South Carolina Gamecocks Blogger Roundtable Roundup: Mid-Season Edition

Hi, folks. Responses to the Gamecocks Blogger Roundtable are below. Many thanks to Flounder, C & F, Travis Haney, and Wes Mitchell for their continued participation in this project. Some of the answers are slightly dated because they came before last weekend, but insightful nonetheless--note the prescience shown by our braintrust on question two.

Flounder (Leftover Hot Dog)

1. With Florida reeling and the Gamecocks fresh off a stunning upset of top-ranked Alabama, is Carolina now the favorite to win the East?

As LOHD noted from the start of the season, it all comes down to the UF game.  USC is good, duh?  USC is in the driver’s seat and a lot depends on how they maneuver against UK, Vandy and Tennessee.  The honest answer as noted by the SEC standings is USC is the favorite.  The Gamecocks control how this ends to some degree.  All USC fans need to pull for UGa when they play UF as some help would ease the way some.

2. The Gamecocks now face a stretch of games against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee in which they'll likely be in the unfamiliar territory of being relatively sizeable favorites. Which of these games presents the biggest challenge and risk of a potential upset for the Gamecocks?

Gotta say UK.  The game has ‘trap’ written all over it.   If USC comes in thinking they are kings of the world for winning one game against Alabama then it could spell trouble for USC.  Move on football players.  Yes, what you did was amazing and we love you for it but now it is a new game.  Focus. The Gamecocks need to just take care of business and continue to focus on one game at a time.

UK can score in bunches and they would love nothing more than to beat USC.

I feel Vandy will be easier to shut down than in years past and UT is not the "rocky top" of years ago.

3. The biggest surprise for this years’ team has to be the offense's rapid transformation into something that looks increasingly like a vintage Spurrier offense. What has the difference maker been for the Carolina offense?

Having an offensive line that can block and create running lanes.  Amazing what can happen when you begin to win trench battles.  An offense is only as good as what is up front.  Anyone that knows football will tell you that if you execute the basics - blocking and tackling - you can be successful.  USC has long been good at tackling as seen by one of the nation's best defenses but has been lacking on the O-line.  Shawn Elliott deserves a pay increase.  He was handed a line that was okay and has gotten them to perform at a higher level.  I mean, these boys pushed around UGa and Bama like they were high schoolers.  The team needs this effort each week.

A Spurrier offense has to have running lanes and time for the QB.  He has it, not perfect but it is there for the first time in a long time and you can see what he is able to do with it.

4. After Stephen Garcia's career performance, is the QB controversy now at rest? Or are we likely to see Connor Shaw take meaningful snaps in upcoming games?

YES.  Put it to bed and turn off the lights.  As we have stated, Garcia presents the best option for USC to win the big games.  Connor Shaw will be a great qb at USC and he is the future but right now the "keys to the offense" are in Garcia’s hands.  Let's see where this can take us.

C & F (Team Speed Kills)

1. With Florida reeling and the Gamecocks fresh off a stunning upset of top-ranked Alabama, is Carolina now the favorite to win the East?

There is no favorite in the East. Before the Kentucky game, I suppose you could have made an argument that South Carolina was the favorite. But even that would have been dicey for one reason: November. The last year South Carolina had a winning record in November was in 2005, and that was in part because the Gamecocks only had three games in the final month of the season. So forgive me if I'm waiting until at least a bit closer to Thanksgiving to put South Carolina as the one in the driver's seat.

But in the "new" East, after the South Carolina-Kentucky and Mississippi State-Florida upsets, it's a bit more difficult to figure. You could have multiple teams go through a series of tiebreakers ultimately decided by the number of death-threat text messages sent by wide receivers, and we all know who wins in that case. So I think it's hard to make a case for anyone being the favorite in a season this unsettled.

2. The Gamecocks now face a stretch of games against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee in which they'll likely be in the unfamiliar territory of being relatively sizeable favorites. Which of these games presents the biggest challenge and risk of a potential upset for the Gamecocks?

It would be easy to say Kentucky here and have everyone go, "But did you say that before the loss to Kentucky?" Kind of. I said in the Team Speed Kills preview of this game that: "Any South Carolina fan with any sense ought to be scared of this game." It's hard to defeat any team 11 times in a row -- and I would say "save Vanderbilt," but I would prefer to wait until we've actually defeated Vanderbilt 11 times in a row. If you were to narrow the choice down to Vanderbilt and Tennessee, I'd go with Tennessee simply because what talent remains is probably still better than Vanderbilt's, and the Vols are more than likely going to ruin someone's season before it's over with.

