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Let's get down to it...
LOTS OF TALK ALL WEEK ABOUT HOW THE GAMECOCKS REALLY HAVEN'T PLAYED WELL IN THEIR 2-0 START. NAVY IS A GOOD, SOLID TEAM THAT WON'T BACK DOWN FROM A CHALLENGE. THIS IS THE GAMECOCKS LAST NON-CONFERENCE GAME BEFORE THE SEC STRETCH. DOES JUST WINNING MAKE FOR A SUCCESSFUL SATURDAY OR DO OTHER GOALS NEED TO BE MET TOO?
PORTER: Al Davis so eloquently said one time "Just win, baby, win." That's the bottom line. While Carolina certainly hasn't played its best football the first two weeks, they're still 2-0. Good teams win when they're supposed to, great teams win when they're not supposed to. With that said, I think the number one goal for the week will be a successful pass offense. While they will look to pound Navy with Marcus Lattimore, when they do pass it they need Stephen Garcia to hit his targets and receivers not named Alshon Jeffery needs to find ways to get open.
MITCHELL: Obviously, winning is priority No. 1 and the alternative is unthinkable at this point. But with the way Vanderbilt has always played South Carolina tough, there are no more "tune-up games" on the schedule. They'll take a win however they can get it, but I'm sure would also love to get some of the younger players in there, particular at safety and on the offensive line, if they can secure any type of good lead in the second half. Chances to get those guys valuable playing time (other than when forced into action) will be few and far between for the rest of the schedule.
LOHD: The goal is to secure the win no matter how ugly but in saying that you always want to see progression in the football team. I do hope to see a better performance in the defense, especially in tackling and in the linebackers.
LIFE: Navy will be a great challenge for the Gamecocks this Saturday. The run defense didn't look good against Georgia at times so this will be an opportunity to see if they've worked on that this past week and can show some improvement. I'd like to see a disciplined approach and some solid tackling. I'd also like to see Stephen Garcia move the ball around through the air with some confidence. This will be a good opportunity to see if the Gamecocks passing attack can get back on track. It's good opportunity to play a tough opponent but be able to work on some things they've struggled in so far this season. I will say that a bad win is better than a good loss any day!
STEPHEN GARCIA JUST REALLY HASN'T PERFORMED UP TO HIS ABILITY IN THE FIRST TWO GAMES. TO WHAT DO YOU ATTEST THE PROBLEMS AND HOW DO THEY NEED TO GET FIXED?
PORTER: I believe it all comes down to his mechanics. Last week Garcia said he was throwing high to get it over the linebackers, but there were moments where he was overthrowing open receivers. his two most successful passes last week were scramble throws. He has to work on his pocket presence and I think that is what frustrates Spurrier the most.
MITCHELL: It seems like Garcia has been pressing a little. I have nothing to base this on but part of me wonders if maybe Garcia is being given more freedom to run the entire offense and it just hasn't all clicked in yet. In the past Garcia has been limited, especially in going through his progressions and truly playing in the offense the way it's meant to be run. Spurrier credited him for improving in that area in the offseason but maybe it just hasn't entire become comfortable in a game situation yet. Just a thought.
LOHD: I feel that Garcia's issues are centered around two things: lack of multiple passing targets and he is trying to hard. Garcia needs to go back to having fun playing football as I feel having that mentality will certain help him relax in the pocket as he seems tight. Also the Gamecocks are in desperate need for a second and third passing target. Hopefully, both will work out very soon.
LIFE: Stephen Garcia looked out of sync on Saturday against UGA. His confidence seemed shaky and his passes were not accurate early on. He did hit a few great throws like the Alshon Jeffery touchdown pass for 34 yards in the second quarter and the Ace Sanders completion late in the fourth for 30 yards. Brilliant throws by Garcia there. We know the talent is there. We just have to give him a chance to get settled early in this game. I'd give him some plays that enable him to get a few easy completions under his belt early in the game and let it go from there. He needs to be able to balance out this offense and become a threat through the air. You can't be a one-dimensional team against the always tough SEC. Sooner or later Stephen Garcia will have to make a big play for the Gamecocks.
THE GAMECOCKS' SECONDARY HAS OBVIOUSLY BEEN A WEAK POINT, BUT THIS ISN'T A GAME THE DEFENSE CAN REALLY IMPROVE ON THAT ASPECT. WHAT CAN THE DEFENSE IMPROVE ON OR LEARN ABOUT ITSELF THIS WEEK?
PORTER: After Isaiah Crowell carved the defense for 118 yards last week, the run defense needs some work as well. Obviously it's a completely different test this week as they KNOW Navy is going to run the ball. However, there's at least three options on every play so they still have to play assignment football. Also, Georgia was 5-of-12 on third down conversions. That's a decent number, but the defense will have to improve on that this week to get that Navy offense off the field. If Navy has success on third- down conversions it can make for a long night for Coach Johnson and the defense.
MITCHELL: Tackling and fundamentals. The secondary also can't get caught napping because Navy will undoubtedly have a couple of tricks up its sleeve. The pass defense may not be able to get better this week, but this should be a nice test for the defense and a solid look at some of the concepts they'll see in Auburn's defense in a couple of weeks.
LOHD: When playing a triple-option attack, it boils down to teamwork and playing assignment football. Coming out of the Navy game with a win will show us what this defense is all about from a teamwork standpoint and toughness. We also should see how physically fit the squad is due to the repeated attacks on the ground. So in summary, I want to see just how tough this defense can be.
LIFE: I think the biggest thing this defense can work on is wrapping up on their tackles. Georgia was able to score a few touchdowns off of some missed tackles. The Michael Bennett touchdown in the second quarter for UGA is an example. You have to wrap Navy up whenever you get the chance. I've seen several players going in for the tackles using their shoulders instead of making the tackles with their arms. This doesn't always work and allows the opposing player to bounce off of our defender and gain extra yardage. I would absolutely love to see some straight forward solid tackling in this game on defense.
