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September 18, 2012

3-point stance: What's the difference?



So, the final verdict from the SEC office is D.J. Swearinger's smackdown of that unlucky UAB receiver last week warranted a one-game suspension, but the vicious hit that South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham absorbed from Vanderbilt's Andre Hal while making a sensational catch on Aug. 30 didn't.

Huh?

Sorry, but after carefully watching the video of both hits, I respectfully disagree.

Frankly, they are essentially the same play (no two plays are exactly alike, but they are very, very similar) with the same actions, more or less, taken by the defensive player.

The SEC office offered a flimsy explanation trying to distinguish the two plays, but I'm not buying. By absurdly attempting to make a distinction between the two hard hits, the SEC is trying to fashion a distinction without a difference.

The only dissimilarity I decipher is Swearinger's team won its game while Hal's team lost. Was the outcome of the game a factor in the SEC's decision?

In my opinion, both Swearinger and Hal should have been suspended for a game or both should have been let off without further penalty beyond the 15-yard penalty each incurred at the time.

Since the precedent was established when Hal was not suspended for his blow on Cunningham, Swearinger shouldn't have been sanctioned either.

As long as the SEC insists on drawing microscopic, fine-line distinctions between plays of this type, it should do the right thing and immediately send Coordinator of Officials Steve Shaw on a tour of the 14 campuses to instruct the coaches and players on what constitutes an act that will draw a suspension and what will not.

In my opinion, that's only fair to the coaches and players, most of whom are trying to play within the rules. However, inconsistent decisions in these suspension cases by the SEC office isn't helping to clarify matters.

Now that the ruling has been handed down, how does USC fill Swearinger's free safety spot for Saturday's key home conference game with Missouri? Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward faces his first major crisis as the new man in charge of the USC defense.

In my opinion, USC has three options: 1) insert Jared Shaw, Swearinger's backup on the depth chart, or freshman T.J. Gurley into the spot and hope one of those two performs their best Swearinger impersonation for one week; 2) move Brison Williams from strong safety to free safety and start Kadetrix Marcus at strong safety; or 3) move DeVonte Holloman from spur to safety and slide freshman Jordan Diggs or redshirt sophomore Sharrod Golightly into the spur spot. Golightly is returning from a three-game suspension.

It appears right now the coaches believe the best choice is to simply put Gurley at free safety and hope he doesn't play like a freshman appearing in his fourth major college game. Undoubtedly, Missouri will target him in the passing game, so Gurley will need help from the defensive line in terms of a ferocious pass rush, and from his pals in the secondary.

Looking at the big picture, the decision to start Gurley creates the least amount of disruption for the USC defense and keeps Holloman at spur on the second level of the USC defense where the coaches want him.

THE RECRUITING "SUPER BOWL": Three weeks ago, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin described the opening-game matchup with USC as "our Super Bowl." USC won, of course, in front of a raucous crowd in Nashville. One month later, USC and Missouri will meet in what could accurately be labeled the "Super Bowl" for recruiting fanatics.

Two years ago, the Gamecocks signed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 prospect in the nation according to Rivals.com. Last February, Missouri inked wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2012 recruiting cycle. Green-Beckham, a 6-foot-6, 220-pounder with blazing speed, topped the Rivals.com list of elite prospects.

Besides being the best of the best, Clowney and Green-Beckham share something else in common - they've both discovered that life as a major college football player doesn't always proceed as planned. Last year, Clowney started well with two sacks and two tackles for loss in the wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt. His sack and forced fumble of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray that produced the clinching touchdown was one of the most memorable plays of the 2011 season.

But Clowney, who hit the wall around the midseason mark, suffered through a lull that had coach Steve Spurrier calling him out as someone that had to step up and play better. Once Clowney understood (and appreciated) the energy and intensity level you must bring to practice every day at the FBS level, he thrived. He had five sacks (two against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl) in the final four games and was honored as the SEC Freshman of the Year by the league coaches.

Monday, Clowney was deservedly named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week after a stellar performance in the 49-6 victory over UAB.

Green-Beckham, who amassed a national prep record of 6,353 career receiving yards with 75 receiving touchdowns, is learning some of the same hard lessons Clowney did last season, as well as the reality that SEC defensive backs are incredibly talented, hard as nails and rarely yield a millimeter during the tough, physical battles when the ball is in the air.

Through three games, Green-Beckham has five receptions for 39 yards, an average of 7.8 yards per catch, and zero touchdowns. So, he hasn't exactly set the world on fire in the early going, but once he masters the Missouri offense and learns how to get open, he'll turn into the highly productive player Missouri thought it was getting. Right now, it's a learning process. With one full season, a spring practice and two preseason camps under his belt, Green-Beckham could be a monster when USC visits Columbia, Mo., next year.

SEVEN YEARS LATER: Since the 2005 Independence Bowl loss to Missouri (38-31) will surely come up this week, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at the starting lineup for the Gamecock defense against the Tigers that day in Shreveport, La. According to the official game report, here it is

Defensive line: Chris Tucker, Stanley Doughty, Jordin Lindsey, Orus Lambert
Linebacker: Ricardo Hurley, Lance Laury, Terrell Davis
Secondary: Fred Bennett, Ko Simpson, Tremaine Tyler, Johnathan Joseph

How does that lineup compare to the 2012 Gamecocks? The current defensive front seven is undoubtedly bigger (definitely taller at defensive end), faster and more athletic than the 2005 edition. However, the USC secondary had three future NFL players on the field. In fact, Joseph is still an active player even though many people questioned his decision to leave USC early. But he ran a lightning-fast time at the NFL Combine (around 4.3) and was selected late in the first round of the 2006 draft by Cincinnati.



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