After a hard-fought win over the Florida Gators, I settled in to watch the Auburn Tigers take on the Georgia Bulldogs, hoping that Aubie would find a way to gut out a win and help the 'Cocks make it back to Atlanta. Unfortunately, I was disappointed, as UGA played its best game of the year and trounced the Tigers.
That said, I don't think we should take anything away from what our team has done this year. Yes, we (unless Kentucky does the impossible) lost the East. We probably lost the East when we lost to Auburn earlier in the season. We had our chances; we didn't take them, and UGA took theirs. Simple as that. However, we also achieved some firsts: we went undefeated in the East and won six games in conference. We will now almost certainly win nine total games and have a very good chance at the elusive ten. Add a bowl win in there and we've had the best season in school history and a top-ten finish. That's nothing to scoff at, particularly for a team that's faced as much adversity as we have.
A few more thoughts after the jump.
--The story of this game was South Carolina's effective usage of the zone-read in the first half. As I said in the days leading up to this game, we have a solid offense when our base play is the zone-read out of the spread. Otherwise, our offense is terrible, mostly due to poor line play, which jettisons any ability to run the Fun 'n Gun. That claim was proved true yesterday. Connor Shaw and Brandon Wilds teamed up for over 200 yards on the ground, most of it coming on option plays. Shaw makes great decisions when running this play, typically making the right read, getting yards with his feet when he can, and not taking too many hard hits. Wilds--well, what else can you say about this kid, who stepped into a tough situation and has made the most of his opportunity. I hope to see plenty of two-back sets next year. And wasn't it great to see how proud Marcus Lattimore is of what Wilds is doing? The Gamecocks offense stalled when we went away from this approach in the second half. I don't think it's any mystery why; this team simply can't make much happen out of more traditional formations.
--It was also a return to form for the defense. A lot of folks were down on the defense after the Arkansas game. Really, though, Arkansas is simply a poor matchup for us; they're one of the nation's best offenses, and Bobby Petrino seems to know exactly how to exploit Ellis Johnson's defense. Against Florida, we had a much better chance of playing well defensively, and we did. Florida was able to get a little bit going in the lateral running game, but not much. Passing, they had no chance, as our secondary played well against a mediocre set of Florida receivers (other than Trey Burton--very impressed with him) and our pass rush finally got back into the actions, with several nice hits on John Brantley.
--The long completion to Ace Sanders--clutch. Great throw, great catch. With the way our defense was playing, you had to feel good about our chances after the FG that play led to.
--As I feared, officiating was against us yesterday. It's been happening all year, and it's always worse against Florida, which, along with Alabama, is typically the recipient of favorable officiating. Carolina was flagged for over twice as many penalty yards as Florida, and some of the penalties were very costly. Most of the calls against us were fair enough. The problem was that Florida wasn't being penalized for its own sins. Yet again, no holds were called against our opponent, despite abundant obvious instances of holding. Another helmet-to-helmet spear on our QB? No flag. It's become the new normal.
That's a wrap for now. As said, we likely lost the SEC East, but this team still has a lot to play for. Let's watch our team get healthy over the next two weeks and then get ready to play Clemson. If you don't think we can beat the Tigers with the way they're currently playing, I think you might be pleasantly surprised in a couple of weeks.