GamecockAnthem.com Analyzes The Georgia Game
Saturday evening's contest between South Carolina and Georgia featured one team that knows how to win and one team that is still learning how. Both programs are headed in the right direction, but the difference is that good teams know how to compete, while great teams find ways to make the plays that matter. On this night, the final score of 18-0 did not do justice to how close the contest truly was, and with two or three bounces of the ball, the Gamecocks could have very well emerged victorious over the Bulldogs. However, in a game that was relatively even in several aspects, the Bulldogs made all the key plays, while the Gamecocks fell short, both literally and figuratively.
There is no longer such a thing as moral victories in regard to Gamecock football, but the South Carolina football team can look back and use Saturday evening's heartbreaking defeat as both a learning process and potentially a turning point in this program. On a night where the Gamecocks made three trips inside the red zone, including two opportunities at the goal line, yet came away with zero points, one does not have to look very far to discern where South Carolina fell short. In comparison, the Bulldogs only had two trips into the red zone, but as all great teams do, they capitalized on their opportunities.
The young Gamecock team, which fielded 23 freshmen and sophomores on the two deep this past weekend - 12 on offense, 11 on defense - will continue to mature and improve throughout the course of this season, and under Steve Spurrier's guidance, the future of this program is still very promising.
What Went Wrong?
When wondering what exactly went wrong on Saturday evening, Gamecock fans have to look no further than the offense's inability to produce points in the red zone. Despite being faced against a talented Georgia defense, the Gamecocks consistently were able to move the ball well between the twenties thanks to a strong passing game, but the running game struggled to find any room against the suffocating Bulldog front seven. Despite that, the Gamecocks attempted to pound the ball into the heart of the Georgia defense once entering the red zone, rather than letting Blake Mitchell and the talented crop of wide receivers have the opportunity to score the ball through the air. Coach Spurrier acknowledged that flaw in play calling after the game when he stated, "I didn't call a very good one (game). You throw the ball down to the 10-yard line and start running. I thought the short-yardage play would work, but we've gotten smashed on it this year."
The Gamecocks ranked 4th in the SEC in 2005 in red zone offense thanks in large part to the heroics of Sidney Rice, who unfortunately was sidelined with cramps for much of the second half against Georgia. The Gamecocks converted on over 84% of their red zone opportunities a year ago, but in order for them to achieve similar success this year they will have to mix up the play calling with both the run and the pass in red zone situations. Look for the offense to begin to utilize the size of both Sidney Rice and Jared Cook more often from this point on.
Offensive Line Play
Only one week after allowing 4 sacks and constant pressure in the backfield against the Mississippi State pass rush, the Gamecock offensive line made tremendous strides in pass blocking against a talented Georgia defensive front and what many consider to be the best tandem of defensive ends in the SEC in Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson. The starting offensive line for the Gamecocks did not allow a single sack on the night, and they generally gave Blake Mitchell enough time to operate in the pocket. The lone sack of the night was allowed by reserve Justin Sorenson, who came in for the injured Gurminder Thind in the second half.
On the downside, the Gamecock line could not generate any push in the running game against the Bulldog defense.. The Gamecocks generated only 35 yards rushing on the night, and they consistently came up empty on short yardage situations.
Much like last year, this offensive line was considered a work in progress entering into this season. The 2005 unit had these very same struggles in run blocking early in the year, as they only averaged 74 yards rushing per game through the first five games of the season. However, the line began to gel as they neared the midpoint of the season, and the running game went on to average a respectable 116 yards per game in the final seven games of the season. Entering the 2006 season, the Gamecocks have had the unenviable task of facing two stellar defensive fronts from both Mississippi State and Georgia, but despite the struggles, those games will likely pay dividends down the road, as the line continues their maturation process.
With less than a minute remaining in the first half and backed up at their own three yard line, the Gamecocks elected to call a toss sweep play that left tailback Mike Davis exposed in the endzone and resulted in an untimely and preventable safety. The Bulldogs went on to seize complete control of the momentum, as they scored another field goal before the end of the half. In a low scoring, defensive struggle where momentum was key, the Gamecocks surrendered five unnecessary points due to that play call.
