Are you a South Carolina Gamecocks fan? If so, you've had a rough couple of Saturdays. You're down a couple beer glasses—they lay in shards at the bottom of your garbage bin. You've snatched your gascan and splashed a few gallons of unleaded on that prizewinning Steve Spurrier topiary in your front yard. You've expressed your ire here, here, and here, hacking out your explosive takes with such vigor that letters sproinged off the keyboard in a plastic hailshower. Maybe your dog ate them. Great, now you've gotta spend a few hundie at the vet. All because we don't RUN THE DANG BALL
Look, we get it. But we also recognize the need for a reasoned, even-keeled discussion on the current state of things. We invite you to pop open a La CroixTM sparkling grapefruit water, call up your world music instrumentals Pandora station, and join us while we sort this out like adults. AND THEN GET NASTY WITH IT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION #FIREEVERYBODY #BENCHEVERYBODY #TRUSTNOBODY
JDLG: ‘Hoops, we're halfway through the regular season slate and sitting ugly at .500. Our 3-3 record is comprised of two good wins, one not so good, and three uniquely frustrating losses. South Carolina fans spent the past three seasons basking in some of the best teams this program has ever fielded, so it's not unreasonable for diehards to express concern and even panic amidst what seems to be a sobering—if hopefully temporary—regression. As a paragon of analytically rooted rationalism, what's your current headspace?
‘Hoops: I'm frustrated as all hell, but I'm not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That said, I'm becoming more concerned about what's the baby, and what's the bathwater.
Let's start with recognizing two important facts. First, this is our toughest opening six-game stretch in recent memory, and perhaps ever. We're 3-3, but none of them were lay-ups. A decent team goes 3-3 in a stretch like that, gets its two gimme wins later this season, goes 2-2 in our other four games, and ends up a frustrating but reasonable 7-5. I have no reason to think our season ends differently than that.
But my worry is two-fold. First, our defense is abysmal. It's legitimately the worst defense we've put on the field in the Spurrier era, which means it's rivaling the worst defense we've put out since perhaps 1998. I was in middle school then - I'm 30 now. That was a long time ago.
Second, it's essential we get the solution right, and I'm worried the fans (and perhaps the coaches) aren't getting it. Maybe the answer is changes to the defensive staff, but a lot of our current (and former) recruiting classes came in thanks to Lorenzo Ward. It's his defense, but maybe some of the issues come from specific coaches? Or maybe this is a true one-off, a product of some guys not getting into school, Ahmad Christian deciding to transfer, and Spurrier thinking that Pharoh Cooper looked better on offense than defense. Sometimes, you have down years. Ask LSU.
I think Spurrier's still a fine offensive mind, and despite recent carping, our offensive numbers this year bear that out. But he's had great defenses the last four years to save him from himself at times. He doesn't now, and it's hurting. So the question becomes, what's the solution? Is it changes, and if so, where? Or do we stick with this group? And if we do stick with these guys, how do we think 2015 unfolds?
JDLG: Yeah, it's easy and strangely therapeutic to call for heads to roll after a pair of excruciating losses. It's funny how our perceptions can change based on the freshest information. Wammy's gone from the toast of Columbia to the scapegoat du jour. The "Is Spurrier losing it?" contingent is growing more audible by the day. Bench Dylan! Burn all the redshirts! Fans want the product to change, so first must the ingredients.
I am of the mind/hope that a major element of the solution is experience, and it's simply not something you can expedite. We knew we were operating on limited funds coming in to the season, and playing against a handful of up-tempo spread attacks early presented the potential for disaster; that has largely borne itself out. Readers might bristle at this, but I'm willing to hold steady and see how 2015 plays out. We're not losing much on defense, and we've got a couple of field-ready monsters on the way to fortify the defensive line. If we're a bottom tier SEC defense next season, it won't be for a lack of depth. And god, if we can't field a decent D in 2015, I have serious concerns about whether our offense will be able to bail us out—remember that we'll be breaking in a new starting QB, RB, tackles, guard, tight end, and a several receivers. But I digress, mercifully. At the present time, given our current recruiting class and the perceived value of continuity, I have a hard time endorsing the shitcanning of any particular coach. (Except JoeRob, maybe.)
Your point about Spurrier not having a safety net this season is a good one, and hopefully he's starting to realize that although I sort of doubt he will. I'm a forgiving person, but this is the most frustrating element of this season, although it's not been unique to 2014: The Prolly Shoulda. "Yeah we prolly shoulda run the ball a couple times there at the end." "We prolly shoulda gone for two." On one level I appreciate Spurrier recognizing his failures, but it always feels a little hollow—I sense no overt remorse, no parenthetical "Next time I'll know better!" But as you like to say, ‘Hoops, Spurrier gonna Spurrier and you take the overwhelming good with the occasional but sometimes damning bad. Except you usually say it more eloquently.
