David Cloninger

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Western Carolina



South Carolina is going to a bowl game. Yawn and pooh-pooh and declare, “I’ll be damned if I’M going to (fill in the blank of less-desirable location)!” but for this team to win six games is a tremendous accomplishment. Will Muschamp took over a team that went 3-9, lost its two best players, had a bunch of freshmen led by a former walk-on quarterback on offense and one of the country’s worst defenses over the past two years. And he got it to a bowl game.

I completely understand if you don’t want to go watch them. Having been to Birmingham and Shreveport, they’re not exactly the kind of places I regretted leaving. But this team deserves a long round of applause for what it gained this season, and having an extra month of practice can’t hurt. It’s great for the program no matter if there are 5 or 5,000 people in the stands for the bowl game.

I’m voting Muschamp for SEC Coach of the Year. Nobody did more with less.


Boy, are the Gamecocks glad they took a chance on Rico Dowdle. He’s always moving forward, breaks tackles, keeps those knees high-stepping and most importantly, gets results. His 226 yards on Saturday were the sixth-best single-game total in program history.

Muschamp wisely decided that Western Carolina can’t stop him, so give it to him. Yes, Dowdle had the one fumble, but he also bailed out Jake Bentley on a going-nowhere scramble with a terrific catch. It was a huge play to increase his huge numbers.


The Gamecocks went 13 years between kickoff returns for touchdowns, and now they have two in 18 games after Deebo Samuel broke a 100-yard sprint for a score.


The Catamounts were stacking yards faster than Texas boosters flipped pages looking for Charlie Strong’s buyout on Saturday. When they set up for a first-and-goal at the 1, it was going to be 28-24 and USC was paging Strong to come back to Columbia and take over the defensive play-calling in the second half.

First down, no gain (Taylor Stallworth and Chris Lammons). Second down, no gain (Stallworth and Jonathan Walton). Third down, no gain (Dante Sawyer).

WCU had nothing to lose so it went for it. USC finally played contain on Tyrie Adams as he rolled out and Walton forced a low incomplete throw.

It was the best goal-line stand I saw since the 1982 Super Bowl (congrats, Mr. D).


Detrez Newsome was stopped on fourth-and-1 to begin the fourth quarter, with USC nursing a 41-25 lead. He was a nose short.

The defense didn’t get many stops but the ones it did were bigger than your average Clemson fan’s conspiracy theories.


It’s Clemson week. Recycle the old jokes, plan separate Thanksgivings for different sides of the family and if you’re going Saturday, start fumigating now. And you can start dreaming – to knock the stripes off those polecats and knock them out of the playoff would be the next eight Christmases delivered at once. It’s a small chance, but it’s a chance.

Considering USC’s men’s soccer team plays at Clemson on Sunday night in the NCAA tournament … and it could wind up being Clemson’s women’s soccer team coming to USC Friday with the winner advancing to the College Cup (Final Four) … and the football game, too, this could be a real, real, real good week.

Or a real, real, real bad one. But at least it started well (below) …

CAROLINA BEATS (former) CLEMSON (players)!

Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir and offensive coordinator Brad Glenn used up their eligibility at Clemson. It’s never a bad thing to see anyone who owns an orange garment upset.


Perry Orth got to play and hear some cheers for the last time. I quit criticizing him in mid-season last year because he never should have been in that position, something some football staffers agreed with me on when we caught up during the offseason. That he was starting was a failure of previous quarterback recruiting.

That said, Orth got more out of what he had than I ever thought he could. He had some great moments, and while they didn’t turn into many great wins, he was a great representative of USC and its football team. Nobody ever has a bad word to say about him.

I don’t know if I’ve covered a better all-around kid than Perry Orth.


D.J. Smith recovered an errant WCU pass in the first quarter.

(That, the goal-line stand and the fourth-down stop sum Saturday’s defensive highlights)


No guts, no glory.


Darius Rucker promised a free concert if USC got to a bowl this season. He confirmed that it will happen in the spring (which is good, since nobody wants to stand in the cold).

I’d like to hear “A Fine Line.”



USC’s special teams allowed 275 yards on kickoff returns, including a 93-yard touchdown off a fake reverse. The Gamecocks were lucky another kick didn’t get returned on them, after Elliott Fry kicked into the wind, USC seemed confused about where it went and Fry did just enough to slow the guy before he was tackled. Samuel did have his 100-yard return, which was magnificent, and Fry kicked some big field goals.

But … MAN.

Why is the coverage this bad? I know Fry has been pulling double duty but there isn’t one kid on the team – forget that, this campus – who can consistently kick through the end zone?

Samuel fumbled the first kickoff he received but recovered it. Lammons nearly fumbled a punt away. Just let it bounce next time – starting from the 1’s a heck of a lot better than giving up points.

There have been a lot of fans grumbling about some assistant coaches this year. You can add Coleman Hutzler to that list. It’s not that special teams has been a consistent disappointment – it’s that it started out OK and has steadily slid downward.


The Gamecocks were driving in the fourth in a 13-point game and had a second-and-goal at the 3. Or at least it would have been had Cory Helms not been tagged with a personal foul.

Have to be smarter than that. Especially an older guy in the 11th game. That flag pushed USC into second-and-goal from the 18 and resulted in a field goal. In an overall clean game (only six combined penalties), that one stood out.


I get it that the only plays that are good plays are the ones that work. Run don’t work, you should have passed, and vice versa.

It seems to me, though, with Western Carolina rolling up yards in a tight game and USC averaging 7.9 yards a rush, the first play of the second half shouldn’t have been a pass.

The screen game wasn’t working. Credit bad downfield blocking or WCU sniffing it out, but it wasn’t there. When Bentley had a pass broken up on his first throw of the third quarter, then Dowdle ran for 6 yards, it seemed wise to keep running.

Nope. Throw. Incomplete. Punt.

Third-and-3 in a 38-25 game, USC tried two passes to pick it up. Neither worked. Why wasn’t that being looked at already as a two-down package, in such a close game?

To their credit, USC’s coaches said enough and began running every time they could. And it was the right call to throw at the end of the first half, to get the ball downfield.

Could have been a quicker decision.



That’s what this next game could get if USC’s defense plays like it did Saturday. The Gamecocks gave up 236 yards to an FCS team that was basically running one play.

USC lost contain on a mobile quarterback because it kept blitzing. Wonder if Clemson might exploit that?

USC didn’t assign a spy on the quarterback in those situations, making it obvious it was coming on passing downs. Wonder if Clemson might exploit that?

USC couldn’t stop an FCS running back. Wayne Gallman definitely isn’t an FCS running back. Wonder if Clemson might exploit that?

USC’s linebackers were a complete non-factor, leaving all kinds of room over the middle. Wonder if Clemson might exploit that?

The Gamecocks have to play perfect next week to have even a remote chance of pulling this off. The Tigers, for whatever reason, have allowed far lesser teams to hang around all season before they put them away and USC could be the latest in that trend. And since we’ve seen two Clemson games come down to last-second field goals, and USC has Fry, perhaps all USC needs is to hang around till the end.

That won’t come close to happening if the defense keeps forgetting how to tackle. And while USC is bowl-eligible and you never know what happens during a rivalry game, thus creating hope …

The Gamecocks couldn’t stop Western Carolina. Western. Carolina.

Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC