Frisby's Corner: Week Eight
It was another close call on Saturday night for the not-quite-ready-for-primetime Gamecocks. Although the game was a huge disappointment to the legions of Gamecock faithful, it was another positive step in the direction Coach Spurrier needs to take this young team. Not even the most optimistic fans would have predicted that this Carolina team would statistically outplay not one, but two top ten teams this season.
Once again a game was decided more so by momentum, stealing turnovers, and special teams play then by a dominating performance from the opposing team.
Usually I take in the game from the press box. However, on Saturday I remained on the sidelines and watched the game with my former teammate and current Buffalo Bill Ko Simpson. It was a great feeling to be back on the sidelines once again. I will share some of Ko's thoughts as the game unfolded within my article. Let's get to it:
We might have finally found a solid combination of offensive linemen that will be stable for the remainder of the season. Although the run blocking was nothing to crow about, it did enable us to gain close to 170 yards on the ground. I noticed that the O-line was getting off the ball well and held their own against the formidable UT defensive line.
Most evident was the continued improvements in the area of pass blocking. Coach Hunt was able to work with the line during the week to eliminate the holding penalties that plagued Carolina against Vandy. Although Syvelle Newton was rushed at times, he was able to stay in the pocket and get his passes off without considerable pressure. It is important to note that most of Newton's runs were the result of downfield coverage, not as a result of the UT pass rush. Newton once again showed his ability and knack to make sound decisions with the ball. Besides the Cory Boyd tip of a high pass, I felt Syvelle managed the football exceptionally well on Saturday.
Cory Boyd could not find as much running room against UT as he had versus Kentucky and Vanderbilt. There is still some fine tuning left for Coach Gillespie in regards to our running attack. The handoff and pitches between the running back and QB must become second nature and seamless. One particular errant exchange between Boyd and Newton was critical as it cost the team a first down and turnover on possessions. Big games come down to the most miniscule details. If Newton's pitch was six more inches in front, the Gamecocks get a first down and maintain momentum.
I had hoped to report that we were able to establish a two headed run threat with Boyd and Davis. However, Mike Davis was limited to two carries for six yards and to this point the Boyd/Davis express has not materialized for Carolina.
Things are definitely looking up from a receiving standpoint as we go into the teeth of our schedule. Six receivers were able to get into action and make receptions against Tennessee, and Cory Boyd hauled in four receptions for another 52 yards equaling Sidney Rice's output. This may bode well for the remainder of the season, as defenses will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Rice.
As mentioned, Sidney was a respectable 3-52 facing zone coverage, including triple coverage at times throughout the night.
Freddie Brown, Mike West, and Noah Whiteside established firsts on Saturday. Freddie made his first career reception on a big 21-yard catch, Mike West brought in his first touchdown catch of his career, and Noah Whiteside gathered in his first touchdown of the season. Look for all of these receivers to increase their production the remainder of the year.
Last week Coach Spurrier Jr. had to address the various holding penalties his receivers were flagged for versus Vandy. This week Jr. will have to invent a technique for his receivers to break free from the flagrant holding and grabbing that was going on Saturday night. There were some very obvious no calls that the league office will be discussing with the officiating crew. A few of these no calls resulted in drive ending plays.
To his credit, Coach Spurrier did try to incorporate the tight end into the game plan. Unfortunately, USC was not able to reap any benefits from the tight end spot though. One promising drag route run by Jared Cook was spoiled due to pressure from a UT blitz. At this time, Andy Boyd's return seems to be paying more dividends from a running game perspective then in the passing attack. I'm sure as Andy becomes healthier, we can roll him out or run him up the middle of coverage.
Syvelle Newton put us in a position to compete on Saturday. Hopefully we will soon be able to take advantage of the threat he has become and capitalize on his unique abilities. Obviously it was turnovers that spoiled the night against Tennessee.
I must compliment Newton on his willingness to wait for something to develop downfield before tucking the ball and running. This is a true sign that Syvelle and Coach Spurrier are starting to think on the same wavelength. Newton must be taking a few tips from Michael Vick, who has turned in two virtuoso performances in as many weeks.
I think the biggest factor contributing to the loss besides the turnovers was Carolina's lack of a pass rush on Saturday night. Eric Ainge just had too much time to sit in the pocket and pick out receivers. That being said, I think the secondary did a decent job of making it difficult for Ainge despite the lack of pressure. However, once again a team was able to convert a crucial third and long and maintain a drive that should have been stopped cold.
