At the bye week break, an assessment of the first seven games:
FIVE THINGS THAT HAVE GONE RIGHT
1. Second Half Start
The Gamecocks are 1-0 in the second half of the season. It’s a short peg to hang your hat on, but it’s better than no peg at all. The complexion of South Carolina’s finish would be entirely different had it not found a way to make a couple winning plays in the second half against Vanderbilt last week. Now, the Gamecocks can feel good about themselves for at least two weeks before traveling to College Station, Texas, to face Texas A&M.
2. Elliott’s Approach
In addition to getting a team together enough to win an SEC football game five days after a battlefield promotion, interim head coach Shawn Elliott struck a near perfect emotional note in every off field appearance. The Camden native came across as sincere and polished in his multiple media opportunities through the week, most notably in a live appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter On The Road on Saturday morning during which he reached out to South Carolinians affected by the flooding. Inviting lettermen to the Gamecock Walk and carrying Spurrier’s visor onto the field Saturday were nice touches, too.
3. Pharoh Cooper
Despite having no consistent help on offense, the junior wide receiver continues to wow. Cooper is third in the SEC in receiving with 40 catches for 587 yards. His 83.9 yards per game rank 33rd in the country, and his five touchdowns are tied for 13th in the SEC. Cooper is tied for ninth in the SEC in total offense with 104.1 yards per game. The rest of South Carolina’s wide receivers have combined for 26 catches.
4. Perry Orth
Really think about Perry Orth’s last three months for a moment. He has gone from walk-on working at Publix to help pay his way through school to earning a scholarship to starting games to two of the most iconic venues in college football (Sanford Stadium and Tiger Stadium) to getting his first collegiate victory against Vanderbilt. The junior from Ponte Vedra, Fla., is 12th in the SEC in passing with 107.9 yards per game on 54-of-103 passing. He has thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions
5. New Message
South Carolina’s message to recruits and to its fans about the future was growing stale through the first six games of the season. Spurrier’s departure at least gives the Gamecocks the chance to sell something different. It’s a tough sell to say that a college football team will be better without one of the game’s best all-time coaches, but what the Gamecocks were working with in the first half of the season was not very good either.
FIVE THINGS THAT HAVE GONE WRONG
1. Steve Spurrier’s Gone
Whatever you think of Spurrier’s timing and whatever it ends up meaning for the long-term health of South Carolina’s football program, the fact is the Gamecocks are less interesting without the Head Ball Coach on the sideline. College football, in fact, is less interesting with Spurrier as an outsider rather than an insider. He won 228 games as a collegiate coach and leaves an even bigger personality void in an increasingly corporate sport.
2. Conference Start
The Gamecocks 0-4 start in SEC play was their worst since the winless season of 1999. South Carolina entered the year with the hope of contending in the SEC East. Instead, they were out of the race on Oct. 3 when a loss to Missouri dropped them to 0-3 in the conference. The LSU loss a week later dropped the Gamecocks to 0-4. At 3-4 overall, South Carolina still has lots of work to do to get bowl eligible.
3. Quarterback Health
In a normal year, losing two quarterbacks to significant shoulder injuries would be the big story. This season, it doesn’t make the first page of South Carolina’s synopsis. Junior Connor Mitch won the job in the preseason but lasted only two games due to a separated shoulder. Freshman Lorenzo Nunez got the same amount of starts before suffering a shoulder sprain against Missouri. Mitch looks like he’ll be ready to play against Texas A&M in two weeks. Nunez did not dress out against Vanderbilt.
4. Offensive Output
A lot of the optimistic predictions about this team in the preseason came with the assumption that South Carolina would be able to play at least respectable offense because Spurrier’s teams always had. It hasn’t happened this year. South Carolina is 13th in the SEC in total offense (353.4 yards per game) and 12th in the SEC in scoring offense (20.4 points per game). The Gamecocks’ 5.57 yards per play ranks No. 72 in the nation.
5. Defensive Numbers
The Gamecocks needed dramatic improvement from their defense. There has been progress, but it hasn’t been fast enough to get South Carolina more than three wins. The Gamecocks are 12th in the SEC in total defense, allowing 414.3 yards per game and last in scoring defense in the league, allowing 26.3 points per game. Only one of South Carolina’s five conference opponents (LSU) currently ranks in the top six in the SEC in total offense so things could get worse with Texas A&M, Tennessee and Clemson on the horizon.