Right back to last year, and that's not a good thing.
Junior cornerback Stephon Gilmore, regarded as having the most talent and the best professional potential among No. 12 South Carolina's defensive backs, again had a very good statistical performance in a game. Against East Carolina in the Gamecocks' season-opener, Gilmore was second on the team with 10 tackles, seven solo, and broke up a pass.
Repeating a theme that was illustrated far too often in 2010, Gilmore messed up on a couple of plays. And just as they did last year, those mistakes, while very rare in a rash of good plays, harshly glared in the game's aftermath.
"If you go back and look at it, there were two balls that I thought Stephon played terribly," defensive head Ellis Johnson said, as bluntly as the business end of a sledgehammer.
Gilmore went up against the Pirates' Lance Lewis on two jump-balls on Saturday and lost each time. The first was one where Gilmore never turned around, jumping too late as Lewis stretched over him and landed in the end zone for a touchdown; the second was where Gilmore tracked it as soon as it left Dominique Davis' hand, but let Lewis get in front of him and Lewis won the leap for the ball.
Gilmore and Lewis each fell to the turf but Lewis had possession, giving the Pirates a first down at the USC 7-yard-line. ECU scored on the next play.
The Gamecocks ended with a comfortable victory, but the question remained - is 2011, a year where Gilmore is trying to prove he's one of the best defenders in the country (with the NFL watching), going to be like 2010?
Gilmore has at least 11 more games to come up with a resounding "No."
"I've been working on double-moves a lot," Gilmore said during preseason camp, alluding to the problematic receiver trick that gave him fits throughout 2010. "I feel like I've gotten a lot better with them."
At least on Saturday, he did, but East Carolina hardly ever employed double-moves because that's not the type of routes the Pirates frequently use. They are much more of a side-to-side team, relying on short passes and yards-after-catch than simply trying to out-run defensive backs from the line of scrimmage.
For the ECU game, Gilmore was advised to play inside if any receivers got to his level of the secondary, placing his body between Davis and the receiver since Davis would hardly attempt to throw over the receiver's head. Like C.C. Whitlock on the other side of the field was schooled, it's OK if the receiver catches it, just run up and make sure he doesn't get many yards afterward.
Again, Gilmore did well with that, but on the second jump ball, Lewis slipped inside and was able to plant his feet for the underthrown pass. Gilmore went up and came down with his hands on the ball, but the ball was cradled in Lewis' chest.
Gilmore ended the game with good statistics and two burning errors. It's a concern.
"It was sloppy," Johnson said, describing the entire defense. "With our kids, it's kind of feast or famine."
Gilmore's eating well these days but still has a tendency to lose his fork every now and then.
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