When the league announced its Week One players of the week yesterday morning, one name was glaringly absent - our new Punter, RS Junior Sean Kelly. What a shame.
"SEC players of the week: 5 Different Teams Represented in Week One honors" proudly blared the headline on Al.com, which must have made the league front office happy. Making sure a lot of programs get a nod early on keeps our myriad, lunatic fan bases calm. But is politics more important than getting it right?
That looks to have been the case here when the SEC selected Auburn PK Daniel Carlson for the Special Teams prize - primarily on account of a massive 56 yard FG as time was waning in the first half of the Auburn-Louisville game. It put the Plainsmen up 17-0 going into the break.
Certainly this was an impressive field goal by the sophomore Tiger placekicker, but it was his only attempt of the game and at a time when it appeared the Tigers were going to rout the Cardinals. Sure, Carlson went 4 for 4 on PATs and 6 for 6 on touchbacks [but making points after should go without saying; ditto KOs out of the back of the end zone in a dome]. You get the feeling that this was a bit of pat on the head for a kid who missed a 45 yard game winner against Wisconsin in OT in last season's Outback Bowl - plonking it off the right upright.
The guy's got a big leg, no doubt. But PotW? Carlson's kick wasn't even the margin of Aubie's ultimate victory. It's not even an Auburn record.
Compare and contrast to Sean Kelly - a walk-on making his debut in big-time CFB at Bank of America Stadium and going mano-y-mano with the Heels' All American kick returner Jr. Ryan Switzer. In 2013, Switzer tied the NCAA record for 5 Punt returns for touchdowns as a true freshman (garnering national honors), and last year blossomed into a legitimate WR threat, not to mention remaining a dangerous return man with 172 yards on 37 punts. You sleep on Switzer and he will burn you - especially when he is a guy who felt 2014 was a personal disappointment.
So how did Kelly perform punting on the big stage against a big-time opponent? The results speak for themselves.
Sure, most everyone will remember the fake punt in the first quarter - which resulted in a badly-needed first down after our first two drives stalled. Spurrier got all the credit at the time, but we learned later it was Kelly who audibled the fake (the first he had ever run in his collegiate career dating back to Florida Atlantic and JC). Gutsy. And smart.
"I didn't even hear myself at the end. All I heard was every single Carolina fan yelling," he said. "It was pretty exciting."
Then there was his actual punting - five punts with a long of 60 (our longest since 2011) and an average of 42.5. He pinned two inside the 10 and two more resulted in unreturnable touchbacks. Just as impressive, the talented Switzer was held to 1 yard on 1 return. That's it. All this in Kelly's first start.
The cherry on top was at the end of the first half, when Elliot Fry missed a 57 yard FG attempt only to find Switzer waiting to return it. Switzer made it across mid-field and it looked like he might romp into the end zone. Who made the tackle? You guessed it - Kelly. All 5' 10", 189 pounds of him.
Quoth the Visor - who was no mean punter himself from his days at Florida and the San Francisco 49ers: "If you want me to brag on a punter, I'm bragging on him ... Give a little praise to the Gamecock punter."
The Solons of Hoover probably were reluctant to name two Gamecocks as players of the week - since Skai Moore garnered defensive honors (and rightfully so). Now 23 years in the conference, we're used to politics being politics when it comes to the SEC front office.
But not awarding Kelly the Special Teams Player of the Week recognition is a crying shame.