Coach Spurrier Promises Changes
One word described Coach Spurrier in the locker room after the game - livid. The Ol' Ball Coach had prepared his team for what he hoped would be a landmark victory against the Bulldogs on Saturday, but due to lack of execution, untimely mistakes, and even poor play calling, the Gamecocks came up short. Multiple coaches and players commented after the game that they have never seen Spurrier that irate, and Spurrier vowed after the game that changes are coming.
"I can't stand watching our offense line up right now. We had some problems. We had a few drives here and there, but we kept stopping ourselves. Being held to 18 points, we should be playing a lot better and we're not. We'll make some changes, I'll announce them later. I just can't watch what we're doing right now. If it means playing a bunch of freshmen that's fine. I'm tired of watching this. We can't get it going. I take some of the blame. I called a lousy game, so we'll try to get better… We had our chances, but we're just stupid right now."
Blake Mitchell vs. Chris Smelley
The quarterback controversy at South Carolina is beginning to heat up. Despite hitting 16-22 passes for 156 yards and 0 interceptions on Saturday night, Blake Mitchell has been hit by a wave of criticism for the offense being shut out against the Bulldogs. Coach Spurrier has expressed his frustration with Mitchell's game management during the first two weeks, and during his weekly Sunday teleconference, Spurrier said that he will hold an open quarterback competition in practice this week to see if anyone can dethrone Mitchell.
Freshman Chris Smelley is the fan favorite and leading candidate to challenge Mitchell, and the highly touted signal caller performed fairly well in his action against the Bulldogs on Saturday night. Smelley finished the night by completing 7-11 passes for 64 yards, but six of the seven completions came on designed screen passes. Both quarterbacks will likely see extensive action over the next two weeks, as Coach Spurrier will look to determine who is the best fit to run the offense long term.
Where's The Pressure?
One week after bringing a barrage of blitz schemes and keeping the Mississippi State offense guessing at all times, the Gamecocks did not bring the same type of pressure in an attempt to rattle true freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford on Saturday evening. The Gamecocks did intercept three passes, but none of them offered the Gamecock offense serviceable field position. On a night when the Gamecock offense clearly struggled to put points on the board, the defense did not pressure the wide eyed freshman into any major mistakes.
Despite that, the defense played well enough to win on Saturday evening by only allowing 16 points. Tyrone Nix's defense especially played well in the second half, as they held the Bulldog offense to just 133 total yards and 3 points after halftime.
Norwood and Munnerlyn Continue To Impress
Defensive end Eric Norwood and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn are both listed as true freshmen this season, but thus far they have played well beyond their years. Norwood was tied for second on the team with 5 tackles on Saturday night, and his enthusiasm throughout the course of the game was contagious for both his teammates and the home crowd. Norwood will continue to see his playing time increase this year, and if he continues to progress, he could possibly even earn a starting role this season.
Munnerlyn has been equally as impressive in his play through the first two games, as the Alabama native has already shown the ability to excel in man to man coverage. It speaks volumes that the defensive coaches are willing to consistently put him on an island in man coverage this early in his freshman campaign, and Munnerlyn showed what he is capable of when he made one of the biggest defensive plays of the night against the Bulldogs. With the Bulldogs driving inside the Gamecock five yard line at the end of the first half, Munnerlyn deflected a Matthew Stafford pass at the goal line, which allowed Chris Hampton to intercept the ball and prevent the Georgia touchdown.
The Loss of Marque Hall
Junior defensive tackle Marque Hall was expected to be the anchor of the Gamecock defensive front this season, but the talented lineman injured his knee against Georgia and is expected to miss the rest of the year. Hall will reportedly qualify for a medical redshirt, but several players will need to step up on the interior of the defensive line in his absence. Players like Nathan Pepper, Stanley Doughty, Lemuel Jeanpierre, and Joel Reaves will be asked to fill the void left by Hall.
The Next Two Games
South Carolina will play host to Wofford and Florida Atlantic over the next two weeks, and these two contests could not come at a better time for the Gamecocks. The offense will look to shore up it's deficiencies along the line and in the running game, while the defense will attempt to improve against the run. The coaching staff is also planning on allowing several younger players the opportunity to play in these two games.
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