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November 25, 2013

The good, bad and unknown

South Carolina demolished Coastal Carolina 70-10 in Williams-Brice Stadium last Saturday. Here are some good and bad takeaways from the game, plus some questions the weekend raised.

The Good

Pure, raw, nasty athleticism. No matter how much time was actually spent preparing for Coastal Carolina, it was the difference in athleticism that translated to the difference on the scoreboard.

The Gamecocks dominated in the trenches, were faster and more physical everywhere else, and bullied the Chanticleers all over the field for four full quarters.

Everyone gets to play, everyone gets to score. The blowout allowed a number of seldom-used players to play, and several of them were impressive. Six different players lined up at quarterback for South Carolina, 11 players took at least one carry, and 11 players caught passes.

Eight different players scored touchdowns, with Shon Carson, Jamari Smith, and Pharoh Cooper finding the end zone for the first time. That experience will benefit some of South Carolina's future impact players as they head into the offseason and begin to challenge for starting roles.

Dylan Thompson. His confidence could have been shaken when he struggled against Missouri and didn't appear in the next two games, but he rebounded to play a solid game against Coastal Carolina.

Thompson took what the defense gave him (which was a lot) and didn't take unnecessary risks, completing eight of his 11 passes for 140 yards, accounting for three touchdowns and finishing with an other-worldly passer rating of 239.6.

Shaw's mobility. Connor Shaw moved around well against Coastal Carolina, rushing five times for 39 yards and a touchdown -- a nice change of pace after rushing 18 times for -19 yards over the past three games.

Of course, a full recovery from the knee sprain he suffered at Tennessee means his patience in the pocket will plummet as he will look to run more often. But a heavy dose of a healthy Connor Shaw is just what the doctor ordered with the Clemson game just days away.

Pharoh Cooper. The multi-talented freshman totaled 168 yards against Coastal, appearing as a wide receiver, Wildcat quarterback, kick returner and punt returner.

The Havelock, N.C., native's first career touchdown came on an 18-yard catch in the second quarter, then he tacked on his second score with a 71-yard third-quarter run out of the Wildcat.

Like Shaw, Cooper's versatility adds an extra dimension to South Carolina's offense -- but only when he's used. The question for next week is whether the coaches will trust freshman to run in the Wildcat against the Tigers -- as they did with Stephon Gilmore in 2009.

Landon Ard. Ard struggled mightily during pre-game warmups, raining errant kickoffs onto spectators and visiting recruits on the sidelines. But once the game started, the sophomore settled in, squaring every ball up and notching a few touchbacks. What's more, he avoided the out-of-bounds squib kick he seems to boot every game.


The Bad

Brian Kass. The 70-10 loss was forgettable for Coastal Carolina, but probably not for backup quarterback Brian Kass. On his first appearance of the game, Kass was sacked and his fumble was picked up by Sharrod Golightly. Kass wouldn't reappear until the second half, when his only pass of the game was intercepted by T.J. Gurley. Kass would finish with a -200 passer rating.

Shon Carson. Carson's honeymoon with South Carolina fans began to dissolve in the first half as his rushing strategy started to resemble his kick returning strategy, which largely consisted of running into opposing players and falling down.

Carson punched in the first touchdown of his career, but took a team-high 11 carries for a team fifth-best 38 yards. Outproducing him on the ground were two true freshman (Jamari Smith and Pharoh Cooper), a running back who hadn't played since Sept. 28, and a quarterback who carried the ball just five times.

Pharoh Cooper's returning. As talented as Cooper is, he's a heart attack waiting to happen in the return game. He continues to make questionable decisions, like aggressively pursuing bouncing balls or running backwards while trying to switch the field -- which he doesn't have the speed to do at the college level.

After his first two returns against the Chanticleers went for -2 yards, he was replaced by Victor Hampton, who could be the lesser of two decision-making evils.


The Unknown

Did South Carolina spend too much time preparing for Coastal Carolina? South Carolina's mantra last week was that Coastal Carolina was not a team to be overlooked. Coaches and players alike spoke highly of the Chanticleers in practice and said they were preparing for the 10-1 FCS team like it was an SEC opponent.

After the 60-point manhandling, it seems that time could have been better spent watching film of Clemson and preparing for the Tigers. And for all we know, maybe it was.

Why play Perry Orth and Austin Hails? Giving walk-ons playing time in the waning moments of a blowout win is great. It really is. But considering redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch will probably be South Carolina's best option if Dylan Thompson is injured next season, the fourth quarter might have been better used as a training exercise for the Allentown, Pa., native.

Nosovitch didn't have a great fall camp, and could have used more than two passes (for 13 yards) and two carries (for 5 yards) of playing experience in a couple of third-quarter drives.

Can Texas A&M beat Missouri? LSU embarrassed the Aggies in Death Valley last week, and Missouri looked like a top-10 team again against Ole Miss. Granted, the Rebels were horrid in that game, but South Carolina's SEC Championship Game prospects don't look bright.

A Texas A&M victory at Missouri isn't out of the question as long as Johnny Manziel is playing quarterback, but it will be a major question mark looming over Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday night. Man, how in the world did the Gamecocks manage to lose to Tennessee, anyway?



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