Frisby's Corner: Week Two
Carolina fans received a glimpse of the future on Saturday night in Athens, GA. Remember the date 9/8/07. Years from now, USC fans will remember where they were when the Gamecocks firmly implanted themselves on the "other list" - The list of teams which other Division I programs do not want on their schedule and a team that can almost guarantee a big "L" in the loss column of their schedule.
I was present at the beginning of the Steve Spurrier Era, and as a team, we bought into his vision for the future of the Gamecocks. We bought into the belief that we not only belonged, but that we should, could, and would beat the major players in the SEC. I watched as Spurrier recruited and signed increasingly more talented players, newcomers who fit the Spurrier system and expected to be part of a winning program from the time they stepped on campus. We beat Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, and Clemson. And surprisingly, we expected to beat those teams. Now in Spurrier's third year, which would have been my senior year on the field, we have added Georgia to the list of landmark victories. We have our sights set on LSU and Auburn next. Auburn will have to wait for a while, but LSU looms on the horizon.
The Gamecocks played four quarters on Saturday, but I'm sorry to say that this might not have always been the case in the past with our beloved Gamecocks. It took a few years for the Ball Coach to weed out players who were satisfied with mediocrity. It took some time to get players to dedicate themselves as much in the offseason as during the season itself. Maybe we can chalk up the improved play to better talent. Maybe it's a better team attitude, strength and conditioning, or better coaching. Maybe it's a combination of all these factors.
Whatever it is, I'm proud of my former teammates. I'm especially proud of players like Cory Boyd, who have felt the sting of close losses and team meltdowns, but have refused to let those situations define him or this team. I'm proud of players like Freddie Brown, who came close to giving up on football but believed enough in his skills and potential to stick it out during the down times. I'm proud of Mike Davis who took the criticism and used it as motivation to make himself a better player; Players like Andy Boyd who realize that this is what college football is all about and literally puts the use of a limb on the line every weekend. I can go on and on, but the fact of the matter is this is a team that has character.
Are there things that still need to be worked on? Most definitely. This team still needs to get better production from the offense. The O-line is still a work in progress, but they have shown an ability to jell much faster then previous teams have. Overall they did a pretty good job of protecting Blake Mitchell and opening holes for Cory Boyd and Mike Davis Saturday.
Right now, Kenny Mckinley is the only dependable deep threat at receiver. USC must develop a complementary receiver opposite McKinley. Moe Brown has not developed into that receiver as of yet. I see two problems at present time with Moe Brown. First, he has a problem becoming a defender when a ball is underthrown. Second, he is not dependable in short yardage situations as of yet. He has a problem called "hearing the footsteps." He won't be the first or last receiver to encounter these problems, but he must overcome them if he wishes to blossom into a trusted receiver.
I'm encouraged by the increased productivity of the tight ends. Jared Cook and Andy Boyd have shown great blocking and steady pass catching ability early on. I believe J. Cook will develop into a bigger threat from his hybrid tight end position as the year progresses. I still believe USC will have to get one of the talented freshmen into the wide receiver rotation to be successful throughout the year. I would like to see Chris Culliver run some patterns. We know he can run the end around. Overall, the offense is doing enough to get the job done. I think it will take some time to develop a prolific Spurrier scoring offense, but the potential is there.
Many may not have noticed the wonderful job Blake Mitchell did on Saturday night, dealing with the noise and getting the Gamecocks in the offensive sets that Coach Spurrier was calling without wasting valuable time outs. Coach Spurrier sees the field from the sidelines like he is the quarterback. He takes note of the defensive set, then signals in the appropriate play to Mitchell, who in turn has to reset the offense and possibly audible based on a changing defensive set. He did an outstanding job of orchestrating the offense Saturday. I was also impressed with his ball discipline. He did not commit costly turnovers, although I'm sure Coach will remind him to tuck the ball away when the pocket collapses.
The defense impressed me the most on Saturday. Georgia rarely got to the second level of defense. When Georgia was successful, the linebacking corps met them. The Brinkley brothers turned in a great performance, as well as Rodney Paulk and safety Darian Stewart. I was impressed with Carolina's overall team speed. The Gamecocks were swarming to the ball and creating havoc on the line.
Overlooked may have been the outstanding one on one performances turned in by Captain Munnerlyn and Carlos Thomas on the corners. They stayed in Bulldog receivers' faces throughout the night. Brandon Isaac turned in a wonderful performance from his safety position and should be applauded for his run support. I think Tyrone Nix did a wonderful job of confusing Matthew Stafford with multiple defensive looks. It seems like Carolina gets better on defense as the field shortens. The defense seems to tighten the vise as the opposing team enters the red-zone. This defense limits third down conversions and allows the offense to get back on the field. I'm sure Coach Tyrone Nix will now look for areas to fine tune so his unit can play consistently better as the season progresses.
Yes, there are still many question marks as the team embarks on this 2007 season. Can this team show progress offensively? Will players continue to develop? Will the defense remain consistent and provide the offense with the opportunity to get back on the field? Next up is a South Carolina State team that would like nothing better than to beat the Gamecocks. It's not going to ever happen, but everyone should have the right to fantasize.
One thing I do know for certain is that times are changing. Times have changed! This is a different Carolina. When the nation thinks CAROLINA football they think Garnet & Black, not baby blue.
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