The Good: The "Big 3" on Offense, Rok Watkins, the D-Line, and Bruce Ellington
Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, and Stephen Garcia all performed admirably against the East Carolina Pirates on Saturday night. Lattimore had 23 carries for 112 yards and 3 TDs on the ground, while also catching 3 passes for 33 yards. Alshon Jeffery was, well, Alshon Jeffery. He caught 5 balls for a total of 92 yards. Once Stephen Garcia was allowed onto the football field, he immediately proved why he's our unquestionable number one QB. Garcia threw for 110 yards and a TD, and also ran for 56 yards and 2 TDs. He looked quicker running the football and did a great job of simply throwing the ball away when pressured behind the line of scrimmage. Why he didn't start remains a guess to everyone but Steve Spurrier.
South Carolina Gamecocks OT Rokevious Watkins was awarded with SEC Lineman of the Week honors by the league office. In addition to Watkins, the offensive line as a whole performed well. Shawn Elliott has done a tremendous job of improving a unit that has plagued the Gamecocks' offense for years.
The defensive line appears to be as good as advertised. It's a fear-instilling unit of size and speed that helped the defense hold ECU to just 85 yards on the ground. No sacks were recorded, but that did not come as a surprise considering the Pirates' short passing game requires QB Dominique Davis to get rid of the ball much quicker than most opponents the Gamecocks will face.
A big thank you to Bruce Ellington for joining the ranks of the football squad. He had an immediate impact at KR and as the Wildcock QB. His athleticism and ability on the football field is apparent and I expect him to come up with some big plays for South Carolina during his tenure.
The Bad: Spurrier's Starting QB Decision and Stephon Gilmore
The former has been beaten to death since Thursday, so I'll be brief. Originally, I thought it was no big deal that Connor Shaw was getting the nod. It's attributable to Garcia's suspension, I suspected. To avoid calling Steve Spurrier a liar, however, it was because Shaw beat Garcia out in the offseason. His words. Sure, Shaw's numbers may have been better in practice and scrimmages, but there's no excepting Garcia's game experience and time in the program. For a true sophomore to beat out a fifth-year senior at the most important position on the field, the sophomore's ability must be far and above the fifth-year senior's. To no one in the stadium's surprise, Connor Shaw is not a better QB than Stephen Garcia. Not even a little bit. No offense to Shaw, as he was put in the awkward scenario of having a spotlight put on him by his head coach. He may have some great performances in his future, but that future is not now. At least Spurrier gave Garcia some credit after the game, saying he played well and that he shaved up and looked like a QB. Being clean shaven is an attribute I look for in my QBs, as well. God only knows how good Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers could've been and would be if they didn't have facial hair.
CB Stephon Gilmore played poorly on Saturday. He's far too talented to not have turned and given face to the early passing TD to his man. He's got too much ability to not have done a better job of fighting for the two jump balls he failed to pick or knock down, one of which the WR caught and the other the WR knocked away from him. Some may say I'm too hard on Gilmore. In my opinion, he was given honors last season that he did not earn, and his addition to numerous award lists, etc. for this season mean he's got to stand out above most CBs in America. He wasn't even the best CB on the field for South Carolina on Saturday. Spurrier himself said that C.C. Whitlock earned that honor, and Whitlock only saw the playing time he did because Akeem Auguste wasn't able to participate. All-everything players don't fumble punts and give the opposition great field position. They also average more than 4 total yards on 3 punt returns. Ace Sanders got his shot after Gilmore's gaffe, and he took it to the house for the Gamecocks' first punt return for a TD since Chavez Donnings in 2003. Folks have pointed out Kadetrix Marcus blocking an ECU defender in the back on Sanders' return, but go back and look, Gilmore also grabbed an ECU player's jersey for a hold deep in the return. Thankfully, neither was called by the referee crew. Stephon Gilmore is capable of better and he needs to show it if he wants to be successful at the next level. To this point, his best play as a Gamecock is a pass to Alshon Jeffery against Clemson in his freshman campaign. Next best: breaking up a pass in the end zone to seal the game against N.C. State in his very first collegiate contest.
The Ugly: Turnovers and the 10-yard Cushion
Four fumbles is inexcusable. Yet, we exited the ballgame with a +1 turnover margin thanks to 5 ECU turnovers. We've got other capable return men than Gilmore and he needs to be done back there. That's not the first time he's coughed up a punt and he's not as crafty with the football in his hands as Ace Sanders or Bruce Ellington. I'm not sure Kenny Miles is going to be opposite Ellington all season on the kickoff return team, as he certainly seems a less viable option than other, more elusive and explosive, team members; especially if Saturday night's fumble is an indication of things to come. I did hear that many consider Lattimore's fumble to have not actually been a fumble. I haven't seen the replay, but considering how well he protects the ball, I believe it. Shaw hopefully learned what an impact red zone fumbles have on a game.
I woke up hoarse on Sunday from yelling at Lorenzo Ward and his apparently instituted 10-yard cushion in the first half. It was shortened some in the second half, but not enough for a team that anyone who knew anything about them knew they were going to be throwing two to five yard passes all night long. Not playing more up close and personal coverage against a team that threw 40+ short passes was silly. Was he afraid of allowing the short pass to turn into a big gain, thus putting his crew in an essential short passing game prevent D? If so, I'd hate to be in his gut when we face his former employer, Arkansas, who ate our secondary alive last year.
Read the wrap-up after the jump.
Overall, it was a win for South Carolina and there were areas that impressed. As previously stated, our "Big 3" on offense performed up to expectations and our defensive line is definitely going to be a force. Bruce Ellington is good, and Shon Carson looked solid running the ball when he had an opportunity. I remain very optimistic about our chances for a big season from a Gamecocks perspective, but am concerned about the secondary play and the punting game. Scribner-Howard's 31.8 yard average is a far cry from what we've grown accustomed to in recent years. The return of DeVonte Holloman and Akeem Auguste in the defensive backfield will be welcomed when we face Aaron Murray and the Georgia Bulldogs this coming Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.