Will it happen? I'm past trying to figure out what this team will do in a given week. Before the Kentucky game, I was confident that this season could be different; I'm not as sure now.

3. The biggest surprise for this year’s team has to be the offense's rapid transformation into something that looks increasingly like a vintage Spurrier offense. What has the difference maker been for the Carolina offense?

Marcus Lattimore. One of the things about Spurrier that's always been overlooked is that he had a pretty good running game at Florida. It wasn't as good as the passing game, of course, but it was almost always a solid part of the team. And this year, Spurrier has been willing to mix in some of the spread look that he said he would incorporate from Shawn Elliott. The result has been less of a need for Garcia to throw the ball and a little more time to throw the ball when he has to.

But you also can't give short shrift to Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley. They are about as good a 1-2 punch as South Carolina has ever had on the same field during the Spurrier Era, perhaps even better than Sidney Rice-Kenny McKinley. Couple that with what I still believe to be one of the best years by a quarterback under Spurrier by Garcia, and it's a good mix.

Finally, the Alabama game is the only one where South Carolina faced a great defense. It will take a little bit more time to figure out if the Gamecocks can perform like this on a consistent basis. Last weekend wasn't promising, but it also doesn't mean that all hope is lost.

4. After Stephen Garcia’s career performance, is the QB controversy now at rest? Or are we likely to see Connor Shaw take meaningful snaps in upcoming games?

Yes to both. I don't believe there ever really was a quarterback controversy; I think Spurrier wanted Garcia to think there was a quarterback controversy. For the same reason, I think Connor Shaw is likely to continue to get some playing time. Garcia seems to be someone who needs constant motivation to keep playing at a high level. Besides, I think Spurrier's head would explode if he had to go another season without switching quarterbacks every once in a while.

That said, I don't think it's a good idea to regularly rotate another quarterback in during meaningful playing time, at least not the way Spurrier does it. If Shaw is really all that good during practice, give him a series in the first half to show what he can do. Otherwise, don't send in him in a move that can only disrupt the offense's rhythm and telegraph your play call to the opponent.

Travis Haney (Post and Courier / Spur of the Moment)

1. With Florida reeling and the Gamecocks fresh off a stunning upset of top-ranked Alabama, is Carolina now the favorite to win the East?

 Without question. Everyone else has two or more losses – and major problems. I said in the summer that it was out there for South Carolina, if it played like it could. We saw that this past weekend. I don’t even think the Gamecocks have to duplicate their efforts from this past weekend to win the East rather easily. It just has to play decently and  avoid the monumental screw-up. Until this program proves it can avoid it, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Evidently leaning on the baseball team’s success worked last week for Spurrier. Why not keep it up? Tell the team that whatever curse was plaguing the program has been broken. Tell ‘em whatever. Just get ‘em to play like that again, or something close. That was pretty incredible, all things considered. I’ll throw this in, just like everyone’s thinking: The Gamecocks had better win the East this year. Because it will not be there again – not like this. The hook is set. Team just has to reel it in.

Frankly, South Carolina should have to beat Florida in the Swamp to take the title from the Gators. That would be fitting.

2. The Gamecocks now face a stretch of games against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee in which they'll likely be in the unfamiliar territory of being relatively sizeable favorites. Which of these games presents the biggest challenge and risk of a potential upset for the Gamecocks?

I think it is Kentucky, based on a variety of factors. For one thing, Kentucky is just better than those other teams. Vanderbilt and Tennessee have a couple of decent players, but nothing close to the game-changing ability of Randall Cobb.

Every South Carolina fan knows how close the games have been in this improbable run of 10 straight in the series. The law of averages dictates that the Gamecocks will lose one of them. I don’t think it will be this week, I really don’t, but it’s still the most dangerous of the three. Because the letdown factor is so known and pronounced, it’s possible that the players might psyche themselves out as a result.

We can’t ignore the road factor, either, and the fact that USC hasn’t won an SEC road game since Kentucky in 2008. Losing would almost be the "Gamecock thing to do," but 2010 seems all about changing certain trends. South Carolina’s players should have to rub Jackie Bradley Jr.’s head before boarding the plane to the Bluegrass.

3. The biggest surprise for this year’s team has to be the offense's rapid transformation into something that looks increasingly like a vintage Spurrier offense. What has the difference maker been for the Carolina offense?

