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August 18, 2013

Notepad scribbles: Scrimmage version



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South Carolina held its second preseason scrimmage Saturday morning, and here are some notes of the good, the bad, and the unknown since my first look at the team in almost two weeks.

The good

The defensive line didn't miss a beat without Sutton. While the 6-foot-5, 265-pound senior was sidelined with a sprained foot, the defensive line had perhaps its finest outing of the fall, marauding the backfield for what had to be an astronomical number of sacks (honestly, I lost count). The Jadeveon Clowney vs. Corey Robinson matchup became one of the most lopsided affairs imaginable, and the rest of the line had its way with the offense as well. If they can be that disruptive against opposing offensive lines, they'll relieve some of the pressure on the young linebackers.

The position changers fit right in. Switching from defensive back to wide receiver, freshman Pharoh Cooper found success in the final moments of the scrimmage. Just one play after elevating over cornerback Ahmad Christian for an impressive 35-yard reception, he took his next pass from quarterback Brendan Nosovitch and scooted into the end zone.

On the other side of the ball, freshman Jamari Smith - recently moved from running back to corner - picked off starting quarterback Connor Shaw and recorded a couple of pass breakups as well. While Smith looks to have the best chance of playing this season, both he and Cooper are certainly athletic enough to make their marks at South Carolina by the time they leave.

The running backs competed hard. All we've heard from the players and coaches in camp is that the running backs competition has been a fierce one. Saturday, we saw what they meant. Mike Davis took four carries for 53 yards, including one 20-yard bust where he took a massive blow, was knocked sideways toward the turf, then balanced himself and fought forward for a few extra yards. It was Lattimore-esque.

Brandon Wilds (three carries, 20 yards) and Shon Carson (three carries, 11 yards) also looked sharp, exploding through holes between the tackles. Freshman David Williams (five carries, 12 yards) had the toughest outing of the four, but rebounded from a fumble to punch in a 2-yard touchdown - the only rushing score of the day.

The secondary looked great. Lorenzo Ward correctly pointed out after the scrimmage that his defense hadn't given up "the big play," save for former cornerback Pharoh Cooper's 35-yard circus catch in the waning moments of the scrimmage. While plenty of that can be credited to the front four's relentless pass rush, Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree blanketed their marks well, and Jamari Smith and Ronnie Martin came away with interceptions. Even in the drills before the scrimmage, the secondary was outstanding - particularly Hampton, who didn't give his opponents an inch of breathing room and refused to allow a single reception.

The bad

The injuries are starting to pile up. Two new members were added to the yellow-jersey gang Saturday, as both junior safety Kadetrix Marcus (knee strain) and defensive end Devin Washington (concussion) sat out the scrimmage. Joining them were Bruce Ellington, Busta Anderson, Chaz Sutton, Cedrick Cooper, Gerald Turner, Cody Gibson, James King, Mike Matulis and Kyle Morini - most of whom we've grown used to seeing on the sidelines by now. When Connor Shaw left the scrimmage to get his throwing hand checked out, I didn't even blink.

The offensive line was horrendous. I'm struggling to remember a time I've ever seen that group so overmatched. Junior tackle Corey Robinson had no answer for Clowney, and the rest of the line resembled a wet paper bag - so much so that Shaw's hand injury was attributed to one of the linemen getting pushed back into the quarterback's throwing motion.

Brendan Nosovitch had a tough day. Sure, he was the only Gamecock quarterback to toss a touchdown pass - a 10-yarder in garbage time to Pharoh Cooper. But he also accounted for more overthrows, missed opportunities and bad decisions than any other quarterback in the scrimmage. He struggled to pick up blitzes, had passes batted down, missed a wide-open Kane Whitehurst by roughly 10 yards near the end zone, and was intercepted by Ronnie Martin on a deep pass down the sideline. As one media member remarked, "Nosovitch is in his own head right now, and that's not a great place to be."

What remains to be seen

Can Dylan Thompson be the big-time quarterback he wants to be? Thompson wants to make the big-time throws. It's evident in the passes he completes, but even more so in the passes he doesn't. Forcing balls into tight pockets of space. Threading the needle over the middle. Lofting balls just past the outstretched fingers of defensive backs. Going for the home-run ball any time he sees a window. Sure, five of Thompson's eight total attempts fell to the turf, but it's okay to try and be great in practice. After all, what happens if he starts completing these throws consistently?

Is Connor Shaw on the same injury-laden path he traveled in 2012? When we saw South Carolina's starting quarterback reacting to what appeared to be an injury to his throwing arm, there was an audible groan from the stands. Could this really be another nagging injury? Spurrier assured the media it was only a bruise to his hand, but I'm beginning to seriously wonder whether Shaw is cursed.

Who is returning punts this season? With Ellington out, Victor Hampton and Shon Carson split reps during the punt drills. Hampton appeared to have the edge at the position heading into fall camp, but the amount of punts I've seen him bobble in four practices make me wonder whether Carson could unseat him as the starter. Maybe a few more practices will give us a solid answer.

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