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October 29, 2013

Gamecock stock report: Missouri

What are we buying and selling after No. 14 South Carolina's win over then-No. 5 Missouri?


Connor Shaw: Yeah, this dude. One tough hombre. A cool customer. A guy's guy, a player's player, a coach's dream. Foxhole partner? You could do a lot worse. Playing sick and with an injured knee, he came in to provide the Gamecocks with a spark and jolted an effective but error-prone offense to the tune of 17 fourth-quarter points and 10 more in overtime to beat the No. 5 team in the nation on the road in front of a sellout homecoming crowd.

His passes, sloppy the week before in an upset loss to Tennessee, were crisp and on-point; superb, even, considering the circumstances. As someone noted, maybe he needs to be given a flu shot and have his knee given a whack, Tonya Harding-style, before every game to prevent his running out of the pocket since he was so effective staying in it Saturday night. Whatever the case, we're buying shares in Shaw this week, as many as we can grab, because they're only on offer for a limited time - now until January 1, 2014, to be exact.

Bruce Ellington: Wow, what a game from Ellington after also playing below his own potential and expectations a week prior in Knoxville. His sliding catch was spectacular, his 10 catches tied Mike Davis for a team-high and his route-running, highlighted by his stellar catch in the end zone on fourth-and-15 to keep the Gamecocks alive in overtime, was perfect. Ellington performed at a level few college players achieve, which is why he's respected by coaches and fans alike. And also like Shaw, his genuine humility is a huge selling point, always, regardless of how he does. He's just a winner who wants to be on the field, and on this or any other day, we're buying that.

Defensive results: The way the Gamecocks get the results on defense aren't pretty, not by any judge of beauty, but holding Tennessee to 23 points and Missouri to 17 in regulation is all anyone could have asked them to do and should have been enough to win both games. After all, if someone told you in August that over this key three-game road stretch South Carolina's defense would average giving up 15.7 points, well I think you'd take that all day long and twice on Sundays. Do they still give up big plays? Sure. So do a lot of defenses. But do they also stiffen when absolutely necessary? Yes, they do here of late, one Hail Mary on a day when the offense was miserable notwithstanding. So a doff of the cap and a buying of the stock to Lorenzo Ward and his defensive coaches and players for being a huge reason South Carolina is 6-2 and not 5-3 or worse.


Pharoh Cooper's decision-making on returns: It's been awful, truly, and borderline disastrous. Against the Volunteers, he single-handedly pinned USC back for the majority of the first half by letting one punt bounce and catching another inside the 5, and against Missouri his catches again were so scary I thought Halloween had come early. It wasn't so much his decisions on Saturday as it was his technique...each time, he had to make last-second corrections that made it look certain the ball was going to squirt through his hands, and every catch seems an adventure right now. It's almost as if the Gamecocks need two returners...one person to catch the ball and make good decisions on when to do so who then can toss it to Cooper, who is the best return option South Carolina has by miles and miles. With experience, I think Cooper should improve by leaps and bounds, but when you're making fans hold their breath every time (and running for minus-eight yards on your returns against Missouri), you're getting sold until the value improves through practice.

Rolling snaps to the quarterback: Yeah, we're selling these today. No more reason to see any more of those the rest of the year. By my count we've seen two, one against Tennessee that the Volunteers recovered and one against Missouri that the Gamecocks fortunately held onto. Redshirt freshman Clayton Stadnik has done an admirable job, truly admirable, at center, but his proclivity for high snaps combined with at least one gutter ball per game are cause for concern. I'd like not to see any more of those rolling snaps from here on out, if that's alright with everyone, because unless it's some kind of designed play, it is a disaster waiting to happen for an offense that is doing enough fumbling when it has the football firmly in its hands.

Shaq Roland: Unless circumstances drastically change, 2013 looks to be a lost year for a player so many people hoped would break through to become a star. Instead, he's not even a contributor, not even a starter, not even an option, really. His talent is obvious in spurts, but it seems he can't get out of his own way when it comes to preparation, good decision and just overall focus. Even when he was welcomed back after his three-game suspension, he rewarded the coaches with a drop that, along with a few more, staggered Shaw's confidence in the game, and Roland hasn't been targeted since, only playing in a few snaps against Missouri as Nick Jones, Ellington and Damiere Byrd have all but locked-down the starting receiving roles from here on out. It's a sad fate for a Mr. Football right now, and while Roland is one stock we hope to buy lots of in the future, it looks like that future's going to be next season.

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