The South Carolina Gamecocks are a quarter of the way through the regular season and the team's record is where we fans want it to be: 3-0. However, it's been a frustrating three wins. A terribly frustrating three wins.
Without Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina would be on its way to another mediocre season. Thankfully, Lattimore is a manchild with the football in his hands. His field vision is exceptional. His patience running the ball is impressive. His work ethic is inspiring. And, by all accounts and impressions, he's a fantastic young man. Like the rest of Gamecock Nation, I'm proud that he wears garnet and black. Statistically, Lattimore leads the FBS in rushing with 87 carries for 534 yards and 7 TDs. He's averaging over 6 yards per carry and 178 yards per game. A lot of those yards are earned on sheer will and effort.
As a 23-year-old, 5th-year-senior, Stephen Garcia is disappointing. Where Lattimore is ranked first in rushing, Garcia is ranked 98th in passing. He's thrown 3 picks to his 2 TD passes and has only thrown for 456 yards through 3 games. Last night against Navy, Garcia's stat line looked pretty good. However, what that stat line doesn't show is that somewhere around 80+% of those passes were thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. After five seasons in the program, he still struggles massively with long passes and, after showing signs of improvement regarding getting rid of the football when pressured, it's a sad day when the stadium erupts in cheer when its QB throws the ball out of bounds. WR Alshon Jeffery was visibly frustrated yesterday. Garcia's inability to get the ball down field is handicapping Jeffery's ability to do what he's capable of. The big WR can't help but wonder what kind of statistics he'd put up in an offense with a QB capable of helping him stretch the field. Garcia has had some impressive games in a Gamecocks uniform, but his career has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I admire his toughness on the field, but can't help but think that his off-the-field attitude over the course of his time in Columbia has hampered his own progression as a QB, thus doing the same for South Carolina. I'm not there and don't know what he does every day to get better, but it appears his improvement has been minimal over the past few years. The Gamecocks currently sit at 9th place in the SEC in passing offense and 11th in passing efficiency.
Past the front four on defense, South Carolina is in trouble. Our LB corps is too slow and our secondary continues to unimpress. I really don't know what more to say here. We've struggled to recruit high quality LBs and we're thin on depth and talent in the secondary. Antonio Allen, at Spur, has been fantastic, though. He shows up and makes big plays. Falling down after intercepting Navy's QB late in the fourth quarter showed a high football IQ. No sense in risking a fumble after the pick.
The fact that "this is our year" is making our struggles tough to bear. I am an admittedly harsh critic of the Gamecocks' play. I am a harsh critic of my own choices and actions, and, naturally, that extends to most things in my life. So, I'm not picking on our guys. I want them to excel. I want an SEC Championship. I'm scared, though. If we do not accomplish that feat this season, I fear we're years away from another shot. Coming into the season, the consensus was that this is the most talented team South Carolina has ever had. We have a fifth-year QB, a Heisman candidate at RB, one of the best WRs in the country, a (we thought) pretty good defense. Perhaps our/my hopes are too high. I didn't realize how far from a first tier defense Carolina was going to put on the field. I also expected Stephen Garcia to have his best year ever. Though that's still possible, his play to this point is certainly not evidence to that end. We'll likely lose Alshon Jeffery after this year. Possibly Devin Taylor and Stephon Gilmore as well. We'll be breaking in a new QB next season. Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson will be gone. The time is now. We're 7-6, 7-6, 9-5 over the past three years. Because of the exceptional ability of Marcus Lattimore, we're likely to exceed those records, but should we be expecting to win the SEC? Not based on what I've seen so far. I don't see us winning it any time soon. Though the Gamecocks may be more talented than ever before, we're still behind the big powers and, in my opinion, we need outstanding and innovative coaching to win a championship. We're not getting that. The fact that the Gamecocks have improved since the arrival of Steve Spurrier is not in question. Whether or not we've jumped to the elite level, however, is just as factual. We're just not there. What you do is your choice, but I'm tempering my expectations until I've been given a reason to think we can clear the next hurdle.