David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s loss to Georgia.
NO. 7 GEORGIA 52, SOUTH CAROLINA 20
(Spoiler alert: Not a whole lot)
LIVING UP TO THE NAME
Longtime readers of this series (all three of you) have seen special teams appear in the lower two categories rather frequently. This season, they’re one of the brightest of bright spots. Elliott Fry banged home both his field goals, including a career-long 51-yarder. Sean Kelly continues to show why he’s one of the best punters in the conference. Shon Carson had six returns for 162 yards, including a 51-yarder which combined with a personal foul, got Fry in position for that 51-yarder. Anything helps after a 32-point destruction.
Lorenzo Nunez did some very good things, and Zack Bailey, despite never playing center in his life, handled being the starting center with aplomb. Was that somebody beside Pharoh Cooper catching a pass, too? Why, yes – Deebo Samuel, D.J. Neal, Matrick Belton and Jacob August each had their hands up. Anything helps after a 32-point bloodletting.
NOT PERFECT, BUT NOT AWFUL
Considering that Nunez had played one snap and Perry Orth is a former jack-of-all-trades in the private sector, USC’s offense could have been a lot worse. There are things to build on moving forward, especially since it seems Connor Mitch isn’t coming back any time soon. Anything helps after a 32-point massacre.
For what it’s worth, several of the players immediately expressed their hope for a good season after the game. They said that two losses don’t make a year and that they’ll be back, it won’t happen again, etc. Anything helps after a 32-point steamroll.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
With apologies to the great Marvin …
People want to know. I want to know. What is this scheme of USC lining up its defensive backs 7-10 yards off the line, therefore letting receivers get to a wide-open space and catch the ball uncontested?
Jon Hoke says he’s fine with the scheme and disappointed in the execution. The players say that it’s not Hoke’s fault, that the scheme is fine and the blame is on them. Certainly, Hoke can’t get on the field and tackle better, take better angles or clone Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton, the only two defenders who look they belong in an SEC defense. And it’s also a case of this is Hoke’s system that he wants to run, and he doesn’t have the pieces to run it, which is the play-the-hand-you’re-dealt situation that every new coach faces.
So what is it? Surely playing defenders closer to the line and having receivers have to try to get past them would help. Surely there is a better way to defend outside of setting up 10 yards deep, then backpedaling on the snap. Would it not be feasible to set up DBs closer to the line, which would delay receivers, thus delaying quarterbacks in throwing to them, thus giving the pass-rush another second or two to get to the quarterback?
Every opponent knows they can hit the 8-10 yard slant all day, every day. It’s pitch and catch. The philosophy of not giving up the big play has its place but if a lot of smaller plays result in a score, does it make that much of a difference?
Taken all together … maybe the problem last year wasn’t play-calls or a radical new alignment. Maybe it’s simple lack of talent, which has carried over to this year. I’ve covered this game from Pee Wee to NFL and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where the opponent was so dominant offensively that it only had four third downs.
UNDERSTANDABLE, BUT …
Late personal fouls were particularly vexing to Hoke, who declared USC has to keep its poise. Agreed, but hard to do when reaching boiling-over frustration with yet another record-setting offensive performance allowed. Greyson Lambert couldn’t win the starting job at Virginia, which has had two winning seasons since 2007. Yet he set an NCAA record for completion percentage this week.
I ain’t sayin’ they should have mouthed off and gotten chippy in the fourth. But I understand.
IF ANYBODY WOULD LIKE TO JOIN THE FOOTBALL SQUAD …
USC is really catching up on the injury epidemic that hit opponents and not the Gamecocks in the preseason. USC lost its starting center for several weeks and its No. 1 tailback for the second half. Getting rid of several bad apples from last year’s barrel was the right move but a few of them would taste like a lifetime supply of The Whig’s chicken and waffles right about now.
This team was going to be young if it stayed healthy. With the injuries, it’s more so, added to inexperience. Steve Spurrier said he’s going to have to try the “if he’s not performing, time for the next guy” move but the problem is there aren’t that many next guys.
Open football tryouts, ala “Necessary Roughness,” can’t be a terrible idea.
THEY’RE NOT MONTANA
Orth and Nunez are what they are – a former walk-on and a true freshman. Plus, it’s hard to do anything when the best running back is out and the opponent is on Cooper like the mumps. The Bulldogs did their homework and dared USC to beat them with anyone but Cooper. It worked.
Don’t look at the future schedule. Especially LSU. Especially what the Tigers’ tailback did to Auburn, which borders on manslaughter in at least 10 states. You’re warned.
THE OL’ COLLEGE TRY
It’s one thing to be overmatched. It’s one thing to not be as good as the opponent.
There’s no excuse for not playing hard.
I’m in the end zone, my laptop propped on the base of that bulldog statue. Specifically, I’m staring at the back of it, and thinking of that expression, “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”
It’s obvious that much has changed since USC was, so ever briefly, one of the lead dogs. Recruiting has not been what it was, players have not been developed, the Gamecocks didn’t sustain what made them great. So after a couple of losses, especially a listless 32-point kicking where the Gamecocks didn’t act particularly inspired, the fan base is out in force.
“Changes!” “Ray Tanner has to do something!” “Spurrier needs to go!” You’ve heard it. It’s what every fan base says when things have gone well and things aren’t going well at present.
What good does that do now?
Firing anybody, or making a decision now, doesn’t change anything. If anything, it makes it worse by fracturing the team. The problem isn’t something that is going to be solved by making a change, and perhaps that’s the most frustrating thing about it.
USC didn’t take advantage of its success. Recruiting hasn’t worked like the Gamecocks thought it would. How do they fix that? Do better. Be more aggressive. Make sure that everybody is doing everything they can.
They can’t do that now, in the middle of this season. There are no minor-leaguers waiting to be called up, and no unsigned five-stars who will become eligible mid-season and report to Columbia. USC is what it is, and it’s unlikely to think a sheaf of five-stars will suddenly commit to the Gamecocks for next year. All USC can do is try to get one, which would lead to another and so on.
If Spurrier, the greatest coach USC has ever had, decides to hire a terrific recruiter, so be it. He’ll need time to set his roots, and for those players to live up to what they’re expected to do. If Spurrier and his staff leave, a new coach will come in, with his own recruiting people and tactics, and need time to live up to what they’re expected to do. Either solution requires a multi-year rebuilding project. There is no quick fix.
The bellyaching doesn’t solve anything. There are nine games left in the regular season. Might as well let Spurrier see if he can turn something around like he has before and then see where USC is. If a seventh loss appears before the end of the year, thus taking them out of bowl eligibility, then it’s time to start seeing what major changes are afoot.
If there are any.
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