Gamecocks Look To Rekindle "Magic" of 05'
South Carolina was the beneficiary of several fortunate bounces during that memorable 2005 stretch, and while the Gamecocks were not always the most talented team on the field in the second half of last season, they found ways to win by playing efficiently on both sides of the ball. The 2006 Gamecocks are arguably a more talented team than last season, but the bounces have not been so kind in Steve Spurrier's second year.
After an encouraging 5-2 start, the Gamecocks now sit at 5-4 after two heartbreaking losses to Tennessee and Arkansas, and the season hangs in the balance with two of the final three games coming on the road against Florida and Clemson. The 2006 season has served as a cold reminder of just how close the Gamecocks are to competing with the elite teams in the SEC, but every loss has had its share of painful "what if" moments. If only the Gamecocks could have converted in the red zone against Georgia… What if Jared Cook had caught the game tying touchdown against Auburn? Why couldn't USC stop Tennessee on 3rd and 15? If only USC hadn't tipped the ball to Marcus Monk in the end zone at the end of the first half against Arkansas… Unfortunately, the list goes on, but thus are the trials of a young team still learning how to win.
The good news for the Gamecocks is that despite all that has happened through the first nine games of the year, this season could be salvaged with landmark wins at Florida and/or Clemson. If that is going to happen, a few things must fall into place.
The Gamecocks must rediscover their recipe for success in the red zone. One year after successfully converting 84% (4th in the SEC) of their red zone opportunities into points, USC has only capitalized 66% of the time this season, which ranks dead last in the SEC. To take things a step further, the Gamecocks have only managed to score touchdowns on 20 out of 39 red zone chances this season. For a team that has lost the last three ballgames by a combined 20 points, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that red zone execution can be the difference between winning and losing a close game. With the Gamecocks wealth of quality skill players and improved offensive line play, there's no excuse not to see improvement in this area down the stretch.
The defense must become more opportunistic in forcing turnovers. Each of the last two weeks have seen the Gamecocks deflect what appeared to be a sure fire interception into the hands of an opposing receiver for a demoralizing and game altering touchdown. Those are the kinds of plays the Gamecocks were able to make last season, but have struggled to take advantage of this year. Good teams are able to take advantage of such opportunities when they present themselves, and South Carolina must start cashing in.
Special teams play has haunted the Gamecocks this season, as the Gamecocks rank 11th in the SEC in both kickoff and punt returns, and after starting the season well, USC has plummeted to 8th in the SEC in net punting. Special teams coach Fred Chatham has his work cut out for him, but these are areas the Gamecocks must improve in to compete with the upper echelon teams in the SEC.
What South Carolina was able to accomplish in the second half of the 2005 season is now almost looked upon as a magical stretch, but the truth is that the 2005 Gamecocks were an efficient, opportunistic, and well coached football team. Overall, if these Gamecocks hope to have a similar stretch to salvage the 2006 season, they must get back to playing efficient football, winning the turnover battle, and taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. There is no magic in football, but if this Gamecock team can rediscover the winning recipe for success down the stretch, then even after the struggles of the first nine games, the 2006 season could very well end in storybook fashion.
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