South Carolina is a better team than they appeared to be late in the game against Central Florida. But there are some concerns.
We (this web site) said:
"Look for Mike Davis and Bobby Wallace to share duties carrying the ball. One of these players will come out of this game with a leg up on the other in the battle for the long term starting job. The ultimate decision may not become completely clear until the Georgia game next week. Spurrier will want to see his young backs hitting the holes hard, following their blocks and making the proper cuts past the line of scrimmage. It is as simple as that."
Wallace started and had five carries for five yards. Davis had eleven carries for fifteen yards. Neither numbers are impressive standing alone but both ran hard and hit their holes with authority. Both blocked hard and each missed only one blocking assignment behind the line of scrimmage.
Overall grade for Wallace and Davis - C. They were average but part of the problem was that they had nowhere to run. Their offensive line failed to open enough of a hole for them to do much of anything.
Steve Spurrier's comments on the running game, "It was a tough night trying to run the ball, trying to get anything going. I'm concerned about our running game. We'll look at the tape, look to find some way to make some yards. Bobby (Wallace) never got going. No holes for him I guess. Mike (Davis) made a good run on the swing pass and we were fortunately able to throw it in from the 6. We couldn't run it in."
Spurrier and John Hunt are going to have to work on the running game with a vigor this week. If the Gamecocks fail to establish a running attack in Athens next week, the Bulldogs will make it a long day for Spurrier and his squad. Wallace and Davis are capable. The offensive line is very questionable.
Then comes the offensive line. Where is the pressure coming from? Is it around the ends or up the middle? Is the offensive line blowing holes open for the backs? Are the offensive linemen hustling downfield and continuing to block until the whistle? How many pancakes are you seeing? Is any one particular offensive lineman being beaten badly? Are any of them looking frustrated. You have to watch that body language. Offensive linemen will tell you everything with their body language. And where are the substitutions taking place? It will be mostly in the middle because they are going to expect Levey and Goddard to hang out there at the tackle spots.
The offensive line can pass block in a pinch, but they looked horrible run blocking. Some of that is because they did very little trapping and very little in terms of double-teaming and zeroing in on specific points of attack. Perhaps they were holding something back for Georgia? Either way they appeared to underestimate CFU's defensive line prowess and in doing so were stymied most of the night on the ground.
Spurrier's comments on his offensive line's inability to open more holes, "I was disappointed. I thought we could knock'em back a little bit but that was not the case. I don't know who to fault exactly. You know the line coach will say 'one guy messed this up and it makes all the rest of them look bad' but I don't know. We certainly tried to run. I think our longest gainer of the night was Syvelle Newton's little quick around. It was tough out there."
Overall grade on their Thursday night performance? D - close to a D minus and had they not pass blocked as well as they did at times they could have easily received a failing grade.
We will stress the point again. The offensive line is going to have to improve a great deal over the next nine days if they hope to have any success against a good Georgia defensive line. If you do not run the ball against Georgia then they will shut you down on 1st and 2nd down and then pin their ears back and come after you on 3rd and long. If the Gamecocks are unable to establish a rushing threat against the Dawgs, then you will witness more three-and-outs from the Carolina offense than Mr. Carter has little green pills. The offensive line is a serious point of concern for the Gamecocks right now. Even NaShan Goddard (two key penalties) and Jabari Levey played below their own standards Thursday night. Both were beaten on several occassions.
Georgia's defensive line will be licking their chops Sunday when they start looking at the CFU film. If Spurrier, Coach Hunt and their offensive linemen work hard enough and smart enough between now and the trip to Athens, they have a chance to make enough improvement to catch UGA off guard and overconfident.
With regard to the quarterbacks we said:
"Blake Mitchell needs to call his team into the right plays. That means he'll have to audible ...
Mitchell has to settle down early. ... A couple of early completions would help his cause immensely ... Cringe and shut your eyes if you see Mitchell going long on the opening play ... if Spurrier tries to make it easy on Mitchell by calling a couple of flairs out to the flats early on, Mitchell still has to execute ... We want to see Michell grabbing his offensive linemen by the facemask and daring them not to block. We want to see a leader out there."
