Thursday, September 10, 2009

Talking about the Cocks with Gamecock Man from Garnet and Black Attack

It seems to be a right of passage as a blogger to do a Q&A with an opponent's blogger. I was fortunate to be asked to participate in one by Gamecock Man over at Garnet and Black Attack, whom I think is one of the top outsiders blogging about any SEC team.

He took it easy on me with his questions and gave me thoughtful responses. My answers to his questions can be found here.

1. South Carolina struggled to convert chances against NC State. What will have to happen differently on Saturday to help mitigate that?

First of all, we have to gain yardage on first-down plays when we get inside the 15. Both times we got down there, we seemed to stall out immediately, which meant that we were in the hole from a play-calling perspective. Second of all, I was surprised that we never used either the match-up advantages our receivers give us or Stephen Garcia's legs to try to put it in the end zone. Tori Gurley and Weslye Saunders are both big guys that are built to catch the red-zone fade, and Garcia mobility would seem ideal for roll-out plays that usually seem to work in those situations. Finally, while touchdowns would always be nice when you get into the red zone, we have to manage to make field goals. This team has a good enough defense to win if it plays for field goals, but it can't afford to miss those 30-40 yarders.

2. Do you think the Cock's defense is much improved or was it a function of NC State's offensive woes? How does the defensive line match up with Georgia's offensive line? With the younger secondary, will the Cocks have to do anything that will take pressure off them to stop AJ Green?

Well, I wouldn't necessarily call it improved, as it was good last year until it buckled at the end of the year under the pressure the floundering offense was putting on it. However, I do think it's very good again this year. N. C. State didn't show me as much as I expected from them, but I do think our pass rush showed enough speed off the corners to pressure any team. That should only get better this week with Clifton Geathers returning.

The secondary I'm a little less sure of. They played well and made some key plays against N. C. State, but they also broke down a couple of times. Luckily, N. C. State dropped a key pass in the end zone one of the times this happened, so it didn't hurt us too much. A. J. Green will definitely be a challenge for this group. I expect Akeem Auguste will line up across Green most of the time; Auguste was impressive against N. C. State and seems to be the kind of player that can get into opposing player's heads with crunching hits and the like. However, I would imagine we'll use double teams with the safeties to keep an eye on Green, as well.

3. Is Garcia as good (or bad) as you thought he would be? If Garcia is who you feared he is, who will be the difference maker in this game and this season if South Carolina is to reach a New Year's Bowl game?

The jury is still out on Garcia, I think. He didn't have a breakout game against N. C. State, but those that are calling his performance a complete failure either don't understand football or just didn't watch the game. He managed the game well in a hostile environment, didn't throw into coverage, and overall seemed to make decent decisions. That's a far cry from what he looked like in the Outback Bowl. Of course, he also missed a couple of open receivers on what should have been big plays, seemed to get happy feet occasionally when the pocket began to collapse, and threw one bad interception while we were driving around midfield. All in all, I would call it an average performance that suggests he's improved since last season but still has a long way to go before he's All-SEC material.

I think Spurrier is hesitant to completely give the still-green Garcia the primary role in the offense. Instead, Spurrier wants to establish the run, and I think you'll also see him incorporate more low-risk plays to try to get players like Jarvis Giles and Moe Brown the ball in space to see if they can make plays. You'll certainly see Garcia throw downfield a few times, but I doubt we'll do that too much unless Garcia comes out looking hot early on.

Finally, if Garcia goes down, we're in trouble. We don't have a viable backup right now.

4. Why do the Gamecock fans circle this game on their calendar, behind the Clemson game, as the second biggest game of the year? If that isn't the case, why do you think Georgia fans think that?

That's not just Georgia fans' perception; I'd say the vast majority of Gamecocks fans consider this the biggest SEC game for us year in and year out. I know Georgia fans see us as a fourth- or fifth-most important rival at best and are sometimes surprised at how riled up we get for this game. However, you can understand this if you see our position as a newcomer in the SEC. Most of our historic rivals other than Clemson are ACC schools in North Carolina, such as N. C. State and UNC. We don't play these schools regularly anymore, and we're looking for a sense of rivalry with an SEC school. Georgia takes that spot because Georgia is the only team in the SEC that we have a historic series with, having played the 'Dawgs every year long before we joined the SEC.

