There are undoubtedly those out there in Gamecock Nation that are unsure about what to make of last night's game. That's fine and seems reasonable to me, as the game was one of ups and downs. On the one hand, we ran the ball like a 90s Nebraska team, gaining 287 yards on 8.2 yards per carry. Stephen Garcia threw a good game, notching a 140+ passer rating. We created some turnovers. All of that was good. On the other hand, our kickoff coverage was garbage. Our defense gave up around 300 yards to a Sun Belt team. We didn't always get much pressure on the quarterback despite having what should have been a decided advantage in the trenches. The game was still in doubt at halftime.
So, what to make of this game? Despite the negatives, I'm mostly happy with the outcome. First of all, the offense played yet another very good game. In the past, our offense has crapped the bed in games like this; anyone that got to see the interception fest that was 2007's game against South Carolina State knows what I mean. Yesterday, we were able to rely on our legs, a strong performance from the offensive line, and a 20-27-0 performance from Stephen Garcia en route to a 500+ yards performance. It may have only been against Florida Atlantic, but this offense continued to play well and should only get better as the season progresses.
Moreover, I think the defense played well overall. The 300+ yards FAU gained is deceptive, as the Owls controlled time of possession due to how quickly we usually scored, which means that they had plenty of chances to move the ball. Moreover, FAU may be in the Sun Belt, but they're one of that conference's best offensive teams. Their quarterback is likely going to make it to the NFL. That takes some of the sting out of the 300+ yards. All things considered, despite being without several key players, scoring-wise we really took care of FAU other than for a brief period late in the second quarter, despite often being pinned in bad field position due to poor special teams play. That's a decent accomplishment. The one thing that did worry me about the defense was our lack of a pass rush, but that should get better when Ladi Ajiboye and Nathan Pepper return. I think we're going to be OK in the defensive department unless we suffer more key injuries.
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This isn't to say, though, that there's no cause to worry. Principally, the kickoff issues are getting truly vexing. We simply can't afford to continue covering kicks like this against teams like Ole Miss. Those teams have return men that can make us pay, and even if they don't take any kicks back to the house, those teams also have offenses that will score a lot more than 16 points if they're always starting around midfield. I don't know what we're going to have to do to fix this problem, but you have to think the coaches will be working overtime on this one for the next few days.
Still, I really just can't complain now that we finally appear to have a halfway decent offense. If the defense and special teams can get it together somewhat--and it's certainly reasonable to think that the defense, at least, will--then this team could win lots of games. The action starts in earnest this week against Ole Miss, who is now ranked in the top 5. A win in that one would propel us into the polls and the national spotlight. The game, I think, is going to be an exciting one, likely with plenty of offensive fireworks. Hold on tight, people.