We hit that one dead on the nose and here it is in retrospect. We saw Mitchell audible several times and more than once he checked into the wrong play, especially once, down near the goal line, he checked-off into a terrible play. He gets a pass on that because this was his first time out as the starter. Spurrier did just as we expected by keeping things short early on and giving Blake a chance to get his legs underneath him. The result was two quick touchdowns and seven consecutive completions.
Spurrier's comments on Blake and the passing game, "Fortunately we had some big plays early. Blake opened-up super. Blake made a lot of good throws here and there. He was a little better earlier (than he thought he might be), Yeah, he zipped some balls in there. Maybe we had some better plays on early, but we really didn't have a lot of plays later ... he only had 23 passes, he got sacked a couple times, I know. He was 18 of 23, I guess he was pretty good. You know we threw the little quick screen out there a bunch of times and that helps the stats, but one of them went for a touchdown. Blake's decision making process was ohhh, pretty good."
Mitchell's first play from scrimmage was a handoff to Bobby Wallace and we think that one single play was an important call on Spurrier's behalf. The one thing we wish we would have seen more from Blake would have been him taking charge of that offensive line. If he gets knocked down enough, he will start grabbing his offensive linemen and raising their standards.
Overall grade for Mitchell in his opener? B. He was definitely above average for the first time out there. He threw one more pass last night than he did all last season. He has potential. The real test will be to see if he can survive this season behind that offensive line and in the immediate future if he can survive and overcome against the likes of Georgia.
Watching the Gamecock offensive line Thursday night makes us want to stress the need to get a second quarterback ready.
Antonio Heffner is gutsy and courageous but he is not the type of quarterback who can successfully operate and flourish in a Steve Spurrier system. He adds an extra dimension back there but unfortunately it is a predictable dimension. And the Heffner fumble will not look good on film.
Get Cade Thompson some playing time soon.
This week Spurrier will work with Mitchell to speed-up Mitchell's decision making process at the line of scrimmage. Word is, there were also a couple of miscommunications between the sidelines and Mitchell. Spurrier did credit some of the reads by UCF to a former manager now working for UCF who was over on the Golden Knight's sidelines. And Mitchell is going to have to take control of that offensive line. They belong to him out on that field, they are his responsibility. Mitchell will have to hit the open man on the fly route better than he did toTravis Lee Thursday night. He'll get another chance and he needs to hit the wide open man next time. Those are the gimmes and they are must completions because so often they are mental backbreakers for your opponents.
Kicking game, special teams, Spurrier wants to give them a lot of work today kicking the ball through the uprights. And it will happen too ... with the extra points or with the field goals but these kickers are going to get five or six cracks at it tonight minimum. .... let's really focus on the coverage teams and make sure there are no major punt or kickoff returns for the opposition. Those can really be back-breakers that can lead to upsets if you are not careful.
Three extra points and two field goal (attempts, one completed) totaled five. We expected a couple more than that but were pleased to see Spurrier try the fifty yarder. Succop will hit one of those before this season is over.
As far as the return coverage was concerned, it was fair but not excellent. It will have to get better in a hurry. Jason Peter's first return was for 25 yards. Succop's second and third kickoffs were touchbacks which illustrates how important it is to kick the ball deep. Carolina's last final kickoff was actually a Josh Brown punt and it was ruled out of bounds after a safety and that is a big no-no on a free kick.
Overall grade for the points we focused on was a C minus but the point we failed to focus on was more important.
South Carolina, in particular Syvelle Newton and Johnathan Joseph, both fumbled on return opportunities. Both were costly in their own way. Joseph's, in particular, was costly. It resulted in a score by the opponent. That will have to be corrected in a hurry. Fans were dropping their heads at the special team fumbles. That has to stop.
"On defense you want turnovers. You want the Gamecock defense to dominate tonight and pull-off and shutout if possible ... How is that defensive line looking? ... penetration up the middle and causing disruptions in the backfield? Are the ends fending off blocks and sealing off the outside running game? Are they beating the blockers off the snap and getting pressure on the CFU QBs? ... are the Carolina linebackers plugging holes and covering running backs and tight ends at the same time? Are they taking on lead men out of the backfield and stuffing the run up the middle? In particular watch number 42 Ricardo Hurley to see what he is doing. How many substitutions are they comfortable with during the course of this game? You should see a lot of defensive personnel going in and out of the game tonight. A lot of them."