Last week I thought that we had finally established a viable pass rush. I may have been a little too optimistic and wasn't quite expecting Tennessee to pass block with such efficiency. We got nothing off the edge and they picked up our stunts and blitzes very well.
I was still impressed with our team speed and consistently sound tackling. However, there are individuals on this team who continue to gamble and play outside the teams expected defensive responsibilities. These lapses continue to happen in our secondary and must be addressed at some point.
I watched and listened as former Gamecock Ko Simpson turned defensive captain one last time for Carolina. As the Gamecock secondary came to the sidelines after one defensive series, Simpson jumped in the huddle and started barking out instructions to the secondary. He grabbed Captain Munnerlyn by the arm and told him he needed to "tighten up on his man, and get his head around on the ball," he instructed a wide –eyed Munnerlyn on how to deal with the hand checking and arm grabbing going on between himself and the receiver. Finally, he brought the defense together and challenged them to "show him what they got, and give themselves a gut check. " After they returned to the field, he turned to me with that glimmer in his eye and said, "This is what it's all about."
The secondary was led once again by Fred Bennett who basically shut down his side of the field. The Volunteers respected Bennett so much that they spent most of the night working Robert Meachem on Carlos Thomas and Captain Munnerlyn, waiting for one of the underclassmen to make a mistake. Finally it was Carlos Thomas whom, with his overaggressive style, fell victim to a double-move and a passing play resulting in huge yardage and eventual touchdown. Thomas is a very talented cornerback, who must eventually learn to control and utilize his aggressiveness to his benefit.
Coach Nix will file this game and dissect it at a later date, as he will face a daunting task this week. Coach Nix will have to get Tennessee out of his mind and develop a scheme to stop Arkansas' vaunted running attack of Jones and McFadden. I think Carolina has the ability to derail the Arkansas train. We will find out Saturday. Go Cocks!
PSSSSSST. Did you hear that sound? Sounded to me like a can of whoop-ass opening up. Yes, the same can that Virginia Tech opened up on Clemson last Thursday night. (I have this picture of Adam Sandler in my head saying, "So that's what a can of Whoop-Ass sounds like!"). I was looking for Captain Insano on the sidelines.
My Momma said, M-My Momma said not to say I told you so, but I did tell you so Clemson fans. I think I was ultimately correct in my assessment of the Tigers in my sixth edition of Frisby's Corner. This assessment came on the heels of a dominating Clemson victory over Georgia Tech:
I stated, "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. Agree, but the day will come when you will need to pass. 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."
Now I must admit that I did not figure Virginia Tech's performance would be so utterly dominant. Nonetheless, I knew this day was coming for the Tigers. Many people questioned why the Clemson Offensive Coordinator would stick to a running game that obviously was ineffective last Thursday. After watching Will Proctor throw a few passes, they came to the same conclusion as I did. They concluded they had no chance whatsoever in the air against the Hokies.
Furthermore, while James Davis and C.J. Spiller were busy finding nicknames for themselves, Virginia Tech's Brandon Ore was in Blacksburg, VA working out like he was in an Under Armor commercial (Click-Clack). Really, what more ammunition and bulletin board material does an opposing back need?
Hopefully Clemson will take this loss and address their glaring concerns. The jury has deliberated and the verdict is in on both the passing game and the defense during the VT game. The following are guilty as charged: Will Proctor is being charged with impersonating a quarterback, team endangerment, and misuse of a football while conducting said act. The Clemson defense is charged with "perpetrating a fraud", to wit, posing as a top ranked rush defense, the aforementioned found not to be true. The charge on Will Proctor is a felony because Proctor's actions will be forever imprinted in the Clemson faithful's memory. The charges levied against the defense are to be classified as misdemeanors and will be expunged based on their next performance. Enough said. Please don't critique my legalese folks. I tried my best!
I would be remiss if I did not apologize to the Clemson Faithful for confusing their post game ritual of "Meeting at the Paw", with rushing the field after the victory against Georgia Tech. You can learn something new everyday!
Keep your heads up and your paws on the ground Tigers. Next up are the Mighty Turtles of Maryland. Good luck Tigers.
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