The scoring might be vintage Spurrier, but not the way it’s happening. This spread offense, and particularly the running schemes, came along with Shawn Elliott. So, in a sense, it’s vintage Rich Rodriguez, since that’s where Elliott and App State took their cues from.

We all thought progress was possible, but I think we all needed to see Marcus Lattimore play before we bought into it. He’s really changed the way the offense runs and operates. With defenses having to pay attention to him, that’s creating more favorable matchups for Alshon Jeffery. And Jeffery has gotten much, much better. There’s seriously no one on the schedule that will be able to cover him. Maybe Florida. Maybe.

It really all works together, so it’s hard to single out one difference-maker. But, if I had to, it’s got to be Lattimore. He has eight touchdowns, all inside the 10-yard line. Do you remember the frustration and struggle the Gamecocks had getting into the end zone in past years? Now? Hand it to Lattimore. Again, with that threat, he opens up the field for other things, such as Jeffery. I really think Lattimore's going to have a very big game this week at UK.

4. After Stephen Garcia’s career performance, is the QB controversy now at rest? Or are we likely to see Connor Shaw take meaningful snaps in upcoming games?

Well, I don’t know that there was ever really controversy with how quickly Spurrier snuffed out that talk after the Auburn game. Ideally, Shaw gets to play some in the next three weeks, if the Gamecocks get leads against either Kentucky, Vanderbilt or Tennessee. Not saying it’s going to happen, for sure, but it’s a distinct possibility before the end of the month.

Garcia is the guy to lead this team wherever it’s going to go. I knew that in August. Not sure why Spurrier continued to insist that Shaw was ready. He’s close, but he’s not where Garcia is now. So, Garcia should be the guy. That said, you just never know with Spurrier, do you?

Wes Mitchell (Gamecock Anthem)

1. With Florida reeling and the Gamecocks fresh off a stunning upset of top-ranked Alabama, is Carolina now the favorite to win the East?

Despite the fact that South Carolina suffered a major setback against Kentucky, the SEC East is still wide open and the Gamecocks control their own destiny. Florida has proved to be more "down" than ever expected and despite the fact Georgia is charging, the Bulldogs have a tough schedule down the stretch and the Gamecocks will have a win over Georgia hanging over the Bulldogs' heads throughout the season. While the Kentucky game was one Carolina should have won it was still a dangerous game due to many factors. The next two games, at Vanderbilt and at home against Tennessee, are games that South Carolina has no business losing. Wins against those two would set Carolina up for a massive home SEC showdown with Arkansas before the Gamecocks' SEC finale at Florida. The Gamecocks are only 2-2 in the SEC, but they still have the best opportunity ahead of them to take the East.

2. The Gamecocks now face a stretch of games against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee in which they'll likely be in the unfamiliar territory of being relatively sizeable favorites. Which of these games presents the biggest challenge and risk of a potential upset for the Gamecocks?

Obviously, (since my entry was written after Saturday) this proved to be the Wildcats. Frankly, there are no excuses for Carolina to lose to Vandy or Tennessee this year. 

3. The biggest surprise for this year’s team has to be the offense's rapid transformation into something that looks increasingly like a vintage Spurrier offense. What has the difference maker been for the Carolina offense?

I've always thought the key to the Steve Spurrier offense was a solid offensive line and that when his quarterback is given time in the pocket, Spurrier will find a way to put an offense on the field that moves the football. While there have been times the offense has looked like the Gamecocks' offense of the last few years, there have been others that the offense has been dynamic. Credit Shawn Elliott for putting a solid unit on the field and Marcus Lattimore for making the line look even better. The red zone offense has been almost incredible to watch as the Gamecocks are the best in the SEC in that category. A lot of times statistics are skewed mid-way through the season, but this is not one of those stats. Lattimore, who just simply has a nose for the end zone, combined with Elliott's scheme and the fact that Alshon Jeffery is always a threat on the outside has become a pick-your-poison type issue for opposing defenses.

4. After Stephen Garcia’s career performance, is the QB controversy now at rest? Or are we likely to see Connor Shaw take meaningful snaps in upcoming games?

Two things have become quite obvious through the first six games of the season: 1. This is Stephen Garcia's team and he's playing the best football of his career. 2. Connor Shaw is still going to see some type of snaps throughout the season. Spurrier likes the idea of mixing Shaw in there from time to time, and if Garcia were to get injured, it appears that Shaw could handle the duties. But there's no quarterback controversy and this is Garcia's team to lead.

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