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September 3, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Southern Miss

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SOUTH CAROLINA 41, SOUTHERN MISS 13

THE GOOD

* OVERALL -- For the first time in six years under Steve Spurrier, South Carolina had a comfortable win. There was never any need to sweat, even if you hiked a good half-mile toting a 40-pound computer bag while wearing a polo and khakis. The Gamecocks looked good early and looked good late. Even with missing personnel, the enthusiasm on the field was evident and USC rolled to the finish. For one week, the gnashing of teeth and the worries of if the team will be ready are resolved. Enjoy it and watch the Georgia game on Saturday for some advance scouting.

* WEAR GARNET ON GAMEDAY -- The all-garnet uniforms improved to 4-0 since they came to USC. That's Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Clemson last year with Southern Miss this year.

* STICKY HANDS -- DeVonte Holloman caught the first interception of the year when a pass was tipped on USM's first drive. Holloman dove and snared it before it hit the grass, which means the Gamecocks have a 1-4 interception-to-pass-broken-up ratio, a solid start after last year's 6-for-49.

* BACK OF THE PLAYBOOK -- While some fretted about showing off too much of the playbook in anticipation of next week's matchup with Georgia, I thought it was a good call. The Gamecocks showed off some of those plays that the Head Ball Coach loves to call, but often haven't worked at USC. He plugged Stephon Gilmore in as the "Wild Cock" quarterback right away and let him run for a 14-yard first down, with his second play featuring Connor Shaw split wide. He called for a reverse to Ace Sanders and the freshman speedster took off for a 53-yard burst to set up a touchdown, a play where Stephen Garcia said he got tired just looking at Sanders run. Even in a conservative game plan, Spurrier called for an almost even mix of passing and running, and after the game only chided his offense for not getting to 50 points. It's a good problem to have.

* GUTS -- Garcia showed he wasn't going to be stopped by defenders, diving into pileups head-first and cracking skulls with one defender on the sideline, then spinning around and finding the end zone in the first quarter. If my job is going to be taken, he seemed to be saying, it's going to have to be because I'm on a stretcher. Good to see a signal-caller with that much backbone, but man ... more on this below.

* BLOCK -- After a rough first series, the offensive line seemed to really come together and harness Shawn Elliott's zone-blocking scheme. Despite playing without Terrence Campbell (he was cleared of the NCAA mess but wasn't listed on the participation report, so I'm thinking it was that ankle sprain again), USC did give up three sacks (all on Shaw) but did a great job opening holes up all over the place. The Gamecocks were able to spread the ball around and pick their direction, which was pleasant to see.

* KICKOFFS -- Joey Scribner-Howard had two touchbacks, which doubled the Gamecocks' total from all of 2009. He kicked off eight times and averaged just under 65 yards per boot, while the Golden Eagles averaged 18 yards per return. I know Shane Beamer's happy about that.

* SPENCE -- Spurrier again credited his fifth-year senior kicker, saying he had a super night "as we thought he would" and encouraging us media types to build up Spencer Lanning for kicker of the year. Lanning again showed what hard work and dedication can do for a career and how much of a boon a reliable kicker can be for a team. He converted both of his field goals, from 36 and 42 yards, and punted twice for an average of 52.5 yards, one as he was standing under his own goalpost. There's a reason that he was voted almost unanimously for one of the captain slots.


THE BAD

* FIRST SERIES -- It's all right. You can admit it. You watched USC's first series and thought, "Oh, for ... " It left something to be desired, all right. Brian Maddox swallowed up after 2 yards. Garcia to Tori Gurley for a loss of a yard. Incomplete pass. Punt. That caused a lot of butterflies, especially when Southern Miss began driving right down the field afterward. Holloman's pick swung the game back around.

* SAME OLD, SORTA -- After all, it wouldn't be a true USC offensive line without some penalties. After Holloman picked off that pass, USC took over on its own 15-yard-line. Rokevious Watkins and Hutch Eckerson false-started on consecutive snaps to add 10 yards to the first down. Everybody kept it together afterward -- USC only had three more penalties for the game -- but those back-to-back snafus just added to the frustration from the first drive.


* PASS-RUSH? It seemed as if Ellis Johnson's crew was sitting back on the first drive, holding off on the blitz until it could get a read on quarterback Austin Davis and his receivers. While the D did a terrific job planning for game-breaker DeAndre Brown (he didn't catch a pass until the fourth quarter), the way Davis carved up the Gamecocks on the first series wasn't comforting. USC adjusted and while USM threw for 337 yards, it was mostly dinking and dunking downfield afterward.


THE UGLY

* GUTS -- As I said before, it was encouraging to see Garcia forcibly holding onto his job by taking care of the ball, avoiding sacks and making every rushing yard count. But boy, leading with your face don't work in boxing and it sure ain't gonna work here, even with a helmet on. Some of the thuds that Garcia's lid took on his collisions were audible from the pressbox and while the kid kept getting up, I have to believe that through a 12-game season, those are going to catch up with him. "We tell him to find a hole and to dive in there, but he's a big guy," Spurrier said. "His first touchdown run, he ran over the guy at the 8-yard-line and caroomed (yes, that's what he said) into the end zone." Garcia admitted on his second rushing TD that he got his bell rung a bit and didn't really recall how he got the ball over the plane. I know it's exciting to see, but there's always the danger of one of those hits coming back to bite him.

* NCAA I know I wasn't the only one feeling stressed as the NCAA decision that cleared 10 players lasted until less than an hour before kickoff. Just watching the support staff and coaches run back and forth from the locker room was exhausting, but outside of Jarriel King and Chris Culliver, everything turned out fine. Now to see if it will keep being fine until the Georgia game.

* D DEPTH Johnson's group played a fine game, but lost another player when D.J. Swearinger went down with a mild concussion. No telling how long he'll be out, and that's an absence USC can scarcely afford. With Culliver in limbo and Shaq Wilson plus Antonio Allen nursing sore hamstrings, the defense's depth is getting sliced into ribbons. Gilmore and Akeem Auguste played without backups last night and if one more player gets hurt, Johnson may have to start recruiting from the student body.

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