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September 16, 2012

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly



NO. 8 SOUTH CAROLINA 49, UAB 6

THE GOOD

SECRETARIAT'S MISSING A LOAFER: Something about that Golden Horseshoe. It travels across the college football landscape quicker than a Kardashian sister seeking a TV camera, but sometimes it finds a place and sticks (for instance, in who was rushing Clint Stoerner in Arkansas-Tennessee 1998; the nearest defender to Cornelius Ingram's helmet in Florida-LSU 2007; Auburn's 2010 season). For whatever reason - and probably because USC has suffered for eons before the Gods/Brothers of Tebow decided to bless it with a dude sporting the middle name "Orr" - it's in Columbia and is showing no signs of leaving. The Gamecocks get some lucky plays, but to their credit, they never expect them. They just take them when they happen. I'm still searching for how Jonathan Perry "fumbled" that pitch or handoff. A fumble is usually when the ball is stripped or knocked loose. On this one, it looked like Joe Morrison reached down (up?) and finger-flicked it into the air. D.J. Swearinger grabbed it and streaked toward the end zone for a touchdown to turn the game around. Dylan Thompson was intercepted twice on one possession, but both were either overturned or dropped. Next play, he bombs to Bruce Ellington to set up first-and-goal. USC is in the shadow of its goalpost and can't run, so Thompson decides to arc it long for Damiere Byrd, never the greatest pass-catcher on the planet. His defender falls down, Byrd never breaks stride, touchdown. Hey, it's winning games that count. Lucky or not, Kentucky and Arkansas are wishing they had some of it right about now.

USC-UAB COVERAGE
South Carolina hosted UAB on Saturday and Gamecock Central was there in force to bring you the very best coverage.
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UNCAGED: Thompson and Byrd seem to have built a chemistry. Two games, two deep passes for either a score or to set up a score. Byrd needed to get loose considering his reputation was always far exceeding the production, and Thompson needs some confidence, since it seems this Connor Shaw situation is much, much worse and could linger through the season. He can throw deep, which is a boon, and if they can find a way to work that consistently while keeping elements of their bread-and-butter zone-read intact, USC can get through what looks to be a troublesome spot. Byrd needs that confidence as well, because nobody can catch him in the open field - he just has to catch the ball. Two games in a row, each with Thompson at quarterback - the Gamecocks may have stumbled onto something in their critical moment.

BEAST MODE: It was kind of a throwaway question when I spoke to Lorenzo Ward earlier this week, but it had to be asked just so I could get the response - Jadeveon Clowney doesn't have the numbers to show it, but isn't he impacting games much more than numbers? I wasn't surprised when Ward looked at me like I just said I'd like to use a bag of Cheetos to design a new nuclear reactor. The numbers haven't been stupendous - non-called holding (Here, No. 13) and quick-pass offenses have seen to that - but Clowney's performances have been. On Saturday, he finally got the numbers to go with them. Seven tackles, 3.5 for loss, two sacks. Perry looked like he wanted somebody to grab a 2x4 and belt Clowney over the head with it, not that it would have affected him. He's primed to be a pass-rushing, heat-seeking, tear-the-noggin-off monster, folks, and that's what he does. The rest of us just politely offer suggestions.

THE BOSS: I get it, Bruce Ellington. You were upset when I said that you should stick to basketball full-time, that you would never be an impact football player. Ellington leads the team with nine catches after three games and is second in yardage. I'll be quiet now.

SWEET BABY JAMES: Look, I am a Kenny Miles fan. Love that kid for what he's done and sacrificed for this team. Not many would have stuck around for another year knowing that they weren't going to be the guy, especially with opportunities out there. But it may be time to look at the tailback depth chart, and consider moving Miles down a spot. Now, poor run-blocking has played a part - we'll get to that in a second - but Miles' straight-ahead bowl-'em-over running style is not getting the job done, and it seems as if USC is going to need that running threat even more than it did previously. Enter Mike Davis. Sure, it was late against a tired UAB defense, but Davis was juking, cutting, finding the hole and getting to daylight. He had 84 yards on four carries. He needs to be No. 2 behind Marcus Lattimore and if this Thompson-Shaw deal doesn't resolve itself soon, perhaps look at playing Lattimore and Davis in the same backfield.

THERE YOU ARE: Ace Sanders was credited all preseason as the guy that would lead USC's receivers, but it took until Saturday for him to show up. The good news about that equation is he could have not shown up at all. Sanders is becoming the perfect slot receiver, able to catch in traffic and boogie down the sideline. Great acrobatic leap on his touchdown as well. The only problem is that "1" on his jersey seems to be having an adverse effect on the QBs - they all seem to think that he's the former No. 1, who could jump out of the stadium.

YOU SHALL NOT PASS: Our good friends on the Gamecock Radio Network passed this stat along after UAB - USC's opponents have run 17 plays in the Gamecocks' red zone this year. They've gained 4 yards and scored no touchdowns in six attempts. "It's the attitude, that stuff we talked about all summer," Ward said. "We want to protect our home. When we get in the red zone, we want to try to raise our level of play."



