If I had to settle on a term to describe the mood of Gamecock Nation following yesterday's win over Kentucky, I would choose "tensely relieved" or "relieved yet worried." There is good reason for this reaction. On the one hand, a win is a win and it's nice being one of only five SEC teams with 5 or more wins. We still control our destiny in the conference at mid-season, which surpasses the expectations expressed by most preseason prognosticators.
On the other hand, Kentucky exposed--in some cases further exposed--some ugly elements in our game. These include:
- Our defense doesn't appear to be very good against the run.
- Our pass rush suffers when opposing teams focus on Eric Norwood and Cliff Matthews.
- Our offensive line can't pass block.
The idea that Kentucky was able to take advantage of these flaws has Gamecocks fans worried. If Kentucky can expose us like this, the reasoning goes, then where do we stand against the other teams we'll face? How many yards will Mark Ingram run for against us? If we can't rush Ryan Mallett, how many yards will he throw for? We won yesterday, but the performance didn't exactly assure us of continued success. We have problems that could lead to losses down the road.
Continue after the jump.
All of these worries are legitimate, I think. At the same time, though, I would say that we should probably consider stepping back from the ledge for the time being. First of all, with the negatives came some positives. While I was disappointed with our pass blocking and thought Stephen Garcia made a few inexcusable mistakes, we had a solid offensive game overall. We didn't settle for field goals, which ended up being the scoreboard difference between us and the 'Cats. We found a go-to receiver in freshman Alshon Jeffrey, who should only continue to improve. Our running game continues to improve, with Kenny Miles ostensibly locking down the feature-back spot. Garcia, despite the mistakes, still played a decent game.
Second of all, I think we should recognize that Kentucky may not be the team that Florida had down 34-0 after the first quarter. The 'Cats have some serious flaws; for one thing, we should probably hesitate to get too giddy over our passing performance, considering that due to Kentucky injuries we were going against two inexperienced, overmatched corners. However, the 'Cats also have some strengths. This is a team that was able to run effectively against Alabama's powerful defensive front. This may indicate that our run defense may not be as bad as it seems; while there are issues, perhaps Kentucky's Derrick Locke, Randall Cobb, and offensive line are just very good. If that's the case, we shouldn't necessarily worry that Alabama or others will do any better against us than the 'Cats did.
I also think this may have just been an off game for our defense. We weren't able to generate much of a push against Kentucky's line, which worries me. However, we were often in position to make tackles nevertheless. Uncharacteristically, though, we seemed to overpursue and not wrap up. These are things we can do better and that we can work on. I'm speculating here, of course, but perhaps we should just assume that we fell into a classic "trap game" and didn't play our best, particularly defensively. If that's the case, you can assume we'll see more focus next week against 'Bama, who the boys may have been looking ahead to. Moreover, winning a game when you don't play your best is reassuring in a way. Last year, we would have lost a game like this. Remeber the Vandy game in week two? This year, we won, suggesting that we're good enough to overcome an off game.
All in all, I'm not really sure what to make of this game. There were causes for concern, there were positives, and there were mitigating factors in the concerns. We won't really know what this game means until we see how the team responds over the next few weeks. This coming week takes us to Tuscaloosa, where we'll be sizeable underdogs. We will, however, have the chance to make a statement. I'll say that even after this past game, I feel much more confident in our ability to take the Tide to the wire than I did before the season started. This team has the tools in place to succeed, and it seems like each week we see lots to be happy about paired with some problems that keep us from fulfilling our potential. Perhaps we'll see the full package next Saturday.