David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s win over South Alabama.
SOUTH CAROLINA 37, SOUTH ALABAMA 12
TWO TIMES: South Carolina played great defense for TWO weeks in a row? Forget it, I must have inhaled too hard when I was out in Hellhole Swamp Saturday night (that marsh gas is stankin’). South Alabama had a scant 289 yards of offense, and that was after a first half where the Gamecocks were their usual open-door policy on defending the opponent. Only 3.7 yards per play, and USC collected five turnovers. USC stiffened at the goal line, had noticeable adjustments at halftime (re: gap protection) and let the Jaguars know that while the end zone hasn’t exactly been a strange place for opponents this year, there was no way they were going to get there. It was the kind of performance that let folks know that while the season may have not turned out as expected, it’s still not over and two great weeks often produce a third.
MIGHT AS WELL: Dylan Thompson caught a touchdown, just like predecessor Connor Shaw did, in one of his final games. As soon as Pharoh Cooper ran right and brought the ball up, my eyes flashed to the corner of the end zone and I saw No. 17 there. I had just enough time to think, “How perfect” when Thompson caught it up top and fell with ankles in bounds. He’s had a very fine year and should take the record for single-season passing yards. Only way that TD could have been better was if it had been pulled off next week.
WALK LIKE YOU’RE FROM HAVELOCK: Cooper had three catches for 95 yards, rushed five times for 42 yards and completed his only pass attempt for a touchdown. He good.
UNDERSIZED, UNDERRATED: Nick Jones cheerfully admitted that he was pretty much at South Carolina because he was Marcus Lattimore’s buddy. He’s become so much more. He may not be remembered as much as others as the years go on, and he won’t have an NFL future, but Jones has some of the best hands I can remember and he never did anything but catch the ball. The fumble on the punt return on Saturday hurt, but it didn’t negate an all-around great game. He caught three balls for 53 yards and a touchdown, channeling that Upstate connection with Thompson one more time. At least one Governor Nicky did great in Columbia.
ABOUT THAT SWAMP GAS: Damiere Byrd caught a deep pass in tight one-on-one coverage. I really need to get these contacts changed.
NOT HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: The Gamecocks are bowl-eligible for the 11th straight year, and while they haven’t gone to a bowl in all of those (2004 and 2007), they’ve still been eligible. That’s a great accomplishment for this program. USC had been to 11 bowls total before Steve Spurrier arrived.
NEXT: It’s here. The week they always wait on. And while the last five years has kind of become old hat to some fans, the old heads know what every win over Clemson means. It’s always been much more than one game to the Gamecocks – they’ve had to have their noses rubbed in a national title and conference championships so much that when the rare wins came, it was a New Year’s party every night until the next game. That’s what made every one of them, even four years apart, so special. While it looked so impossible for this streak to continue three weeks ago, it looks very possible now. Of course that hinges on news coming from the Upstate this week in practice, but even if that news isn’t good for USC folks, the streak still lives. It’s over when the Gamecocks say so.
HOT POTATO: USC got five turnovers but also had five turnovers. I know the weather was warm after two weeks of overcast, gray and gloom, but that shouldn’t have allowed the ball to become covered with Vitalis.
MIGHT AS WELL NOT TRY: South Alabama was the worst team in the playoff-challenging Sun Belt in third-down conversions. Naturally, the Gamecocks wanted to help that. The Jaguars barely missed a third down in the first half, and many times, it was on the same play – slant after the quarterback had all day to throw (no pass-rush) and the receiver had all space to get to the spot (USC refuses to press the line). The Jaguars even picked up a third-and-21 by tossing a 40-yard spiral to the man guarded by Chris Lammons, who seemed supremely unconcerned with defending it. It did get better, but geez.
NOW THE OFFENSE CAN’T OPERATE?: I realize the Jaguars have a pretty stout defense, but there’s no reason why a team that has rolled up points like a credit card at Christmas should ever be forced to kick a field goal when starting a possession on the one-inch line. Remember? Brandon Wilds tried to dive in but was correctly ruled down just short for a first-and-goal. From there: False start. High snap that disrupts a Wilds handoff for no gain. Thompson throws the ball away under pressure. A late substitution causes a timeout. Thompson again pressured, zings it to the middle of the field. Field goal. Anyone else surprised that Spurrier didn’t have to get a new visor at halftime?
AND AGAIN: I really think Spurrier is allergic to end-of-half drives. An interesting theory I heard is that he never had to use them before he got to USC so he’s still learning. This year certainly hasn’t earned a passing grade, and then on Saturday, the extra credit was incomplete. Brison Williams got his second interception and the Gamecocks led 17-6 with 4:32 to go in the first half. USC had 89 yards to go but had timeouts and a lot of clock to put the Jaguars to sleep. Standard to start the drive – Wilds rush, Thompson incomplete. Spurrier figured he needed to run clock so he ran two more times and the ball moves to the 30-yard-line. It’s working, it’s working so stop it. Thompson back to throw, tries to force it, intercepted, run back to the 21. Did it hurt? Kind of. The Jaguars turned it right back over but then the Gamecocks re-turned it right back over and USA kicked a field goal before the half. Could have been much, much worse and I daresay others won’t be so forgiving.
WELCOME: Brandon McKee set a USA school record by punting a ball 76 yards. He joined the club of approximately 163 other punters who have had career days against USC. One day soon, I know I’ll see an opposing punter boot one from his own end zone and it will clear the uprights at the other end.
HUH?: What was that?
Really, what was that?
Mike Davis is the best pro talent on this team. It’s no surprise that he’s probably going to the NFL after this year – Spurrier said as much after the first practice of the year, and honestly, Davis needs to. NFL running backs have a shelf life shorter than fresh produce.
I figured Davis, on what amounts to his Senior Day, would be plenty pumped up and get those 125 yards necessary to notch another 1,000-yard season. Instead, he fumbled on two consecutive touches and didn’t see the field again, running directly to the locker room as the game concluded instead of staying on the field with his teammates.
Davis is a good kid, perhaps a little more private than other backs that have been here, and it’s certainly not his fault that he hasn’t been given the ball during games as often as, say, Lattimore did. Pick your own reason for that.
My concern is this happened the week before it really doesn’t need to happen again. The Gamecocks need Mike Davis to beat Clemson. Mike Davis wants to beat Clemson since he attended several games there when his brother played for the Tigers, and he always felt shunned that they didn’t make a serious push for his services. He needs to “run angry” against one of the best defenses in the country, especially if Deshaun Watson plays and USC needs to keep its offense on the field.
Probably just one bad game. It happens.
That’s OK as long as it doesn’t happen again.
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