THE BAD

BLOCK-HEADS: This is supposed to be the best offensive line that USC has had in years. The experience and the depth is finally there after entire recruiting classes full of linemen fell by the roadside. Why, then, is Lattimore struggling to get yards? He doesn't need much room, just a small crease. Half the time he got the ball on Saturday, he was getting swarmed just after he took the handoff. There's no push from USC against the defense, and in the times that the Gamecocks do install the fullback, he's often switching out to block outside and Lattimore is hit by another charging linebacker. The concern here is that USC couldn't free Lattimore to run against UAB, a bad team against the run with under-sized defensemen. How is it going to spring him loose against LSU, which features what looks like the Olympic weight-lifting team across the front?

I DON'T WEAR VISORS, BUT IF I DID: Excellent decision by Steve Spurrier. Kelcy Quarles starts a UAB possession with a sack and Spurrier calls timeout. That preserves clock until the Blazers have to punt, giving the ball back to USC - and at the UAB 37-yard-line after Hunter Mullins became Shankapotamus - with over two minutes to play in the half. Lattimore? No, the injured Shaw throws incomplete to D.L. Moore. Lattimore? No, the injured Shaw throws incomplete to D.L. Moore (which he straight dropped). Lattimore? Can't, on third-and-10, so the injured Shaw throws incomplete to Justice Cunningham. Might as well go for it, so the injured Shaw throws incomplete to Ellington and gets an incredibly lucky pass interference flag to set up shop at the UAB 22. Lattimore? No, the injured Shaw hits Ellington in the corner for 20 yards, but Shaw is knocked down, hit on the exact point of the previous injury, to start the carousel spinning again. But Lattimore gets the ball and scores on the next play. So there that is.

AND SPEAKING OF: Moore broke out last week against East Carolina with two touchdown grabs. He didn't catch a pass on Saturday, including dropping one. The phrase "Can't get out of his own way" comes to mind.

DO YOU PLAY GOLF: USC's collection of kickers looks like it should be flailing away at the nearest municipal course, stroke counters clipped to their belts, hoping that this is the day that they finally break 100. Landon Ard got yanked off kickoff duty when his first attempt landed at the UAB 12 and was returned 53 yards. Tyler Hull was mostly good, but had an 18-yard "punt" in the second quarter that landed out-of-bounds. Adam Yates hooked a 36-yard field goal wide left, a kick that looked like a cement block as it came off his foot. I realize that the special-teams job has gone through more teachers than the Defense Against the Dark Arts post at Hogwarts, but c'mon, man …

DISGUISED AS ALUMINUM: Ah, the hell with it. Fans, you don't want to come or stay, that's your decision. But if you're one of the ones who left early (again), kindly don't bother me with any statements about how USC is disrespected by the rest of the nation and how nobody ever gives it its due. Maybe it's because the fan base gets used to success too quickly and starts filing out of the stadium in the third quarter.



THE UGLY

CONNOR: I'll just state that I admire Shaw for sucking up the pain and playing through a fractured shoulder. That takes a level of commitment that hasn't been seen around USC since … help me out here - maybe Steve Taneyhill? And I do believe Spurrier when he says the medical staff and training staff cleared Shaw to play, for two reasons. One, I know some of the medical guys and they confirmed it. Two, if Shaw were to play hurt and got himself injured without being cleared, Spurrier would open himself up to all sorts of nastiness, such as litigation, placing a young man's health in jeopardy and all kinds of other bugaboos.

I honestly don't have an opinion going forward as in what to do with Shaw. If the kid says he can play, and he's cleared to play, play him. Spurrier knows as well as I do that Shaw is a huge key to the Gamecocks' success, but outside of that, if everybody says he's fine (except for the pain) and won't hurt himself further and again, if Shaw wants to play (and he always does), play him.

Here's where the "ugly" part comes in. First, it makes Spurrier look bad, even with the medical and Shaw opinions factored in. Shaw was hurting and played, and Spurrier himself said that it's not right to play a guy if he's in pain. Second, no matter what happens going forward with Shaw, it drastically changes how USC will play this season.

If Shaw is hurting and tentative to play the same style that he always has (and he was on Saturday), it takes away a sizable chunk of the Gamecocks' ability to be a threat while running the ball. What made Shaw so invaluable was he could stand back there and opponents never knew when or if he was going to scramble. He can still run, but he's sliding/diving awkwardly to protect that shoulder. And if he plays with that shoulder, it's like going out there every week with a target painted on it. Shaw's best option to play is by throwing the ball more, and he can't get as much zip on the ball as he normally does with the bad shoulder.

Thompson can throw the deep ball, but hasn't been great throwing the non-deep balls, and is not a threat to run. He can't run zone-read accurately because he doesn't have the wheels or the quick-decision style to do it. Not saying the Gamecocks can't win with him at quarterback, but it definitely takes away the many-weapon offensive capability.

Lot of decisions to be made in the next week or so. Here's hoping I won't have to revisit this topic later on.

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