Gamecocks look to get over the hump

The 2009 Gamecock fooball team has a lot of potential to do good things this year, but to become a legitimate player in the SEC-East race and to reverse recent trends, this team has several hurdles it needs to clear this fall.

With an opening game victory in the books for the 2009 season, the Gamecocks have the opportunity to come out of the gate fast again. In the past, the problem hasn't been getting off to a quick start; it has been closing the deal down the stretch.

One hurdle the Gamecocks have had difficulty clearing in the past has been being the best conditioned and most physically fit team on the field.

At Tuesday's press conference, junior defensive end Cliff Matthews was asked how Coach Craig Fitzgerald's new strength and conditioning program has better positioned them to compete this fall. Matthews responded saying, "Coach Fitz has been pushing us extremely hard (in) conditioning and especially in the weight room. Everybody is much stronger than they were last year, so I feel like he has put us in a situation to get over that hump, especially in the 4th quarter."

The Gamecocks certainly displayed excellent conditioning, strength, and mental toughness in their victory over the Wolfpack last week. In years past, burdened by a defensive unit with inexperience at key positions and little depth, the Gamecocks would have slowly faded away at the end of the game. That was not the case this time, and the key road win in the opener gives the Gamecocks a shot of confidence that maybe all of their hard work in the offseason has in fact positioned them to be strong finishers this year.

Another hurdle the Gamecocks need to clear this year is finding some way to get out of the offensive funk that they have been in recently. Nobody would have predicted that in year five under Coach Steve Spurrier the Gamecocks would have had the struggles they have had on offense, and on the flip side, be so strong on defense.

One can tell the lack of production not only frustrates the fans, but it frustrates Spurrier as well. One aspect that has held the offensive unit back as a whole during Spurrier's tenure is the lack of talent at key positions.

This year, the Gamecocks feature a high level of talent on offense that hasn't been seen at South Carolina since Spurrier's arrival. The limiting factor now is experience and execution on the players' side, along with trust on the part of the coaches.

For the Gamecocks to realize their goals this season, these young players are going to have to grow up quickly and be resilient in the face of the adversity that will surely come at times this year.

The other key ingredient is that the coaches need to let these guys play. Yes, there are times when being conservative and playing not to lose should be the strategy. However, to establish an offensive identity and threat that will be sustainable and effective through season's end, the Gamecocks need to start now in making that transformation.

It's time to open things up on offense and let the chips fall where they may. I believe it is especially important to remember in regards to the offense that individuals and teams in most situations will only attain a level of success in relation to where the bar has been set. The Gamecocks need to raise the bar on offense for better production to become a reality.

Three other hurdles that go hand in hand that the Gamecocks need to overcome are the need for more physical offensive line play, a more potent rushing attack, and consistent quarterback play.

The Gamecock offensive line in recent years under the direction of John Hunt was the mill stone that hung around the Gamecocks' neck and drowned any hopes of a productive offense.

With Hunt's departure and the arrival of Coach Eric Wolford, a new energy and toughness has been restored to the USC offensive line. The line played at a much higher level against the Wolfpack than it has in quite some time. What a physical and dominant offensive line does is set the table for a consistent rushing attack. They also serve as a safety blanket and source of confidence for the quarterback.

By addressing the offensive line, the Gamecocks will set themselves up for success not only running the ball, but throwing it as well. The Gamecocks have a stable of backs that are talented and fully capable of making their mark in games. They also have a QB in Stephen Garcia who has all the tools to be an effective and dependable signal-caller in the SEC. All they need is a chance and an opportunity to show what they can do.

The last hurdle these Gamecocks need to clear is that they just need some good things to happen. A little positive mojo and a few good vibes go a long way in making a difference in the execution, production, and psyche of a team.

The South Carolina football program has been notorious for having bad luck, for having what some call a chicken curse. The challenge for this team is to overcome the culture of believing that the deck is stacked against them and to realize they have the power and ability to control their own destiny.

The Gamecocks will surely have many obstacles that will confront them this season. Understanding now that these obstacles aren't going to move themselves, but are in fact issues that need to be overcome and conquered by this team, will be key in the level of success the Gamecocks not only attain this year, but in years to come.

It's no mystery as to what the Gamecocks need to do, and it hasn't been for quite some time. However, knowing what needs to be done and doing it are two different things. It's time for the Gamecocks to make a move. It's time for them to get over the hump.

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