Frisby's Corner: Week Seven
Tim Frisby can be heard on ESPN Radio's "The Sports Drive With RT" on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 3-6 p.m. on 93.1 FM in Columbia.
Can Coach Spurrier get this Gamecock team prepared for another amazing stretch run? I believe the answer is a resounding yes! I was part of a team that made history last year. This year's team consists of players that remember what it takes to win the big game. I think that ESPN and the Gameday crew sense a Gamecock uprising this Saturday also.
So with the excitement building and that thought in mind, let's look at some of the groundwork Carolina laid against Vandy on Saturday afternoon:
The merry-go-round continues on the offensive line. Once again Coach John Hunt shuffles the deck and emerges with a new combination of players. I must admit that the pass protection has improved considerably since the opening game of the season. I noted that Syvelle Newton was able to stay in the pocket Saturday longer than any previous game. As a result of the improved protection, Newton's rushing numbers were able to be reduced significantly.
Run blocking is still a concern that must be addressed and improved. The patchwork line seems to be gaining confidence each week. Cory Boyd was able to find some running room, but had to create many of his yards after contact. Coach Spurrier seems to finally feel confident that this line can give ample protection to Newton. Justin Sorensen will have to clean up his holding penalties. Holding penalties can be drive stoppers and we can't afford to give up any points to a Tennessee, Arkansas, or Florida in this SEC home stretch.
Cory Boyd turned in another solid performance from the tailback position. As noted above, many of Boyd's yards were gained after contact. Boyd continued his hard-nosed running style and the Gamecocks reaped the benefits of another 100-yard performance. Imagine what Boyd might do if he ever saw consistent blocking up front that created significant holes to run through. I was glad to see Mike Davis return to the type of runner we saw at the end of 2005. His second half performance was a breath of fresh air. Hopefully Coach Rob Gillespie will be able to transform Boyd and Davis into a two-headed rushing attack that will be necessary to compete with our remaining schedule. Lanard Stafford remained consistent from his blocking fullback position. Stafford brings an unselfish dimension and "team first" attitude to his blocking duties. I am positive that Coach will get him some carries by the end of the season. Where has Taylor Rank gone? I am sending out an all points bulletin to locate him. Hopefully I will have something to give you about Mr. Rank in my next column.
Bottom line, Coach Spurrier found a way to get Sidney Rice involved in the offense. The key was taking what the defense offered the team and Sidney. What Vandy offered were sideline and intermediate routes, sprinkled with the occasional man-to-man coverage. What Coach Spurrier did was throw the sideline and intermediate routes and take advantage of Vandy when they played Sidney man-to-man. Simple!
Kenny McKinley continues to play "Robin" to Sidney Rice's "Batman." Kenny again made tough catches and hauled in a touchdown reception on a perfectly run skinny post. Kenny is hands down the best route runner on this team. His quick feet allow him to gain separation from the defender and be in position to make key receptions.
Coach Spurrier Jr. will address the various holding penalties levied against his receiving corps, but I don't think this will be a major area of concern for the Gamecocks. I believe the receiver's hands got outside a few times on the defenders shoulder pads, causing a flag. Steve Jr. will stress that his receivers must maintain a blocking technique, keeping their hands inside on the defenders numbers. The Head Ball Coach does not like repeat offenders, so look for a receiver to sit for a while if the holding is not corrected.
With O.J. Murdock out of the rotation, I was surprised not to see more of Noah Whiteside on Saturday. Noah has gotten himself into the doghouse with Coach and can't seem to find his way out.
Notably AWOL from Saturday's action was WR/TE Jared Cook? It seems that the tight end was not part of the game plan, but hopefully we can incorporate the tight end for this upcoming stretch of crucial contests. I believe the TE can be a valuable weapon to our offense, and at times freeze the safety and keep him from helping over top.
I don't think much else needs to be said about our quarterback situation. Syvelle Newton is the real deal. This may be a bold statement, but I see no one in the nation (with the possible exception of Ohio State's Troy Smith) who combines the athleticism and passing ability of Newton. And I can only imagine the numbers Syvelle would have behind that Ohio State line. However, he is not behind the Buckeyes' line. Syvelle is creating his magic behind a patchwork Gamecock line that is improving by the week.
Blake Mitchell made a cameo appearance with a minute left in Saturday's game. Sadly, he may not see another minute until the MTSU game.
Casper Brinkley. Need I say more? He is a name that Vandy players would like to soon forget. Once again, another amazing performance from the versatile defensive end. He seems to grasp the scheme and get better with every game. His twin brother Jasper also played a terrific game and disrupted the Vandy offense throughout the game.
Saturday brought another impressive overall performance from Coach Nix's defense. We actually have a viable pass rush, and a pass rush that creates chaos for the opposing offense. The defense did an excellent job of creating pressure and mixing timely blitz packages to disrupt any continuity in the Vandy offensive attack. What impressed me most was the team speed. We were able to string out running plays and close down running lanes immediately. The linebackers did a fine job of meeting runners in the hole.
