Download pdf version here… South Carolina Writeup (pdf)
Opponent: South Carolina Gamecocks
Kickoff: 12:00 PM
Preseason (oops, these actually count Ole Miss) games are over and all across the country teams are jumping into the meat of their schedule in a big way. It’s a huge weekend of college football and personally, I can’t wait. Granted, if Georgia lays an egg in the noon game the whole day is pretty well ruined, but as of right now I’ve got a full day of college football out there that’s just the carrot to my week.
About the ULL game…
If I had to draw up the perfect opener for this team, it would’ve looked an awful lot like what we saw. The play was generally very good on both sides of the ball but not so perfect that there weren’t things to work on. The coaches have plenty to focus on so the team can’t get too high on their own clippings.
The Good: Against an overmatched offense, the first edition of the Grantham defense looked really good and that was without showing much of anything. ULL wasn’t a great running team, but we don’t play many of those this year either and we looked much better against the run than I was expecting. Giving up one run over 5 yards and none more than 8 is a stat you don’t often see.
The Bad: As solid as Aaron Murray was in his first game action, he still had a few throws that were head-scratchers. Of his two scrambling deep throws, one hit the WR (Gray) in the hands for a dropped TD and the other hit the safety (theirs) in the hands for a dropped INT. While the one to Gray was certainly impressive, I was very surprised at the mistake on the other one. He had a couple of throws that would be picked in a hearbeat against better defenses (like SC).
The Interesting: I was surprised at how little we rotated defensively early. I’m thinking Grantham might have settled on his rotation that he expects to see the bulk of the PT this year and he’s wanting to get those guys as many “live” reps as he can, even if it’s in base package stuff, just so they can get more comfortable. I also thought it was interesting that we were showcasing Branden Smith enough to try and keep defenses honest. He’s such a dynamic player (and SC knows as well as anyone) that having him out there changes the complexion of our offense.
- Steve Spurrier set the college world on its ear at Florida in the 90s, went to the NFL and showed it wasn’t just his QBs who became busts at the next level, and returned to the SEC at South Carolina. It doesn’t seem that long ago the he came back but he’s been here for 6 years now and the offense that he was known for just hasn’t materialized. He’s also yet to win 9 games, something he never failed to do at UF. He still berates his QBs and they have some good talent at WR but this is a far more methodical offense than any of the ones he trotted out at UF (which isn’t saying a whole lot as those offenses were flat out explosive).
- At QB, the Gamecocks have the enigma that is Stephen Garcia. A mobile kid with a solid arm, Garcia seems like target practice for Spurrier’s QB barbs. He’s prone to some head-scratching mistakes back there and managed to get sacked 37 times last year despite his mobility. He’s not a great decision maker but he’s probably at his best when things start to break down a bit when he’s able to scramble some and utilize his physical gifts. He had a career year last year when Martinez decided to see if he could find an uncovered TE all night (he could). True freshman Connor Shaw is the future of the position and has some wheels too but showed his inexperience last week when So Miss brought pressure as he struggled to close out the half.
- At RB, all the buzz is around freshman sensation Marcus Lattimore. An ideal RB for just about any system, Lattimore brings speed, size, quickness and hands to the position and scored 2 TDs in his first action as a collegian. They run some different formations with CB Stephon Gilmore (more on him later) at Wildcat and they have a few backs that will touch the ball, but none have near the talent of Lattimore. He’s special, if not a little raw.
- The SC WR corps is easily the strength of the offense. While they’ll miss Weslye Saunders at TE, especially after the game he had against UGA last year, most of their WRs are TE-sized anyway. Alshon Jeffrey is the best of the bunch and at 6-4, 233 is a beast. Tori Gurley, D.L. Moore and Jason Barnes all come in at 6-4 or better and will be utilized. Their size makes true freshman Ace Sanders seem that much quicker and faster as a slot back, end-around guy at 5-7, 166. He’s a burner. Sr. Pat DiMarco slides out from his FB spot to take over at TE in the absence of Saunders and is a multi-use guy.
- The SC OL is big but isn’t particularly good. Projected starting LT Jarriel King is still a question to be allowed to play. This group will have their hands full with the pressure I’m sure Grantham is going to bring. Last year they struggled to protect the QB (Garcia went down 37 times) which contributed to them finishing last in the SEC in rushing offense. Based on what I saw when So. Miss brought a lot of pressure, I think we bring more pressure than I’ve seen us do in a long time and make Garcia and the youth of Lattimore beat us.
- Bottom Line: This is going to be interesting to watch for sure. We played so poorly against SC last year defensively that I’m sure our guys are looking to prove themselves. Look for considerable pressure on the edge with Dent and Robinson being tasked with containing QB escape routes. We’ve yet to see any of the real pressure packages from Grantham’s 3-4 (we didn’t need them last week, most of our pressure came off of straight rush). That means SC hasn’t either. Garcia will have ample opportunity to throw against man coverage. The problem (for him) will be having time to find the open guy in a hurry. Boykin and Cuff have speed and athleticism to burn to try and match up with the size SC has on the edge. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spurrier try and establish his running game with Lattimore to limit Garcia’s exposure to unfamiliar defensive looks.
- Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: If Saunders was playing I’d say to watch him versus our LBs but as it stands I think one of the keys is going to be our safeties in coverage against their WRs. If we play as much man coverage as we’ve been led to believe, we’re going to end up with some safeties matched up over their WRs.
- SC had a great defense last year but they struggled mightily against UGA, giving up 41 points in a shootout loss in Athens. The 41 was the most they gave up last year by more than a TD. Despite UGA losing the turnover battle 3-1 in that game, the Joe Cox led offense (and special teams) managed to move the ball effectively and score enough to win. They lost a star in Eric Norwood but have some good talent coming back and will be a massive step up from what we saw last week and likely the top defense we’ll face (by a long shot) the first half of the season.
- The star of the DL is DE Cliff Matthews who has really grown into a force after coming in as an undersized DE that played some OLB before gaining weight and putting his hand on the ground. He’s a first-team All-SEC guy. He’s bookended by lanky Devin Taylor, who at 6-7, started 5 games last year as a redshirt freshman. They’ve got some beef inside but no stars to speak of. Ladi Ajiboye has experience but he also has a club on his hand recovering from injury.
- At LB, WLB Shaq Wilson is injured (hamstring, ouch), which is a big blow as he’s the best LB on the team. Josh Dickerson has moved past Rodney Paulk at MLB, nut neither is the kind of force that Jasper Brinkley was for a few years a couple years back. Their LB corps is a little undersized, especially with WLB Tony Straughter at 6’, 201.
- If CB Chris Culliver can go (still some NCAA issues being resolved), SC might sport the best pair of CBs we’ll face outside of Florida this year (and they could easily be better than UFs). So. Stephon Gilmore is a special talent and has size, speed and fluidity that makes him a All-SEC defender for sure. He started every game as a freshman and would’ve been fun to watch go up against AJ. SS DeVonte Holloman is bigger than several of their LBs but can move well and hits like a truck after playing last year as a true freshman. Akeem Auguste started out at CB and is still undersized but has developed into a nice FS.
- Bottom Line: The SC secondary is the strength of the D for sure although as an individual talent Cliff Matthews harkens back to some of those brutal SC DE/OLBs like Kalimba Edwards and John Abraham. Under DC Ellis Johnson this group turned into a very solid outfit last year, but the loss of Eric Norwood can’t be understated, that guy was just a playmaker. They’ve got some serious talent in the secondary, especially if Culliver is cleared to play, but with us looking to protect Murray and with AJ out I think it’s pretty clear that we’ll be lining up behind our experienced OL and running the ball until they stop us. Sure we’ll pass the ball some to keep them honest but I think we play it safe a bit in obvious passing situations with draws, screens, etc. Lots of looks at the TE, quick passes to the flats, etc. Murray should have time to throw. It’s how he mentally handles the pressure, not just pass rush but more the pressure of a huge SEC road game in a noisy stadium, that will determine our offensive success in this one. He’s such a good deep ball passer that I think one of the safer throws for him are those long fades.
- Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: This would’ve been AJ versus Gilmore as that’s one you’ll likely see on Sundays for years but with Green out (or even had he played) the key is going to be if we can establish the run. If King and Ealey can get going and take the pressure off of Murray then the whole thing gets easier. We’ve got the OL you want if that’s your plan, the question is can we execute.
The SC Game Overall
There are a few things that signal the start of the football season for me…SC fans convinced they are going to destroy UGA is one of those signals. We play them earlier than every other SEC team and get treated to the special breed of confidence that is SC fandom. Despite having one career conference title (not in the SEC), this fanbase is convinced that every year is their year. Frankly, I admire them. This is a fanbase that sold out their stadium when they went 0-11. This is a team that truly loves their football program, win or lose, it’s just what they do. In the era of “what have you done lately” approaches to teams and programs, it’s refreshing to see.
As to the game, SC certainly has the defensive backfield to load the box all day and make Murray beat them. The loss of AJ Green sealed that. They’ll be asking Murray if he thinks he can win this game. Hopefully he won’t have to scramble much as he doesn’t seem to be willing to step out of bounds or slide whilst scrambling, obviously not caring about the effects of those type of plays on my emotional status. If he starts cutting back inside against this defense, one of those safeties could clean his clock.
While the loss of Green is certainly a blow from a talent standpoint (you can’t lose the best WR in college football and not see something of a drop off), it will be interesting to see if the team rallies around themselves. We never play particularly pretty against SC anyway, so losing our flashiest player will simply force us to play more physical, gritty, junkyard dawg football. These games are almost always ugly, heck, even last year’s shootout, that scored more points than the previous 3 years combined (I think) wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, with turnovers, special team lapses, etc. Losing AJ no doubt hurts, but if we get a better team out of this as a result of Tavares King stepping up or Orson Charles or Rantavious Wooten or whomever, and we pull out a win, then all the merrier. Bring on the Gamecocks, I’m ready to win ugly.
