Scouting Report: South Carolina More Than Just Spurrier
Despite what some may think, South Carolina Football Coach and offensive guru Steve Spurrier will be simply walking–not levitating–on the sidelines of Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday afternoon when the Tide and Gamecocks kick off.
It's true that Spurrier's Gamecocks are an able passing team–starting quarterback Blake Mitchell leads the Southeastern Conference averaging 283 passing yards per game and he's fourth in passing efficiency with a 169.7 rating.
Mitchell, the 6-3, 194-pound redshirt sophomore has completed 70.2 percent (40-of-57) passes for 566 yards. For comparison's sake, 2004 South Carolina starter Syvelle Newton led the team with 1,093 passing yards for the season.
Notably, Mitchell has been sacked seven times in two games, only besting Kentucky's nine sack SEC futility mark by two. Conversely, Alabama has blitzed only a handful of times in its first two games, but has an SEC-leading nine sacks to its credit.
Another danger sign for the South Carolina offense is that the Gamecocks have converted just five of 20 third down plays in their first two games, 11th-best in the league. The Bama defense has allowed a 26.1 percent (six-of-23) third down conversion rate, which is second-best in the league.
Mitchell has distributed the ball well in two games, with completions to 11 receivers. Last year's starting quarterback Syvelle Newton (6-0, 214 pounds) has been the most popular receiving early-season target for Mitchell as a junior with nine catches for 111 yards.
Kris Clark (5-10, 191 pounds) plays opposite Newton, and has caught six pass for 56 yards thus far. Clark is a senior and former walk-on for the Gamecocks, and is listed ahead of the top returning receiver, junior Noah Whiteside (5-11, 169 pounds).
Whiteside had 20 catches for 290 yards in 2004, and has four for 91 yards this year, including a 49-yard scoring pass in South Carolina's opener.
South Carolina will start either freshman Jonathan Hannah (6-3, 251 pounds) or sophomore Robert Pavlovich (6-5, 244 pounds) at tight end Saturday in place of the injured Andy Boyd. Hannah had his first catch of the year last week, a 24 yarder against UGA.
Blake's good numbers are heavily tempered by the fact that the Gamecocks can't run a lick. Specifically, South Carolina has totaled 75 rushing yards in their two games against Central Florida and Georgia. They are 111th in the nation and dead last in the SEC, averaging just one and a half yards per carry.
True freshman Mike Davis (5-9, 209 pounds) is listed atop the Gamecocks depth chart at tailback. Davis rushed eight times for a season high 38 yards last week against Georgia. He had 11 carries for 14 yards in game one.
The diminutive Bobby Wallace (5-7, 179 pounds) is listed as back-up to Davis. Wallace was the first player signed at South Carolina by Spurrier and was the starter in the season opener against UCF. He has totaled a laughable five yards on one carry.
Starting senior fullback Daccuss Turman (5-11, 229 pounds) is actually the second-leading rusher on the squad with 22 yards on five carries. Turman was suspended for the UCF game, but he caught seven passes for 30 yards against Georgia in addition to his rushing totals.
The Gamecocks' starting offensive line averages 303 pounds, with 270 pound left guard William Brown the only player under the 300-pound mark. Brown is a first year starter, as is senior right guard Freddy Saint-Preux.
Left tackle Jabari Levey is touted as an All-SEC candidate and has started 20 games in his career. Junior center Chris White was a 10-game starter last year and has 18 career starts to his name, while right tackle Na'Shan Goddard has made 27 starts in his impressive career.
If South Carolina has done one thing well on defense in its first two games, it has been getting after the quarterback. The Gamecocks are second only to the Crimson Tide in sacks through two games with seven.
In early action, South Carolina has allowed 185 yards per game through the air and 160.5 on the ground. Senior DéAdrian Coley (6-2, 240 pounds) and sophomore Josh Johnson (6-4, 230 pounds) are starters at opposite defensive end positions, and both are relatively inexperienced. Coley Appeared in 10 games last season, but made just nine tackles after transferring to South Carolina from Georgia Military. Johnson is alos a first-year starter for the Gamecocks, and was credited with 2.5 tackles last week against Georgia.
South Carolina's defensive tackles don't fare much better on the experience spectrum.
Marque Hall (6-2, 286 pounds) started three games as a freshman last year and senior nose tackle Chris Tucker (6-1, 288 pounds) played on offense and on defense at times last year. He did record a sack against UCF. Back-up nose tackle Stanley Doughty is the biggest player on the team at 6-1, 328 pounds. Doughty will get significant playing time for the Gamecocks after having four tackles against Georgia last week.
The most experienced among South Carolina defenders is 6-2, 235-pound senior linebacker Lance Laury. Laury, who has 21 career starts to his credit, had two and a half tackles for loss against UCF.
Middle backer Ricardo Hurly (6-1, 242 pounds) might be the best defender, however. The senior has made 16 career starts and recorded 53 tackles last season.
Mike West rounds out the linebacking corps adding a dimension of speed. West (6-0, 211 pounds) is undersized by current standards but boasts a sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash time. He played last year at Butler Community College in Kansas. He is South Carolina's leading tackler with 18.
In the secondary, junior cornerback Johnathan Joseph (5-11, 187 pounds) is the speedster of the squad. He took a Georgia pass 42 yards the other way last week for a defensive score.
Fred Bennett (6-1, 194 pounds) brings the experience at the opposite cornerback position. The junior has started 13 straight games, and has had five interceptions over the past season plus two games this year.
Sophomore safety (or Rover) Ko Simpson (6-1, 201 pounds) is the most well-known Gamecock defender, and for good reason. Simpson is a pre-season all-America candidate this year after a team-leading six interceptions as a true freshman.
