Thanks to an open week for Coastal, I was able to get my first look in person at the 2011 Gamecocks. I can certainly understand the frustration of being a USC fan right now. After all, you have two potential top 5 NFL picks on the offensive side of the ball (Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore) and yet the offense is in the midst of a horrific two game slump. Here are some of my thoughts from Saturday's upset loss to Auburn:
The end of the game
I was shooting the last play of the game and saw Bruce Ellington go down to put the Gamecocks in field goal range. I was expecting to see Stephen Garcia scurry to the line and try and snap the ball to the ground and set up a game tying field goal attempt. Instead, what I saw was Auburn celebrating. When you look back at the TV feed, it's clear to me that the clock should have been stopped with two seconds left. The SEC stood by the officials call, but I don't know why you can't go up to the replay booth and get it right. It would have been a 46 yard field goal attempt - by no means a guarantee, but USC at the very least should have had the chance to force overtime.
The eyeball test
It's always different to see players up close as opposed to on television. It is stating the obvious, but the two guys that jumped out to me on defense were Melvin Ingram and Antonio Allen. I think both of these players have the credentials to be considered for All-American honors. Allen just does it all - he made so many great run stopping plays and just seems to be in the right place to make big plays.
I almost want to take the challenge of being Garcia's defense attorney, but it's tough to defend his past two performances. He had just nine completions against Auburn. Of those nine, I think he only threw four good balls (his 35 yard pass to Bruce Ellington to set up the go ahead Marcus Lattimore TD was the best of the bunch). Take that throw, along with his 13 yard pass to Ellington deep in his own territory and the last two passes on the final drive and that's all you have. The Alshon Jeffery TD pass was just an amazing play by an elite receiver. When it comes to interceptions, sometimes you can place blame on other things other than the QB, but in this case, both picks were on Garcia. The INT's came on a 2nd and 2 and a 1st and 10 and were both overthrown balls. Garcia did not talk to the media after the game. His grandfather had passed away late in the week and requested to not have media responsibilities on Thursday.
Spurrier promised changes after the game to the offense. Does that mean benching Garcia? Perhaps it would be beneficial to take out some old film of Garcia beating Alabama or winning at the Swamp and figure out a way to get his confidence back. He's proven that he can win in the SEC. While Gamecock fans are ready to pull the plug on Garcia, I wonder if he shouldn't get one more chance to get back on track against Kentucky before ushering in Connor Shaw.
One thing that hurt the Gamecocks offense in a big way was field position. Six of USC's 15 possessions started inside the 12 yard line (you can throw out one of those thanks to the Melvin Ingram interception at the end of the half). The other big field position stat comes from CC Whitlock's interception that was fumbled away. If Whitlock had fell on the ball instead of going for some extra yards, the Gamecocks would have had the ball in Auburn territory with a 13-9 lead late in the third quarter. Instead, Auburn got the ball back, ran off nine more plays and 41 more yards before Whitlock redeemed himself with a tremendous pick in the corner of the end zone. Perhaps, a little bit better field position could have gotten the ground game going with Lattimore and one more score would have likely given USC a victory.
I was standing on the sidelines at Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia. Earlier in the week, David Bennett shared another one of his unique phrases that was part coach-speak and part Southern charm. When looking at the film of Mark Richt's Bulldogs, he told me that Georgia was going to "get right" and have a great year. Unfortunately, for Bennett, Georgia started to get right at the expense of his Chanticleers. With Georgia already up 21-0 in the first quarter, I glanced up at the Sanford Stadium scoreboard to see that Auburn had a 21-7 lead over Clemson in Death Valley.
Like many, I was ready to write Clemson off. If you could take an instant poll at that moment, the majority of Tiger faithful would have written off the season and had cardboard boxes at Dabo Swinney's office ready to send him off forever. But Clemson got right just in time. The Tigers went on to beat the defending national champs and then backed it up with wins against Florida State and Virginia Tech. Three weeks earlier, they barely got by FCS Wofford and looked like they were on the road to medicority. Now, Clemson is a legitimate top 10 team and the favorite to go to the Orange Bowl.
Which brings us back to the Gamecocks. There's plenty of time for USC to "get right". Steve Spurrier reminded the media after the Auburn loss that USC lost to Auburn and Kentucky last year and still found its way to Atlanta and the SEC championship game. This team is 4-1 and can still get to the Georgia Dome.
The internet seems to be the place where players and coaches can be instantly condemned. I can remember a lot of Tahj Boyd bashing in the summer months, but that's certainly not the case anymore. Today, you can find plenty of anti-Spurrier and anti-Garcia sentiments. I assume that both Spurrier and Garcia are not investing any energy in the negativity and working on getting right.