Given that our starting QB was out and that the game looked very losable at the half, we should take the ugly win over Central Florida and be happy. Next week offers a tuneup against Kentucky that we can use to retool for the tough road trip, so the key in the second half of the UCF game was to survive and advance. Led by Mike Davis and our offensive line, we succeeded in getting out of Orlando with a victory (thanks again for scheduling this game, Hyman!), which is good. But oh, it was painful to watch at times.
The game was a story of striking momentum shifts--UCF came out blazing early, and when Connor Shaw went out with injury, things looked frightening. However, despite playing poorly on offense, the Gamecocks managed to get through the half only down 10-0. Carolina adjusted offensively in the second half, going to a power running attack out of the I. Mike Davis and the offensive line shined in this role until a botched block led to a Davis fumble on the goal line late in the game. Carolina led 28-10 at one point and looked to have the game put away. However, while our defense seemed to have figured out UCF's offense for most of the game after the Knights' initial drive, the Knights took advantage of a couple of secondary breakdowns late in the game to close the gap. UCF had a chance to recover an onsides kick late in the game, in which case it could have tied or won the game, but Carolina recovered and won the game out of the victory formation, final score of 28-25.
A few quick thoughts about this strange game:
--After seemingly having ice in his veins last year when he started as a gametime decision against Clemson and then got into the game several times against Michigan, Dylan Thompson looked very nervous and skittish today. It wasn't a bad performance for Thompson, who made some key throws here and there, including a very nice throw on the run to Damiere Byrd that set up a score. However, he also sailed several throws, bobbled several snaps, took a delay of game, and generally didn't seem completely in control. If Shaw has to miss more than a week, let's hope that Dylan is ready to play more like he did last year against Clemson if he has to take the field against Arkansas. In any event, I think you saw today why Shaw is the starter. I love Dylan and have faith in him, but he's not the same caliber QB.
--The defensive play today was hard to evaluate. The defensive line had its best game of the year, playing the run with more discipline and consistently pressuring Blake Bortles. He didn't have any sacks, but Clowney was an absolute beast today, blowing up several plays. Linebacker play was spotty at times, but overall seemed a bit better. Then, there's the secondary. The group actually played fairly well for most of the game, with the highlight being a really pretty interception by Victor Hampton that kept UCF from benefiting from a bad punt. However, the group made three notable coverage errors late in the game to allow UCF to cut the lead to three. What was particularly frustrating was that the players who made the errors--Brison Williams and Hampton--are experienced guys who should be leaders. The lapse in focus by players who should be leading by example was palpable. We've got some talent back there, but we're really suffering from not having guys like D.J. Swearinger who could serve as leaders and keep the team completely keyed on the task at hand. I would have really loved to have seen us step on UCF's throats and build some confidence going into next week, but we failed to do so.
--With Brandon Wilds likely out for multiple weeks, I'm going to be really curious to see if we use David Williams to spell Davis. The plan was to redshirt Williams, but with Shon Carson looking almost entirely lost out there, we might not have any choice but to look to Williams to help us get through the upcoming road trip.
I'll have some notes about Spurrier's press conference up later this afternoon.