Another sophomore startes at the free safety spot, sophomore Chris Hampton (5-11, 186 pounds). Hampton started against Georgia and has five tackles and a sack through two games.
South Carolina has senior Josh Brown handling both placekicking and punting duties, and doing a pretty good job. Brown has made 11 of his last 12 field goal attempts after beginning his career making just one of five kicks. He's had six punts for a 40.7 yard average with a 51-yard long.
Freshman Ryan Succop has handled the kickoff duties, with six of his nine kickoffs going for touchbacks.
Ike Crofoot is a junior who is instrumental in both the punting and placekicking game, but in different ways. He is the long snapper for punts, but on field goals he is the holder and junior Scott Morgan snaps. –Mitch Dobbs
Coach Mike Shula Says
As is often the case when a college football coach assesses the week or the season, the injury situation is addressed quickly. And that is the case this week for Alabama Coach Mike Shula as he looks at a long list of wounded Crimson Tide players.
The word of the day was "questionable" during Shula's regular Tuesday press briefing. Most players who have injuries fell into the category of "questionable" for Saturday's game at South Carolina.
Early in fall camp, offensive line seemed to be hardest hit by the injury bug. Then it got to the tight ends. Most recently it has been the tailback position.
Still, Shula and most Crimson Tide fans would probably take the trade of the nicks where they have fallen in exchange for the good injury luck of having quarterback Brodie Croyle, halfback Kenneth Darby, and fullback Tim Castille showing no ill effects of injuries that resulted in surgery over the past year.
In last Saturday's game against Southern Miss, defensive tackle Justin Britt played only two snaps before going out with a subluxation (less than a separation) of his shoulder. Britt said he probably could have returned to action, but that the cautious approach was to hold him out. He expected to be back at practice as early as Wednesday and felt he would be ready to play at South Carolina.
A key area is halfback, where Alabama has lost three true freshmen in recent days. Roy Upchurch was to have foot surgery and be held out this year. Last Saturday the Tide lost Glen Coffee, the number two tailback, with a concussion and Jimmy Johns, number three halfback, with a shoulder injury.
Shula noted that Castille can play halfback as well as fullback if needed. "And we'll look at Ali Sharrief (a freshman who is expected to be redshirted). And we have other personnel groupings."
Freshman right guard Marlon Davis was also injured Saturday, logging just 12 plays. Shula expects Davis to be able to play Saturday.
The Tide coach also hopes to get a couple of men back who were injured and missed Alabama's 30-21 win over Southern Miss Saturday. Linebacker Terrence Jones (ankle) and offensive guard Mark Sanders (knee and ankle) should be ready to play.
Right guard has been hit hard this year with Marlon Davis, B.J. Stabler, and Mark Sanders all playing the position and all having been injured.
Shula said, "I hope we can get all those guys on the (practice) field Wednesday or Thursday and have them ready to play."
Shula did not mention either of the tight ends who have been out since fall camp. Soph Trent Davidson had surgery on a broken foot and senior Greg McLain suffered a separated shoulder that did not require surgery. Both were expected to miss at least two games, and perhaps more. South Carolina marks the thrid game for the 2-0 Tide.
Shula said, "Obviously, this is a big week as we go on the road in the SEC against a tough, tough South Carolina football team. South Carolina came in here and beat us last year and they are doing a great job under Coach Spurrier. They run great routes, they have a great defense, and they are very sound in special teams."
Shula said, "I've learned since I've been here that there is a bigger difference than I might have thought in taking players on the road for games. I'm particularly talking about young players who haven't had that experience. We have some guys who have been on the road and we know how they'll react. We have quite a few that haven't been on the road. We'll work with crowd noise this week." He said that older players had already been addressed and asked to talk to the younger players about going on the road in the SEC.
An area of concern for Shula is the Alabama kicking game. Last week Bama had a punt returned 32 yards to set up a touchdown, missed an extra point and a field goal, and had some penalties. "We didn't have a good night last week," Shula said. "But kickers are like other players. If they have a bad game, they have to regroup and do better. They have to work harder and do better."
Against Southern Mississippi, Alabama used three players at right guard and a fourth right guard may come off the injury list this week. True freshman Marlon Davis started last week, but he was replaced by B.J. Stabler, a redshirt freshman, who was then relieved by senior Taylor Britt. (Britt is also a back-up center and left guard.) And this week Mark Sanders, who started the opening game, could return. Shula said that based on last week that Stabler and Britt would be the top two.
Shula didn't announce a change in the starting lineup at left cornerback, but most expect 2004 starter Ramzee Robinson, who missed much of fall camp with a back injury, to be back as starter ahead of Simeon Castille. Shula said, "We consider all those guys starters. Simeon got beat a couple of times in the first half, but came back and played better in the second half."
Left tackle is considered one of the most important positions on the football field because that is the man who has responsibility for blocking against what is usually the best pass rusher on the opposing team. And when a team has a right-handed quarterback, as does Alabama, the left tackle must protect the quarterback's blind side. When soph starter Chris Capps allowed a few pressures on Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle Saturday, Bama went to redshirt freshman Cody Davis to work the position. "That's another position where we have good competition," Shula said. "Chris played better when he came back in. They are both young and both are going to have to play."
Shula almost couldn't talk enough about Tyrone Prothro's amazing catch that sparked Alabama's comeback against Southern Miss. Almost, because the one thing he didn't want to talk about is the sophomore's pro football potential. "He has explosiveness and speed," Shula said. "He's not tall, but he's got a thick body. And he rarely takes a hit." But, the coach added, "He still needs to work on his routes."
Alabama gave up a touchdown on a turnover last week. "Turnovers will hurt you if you can't overcome them," Shula said. "Last year we couldn't overcome two interceptions against South Carolina. Turnovers are going to happen. You have tgo play well enough to overcome them." –Kirk McNair
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