NO. 3 FLORIDA 44, NO. 9 SOUTH CAROLINA 11
POW!: Hey, USC's defense did its job. It more than did its job. It couldn't stay perfect forever, and despite Lorenzo Ward saying that any time the defense has a chance to make plays, it should, the Gamecocks were just gassed. How would you feel if you've busted your tail for three plays, done your job incredibly well, are celebrating on the sideline and are then told to go right back in because some guy on special teams can't secure a ball? It must be how the teaser in a horse barn feels (I'm not going into detail -look it up). No blame on the defense at all. It held Mike Gillislee to 37 yards. It held Florida to 29 yards in the first half. The Gamecocks, in a sense, were punished for being too good against the run (a topic we'll get to later). They more than did their share. As I said during the game, if I was Ward, I'd go marching into each offensive coach's office pretty soon, rip off my shirt and challenge them to a no-holds-barred match. It's good that Ward has no hair - he'd have torn what he had out after holding the Gators to under 30 yards in two quarters, but they still had 21 points.
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WARRIOR: Jadeveon Clowney was playing on a hurt foot - he suffered it against Georgia, yet has played the past two games through pain. What would you expect a future NFL star to do? He made his presence felt as well, and then had to stand up there in the post-game and say how he wasn't frustrated, and the defense just had to make plays, when it was clearly evident that he was extremely frustrated. He'll be fine - the party line says that if he can do what he did with a busted foot, there are a lot of people in the world that would pay a lot of money to be half that good with two healthy feet.
WELL, IT'S SOMETHING: Big Byron Jerideau, who is also playing on an ankle that requires approximately 14 miles of tape to brace, blocked a PAT, pursued, tried to pick up and popped it into the air. Victor Hampton ran right into it and sprinted past some of Florida's speedsters for a safety. In the grand scheme of things, it meant nothing, except that USC was spared from having its kicker be the only man in the scoring summary. But it was good to see the Gamecocks get some points from an unexpected source, especially when their offense has been lousy the past two weeks (another topic we'll get to later).
THE GOOD OUT-WEIGHED THE BAD: Adam Yates hit three field goals, including a 51-yarder. He did get one blocked, because he kicks such a low line-drive ball, but it's something. Knowing that he has knocked one in from that distance can help down the road, when some of those long third downs come up.
YOU DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT, BUT … : Yes, this season may go down in history as one of the years where the Gamecocks had a chance to do something really special, and blew it. There's no way to sugarcoat that - Saturday was a chance to overcome the LSU loss, win three straight and get back to Atlanta. Didn't happen, and unless a miracle similar to Jessica Biel getting a Reno divorce this weekend occurs (this is how she treats me?), USC isn't going to Atlanta this year (unless maybe the Chick-fil-A Bowl). But let's be - see if you can understand the next word, USC fans - realistic. Of course it's disappointing that the Gamecocks won't get to play for all of those things they thought they were going to get to play for two weeks ago. But if they win their next four games - all against teams with not-great defenses - they will have a 10-win regular season and will have beaten Clemson four straight times. That last has happened once, from 1951-54. They'll go to a good bowl game (I can't see them falling past the Outback) and if they win that, they'll have 11 wins to match last year and 22 over two seasons. This program once lost 21 straight. The program is in a very good place right now. And I get the idea that once it's been to the mountaintop (SEC East title), you folks want it to get there again and stay there. But this program is simply not an Alabama or LSU or Georgia. That it may someday be is what keeps all of you from switching loyalties to Alabama or LSU or Georgia.
A TRADITION UNLIKE ANY OTHER: I truly believe that every punter in the United States dreams of seeing USC pop up on the schedule. He's guaranteed to have a career game against the Gamecocks. Florida's Kyle Christy averaged 54.3 yards per punt. His first one went 62 yards. It's like some old coach at USC told Ray Guy that he couldn't carry Sean Landeta's mouthpiece and the Gamecocks are forever cursed because of it.
SO MUCH FOR THAT: The Gamecocks came out to throw, Connor Shaw got stripped, Florida recovered and later scored, and that was that. It completely took away any specialty plays that Steve Spurrier might or might not have had planned. The Gamecocks had to play from behind all game.
DOGGONE IT: Yeah, so, the defense played so well against the run that it ended up getting burned. The Gators couldn't move the ball like they were accustomed to, so they began opening up the playbook. Tight-end screens, thrown across the body. Double handoffs. The "Wildcat" packages where USC had to play mid-level and dare Trey Burton to throw (he didn't). Nothing the Gamecocks could do about it - they played well against the run and were toasted by the non-runs.
