Wow. That game was exhausting as a FAN. I can't imagine what it must have been like on the field. I don't remember a game with such WIDE swings of momentum and emotion. The Dawgs and Gamecocks always seem to play nail biters...this one was only an exception in that both teams put points up at a Big 12 level.
By the way...there is a reason why there are all of those big beautiful buildings in Las Vegas. Before the game I would have told you there was no safer bet on the board than the under on this game...it was at 39. We surpassed that about halfway through the second quarter.
- Rennie Curran. As if his on-the-field exploits were not enough, David Hale reports that Rennie gave his own version of "The Promise" in a pregame speech to his teammates, promising to give every ounce of energy and heart that he has. And, as usual, he delivered...15 tackles, flying around the field, and for the second year in a row he makes the game saving play at the goal line to beat the Gamecocks. This guy is rapidly moving into my Top 5 Favorite Dawgs of All Time list.
- A.J. Green. Wow. Thank God we played this guy as a true freshman last year, because that's the only reason we're getting three years out of him...he's ready for the Show right now. Last night he made at least three plays that just set him apart: the hang-in-the-air-5-feet-off-the-ground catch he made off the pass that Cox threw into double coverage early, the touchdown catch where he elevated over two guys, made a great catch and was able to tap the left foot before falling out of bounds, and the utter physicality of the play where he broke one tackle, stiff-armed another guy all the way to Winder, and almost took it to the house (and should have had more yards...how was THAT play not a penalty, but when Reshad does the exact same thing at the other end it gets called?). As a matter of fact, don't just take my word for it...
- Speed, speed, speed. I mentioned in my post the week of the opener that one of the things I liked about this team was that it may be the fastest we have ever had. Well, we got a couple of examples of that last night. Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith can FLY, and they are game changers. We are adding more playmakers every year, and it is incumbent on the coaching staff to find ways to take advantage of them.
- Special teams. I struggled with how to rank the special teams in this game...so I'm going to cheat a little and mention them a couple of times. But there is no doubt that the special teams made some huge plays in this game. The kickoff return team was so dominant that Spurrier eventually stopped kicking to them. Team records in total return yards, and the longest KO return in school history by Boykin, at a time when the team DESPERATELY needed something good to happen. Blair Walsh continues to put last year behind him and drilled yet another field goal of 50+. And, of course, DeAngelo Tyson made what may have been the most important play of the game by blocking the PAT after the pick-6....without that play, the Cocks only need a FG to tie on that last drive rather than having to go for the TD.
And FINALLY...we started kicking the ball deep on kickoffs, with mostly great results. The Cocks returned one for a long return, which means of course that Coach Richt had to mention after the game as an example of why kicking it deep is so dangerous. WHATEVER. I would buy that argument a lot more if the other strategy was actually working, but the numbers tell me that we are actually MORE likely to give up a big return on the short directional kick.
- Joe Cox. Joe was tons more effective this week, so maybe the flu was the problem after all...that or the fact that he was starting his first game in three years on the road against a quality opponent (well...sort of quality). But whatever the difference, I feel a lot more confident in Joe now than I did this time last week. Only the pick-6 (which was horrendous) and a costly fumble kept him from being qualified as "great" this week.
And the fumble was his fault...he has to recognize that blitz at the line of scrimmage (since we didn't have enough protection on that side to account for it), or at least do a better job of ball security.
- Richard Samuel. He showed just as much improvement over last week as Joe, in my opinion. He ran HARD, breaking tackles and running through guys. Still needs to show the ability to break the long run, and I think that's coming...hopefully soon.
As a side note, where was he in the second quarter? After running so effectively on the drive where he scored the touchdown, he basically disappeared until late in the half. Anybody hear any reason for that, or was that just another weird personnel decision by our coaching staff?
- The O-line. For most of the night, this group gave Cox plenty of time to throw and did a nice job opening running lanes against a very good defensive front 7. They did give up a couple of sacks, and they had WAY too many penalties (more on that later).
- The Defense. Ugh...felt like late 2008 all over again. First of all, there were WAY too many missed tackles. I'm willing to cut them a LITTLE slack on that, since the problem seemed especially egregious late in both halves, when the D had been on the field for what seemed like hours. But...at least part of the blame for that goes on them, because if they could have made some stops they wouldn't have been out there so long.
We also struggled (again) getting to the quarterback. In this game, though, we actually got pretty consistent pressure...Garcia did a nice job escaping pressure, and there were a couple of times that guys just spun the wrong way and ended up missing him.
The biggest problem I had with the defense was this: the problems we had in the first half (middle of the field was WIDE OPEN all night, allowing Wesley Saunders to turn into Tony Gonzalez for a night) were the EXACT SAME problems we had in the second half. Now, I'm not enough of a football expert to tell you exactly what caused those problems...I can only tell you that we apparently did not make any adjustments at halftime to take away what was killing us in the first half.
My friends and I used to always say when VanGorder was here...whatever is working for the other team in the first half, they will need to find something else in the second half because VanGorder is going to shut that down. I have no such faith in this coaching staff.
- The Logan Gray experiment. If you're only going to bring him in for one random snap a game for him to run the QB zone read, don't bother. The only reason it makes sense is to give the opposing team something else to plan for. Right now, I don't think opposing defensive coaches are staying up late wondering how they are going to shut down Logan Gray for one snap a game.
Along the same lines...Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten made it on the field for a combined three snaps last night. Now that we have burned their redshirt years, we better find a way to get production out of them or those years are just wasted.
- Special Teams. Told you I was cheating with this one. For all the good that these units did, there was also this: fumbled kickoff return that led to a SC field goal, a botched snap over the punter's head for a safety, and a fake field goal by USC that brought back nightmares of the Sugar Bowl against West Virginia. So, yes, the special teams might very well be the reason we won this game...but they were also largely responsible for keeping the Cocks in the game at all.
By the way, I've decided Branden Smith is our own version of Forrest Gump...he's now returned THREE kicks from over 5 yards deep in the end zone, which suggests a possible mental deficiency...but, boy, when he does get to run he is FAST. Maybe we need one of those big STOP signs like they used for Forrest to use whenever he fields one deep in the end zone.
- PENALTIES. Speaking of 2008 flashbacks...13 penalties for 108 yards is absolutely unacceptable. This was a problem last year that manifested itself early on and just never got fixed. After all the talk in the offseason about how much more disciplined we were going to be, this was disheartening. Especially since so many of them were just penalties of stupidity...false starts, offsides, blatant holding. This has to stop NOW.
This was one of the most exciting games I have ever seen, but it wasn't particularly well played by either side. But one of the aspects of this season that I was looking forward to the most was this...NO STYLE POINTS. I will enjoy every win this year, no matter the opponent or the margin of victory. We still have a long way to go, but if we can somehow combine last week's defense with this week's offense and cut out some of the stupidity, this could still be a surprisingly good year.
1-0 in the SEC...I'll take it.