Offense, by the way, hasn't been the major issue but is it fair to say the honeymoon is over between the SC fanbase and Thrillin' Dylan, or are a few major bungles overshadowing what he's accomplished this season?
‘Hoops: The honeymoon seems very, very over.
I think Dylan's a fine quarterback. Someone - forget who - suggested he'd be great if he could only operate as a "game manager," which is a snide way of saying he sucks but could avoid turnovers. This is completely wrong - Dylan would be a terrible game manager, as his strength is hitting big shots, not moving the chains. This is right only to the extent it suggests that if we had a better defense - like Connor did the last three years - we'd win more. Which doesn't really strike me as analysis, except to the extent it repeat the commonest of sense.
Generally speaking, you never want to follow a popular person at a job - all people notice is what you do differently than that person, and they hate it (if you follow an unpopular person, the same is true, except they love the differences). Here, Dylan's doing good work, but since he turns the ball over a bit more and moves the chains a bit less, he's ridiculed. He's not as good as Shaw was, but he's not as bad as he's made out to be.
The problems on this team come on one side of the ball, but all the carping seems to be that our offense should be even better, and accept the fact that our defense is putrid. That seems backwards to me.
Agreed that I'm not for the immediate firing of anyone in the off-season, although if the coaching staff feels like one of the defensive coaches isn't pulling his weight, that's a reasonable dismissal to my mind. And as you note, I'd have been fine with getting rid of Joe Rob last season, and very little this year has changed my mind about him, though we're obviously doing better than we did a year ago on special teams. Then again, most of that improvement comes from kicking field goals and the opposition missing them, which is the thing the special teams coach controls the least (one more on the other hand - Robinson recruited Fry).
You're right - the 2015 team looks vulnerable, more on offense than defense. We'll be breaking in a ton of new guys, and while I'm comfortable doing that at some spots, we've seen how turning over your best players on one side of the ball can turn out this season on the defensive side of the ball.
Many fans want to see Connor Mitch right now. I think that's wildly premature, though I hope he at least gets a crack against Furman. Are you in the get rid of Dylan camp, or do you think he deserves to see the year through still at this point? And does any part of you agree with the "burn it all down and build for the future" crowd?
JDLG: Not a one part of me agrees with that, and I think anyone trumpeting that approach is either letting off steam or highly impulsive. But I get the intrigue regarding Mitch. Recency is working against our starter, who's thrown a few costly bad balls lately while his heir apparent has yet to take a snap. Plus, Gamecock fans are keenly aware of what's transpiring up the highway, vis-a-vis young flash supplanting the waited-his-turn senior. But the parallels between Clemson's situation and ours aren't especially tight, so set that aside. Dylan's had his gaffes, but he's also dazzled at times. I just don't believe it's currently in our best interest to bench him in favor of a wholly unproven commodity who has yet to even establish himself as the #2 option.
Let's wrap this up, shall we? Considering the maddening fashion in which we've pissed away these past two games, I understand why fans are cranky and fed up and nervous. Add to that the fact that we're dealing with a realities we haven't had to face in some time. Fall's been fun these past few seasons, but this one's been a slog. Meanwhile, we've got Auburn drooling, Clemson might have found its new messiah, and despite having major issues of their own, no one's penciling a W next to Tennessee or Florida. While I think Auburn's the only surefire loss left on the schedule, I'm fully prepared for another soulcrusher before we put a bow on 2014. But hey: at least we beat Georgia!
To that end, any advice or consolation for our readership, ‘Hoops? God knows we need it.
‘Hoops: I liked the factoid I saw this week that, over the last five years, every SEC school bar Alabama has had a four-loss season. That A&M team that wrecked us earlier this year? They went 4-4 in the SEC last season. We all know where Auburn was just two years ago. And would anyone here really trade places with Kentucky? Sure they have an upward trajectory at this point, but it's a lot easier to get better when you start out very, very bad.
As almost everyone has noted, we could be 5-1 or 1-5 at this point and it wouldn't surprise, so let's take time to remember that we grabbed two very solid wins against two very good schools earlier this year - UGA and ECU. If we can beat them, why can't we beat every team left on our schedule? Sure we'll have to play better, but we can play better - again, witness our win over UGA.
I know it's frustrating that our chances to win the East are shot, but think back to just a few years ago, when we were rolling off what seemed to be a neverending streak of 7-win seasons. We can still achieve a winning record in the SEC and overall. We can still beat Clemson for the sixth year in a row. We can still go win a bowl game and build from that. Perhaps most importantly, by refusing to fold up our tents, we can show that we've arrived as someone who's going to stay on the national scene - that even our bad teams are going to be tough outs, and no one is going to want to see the Gamecocks on their schedule.
That's all still out there, and it'd be fun to go achieve it. We only get to play 12-13 of these a year, and they're all important. So let's go win some games, starting with Furman.