Monday, January 05, 2009

Bowl Game - My thoughts and observations ...

After the Clemson calamity in late November I couldn’t muster the energy or enthusiasm for putting together “My thoughts and observations” … Actually, I just parlayed the old adage of “if you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone then don’t say anything at all” by keeping my comments to myself … So, for the first time in eight or nine years I did not put together a synopsis of the ‘Death Valley Debacle’ … Not so today as I make the way home from Tampa, Fla., - site of the Outback Blowout! … Iowa 31-10 South Carolina ? and it wasn’t that close (much like the Clemson contest).

Tough Month - The result of the Outback Bowl punctuated what has been a sad month for Gamecock Nation … Along with routs in football by Florida, Clemson, and Iowa, USC fans have had to read about: academic casualties; coaching carousels; players not loving the University; NFL overtures by underclassmen; Williams-Brice Stadium expansion; and men’s basketball losses to Charleston and Clemson … I will address each of these issues below along with some other comments.

From 7-3 to 7-6 - For the second consecutive year the Gamecocks turn in a good first half of the season record into a very mediocre year … In 2007 it was from 6-1 to five straight losses … This year it was a 7-3 mark that winds up one game above .500 for a two-year tally of 13-12 … Sure the competition vs. Florida is a steep one as the Gators will try to reign in their second National Championship in the past three years vs. Oklahoma ? UF is simply in another class altogether athletically and that gap won’t be closing anytime soon in Columbia … The Clemson loss was inexplicable ? a terrible display of competitiveness and sportsmanship by the Gamecocks and a performance that left me bemoaning the fact that I have always stated that “I will never complain about a seven win football team at USC” … Then, South Carolina somehow manages to backdoor its way into a bigger challenge with a date vs. a much better Iowa gridiron crew in Tampa in a bowl that the Gamecocks did not deserve in 2008 … A trip to Nashville, Atlanta, or Memphis would have been a better fit this season than playing a hot and hungry Iowa squad … But, chances are that the result would have been the same because Carolina just has not played with any fire or gumption since the Tennessee game ? even the Arkansas victory in Columbia saw a lethargic Garnet & Black crew hold off the Hogs … Something is not right chemistry wise with the Gamecocks … I don’t know what it is except for the lack of leadership from key personnel members ? mainly upperclassmen … There seems to be a lack of ‘ownership’ with this unit and no one willingly to accept the role as ‘this is my team’ … Sure there are some decent individual players at South Carolina, but none exceptional in any specific category … Kenny McKinley is the one player that leaves it all on the field but no one else really exemplifies that kind of character game-in and game-out ? not Eric Norwood, not Jasper Brinkley, not Ryan Succop, etc. … A guy that seemingly loves the game of football and playing at Carolina is Pat DiMarco, but after that no one comes to mind … That, in a nutshell, is the problem in my eyes.

