice field this week. USC can win its next three, improve to 7-4 and have a chance at 8-4 against that team from the Upstate.
If the Gamecocks do pull that off, it’s very apparent that it won’t be the defense that helps provide it. As bad as the defense was against Texas A&M, it was the first game and the thought was that it couldn’t get worse.
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