Cody Wells was a surprise. He played well and contributed with 7.5 tackles, 6 solos and 3 assists, including a tackle for a loss and a sack. Ricardo played well and was in on the key stop on the SC 1 yard line late in the game. Back up Matt Rayzor, a player others had said was not on the two deep going into the game, was the one that made the tackle low on the goal line stand although they failed to include him on the defensive tackle chart.
There was not enough penetration up the middle nor was the outside off tackle stuff being stopped.
Remember what we are about to share with you. This is a fact. South Carolina was having to do TOO MUCH stunting and fooling around on the defensive line. That is a bad sign. If you are too small or too shallow on the depth chart where you feel the need to do all of that stunting and tricky stuff, then you are in for a long season on the defensive line unless they change their philosphy and change it quick.
Overall grade for the defensive line? D. They have a lot of work in front of them to get ready for a formidable Georgia rushing attack. Hopefully, they will be prepared and will make great strides over the next nine days.
What Spurrier said about his defensive line's play, "We couldn't get'em off the field but we were tough down inside the twenty. Gosh, they (UCF) were down there a whole bunch of times and only came away with 13 points."
What Nix and Thompson are going to have to do is stack the line against Georgia and hope the Carolina secondary can beat the Dawgs on their islands.
Speaking of the secondary, and remember we said it here first, the secondary was not as bad as they looked Thursday night. Several things played into what you saw, but here is what the experts saw - but first, we said:
"Is the Carolina secondary as good as everyone has been saying? We think they are so let's watch them closely on third and long situations and see if they are taking care of their assignments and making it tough for CFU to get hot through the air. Word is that O'Leary is going to try to beat Spurrier at his own/old game tonight by testing the Gamecocks through the air. If so, we'll get to see just how good this secondary is in no time."
The Carolina secondary was put on too many islands Thursday night and whenever you ask that much of them as individuals, they are going to be beaten from time to time. Ron Cooper has to get more help from his safeties on the corners, that's first and foremost. Fred Bennett played better than Joseph but they went after Joseph with a lot of isolation stuff that was unexpected in the first game of the season. Another point to make in defense of the Carolina secondary is that they were required to run support more than they should have been.
The leading tackler on the night was Johnathan Joseph with 9.0 tackles. Brandon Issac and Ko Simpson tied for third with 7.0 tackles and Fred Bennett was fifth with 4.5 tackles. Linebackers Cody Wells, Lance Laury and Mike West had 7.5, 7.5 and 6.5 tackles respectively.
The linebackers should have had more than the secondary, particularly the cornerbacks. So there you see why Joseph was made to look bad at times and we're telling you, Joseph performed heroically considering the circumstances.
Overall the Gamecock secondary receives a B+. They will get better as this season progresses.
Some concerns regarding what we saw Thursday night.
1 - It appears that Spurrier was outcoached in the second half. Perhaps that means O'Leary made better adjustments, but you expect Spurrier to own those lesser teams after the break. It probably has more to do with his assistants. But ultimately, that will always fall on the shoulders of the head coach. And Gamecock fans have seen enough of their opponents making better halftime adjustments to last a lifetime.
Expect to see a lot of improvement from the entire Gamecock football team between now and the Georgia game. Spurrier has two extra days to prepare and the team can use those extra days to lick their wounds and study film. Plus you can rest assured, all of them will be watching the Georgia game Saturday afternoon. No doubt, that always helps a team prepare for an upcomming opponent. It's always good to have the opportunity to watch them live from a fan's perspective first.
This Spurrier-led Carolina football team has work to do, but they have a lot of potential and they are going to win some games this season as long as they improve each week.
One final note, we received word early Friday morning that Syvelle Newton is listed as day-to-day. However, it is doubtful that he will play against Georgia. It's a blow to the Gamecock offense and their return teams as well. Newton is a playmaker. Do not be surprised to see someone else step up and fill in for Newton nicely when they travel to Georgia. There are more than one or two Georgia products that would love the chance.
Also, the return of Daccus Turman and Charles Silas will help on both sides of the ball down in Athens.
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