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Let's get down to it...
Let's go ahead and hit on the biggest topic of the week: What is considered a successful start for Connor Shaw?
PORTER: As I hit on with my prediction, numbers aren't the key issues here. It's all about rhythm and flow here. There's been very little flow the last few weeks. Obviously, it's not all on Stephen Garcia. Garcia isn't the one that jumps early or holds on a 20-yard gain. It's the offense as a whole that has lacked rhythm. That is one of the main reasons Spurrier had to make a change this week. If Shaw can lead the team to a more rhythmic game this week, that will be a successful week.
MITCHELL: It is something that's difficult to put a number on. I think in particular you just want Shaw hitting the wide open passes at the very least and making good decisions. It's one thing to be a young player and get fooled a couple of times and then put the ball in harm's way. It's another thing completely to just lob the ball deep into double coverage on first down when the defense is clearly dropping back into a cover 3. Shaw needs to protect the football when running it as well. He's probably going to feel like he has a lot to prove but trying to be Garcia and trying to go through defenders won't get him anywhere. I expect there will be plenty of yardage to be had in a correctly run zone-read so Shaw just needs to get the yardage and get down. I think he'll have a chance to complete some easy passed but I also think he'll get to air a few long balls out too if the ECU game and his preseason work was any indication. A Shaw to Damiere Byrd connection would be a nice spark for and offense that is just looking for something to build off of. The overall key to this game is to force opposing defenses to have to account of something other than just Marcus Lattimore.
LOHD: I don't want to talk numbers in relation to Connor Shaw's start. I feel it is more of being effective on offense, spreading the ball around and moving the chains. His true measurement is a win or a loss. I expect a win. He should be able to do what he needs to do if he hits on the short passing game and stands tall in the pocket. Saying all that – just win.
LIFE: Connor Shaw can be successful is he just plays within himself. I'm not looking for 300 yards through the air or 100 yards on the ground. Just sit back, take good care of the football, and let your playmakers do the work. Make wise decisions when running. Learn to slide and avoid the contact on quarterback scrambles. This will be a learning curve for Shaw and there may be a few bad decisions here and there. Honestly, if he can cut out the turnovers that plagued Stephen Garcia then I would consider that a successful start. Anything else he gives us will be a bonus.
Sticking with the quarterback position, Spurrier has said that this game is ‘Shaw's game.' But past that, have we seen the end of Stephen Garcia in a USC jersey, or do you expect we'll see him again?
PORTER: I don't think we've seen the end of Garcia. I think there will come a point, particularly in one of the remaining road games, where the offense starts struggling and needs a spark, a la East Carolina. I can see Spurrier getting Garcia in there to try and provide a spark, but I'm not sure that we will ever see Garcia start a game again unless Spurrier decides to let him start the Clemson game on Senior Day.
MITCHELL: No way. History tells us that when a veteran quarterback gets benched by Spurrier, there is always a strong chance they'll get another shot. I expect Shaw to play well but I don't expect him to be perfect. Like we saw with Blake Mitchell twice in his career, and we saw with Garcia against ECU, a veteran quarterback coming off the bench in a key situation when the younger one struggles can be a big boost to the team. Obviously, Garcia hasn't looked like himself but with a few weeks off to reset, Garcia is likely to get one final shot in the sun when his team needs him the most down the line.
LOHD: I feel we will see Stephen Garcia again just based on Coach Spurrier's quick trigger to pull a quarterback due to a mistake. Plus, the hope is USC will begin to start winning games whereas there is a comfortable late lead and the second-string QB can play. Garcia will be seen again. His story is too complicated not to add one more wrinkle as a Gamecock.
LIFE:It's hard to say whether we've seen the last of Stephen Garcia. If Connor Shaw can come out and manage the offense then I think it's his team the rest of the way. Spurrier will ride whoever gives him the best chance to win and if Shaw proves that then this might very well be the last we've seen of Stephen Garcia. However, if Shaw comes out and plays mistake-filled football then look for Garcia to come in and try to save that day. I think it really depends on how well Connor Shaw does at quarterback starting this weekend. Personally, I'd love to see Garcia come back and do some big things for South Carolina but ultimately it's about who can win us a championship. Right now he's not the guy that can do that. Maybe he will be in a few weeks. We just don't know with Coach Spurrier.
The playcalling in particular has been a hot button topic over the last couple of weeks. Let's hear it. Bigger issue: Playcalling or execution?
PORTER: Execution, execution, execution. You HAVE to execute in order to be successful. Last week Carolina spent the entire second quarter inside their 10. With an offense that is failing to move the ball through the air and NOT wanting to give Auburn the ball deep in Carolina territory, your only option is to run and hope something breaks loose to flip the field position. If there is one thing I had to lay on the feet of the coaches it's the handling of the last possession. You absolutely have to call that timeout on third-and-20. That's the right call. It's NOT the right call to burn your last timeout with 12 seconds left after you just got a first down. You either A) call the timeout prior to the fourth-and-1 to save 10- 15 seconds or B) spike it after the first down play and have 12 seconds and a timeout. Either way the completion to Bruce Ellington is not the last play of the game and you give Jay Wooten a chance to send the game to overtime.
