The Jolley Report

The Gamecocks destroyed their arch-rival Clemson in convincing fashion on Saturday. In the first edition of this new weekly feature, GamecockAnthem publisher Doug Jolley looks at the lasting effects of the win over Clemson from a program-building perspective, and Ellis Johnson's take on how the win affects recruiting, team attitude, and player development.

So what now? Your team has just defeated the hated tigers in such a dominant way that pundits had to go back decades to find a victory as overwhelming as Saturday's.

As the euphoric feelings of Gamecock fans come slowly back down to the normal ranges of day-to-day life, the question has to be asked - What will the lasting effects of the win be on the program?

Associate head coach Ellis Johnson perhaps said it best Saturday night after the win, when he bluntly stated that "One game doesn't make a program." He listed the three factors he believes do make a program: "Recruiting, player evaluation, and player development make a program. This (win) just makes a great week, it doesn't make a great program."

South Carolina came into the game having lost four of their last five games; and after having ended the 2007 season with five straight losses, and the 2008 season with three straight losses by large margins, the act of ending the regular season with such a dominant and satisfying win was huge. If the Gamecocks can follow it up with a bowl win, it will set them up for positive momentum going into a 2010 season that could be a breakthrough season, having a schedule that sets up less daunting than some previous years.

So what makes a great program? Florida and Alabama are ranked number one and two in the nation this season, are undefeated, and will play each other next week for the SEC championship and a shot at the national title. They could conceivably even play each other again for the national title. So what sets these two programs apart? South Carolina played both teams this season, and fared respectably in close losses to both. Though both teams boast Heisman Trophy candidates on offense in Tim Tebow and Mark Ingram respectively, it has been the dominating defenses of both programs that have carried them successfully to undefeated seasons thus far. And that is the first component of a great program.

Despite depth issues, South Carolina has fielded an SEC caliber defense that has allowed them to play with the big boys the last two seasons under Johnson. After the win over Clemson, Spurrier said, "The defense was outstanding."

Johnson, acknowledging it was only his opinion, stated: "In my opinion, I think our defense is the best defense they (Clemson) have played against this year. That doesn't mean we were going to stop them. I think we did some very good things early in stopping them that gave us a chance. I've coached in all the leagues, and there is a difference in the ACC and the SEC. It's tougher in the SEC. It makes it tough on us here at Carolina, because when you go through it six and eight weeks in a row, you lose players, players get tired, players get beat up, and it's just a tough game."

Gamecock fans and coaches can't ask a whole lot more of their defense than what the team has given in most games of the last two seasons. But it was those issues that Johnson referenced that need to be shored up through player development and recruiting before the job on the defensive side of the ball to get the team ready to contend for SEC championships will be complete.

I remember the story of one of the Clemson players who played on the Tigers' national championship team. He stated that the Gamecock starters were every bit the equal of the Tigers, but that Clemson won consistently over the Gamecocks because as soon as the USC starters were replaced, the superior depth of the Tigers won out. It was true almost 30 years ago, and it is still an issue today.

Injuries, among them, those that ended the season of Rodney Paulk and Travian Robertson, caused such immediate depth problems early in the season that Johnson was forced to alter his basic schemes to compensate. As a result, the Gamecocks lost their second game of the season to Georgia while using an altered and limited defensive plan. Johnson made no excuses, saying, "I've been pleased with our defensive play every week this year except for two – I thought we played very poorly at Georgia, and there are reasons for it, no excuses, and we played very poorly at Tennessee."

The next component the Gamecocks need is a consistent offense. In five seasons under Spurrier, USC has struggled to field a solid offensive line. That problem has been multi-faceted. Spurrier's hiring and continued retention of former offensive line coach John Hunt is probably the biggest mistake of his tenure in Columbia. Johnson talked about recruiting and player evaluation as keys to building a successful program, and Hunt fell short in both areas.

Spurrier replaced Hunt last January with Eric Wolford, which I believe is the long-term solution to the problem, and is one of Spurrier's best hires. Wolford did what he could in the six short months leading up to fall practice and throughout the season to fix the problem, but the problems on the line could not be totally resolved in one year. Wolford and the Gamecock coaching staff have put together one of the nation's best offensive line recruiting classes, and may not be done, as they pursue a mammoth 6-7, 350+ pound Morgan Moses of Virginia.

In terms of player development, the Gamecocks have made great strides in the skill positions on offense, as sophomore Stephen Garcia has matured and better mastered the complex Spurrier offensive system, and newcomers like receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Tori Gurley have emerged as playmakers. The glaring lack of a running game plagued the team most of last season and at key times in losses this season, but here's hoping the dominant rushing performance put out against Clemson is a sign that problem has also been largely resolved.

Spurrier thinks the problems of past teams have been resolved, and that while he chose to set more modest goals for this year's team than past teams, he has stated he feels this team is laying the foundation for his ultimate stated goal here: to contend for SEC championships. "We have a different team from last year," Spurrier said. "(Last year) we were in disarray with players going to the NFL, some guys leaving and other things. We also had several coaches on the way out. We're a much more united team (now). Guys really like each other. We had good spirit yesterday. We should really have that the next four or five years. We have a bunch of freshmen playing that are excellent team guys that will eventually be our leaders."

Johnson addressed the team composition and leadership question this way: "It certainly was better (this season). Last year we had a lot of kids who got frustrated. It's not just here, it's anywhere – kids want to win championships, and at that point in the season where they know they no longer have a chance to win that division championship, win the conference, it's tough for them. They no longer have those targets and those goals. Last year, they let it bother them and distract them. This year it's been better, and I have to credit our seniors, they've been a big part of that."

Johnson cited the benefits of the upcoming bowl game practices on player development. "There's a saying the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The more you go to bowl games, the more you get to practice. The more you get to practice, the better you get. Next year you come back and line up against teams that didn't get to go to bowl games, it will be good for our kids, and it is a reward for a job well done too. The extra practice time is beneficial, especially with young players."

Before the first whistle was blown in the 2009 season, the Gamecock coaching staff had already assembled a recruiting class that addressed their immediate needs at specific positions, but also in depth, again, a needed component for success. The success of the staff recruiting, despite the rough finishes of the past two seasons, was remarkable, and the 2009 class made an immediate impact this season. If the Gamecock staff can close out this recruiting class by landing their key remaining targets of Marcus Lattimore, Sharrif Floyd, Justin Parker, Johnavon Fulton, Morgan Moses, Victor Hampton, and perhaps Ace Sanders, they should again have a class ranked in the top ten nationally, and be one step closer to having the personnel needed to bring home the much desired SEC championship.

So did beating Clemson make a difference in recruiting? I asked Johnson that question Saturday, and his answer may surprise you. "I hate to say this, we haven't found any significance in it. We've only got one player we are actively recruiting that is actively visiting both schools."

The coaches aren't allowed to mention them by name, but Beaufort linebacker Justin Parker is the sole player remaining who is choosing between the two in-state schools.

"It's amazing," Johnson continued. "It has been an education for me in coming back (to South Carolina) to actually see that now. Kids are separating the two of us earlier in the process. This (win) may have a better effect for next year than it will for this year's recruiting class, because players who were doubting whether we will ever get a win in this series or get a shot to go to Atlanta, see us playing better, winning a big game, that kind of thing."

Recruiting, player evaluation, and player development all made a difference in USC winning the 2009 "State Championship" over Clemson. If they want to win an SEC championship in the near future, the win over Clemson helps, but those three factors cited by Johnson will make the difference at the end of the day.


Gamecock Anthem Top Stories