Blame is a funny thing when it comes to last night's game against the Kentucky Wildcats.
On the one hand, the defense is this team's biggest liability. On the other hand, the defense is something the coaches can't completely control until the off-season recruiting season because the defensive problems are personnel-based and aren't going to be improved substantially by scheme.
Therefore, in the immediate, I believe Steve Spurrier and Dylan Thompson deserve the blame for this loss. We can hope for a handful of good defensive performances on the year, but for the most part, we must rely on the offense to win games for us. If Spurrier decides to look elsewhere for a defensive coordinator at year's end, then that's fair enough, but the decision will be made due to poor roster management, not due to inability to get the best out of the player's we have.
Maximizing productivity, though, is where the offensive coaches are failing. The offense scored a ton of points against a good Kentucky defense yesterday, but in a few key moments, our head coach/offensive coordinator and RS senior QB dropped the ball and weren't able to put enough on the board to win the ball game.
First of all, let's take a look at Dylan. On the face of it, he doesn't have a bad stat line outside of the three interceptions: He was 23/37 for 218 yards. I also give Dylan credit for playing hard. He made some good runs and even laid down a nice block on a Shon Carson touchdown run. However, he also left a lot of points on the field and turned the ball over at key moments. In addition to his meltdown at the end of the game (the second straight week that's happened), his play ruined a promising drive at the end of the first half that could have put us up by 10 heading into intermission. On two straight plays, he misread the coverage and didn't throw to the open receiver, and the second pass was intercepted and returned to our side of the field, where Kentucky kicked a field goal heading into the half. That's a 10-point swing, as Carolina scores a TD there if Dylan finds the right receiver. When you throw in the numerous misthrown balls, you've got a QB who really struggled in a spot where his team needed him.
We're probably not going to see Connor Mitch receive extended playing this season, but with Furman coming up after the bye week, it seems like it's now or never for the coaches to see what Mitch can do in a game situation and to make a call about whether to give him a closer look. We'll see what happens.
As for Spurrier's playing calling, it was absolutely infuriating. The Gamecocks came out running the kind of offense we should be running 95% of the time: lining up in jumbo sets, running the ball, working the short passes to keep the defense honest, occasionally going deep when the defense gets greedy. This strategy netted Carolina two impressive touchdown drives and a 14-0 lead. Those drives took up the vast majority of the first quarter. After that second touchdown, the Carolina defense got a quick stop. What does Carolina do? After an aborted run attempt on first down, we pass twice beyond the sticks. Granted, the first pass to Busta Anderson was broken up on a good defensive play, and the second play was there to K.J. Brent if Thompson throws a good ball, but I'd like to see us either run or work the short passing game there more. The Kentucky defense was on its heels, and the coaches shouldn't have gotten spooked that the first run didn't go for a good gain. Kentucky scored a touchdown on its ensuing possession to get back in the game.
This tendency to abandon what's working as soon as we get a comfortable lead would rear its ugly head again later in the game, and it was a big part of the problem against Mizzou, too. This is something that has been a problem for Spurrier the past few years, and its become even more of a problem this season, given that we have such ideal personnel to lean on the run game but have a very limited QB who shouldn't be asked to do too much. The problem was magnified by the fact that Spurrier was so clearly outcoached by UK's Mark Stoops and Neal Brown, who found something that worked in the wildcat and rode the formation to victory instead of outsmarting themselves.
The sad thing is that as bad as the defense has played this year, we could easily be 5-1 and on the cusp of the top ten right now if Spurrier trusts the run game. As it is, all original goals are now off the table and we're the position of hoping we can figure out a way to win enough games to make a bowl and maybe improve enough to be competitive against Clemson.