Another elements in the rivalry, most likely, is that we've had relative success against Georgia. I think a lot of Gamecocks have trouble seeing Florida and Tennessee as rivals because they've almost always beaten us, often badly, although that's changing to some degree with Tennessee. On the flip side, we have really strong records against Kentucky and Vandy, so it's hard to see them as rivals. (The two recent losses to Vandy have definitely given that series more of a sense of urgency, though.) Against Georgia, on the other hand, we're accustomed to a close game and an occasional victory, regardless of where the two teams are ranked. That's another reason why none of the other SEC series gets Gamecocks fans going like the one with UGA. Take that for what it's worth.

As an aside, I should add that I think the Arkansas series--the Hogs are our annual SEC West opponent--is gaining a bit of steam. The distance between the two schools works against a real sense of rivalry, but the series has been tight and has featured some memorable matchups over the years, leading to the perception among both fanbases that it's an important game.

5. What do you think will happen in the game? Who will win and how will it go down?

While I think both offenses will look somewhat more effective as they continue to shake off the rust, I think the game will likely still be the sort of defensive clunker that is the signature of this series. That being the case, I think the team that wins the turnover battle will probably win the game. I think Carolina can win that turnover battle if our defensive front really gets in Joe Cox's hair and makes trouble for him. If Cox buckles and throws picks or fumbles in these situations, the game could swing Carolina's way. However, my head ultimately says that that Georgia will likely win the battle. Although I thought Garcia protected the ball pretty well against N. C. State, I'm still concerned that he's got a ways to go before he can really limit the turnovers. If Georgia takes the run away and forces Garcia to throw a lot, then one would think there's a good chance he'll turn it over a couple of times, especially in a hostile environment. I'd love to see him prove me wrong, though, and I saw some evidence that he can against N. C. State. Still, I think this will probably be another close, perhaps ugly Georgia victory. Don't be surprised when pre-game hysteria prompts me to change my mind when I write my preview the day of the game, though.

Bonus question(s): Will Steve Spurrier coach past this season at South Carolina? Who do you want to replace him? Who will replace him?
Well, I hope he coaches next year. If he doesn't, that probably means that the season will have ended up being another lackluster one and that Spurrier has gotten tired of trying or, if things really get bad, that he's been forced out. If the season is a relative success, I think you will definitely see Spurrier stay. This is a young team that should be better next year, and Spurrier knows that he may have a window for success in 2010, with Florida losing most of their starting lineup, Tennessee losing a number of key defensive players, and all of the Big Three breaking in new starting QBs next year. (Actually, the fact that Florida is losing so much next year makes 2010 a window for all SEC East teams, as I expect the Gators won't take long to retool.)

I'll be honest, though. Spurrier has underachieved over the past two years, and if it wasn't for the fact that he seems to have made some permanent inroads in the recruiting game, I and a lot of other Gamecocks fans would be much less supportive of him. Spurrier needs to show some progress this year to truly win back the fanbase. With this being a young team and the schedule being a buzzsaw this year, I don't necessarily think that "progress" needs to be measured by a breakthrough season, wins-wise. However, I do think this team needs to win at least seven games, and I think that the offense needs, at the very least, to become competent. If those things don't happen and 2010 looks like it will be yet another season like the last two have been, then I think you'll see the fans really become restless.

As far as replacements go, whether it's this year or five years from now, I would like to see Mark Dantonio of Michigan State as the next coach. Dantonio is a former Carolina player and has proven he can win at MSU. He'd be a great guy to cement whatever progress Spurrier has achieved by the time Spurrier leaves. My second choice would probably be Florida DC and former Carolina DC Charlie Strong, a guy who really deserves to be a head coach somewhere soon. Another, less proven option might be East Carolina coach Skip Holtz. I think any of these guys would be good choices and would probably come here, depending on the situation. However, I do think it's important that Spurrier proves that it's possible to do more than win seven games per year here. If he can't do that, top coaches may be wary of the job. That's probably especially true of Dantonio, who needs some incentive to believe that coming home to Carolina wouldn't be in effect taking a worse job than the one he has right now.

Many thanks to Gamecock Man asking me to participate and his thoughtful answers.

1 comment:

  1. Tells you how tough it is to be a Carolina fan when the fan considers what they've done against Georgia as "relatively successful" considering our record against Carolina is comparable to our record against Vanderbilt.

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