HMMMMMM: So Dylan Thompson plays the second half because Shaw isn't releasing the ball when he's scrambling and has open men. What that did was make USC very predictable on offense. It was teaching a point for the purpose of teaching a point, when with USC only down 15 points, was not the time to teach a point. Shaw said in the post-game that he was 100 percent supportive of Thompson, but yet he stayed about as far away from the bench area and offensive huddle discussions on the sideline as he could. Like I said, hmmmmmmm …
BIG PLAY: A few weeks ago, I said that D.L. Moore just wasn't getting it done. Then later on, I took it back in a sense, because he made a big play. On Saturday, he had a touchdown pass tip off his fingers. Now, I thought the throw was high, but whatever the case with that actual non-catch, there is a problem here. USC does not have a tall jump-ball receiver, and it's costing it a chance to stretch the field. Moore is tall, but he's too inconsistent catching the ball and opponents know that. I'm mystified why Shaq Roland - Mr. Football - isn't on the field more. I've heard he doesn't know the plays that well and hasn't grasped the role. Here's a hint - let him grasp the role by giving him one route. Tell him, "Run." He runs the go route every play, he may beat some defenders and the quarterback can drop it in his hands. If nothing else, he stretches the field and presents a downfield opportunity. The time for great blocking and great route-running is past - the Gamecocks need a dynamic big play-receiver, and if one of the starters hasn't identified that after eight games, he's not going to. Spurrier has always said that if the first guy isn't producing, the second goes in. So what's the problem here?
CHAMPIONSHIP EFFORT: Championship teams don't fumble three times (actually four, although Bruce Ellington recovered his) and give such a crucial game away. Championship teams find ways to make plays. As Florida said (and maybe it's just big talk after a win, as we found out from LSU's non-true comments last week), it noticed that USC's ball-carriers weren't holding the ball high and tight. Three huge fumbles later, Florida had 21 easy points. The game was over before it had a chance to start. Just an awful way to end such a wonderful six-week run. You would think that in such a crucial game, the emphasis on at least basic fundamentals would be paramount in each player's mind. Ball-control didn't appear to be one of those fundamentals.
ONE OF PRINCE'S GREATEST HITS: So Spurrier said that he doesn't know who will start at quarterback next week. I get why he said it - he said earlier this week that if Shaw didn't start getting rid of the ball, he would bench him. Shaw didn't get rid of the ball in the first half against Florida, so he was benched. And Thompson was scarcely any better, until he put it together for one nice drive late in the game. But Spurrier said what he said - "I don't know" who will start next week - so we in the media get to clean up the mess. This week, you'll read stories breaking down the stats and physicality of Shaw and Thompson, and the mentality of each as well. Those are facts. Here's the opinion: Shaw needs to start. With Shaw's running ability to account for, whether the running game is working or not, the defense has to prepare for him and also assign one man to shadow him. It enables USC to stretch the alignments out a bit more. With Thompson in there, the defenses well know that he won't run unless he's flushed from the pocket, so they're free to jailbreak at him every time. Plus, Thompson is not great at the short throw, meaning he has to stay back there and wait for the long pass to develop. Shaw gives the Gamecocks the best chance to win and has the most experience. And I think it will help very much that the next four defenses that Shaw will face are in no way like the last two.
* BUT I WILL SAY …: Two weeks ago, Shaw was one of the most under-rated quarterbacks in college football. He even got a Heisman mention. Now, his passing just looks rough. There's no touch, he's rushing throws and he still has the same problem of holding onto the ball far too long. Shaw actually broke down after the Florida game, saying something outside the company-man line: "Maybe I just need to throw it up and let (the receivers) try to go get it." If he's going to turn this around, he really needs to.
IT BEARS REPEATING: Florida in the first half - 29 offensive yards, 64 penalty yards, 21 points. Sickening stats for a team that had a really great shot at a championship less than a day ago.
I'M SICK OF SAYING IT, YOU'RE SICK OF WATCHING IT: Special teams. Unbelievably bad. The three fumbles on the returns just exacerbated the problems. As Spurrier said, USC didn't deserve to win after laying the ball on the ground and telling Florida to take it, and the game. Then he went further, questioning why Florida's players don't fumble or blow kickoff coverages. I will say, it's not a problem with the coaching. Joe Robinson is doing a great job. It's the commitment from the players who play it. The Gamecocks get around the returner and stare at him, as if he's going to suddenly take a knee. They are constantly out of position and running outside of Robinson's direction (in fairness, sometimes the kickoff is designed left and goes right, or vice versa). Spurrier said he'll put starters on special teams if it doesn't improve, and I think that's too drastic of a measure - there's a much simpler solution.
Remember when you played backyard football as a kid, and nobody could kick, so the kickoffs were just the guy with the best arm would haul off and throw it 60 yards downfield? Obviously, USC can't do that, unless Spurrier gets a rule changed, but it can just kick out-of-bounds and eliminate the returner. Yes, it gives the opponents great field position, but at least the Gamecocks' defense knows where it will be starting every possession.
Bottom line - it's not going to get better until USC's special-teamers make a commitment to being great at special teams.
CHANGE IN CULTURE: Of course the message boards are awash with messages about USC never being able to get over the hump, how USC is back to being mediocre, how the culture hasn't changed after all.
USC is 6-2. Yes, it stings that the Gamecocks blew a shot at a championship this year. But, as said above, the Gamecocks win out, they'll have 11 wins, meaning 22 over two years, meaning 31 over three years. I'll save you the trouble, if you're thinking about when the last time that happened at USC was - it hasn't. USC is a national program now. It's not going away because it lost one game.
It was only a dozen years ago the Gamecocks were coming off a winless season. That was a dark, dark time. To suggest that USC has regressed to anything close to that because it had the audacity to lose two straight Top-10 games on the SEC road is ludicrous.