MITCHELL: I'm not one to say there's not room for improvement in any area -- you can always get better. South Carolina should be more organized on offense. But there's no possible way to get in an offensive rhythm as a playcaller or quarterback if you can't execute enough at the beginning of drives to get a first down and continue the drive. Playcalling is about properly game planning all week and then finding a rhythm and adjusting during the game. South Carolina has had open receivers but none of that matters if there's on blocking up front and the quarterback can't hit the open man. The playcaller has also been handcuffed by a lack of execution at quarterback and on the o-line and by poor field position. When the execution improves, so will the play calls.
LOHD: Execution. It does not matter who calls the play nor what the play is if you cannot execute. Problem has been the man under center. Hopefully, the recent change will spur some needed connections in the passing attack. Gotta have the passing scheme work so it can spring Marcus Lattimore. The offense has the talent but if you can get the ball in the playmakers hands, well…what do you expect?
LIFE: This is a tough question. It feels like we've been inconsistent with our play-calling at times. You would see the Gamecocks start to move the football on the ground in the second half only to have three straight pass plays called and then a punt. I believe a similar scenario played out against Auburn on our next to last possession in the 4th quarter. With that said, the players have to execute as well. I think this is why Garcia is sitting on the bench this week. There have been some missed opportunities in the passing game due in large part to errant Stephen Garcia throws. His accuracy has been way off and overthrown several open receivers. A few big plays here and there and we're 5-0 and this offense is much, much better. Offensive line has to do their part in pass protection and run blocking. It's a team effort and the execution just hasn't been there for the offense. Connor Shaw may be what the Gamecocks need. Hopefully his accuracy will be much better than Garcia and we'll start to hit these missed chances. I'd say the blame should be split right down the middle here. You can argue either side but both parties are at fault on this one.
The South Carolina defense has made marked improvement in the last two weeks. What is this defense's ceiling and what can they continue to improve on?
PORTER: This defense, particularly up front, is beginning to show why they were receiving all the hype prior to the season. They can be a great group and have been the last two weeks. Despite Auburn running over 90 plays they still did not reach their average in yardage and Vanderbilt never neared 100 yards of offense the week before. The third down defense is still the biggest issue even though the last two weeks they were 12-of-36 on third downs. Most of that goes to the effort against Vanderbilt. IF this defense can get off the field and hold opponents to less than 40% on third downs, they deserve the same type of credit the LSU's and Alabama's are getting.
MITCHELL: I still want to see this secondary against a solid passing team but you have to give the defense a lot of credit overall. Ellis Johnson says this is a blue collar defense but there's some obvious talent. Reggie Bowens seems to be quietly getting more and more comfortable in his role and the d-line is living up to the hype (after just two sacks in three games to start the year, South Carolina now leads the conference in sacks). Kentucky has given up a ton of sacks, too, so there should be more where that came from this weekend. While they'll still likely be a step below the truly elite, dominant defenses like Alabama and LSU, this group has a chance to be on the level right below that.
LOHD: This defense will only get better if the men can stay healthy. The more they can play as a unit and begin to trust each other, the better. The team is clicking right now due to added depth in the secondary that has allowed USC to play more man coverage. That suits this team with the talent they have so you have seen the Gamecocks go from allowing 79 points in their first two games to allowing just 40 points over the past three games. The key is health going forward.
LIFE: The sky's the limit for this defense. I think the return of players like DeVonte Holloman, Brison Williams, and Victor Hampton have really helped the secondary the last few weeks. There are more bodies for rotation and more talent to add to the competition. The defensive line can play better if Jadeveon Clowney continues to progress as the season goes on. He can add pass rush in an instant. I'd really just like these guys to keep up the effort level. I think they've already improved in shutting down the passing attack and have been better at pressuring the quarterback. They need to continue that momentum when they go on the road to play three talented offenses in Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Tennessee. They have to stay after it on defense. The offense is going through some changes and the defense may need to be relied on more than ever. Continuing their play over the last few weeks will definitely help out the Gamecocks.
PORTER: I've tried all week to find out any possible way Kentucky could spring the upset. Barring several key injuries during the game, I don't see how they can. Their offense can't move the ball and their defense can't stop anybody. Of course, we said the same thing about Auburn's defense. I just believe that Shaw will provide enough of a spark and the defense will give the offense plenty of opportunities with the ball. Carolina wins a game that's never close, 31-7.
MITCHELL: The addition of Shaw won't fix things immediately but it will help provide a spark. As long as the defense stays hungry, they should hold Kentucky's offense down. South Carolina wins this one 30-10.
LOHD: The Gamecocks will win this game by the score of 27-10. Shaw will be effective thanks to Marcus Lattimore and a stingy Gamecocks defense. Kentucky is awful and USC should be in control at all moments of this game.
LIFE: I'd say that the Gamecocks win 28-10. It's not a blowout but I think we see an improved approach on offense and Lattimore touches the ball 30 times in this game to ease in the new QB. I expect the defense to have a big day against this Kentucky offense and come close to their production that they had in the Vanderbilt game. All in all, this will be a nice win heading into the road stretch and will be just what the Gamecocks needed.