After a disappointing performance from the Gamecocks last night, a lot of us are a little tense about the direction this team is headed into as we look forward to a road matchup with the Auburn Tigers next week. Last night's game reminded me quite a bit of our game against South Carolina St. in 2007. We won that game 38-3 and the outcome was never in doubt, but we played ugly. Blake Mitchell threw three INTs, our offensive line was manhandled by an undersized FCS defensive line, and we generally seemed discomfobulated after a big win over Georgia the prior week. Last night was kind of similar to that. What's so worrisome about the similarities is, of course, that that poor game against SC State was predictive of the big slide to come--we were at the time riding high in the rankings and feeling pretty good about ourselves, but the following week we'd be exposed by LSU and, after winning a few games against subpar competition, we'd finally lose the final five games of the season and miss the postseason.
Now, I don't want to go too close to the edge just yet. There are some important differences between this season and 2007. First of all, SC State wasn't our first bad performance of the year--we also played poorly against UL-Lafayette in the opener, and the win over Georgia was, in hindsight, something of a fluke. This year, we impressed in the opener and the win over Georgia was fairly convincing. Hopefully that means that last night was an exception to the norm. Second of all, while we had some problems from the beginning, lack of depth also exposed us in 2007, and while I'm really worried about our offensive line depth this year, I'm pretty happy with what we have at most other positions. This team should be better built for continued success than those of prior seasons. I think it's also worth mentioning that some things aren't as bad as they seemed last night, which I'll get to in a moment. Lastly, we should give Furman some credit--they may be FCS, but they've got some talent and will win a lot of games this year. Maybe it's a sign of progress that we were mostly in good shape against them, as opposed to how we've played against Wofford in the past.
All of that said, I think I speak for all of us when I say that I seriously hope we get it back in gear quickly. It would assuage a lot of fears right now to see that this game was just an exception.
Continue reading after the jump.
Because we saw some good matched with some bad last night, I thought an appropriate way to approach this analysis would be to use the good-bad-ugly method. So, here goes.
I'm going to probably get flamed for this, but after further reflection, I don't think that Stephen Garcia played that poorly last night. In fact, I think he played reasonably well. The first INT was, admittedly, a horrible throw. Garcia eyelocked his receiver and the defender had him telegraphed all the way. The second INT, though, wasn't so much Garcia's fault. The play was made on a designed WR screen. Garcia threw the ball, as he was supposed to, to Bryce Sherman on the sideline immediately when he got the ball in his hands, but the Furman DE had managed to more or less run over our tackle (Jarriel King, I think) and made the play on the ball. That one is on the line.
Outside of the INTs, Garcia impressed. His throws were more accurate than they have been over the past two weeks. The one area I would like to see him improve a bit on is his decision making when running the zone read. There were a couple of plays where I felt like he could have made 20-yard gains if he had kept the ball instead of giving it to Marcus Lattimore. While I know Lattimore is our bread and butter, it's Garcia's job to make the right read on that play, and when the DE bites on the inside handoff and Garcia has nothing but daylight to the outside, he has to run the ball.
We spread the ball around pretty well last night in the passing game. Alshon Jeffery got his yards, but some other guys made some key catches, too. That's another testament to Garcia's decision making, and it will give Auburn something to think about next week.
The defense played fine. We gave up more passing yards than I would have liked, but other than that I thought we played well considering that we were doing some pretty vanilla things with the coverage and blitzing schemes. What I really liked was that we were able to get quite a bit of pressure on the Furman QB with only a four man rush. If we get Shaq Wilson back next week, I think we'll be ready to do big things on defense against Auburn.
The only thing that worries me about our defense is that our DBs still can't catch INTs. The two we got were great, but we could have easily raked in four or five in this game. I hate that this still seems to be a problem for us, because dropping easy INTs is the kind of thing that makes you say "what if?" after a close loss.
Lattimore still looks good. I wish Steve Spurrier would have given him the ball one more time so he could have hit 100.
The offensive line played extremely poorly in the second half. Part of the problem, granted, was that we were playing without Garrett Chisolm and Hutch Eckerson and Rokevious Watkins left the game with a shoulder injury. That forced us to throw in some freshmen. But, seriously, should we ever have this much trouble against an FCS defensive front? The Paladins had some FBS-level talent at the skills positions (that Mimms kid was really good), but they were extremely undersized in the trenches. It was really disheartening to see us get manhandled against a line like that after a promising performance against UGA. And the worst part of it was that it wasn't just the underclassmen that were messing up. I believe King is the one that got burned on the pick-six, and he's one of our most experienced linemen. Hopefully we'll be back closer to full speed in terms of health next week, but still, you have to worry about our play here against an Auburn team that has some capable talent on the front line.
What I really found distressing about this game was that we turned off the jets in the second quarter. The coaches started playing backups while we were only up 14-3, and the players, particularly the aforementioned linemen, seemed to kind of lay back and wait for the game to end. I really wanted to see us make a statement in this game, but, unfortunately, that's not what we got. This team really needs to start playing like it has a chip on its shoulder, because it does. It's called "history" and the opportunity to do something that's never been done.
That's a wrap on this one. Until next week...