Freshman Eric Norwood stood out once again with his ball pressure. Stanley Doughty did a great job of getting low and shedding blockers. Lemuel Jeanpierre also made some heads up plays and has great potential on the defensive line.
Linebacker Rodney Paulk stayed with his assignments and consistently kept containment.
Many on the defense played important roles, even if their numbers were not called frequently Saturday. I will point out Dakota Walker, Jordin Lindsey, Cody Wells, and Nathan Pepper to name a few.
The secondary, led by Fred Bennett, played an exceptional game. Fred was solid in his coverage and was instrumental in shutting down All-American candidate Earl Bennett. However, he will share the honors with the entire secondary that contributed in stopping Bennett.
Carlos Thomas turned in a good performance, although he was prone to gambling a little too much for comfort. Thomas seems to gamble a little more once he tastes an interception.
Captain Munnerlyn turned in a respectful performance and a great interception to seal the game and remove any potential Vanderbilt comeback thoughts.
Overall, it was another stellar day for the Gamecock defense. Coach Nix has the boys believing that they are a special unit. He has me believing too.
As I stated in my previous column and first Clemson sidebar, "I tell it like it is", I call it like I see it, and I pull no punches. So let me begin by saying I can also admit when I am wrong.
I would like to tip my hat to an outstanding performance by the Clemson Tigers in Death Valley on Saturday evening. The game day atmosphere was as electric as the Tiger performance. I must admit that I was rather impressed with the ease at which Clemson dispatched a game Georgia Tech team. They showed the mettle reserved for teams with championship ambitions.
I can take nothing away from a talented, albeit slightly overrated Georgia Tech team, as Clemson was simply a better squad from top to bottom. GT was thoroughly outplayed and out coached. Now, I don't profess to be a big Tommy Bowden fan (may be something to do with his Pee-Wee Herman like attributes), but he has assembled a fine coaching staff that nailed the game plan Saturday. It was obvious from the opening drive that the Yellow Jackets were in for a long night. The Clemson defense (Vic Koening) masterfully eliminated the majority of offensive options available to GT quarterback Reggie Ball by employing a relentless pass rush. The pass rush allowed Clemson to remove two very important elements of the Yellow Jacket attack. First, it caused Reggie Ball to develop "happy feet," leave his zone of comfort, and try to create plays beyond his capabilities. Second, it allowed Clemson to drop into zone coverage to double and triple team receiver Calvin Johnson. This was executed for the most part by dropping a cornerback and bringing a safety over the top. In certain situations, Clemson would triple team Johnson by dropping an additional linebacker into coverage. This tactic totally removed Johnson as a viable option and Tech's other receivers were not able to absorb the increased workload.
Obviously what tipped the game scales in Clemson's favor was its outstanding ground attack of Davis and Spiller. Arguably, (I would have to include Arkansas's McFadden and Jones) they are the best running back duo in the country. Let's face it; they simply carved up the highly rated Georgia Tech defense. Now either the Tiger ground attack is just that good, or the GT defense is way overrated. My opinion is that the Clemson running attack is outstanding and the Tech defense is slightly overrated.
Now I know you don't want to hear what I have to say next, so if you're satisfied with an almost perfect performance on Saturday read no further. However, for those of you who have continued, I will have to call upon the words of the well-respected Lee Corso "Not so fast my friend."
I am sorry, but I must stick with my column six assessment of the Clemson passing attack. I stated that the passing attack leaves much to be desired. Now you will say, "But we didn't need to pass because our running attack was so overwhelming." I agree, but the day will come when Clemson will need to pass the ball in order to be successful. It may not come in your remaining ACC schedule, but the day will come. The problem is Will Proctor will not be the answer you are looking for. This kid has the heart of a lion (ah Tiger), but I'm afraid he can't throw to the long side of the field or throw deep with any consistency. I believe in the long run, Will Procter and the secondary will be Clemson's Achilles Heel. It is possible that Clemson could survive the rest of its schedule with an outstanding running game, a very good defense, and an anemic passing attack. They may very well prove me wrong. We shall see.
The jury is still out on the Clemson secondary. I think that Clemson's outstanding play on the defensive line/linebackers is masking deficiencies in the Tiger secondary. As long as Clemson continues its outstanding pass rush, those shortcomings will continue to be hidden. Hopefully this will be an area that coaches can address before it is exposed.
I would be remiss if I did not make a suggestion to Tiger fans. Please do not rush the field after a victory against a team that you outranked and were favored to beat.
Once again, hats off to a fine performance. Clemson has cleared a major hurdle and sits in second place in the Atlantic Division. Next up for Clemson is a hungry Hokie team on Thursday night. Good luck Tigers.
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