COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 17: Running back Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks talks to the media after play against the Navy Midshipmen September 17, 2011 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
I'll bet you didn't think that 3-0 would feel quite like this, did you? After a very narrow victory over Navy on Saturday, the Gamecocks remain undefeated, but this is hardly the most confidence-inspiring undefeated team in the country. Navy is undoubtedly a solid team, and I tip my hat to them for the tough showing they gave us last night. However, as the announcers repeatedly reminded us last night, Carolina's athletic advantage in this game was sizeable--as in, Marcus Lattimore outweighed eight of the 11 starting Navy defenders. We should have won this game at least relatively convincingly, but after watching Carolina fail to capitalize on several golden opportunities to blow this game open, we're sitting wondering when this team is going to begin to play to its potential. If it doesn't do so soon, I have the sinking feeling that we're going to suffer an upset in one of our upcoming games. This team simply can't continue to win while playing in this way.
A few more particular thoughts about the game.
--As entertaining as their offense is, I'm not a huge fan of the choice to play Navy. This was a lose-lose situation from the start; you get no credit for beating these guys, but you have to take an entire week of practice to revamp your defense to defend the triple-option. This defense has enough kinks to work out, as it is, and the week could have been better used to get ready for Vandy and Auburn. We essentially only scheduled one true pushover this year, and it comes late in the season. I feel that you need more than that to pace an SEC schedule, and the problem has been exacerbated by having to play teams like ECU and Navy that have unconventional offenses that require special preparation.
--That said, I was generally pleased with our defense in this game. Navy rung up some yards on the ground, but that was to be expected. We got some key stops when needed, and that's the best you can hope for against these guys. I was disappointed to see us give up the long conversions against the pass, as we should have excelled in that situation against this team, but few teams will hold Navy to only 21 points. Not bad.
--The offense is a different story. In some ways, it wasn't a bad outing for the unit, which gained nearly 500 yards on the day. Marcus Lattimore was, needless to say, brilliant, the offensive line continues its maturation into an elite unit, and even though he's getting a lot of flak right now, Stephen Garcia made some nice throws and, outside of the interception, didn't make any huge mistakes. However, the offense also failed to capitalize on a few opportunities to make this a two-score game, which would, by the way, have made a huge difference for the defense, as Navy is not a team that wants to be in many situations where it has to score quickly. My main complaint after this game is that this team lacks an offensive identity, and I think that falls on the coaching staff. It's very clear that our best bet is Lattimore, but we came out of the gate tossing flea flickers into the end zone, and while we committed to the run as the game went on, there were still a number of head-scratcher calls by Spurrier, including the play where Garcia threw the interception. Then, on the late fourth down play where I felt we need to throw or maybe let Garcia roll out and think about running, we again do the anti-intuitive thing and run. There simply doesn't seem to be a lot of rhythm to the way we're letting the offense develop right now--there have been too few drives where we run or throw short on the early downs and then go long on third-and-long. I'd really like to see our coaches allow the offense to play within itself and play its game against Vandy next week. It's difficult to open the playbook when the offense hasn't established a rhythm yet.
That's a wrap on this one. Next up is Vandy, who is, by the way, 3-0 and coming off a 30-7 win over Ole Miss. Fun times.