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Reviewing the Outback Bowl: Why We Lost and Other Thoughts

First of all, congrats to the Iowa Hawkeyes, who played a hell of a game. While I hated seeing them run it on us, the Hawkeyes' offense was truly a thing of beauty. They perfectly balanced their running and passing game, eating up large chunks on Shonn Greene's legs and throwing in occasional play-action passes to mix things up. The yardage Greene gets after the catch is unreal and Ricky Stanzi certainly knows how to execute a play fake and then hit an open receiver ten yards down field. Although we certainly didn't make them work too hard for it in the first half with all the turnovers and penalties, the Iowa defense also lived up to its great reputation. While it will come as a small consolation to Gamecocks fans, I came away from this game feeling that Iowa is probably good enough to be an 11-1 or 10-2 team but lost a couple of heart breakers to end up with their actual record. Suffice it to say that we didn't get a good match-up in this game--we weren't really a New Year's Day bowl team this year, and the Hawkeyes could have been a BCS bowl team with a little luck.

That said, there are plenty of good reasons to be upset about this game. With a month to prepare,  Stephen Garcia looked worse than ever. Amazingly, his accuracy dipped far below Chris Smelley levels. Smelley and Garcia now share the dubious honor of managing to throw a number of passes over Jared Cook's reach, quite a feat considering that Cook is 6'5 and has really long arms. It's hard to know what to make of Garcia's troubles. In earlier games, he appeared to be a very accurate passer that  just needed to learn how to read a defense better. Today, though, he looked just as mistake-prone as Smelley and Blake Mitchell, a scary thought if Garcia is this team's best hope for the future. Garcia had obviously been working on a few aspects of his game. His pocket presence was improved; he seemed to have a better idea about when to tuck it and run and when to check down his receivers. There's good reason to believe that he'll be much better with after getting a Spring training under his belt. His performance today, though, makes me wonder if his ceiling is truly as high as we think it is or if he's going to be just as inconsistent as Chris and Blake.

As for Chris, I'll give him credit for coming in and playing pretty well. If anything, his performance reminded me that he's capable of playing at a high level from time to time, even if it's usually in garbage time when he comes off the bench. It should also be clear to the crowd that has blindly championed Garcia that Spurrier's choice between Garcia and Smelley has not been as clear cut as they would like to think; despite Garcia's promise, he's just not obviously better than Chris. Period. Needless to say, Smelley's chances of leading this team did not die with his horrible game against Clemson. The QB battle between these two will continue into Spring training. I hope that Garcia takes the position, as that would mean that he markedly improves his game. We know what we're getting with Chris, and that's a sometimes decent but oftentimes horrible QB. While I'd love to see Chris improve, the fact is that he's a red-shirt sophomore and in most cases QBs with as much experience as he has don't magically get better overnight.

While it would be easy to lay all of the blame on Garcia, other players deserve their share as well. Captain Munnerlyn's performance, which was littered with poor decisions in coverage and a couple of cheap penalties, was a joke. Why NFL scouts think this guy will be a first-day pick after the season he's had is beyond me.
Jared Cook also turned in a below par performance. Cook did catch a touchdown pass and in his defense we probably didn't go to him enough, but he also dropped a couple of passes. I came away from this game thinking that Munnerlyn and Cook are set on leaving for the NFL and didn't care very much about helping the Gamecocks win this game. If this is true, it's sad that these two great athletes don't have more pride in their team's performance.

Cook and Munnerlyn would do well to take a look at how Eric Norwood and Kenny McKinley, two guys that are also headed to the NFL (probably, in Norwood's case), performed. McKinley left it all out on the field and reminded us one last time that he's a great player that loves the Gamecocks. Norwood, despite the fact that there's a pretty good chance that he will opt out of his senior season and head for the pros, also put forth a lot of effort. Whatever decision Norwood makes, I'll always remember his time here fondly. He seems like a stand-up guy and is certainly a great player.

As for my thoughts on Spurrier and the direction of this program, I think I'm going to sleep on this game for a few days before making any rash comments. My general impression is that I would have liked to see Garcia distance himself a bit from Smelley. However, I'll also acknowledge that this was a bowl game against a great team, so we should probably take the outcome with a grain of salt. Spurrier and Garcia's true chance to prove themselves will have to wait until next year.