Whew. Glad we won that one. Here are some quick thoughts on what we saw.
--We won. It wasn't pretty, but you really can't overestimate the importance of winning a game like that, considering that our starting quarterback didn't play through a key stretch of the game, and that he played hurt at the end. All great seasons involve a win or two where you have to overcome those kinds of difficulties. We passed the test tonight.
--Connor Shaw's toughness. Shaw has taken some knocks for not being as tough as his predecessor, and I guess you could say that the hit he took wouldn't have knocked Garcia out of a game. That said, I was impressed with Shaw's toughness tonight. He was clearly in a lot of pain when he came back in, and he really didn't play half bad when he did. He also showed an impressive willingness to fight for tough yards by taking a couple of really nasty hits on his runs. The guy isn't built as solid as Garcia, but he's got all the heart he could ever need.
--Marcus Lattimore looks solid. He didn't look to be quite his old self just yet. There were a few plays where he didn't show quite the moves he's had in the past, and where he didn't look great against contact. However, he certainly didn't look bad. There were some classic Lattimore runs in there, and he did have 100+ yards, two TDs, etc., etc. Hopefully, his knee is fine and he'll learn to trust it more over the next couple of games. He's very close to being just as good as new. Just not quite there yet. That said, it should be recognized that the running game as a whole looked formidable, particularly in the first half. Shaw and Lattimore make a potent tandem in the zone read.
--Carolina's defense. There were a couple of secondary breakdowns, and it could have been worse had Vandy's receivers displayed better hands. But the defense did OK with what it was given. When Shaw went down, you knew that we were going to have to rely on our defense to win the game, and we only gave up three points after that point. We also got out of some jams unscathed after setting Vandy up with good field position.
--With Shaw healthy, we're better than this score indicates. We win this game by 17 points or so if Shaw doesn't get hurt. We were moving the ball well in the first half while he was still healthy, and when Vandy was sucking wind late in the second half, we would have shredded them with a healthy Shaw.
Keep reading after the jump.
--The offensive line. I was hoping for a much better performance against these guys, and while I know Vandy has some talent up front and that their coaches dialed up some smart blitzes, I'm still disappointed. Run blocking wasn't bad, but pass blocking was pitiful. Way too many blitzes that weren't picked up, way too many times when we were just blown off the ball. Still work to be done here. Lots.
--The passing game. It wasn't really clear what hurt us most in the passing game early on, the receivers not getting open, or Shaw not hitting them. Shaw was just a tad off early on; the interception should have been to the receiver's outside shoulder, and the miss to Ellington in the end zone probably would have been a TD had it not been so inside. But the receivers, too, were a problem. They weren't getting open quickly enough and failed to haul in a couple of catchable balls. Like the offensive line, which didn't help matters here, the passing game is still a work in progress.
--Dylan Thompson. Things got really, really ugly when Thompson came in. His passes were really ugly, his pocket presence was really ugly. Needless to say, nerves were probably affecting him, but you have to be really worried about what happens to Carolina if Shaw goes down again, which certainly isn't out of the realm of possibilities, considering how much he runs.
--Why did we burn Mike Davis's redshirt? Did we really need to give him that run at the end of the game? Where as Kenny Miles? Miles only got one carry on the night. Don't understand that decision at all.
--The officiating. Let's be honest: Swearinger interfered on Vandy's last pass, depriving Vandy of a chance to keep playing. That wasn't the only bad call of the night, though. There were numerous holds and interference calls that the refs missed. The SEC is depriving its fans of a better product by keeping these jokers employed. Sad that a conference with so many resources can't put a better product out there on this. Sorry, Vandy. I really do feel for you on that no-call.
You're going to hear a lot of people slam the 'Cocks over the next few days. Wait it out. I would have liked to have seen a more dominant victory, sure. But we played a gutsy team on the road to open the season, and we won even though our quarterback played with his arm about to fall off for most of the evening. It's not all bad here. Let's give this team two weeks and see what they do after a couple of tune-ups. The next big test is Mizzou. We'll have a better idea of what we have after that game.