TALK SEEMS TO HAVE GROWN LOUDER ABOUT STEVE SPURRIER'S CHOICE TO RUN LIGHT PRACTICES. DO THE GAMECOCKS NEED TO BE MORE PHYSICAL IN PRACTICE OR IS SPURRIER RIGHT ON IN HIS APPROACH?
PORTER: It's a slippery slope when it comes to running a light or physical practice. Obviously you don't want to be too physical and wear your team down by Saturday or, even worse, lose key players to injuries. At the same time you want to be physical enough to keep your team sharp. Lattimore's fall camp drew a lot of attention with the coaches keeping him out of scrimmages and such, but he's done quite well so I'm not sure if more physical practices is the answer to the problems. I think practices could be a little more physical on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday the load needs to be lighter to make sure the players aren't too fatigued and banged up by Saturday.
MITCHELL: Spurrier has won seven recognized conference championships as a college football coach and I don't see him changing his philosophy now. Physical practices definitely can help develop a mindset in a team, but having a tough, physical offseason program like Fitz runs can also develop that. And you can bet Shawn Elliott and Brad Lawing are pushing their lines as hard as possible too. Non-physical practices can certainly hurt tackling early in the season, but that will have a chance to work itself out. And it beats losing top players in practice to injuries.
LOHD: This is one of those "glass is half-empty or half-full" kind of thoughts. Imagine if the practices were more physical and someone like Marcus Lattimore broke his leg, what would you say then? Or if the team was 0-2, would harder practices help? I think this team has other issues to worry about at this point. Do keep in mind, that this Spurrier coached squad is 2-0 and just so happens to be the defending SEC East champs. I trust the coaching staff in what they are doing.
LIFE: I'm on Coach Spurrier's side with this one. I'm sure the light practices have probably hurt with our tackling woes early in the season but you want your best players healthy to be able to survive all 12 games or more. You have to give your team a chance to win and getting through practice unscathed is certainly the right way to go.
THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT THE RECEIVERS AND THE FACT MANY IN THIS SEEMINGLY DEEP GROUP HAVEN'T MADE AN IMPACT YET … TO WHAT DO YOU ATTEST THAT PROBLEM TO?
PORTER: I think it all comes down to confidence. Jason Barnes had two opportunities to make a big play on the first drive of the season, one of which could have been a touchdown. D.L. Moore had one go right through his hands last week. These are two players that was catching everything thrown their way throughout camp. Outside of Alshon and Ace, no one has really stepped up. Nick Jones and Justice Cunningham are the only two players besides Jeffery, Lattimore, and Sanders to catch a pass. That's an alarming statistic for a group that should easily have six or seven guys with catches at this point. Some of the problems do lay at the feet of Garcia, but outside of the three mentioned, who would you have confidence in throwing to right now?
MITCHELL: David makes some good points. Garcia hasn't been accurate in the first place, but he knows if he can get it in the vicinity, that Jeffery will come down with it. The other receivers haven't shown to give him he luxury. With some of the guys, though, I think it's just going to take time. Ace Sanders should prove to be a valuable No. 2 threat. Bruce Ellington will only get more and more comfortable. And Damiere Byrd should be a big play waiting to happen when he's inserted in the line-up. DeAngelo Smith hasn't had many opportunities but if he can get a few grabs to raise his confidence, he could be a part of the offense as well. It wouldn't be surprising to see one of the WRs listed take over the B receiver spot that D.L. Moore and Jason Barnes currently occupy.
LOHD: This is a tough question to answer. The group has the talent and is deep but for some reason no one is stepping up to fill the need. Hard to say what the problem is but I feel confident that improvement will come either in the Navy game or through the Navy win. I feel that all that needs to happen is for a couple of the guys to gain some confidence and this Navy gain should yield that opportunity.
LIFE: I'm sure part of the problem has been quarterback play. We all know Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw haven't been perfect in 2011. I also think the skills in practice haven't transferred over to game day. Alshon Jeffery and Ace Sanders are the only two receivers that have been able to produce anything in the passing game. I think trust could be an issue here as well. D.L.Moore and Jason Barnes have both dropped some catchable balls the past two weekends. It's hard for Garcia to look their way if they aren't stepping up themselves. I think that's why this Navy game can be important for Garcia and his receivers. If he can build some confidence in these guys with some completions here and there then I think they can turn it around and make an impact. Alshon will get his fair share of attempts but there are other guys who can help out if they show they are ready.
PORTER: I've wrestled with this one all week. Outside of multiple turnovers and lack of disciplined play by the defense, I don't see a way Navy will win this one. What I have struggled with is how much will Carolina score. If the Gamecock offense gets 11-13 drives they will score in the 40's. But I'm not so sure they will get that many chances this week and I don't think this offense is explosive enough to score that much in limited possessions. If I were a betting man, I would take Navy and the points in this one. Gamecocks win 34-21.
MITCHELL: History tells us this one will be close and could be a fourth quarter game. I've got a weird gut feeling, though, that USC will get the passing game going this week. That would spell trouble for Navy. Gamecocks win 42-20. Garcia throws for two or three touchdowns too.
LOHD: USC wins 30-16. It will be tight early but USC pulls away in the second half.
LIFE: South Carolina wins 41-21. I think the Gamecocks will come out strong and get a sizeable lead at halftime giving way to some rest for Lattimore and Jeffery and allowing some younger, inexperienced players a chance to make an impact. Defense does a good job stopping the run with the first-team defense and overall it will be a solid day for the Gamecocks.