- This is a perfect week for the return of Washaun Ealey. He had as productive an offseason as anybody on the team if reports are true. Having him and King ready to rotate can only help. Last year at the end of the season, those two were lethal together. Plus it’s our first shot at seeing him wear #3.
- With all of the hubbub over Green’s absence, the return of Tavares King has been a bit underemphasized. This kid has serious speed and was likely to be our #2 behind Green when all was said and done. While he’s not nearly the redzone threat or quite as prone to make spider catches in the middle of the field, he can stretch a defense and will keep safeties from getting their noses too far in the UGA backfield. Hopefully.
- I was really impressed with the play of our middle LBs this week. Sure they weren’t exactly playing an explosive offense but they seemed to be exactly where they needed to be all day, a welcome change from recent years. Considering Dent missed most of the Fall with an injury, he didn’t seem to have missed a beat and Dowtin and Robinson looked phenomenal.
- How about 3 INTs in the opener? Last year it took us a while to get to 3. Hats off to the guys for making plays when they had the chances. Boykin’s grab was tougher than it looked and Commings’ was as good a one as you’ll see, over the shoulder, one-handed.
- I can’t recall us having this healthy a team in the entire Richt era. I know as I typed this half our OLs suffered shoulder injuries but our two deep is mostly healthy and that just hasn’t been a hallmark of Richt teams.
- AJ is out for 4 games (as of right now) but I’m betting it gets dropped to two. That’s what Alabama’s DL got last week. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that his paid for trip down to Florida to hang out with agents all-expenses paid somehow merits a lighter sentence than AJ selling a jersey that he owned. He’d have been better off stealing $1,000 from somewhere. Look at UT, they got in a brawl that ended up with a cop in the hospital and those guys got off lighter than AJ. What he did was dumb, don’t get me wrong, but 1/3 of the season for something he’s already repaid? Not appropriate.
- Alright, Boise State. I know it’s been said before but thanks Virginia Tech. Way to take one for the team there. Now BSU basically has to navigate a DII schedule and hope Alabama or Ohio State loses a game and they’re in the MNC game. Really? Have you seen their schedule? The fact that they have 1 Tuesday and 3 Friday games should tell you all you need to know. Their top three toughest games as of right now are home against Oregon State (easily their toughest game), home against Fresno State in late November and (I guess) @ Nevada the following week. That’s disgusting.
- Not sure how many of you were flipping around watching any of the UF game, but they were as bad as you’ve heard. Under 50 yards offense through 3 quarters is bad no matter who you are or who you’re playing. I’m not calling for the upset by any means but Skip Holtz is a good coach and would love nothing more as a program builder than to knock off the mighty Gators.
- Oregon versus UT might get ugly. They were up 59-0 on New Mexico…at the half. UT’s final score of 50-0 against a bad FCS team looked good but they were only up 20-0 at the half. Not saying that Oregon is going to rout them but UT is scary thin on both lines of scrimmage and Oregon looked really good.
- OK, I blasted the VT uniforms last week but it turns out that on TV they weren’t bad, at least when compared to what they normally wear. The matte black helmets looked good. There’s not much you can do with bruise-purple and day-glow orange though. Speaking of orange, I thought Boise State’s uniforms looked decent too because of the marginalization of their orange in their color scheme. TCU’s spider web looking helmets looked pretty bad though and the pants looked like zubaz. For the record, zubaz’ website has the tagline “Zubaz clothing is about style, attitude and comfort.” Count me out for that style and attitude and I don’t think I’ve ever been that uncomfortable.
- Massive college football weekend. It goes all day too. Our game at noon, FSU-OK at 3:30, Michigan-Notre Dame at 3:30 (fun to find out who ESPN will be hyping this whole week as a resurgent program), Miami-tOSU at 3:40 (weird time), and PSU-Bama and Oregon-UT at 7 each. Of course, if UGA loses I’ll likely watch none of those and sulk all night.
- Alright, first big game of the year and we get Mark Jones and Bob Davie as announcers. Could we just pass the hat so we could get Nessler and Blackledge for every game? I’ve got $20 ready to go in. Years ago Davie wrote a great weekly piece for ESPN breaking down defenses but give the guy a mike and insight seems to be out the window. As a change of pace, I really liked Mayock (I know shocker that I liked him) doing the Notre Dame-Purdue game. That guy is all business.
- Despite his early game slip-ups with Aaron Murphy and Jason Houston, I thought Andre Ware did a pretty decent job breaking down some of the aspects of QB play. The guy isn’t exactly a master wordsmith but I often forget he did manage to win a Heisman Trophy and is bringing a good bit more to the table than I give him credit for. He just isn’t always able to convey it.
- Once again, a special thank you to the Braves for getting me through the summer in first place. Sure they didn’t hold it through week 1 of the football season, but their purpose has been served. Now if they can just make the playoffs and have all of their games fall on Sundays-Wednesdays and Fridays unless there is a crappy Thursday night game then they will have served me up the perfect season in Cox’ last year.
Have a safe weekend,