Bowl Fun - KCock93 and I drove down from Cayce via I-95 on Tuesday around 9:45 a.m. … \Following our protocol from the Florida trip a month earlier, we stopped in Pooler, Ga., at a Western Sizzlin’ and had a 6 ounce sirloin (medium) with a salad, baked potato, texas toast, and a chocolate/vanilla swirl ice cream … Then, we sat on I-95 for at least an hour ? literally a standstill on the interstate due to road construction on this strip of southeastern Georgia … Eventually we got moving again and got gas in Jacksonville, Fla., and made the trek across to Lake City where we picked up I-75 south into Tampa … We arrived around seven o’clock that evening and checked into the InterContinental (very nice hotel) in the Westshore district ? about two miles from the stadium and in a nice area … Our parents flew down from Columbia to Tampa and we met them for drinks and dinner at Shula’s Steakhouse in the lobby of the InterContinental … Excellent meal! … I tried the Ybor Gold lager during Happy Hour but opted for several Coronas at dinner (parents had red wine) … A 12 ounce filet mignon (medium) accompanied by deliciously seasoned mushrooms and steamed green beans made for a great meal … On Wednesday we all loaded into the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and made our way across Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg where we drove around sightseeing ? what a beautiful place! … I had visited this area during the first Outback Bowl Carolina played in 2000, but it was so cold then that we didn’t get out to enjoy the area … With perfect conditions (75 degrees and clear blue skies) we parked at The Pier and waltzed through a series of eclectic shops and restaurants known as BayWalk … The whole area is very clean and pleasing to the eye with lots of color everywhere … We happened upon a restaurant called Gratzi’s, which is an Italian eatery ? it was outstanding! … Our table devoured the house salads and bread that accompanied the entrees of chicken marsala, chicken parmigiana, and shrimp/angel hair pasta … The pasta was out of this world ? fresh as cold be ? and we washed it down with a couple of Peroni’s out on their covered terrace on the upper level of BayWalk … After lunch we returned to the InterContinental to rest before heading down to Ybor City for the bowl parade and dinner at Columbia’s ? a famed Cuban restaurant … One thing about Tampa and the Outback Bowl ? they put on a great show for the visiting teams and fans … We took a taxi from the hotel in anticipation of a crowded New Year’s Eve in Ybor and the cost was about $25 during rush hour … Once down on 7th Street we ran into some well traveled Gamecocks (Alex, Bill, Bobby, Kurt, Rhonda, etc.) that are everywhere USC plays … Then while drinking Coronas waiting on the parade to start our friends (Brad, Joni & Tanner / Brian & Stephanie) found us on the street despite the throng of Iowa fans in attendance ? everywhere you looked there was a sea of yellow and black … By the way, they spent four hours stopped in traffic Tuesday afternoon just south of Walterboro on I-95 and it took them 8 ½ hours to drive from Columbia to Jacksonville … I swear, the entire city of Iowa City (home of the Hawkeyes) must have moved south for the Outback Bowl … The call of “Let’s go Hawks” was a popular cry and one that drowned out any chants of “Let’s go Cocks” … The parade was a fun event but the actual flow was uneven due to a lot of wide gaps in between the performers … It lasted right at an hour and around 7:30 we mulled around the main drag of Ybor City until reporting to Columbia’s for drinks and our reservations at 8:30 … Wow! … This place was definitely one of the places to be on New Year’s Eve because it was absolutely packed with locals and bowl game visitors … Saw a bunch of the Carolina faithful in attendance and some guy from Atlanta, Ga., that is an Iowa fan and a dead-ringer look-alike of former Hawkeye football coach Hayden Fry … In fact, his poor excuse of a rug on his head was a carbon copy of the Hayden-esque look that I am positive many Iowans tried to emulate during the Hawkeye heyday of the 1980s … He was dead set that Iowa was going to bowl over South Carolina (no pun intended) and didn’t think the game would be close … When he asked my prediction and I responded with 31-6 Iowa he was amazed that a Gamecock fan would think that way ? I just told him that I was a realist and would be pleasantly surprised to be wrong (truth be known, I knew Carolina would have to play perfect just to be in the game) … My Dad didn’t seem to care much for the blabbermouth but I found him intriguing, especially with that atrocious toupe he so proudly displayed … Anyway, dinner was outstanding and worth the ½ hour wait despite having reservations … I had the Snapper Atlantica and my brother tried the Pompano (fish in a bag), while my parents dishes were of similar cuisine ? they were all super! … We wrapped it up and got a return taxi just outside the restaurant and to our surprise that besides Columbia’s, Ybor City looked deserted … Sharp contrast from earlier in the decade as it seems the 30s crowd of ChannelSide, the fireworks display elsewhere, and the fact that it was a weeknight meant that Ybor City has lost some of its luster to the native Tampans ? hard not to notice all of the closed businesses on the main street of the area as well … I didn’t even stay up to ring in the New Year in preparation of the next day’s bowl game.

Outback Bowl - We had breakfast at Shula’s and drove over to Raymond James Stadium around 9:30 a.m. ? the earliest we have ever gone over to the Outback Bowl … Glad we did! ... The place was jammed with Iowans everywhere and if I had to guess there must have been 25,000 Hawkeye fans (in retreat of the 5 degree weather back home) and probably around 15,000 Gamecock fans … The place was surprisingly busy for a pre-game bowl kicking off at 11 a.m. … We downed a couple of Natural Lights at the truck before heading in as we parked ($25) about 15 minutes from the stadium ? close in sight but a long and winding walk to the grounds … One thing you can say about the Tampa police, they were out in full force and very thorough in their street and parking lot patrols ? nice and comforting … One patrolman even hollered at us along with some other Carolina fans, “Come on Gamecock fans, the Hawkeyes are beating you across the street” ? that should have been a tell-tale sign of what we were about to witness … If I was attending the Outback Bowl as a neutral party ? i.e., some of the Florida, Texas, Michigan, or Ohio State fans that were in attendance in their team’s colors ? then it would have been hard not to cheer for the Black & Gold … Their fans were fired up and you could sense that this team ? and its fans ? were on a high after reeling off five wins in their final six regular season games including an upset of previously undefeated Penn State and a 55-0 drubbing at Minnesota (a bowl team) … The RJS personnel made us turn in our seat cushions at the gate and I knew that would be the last I ever saw of those battle tested foams … The facility is gorgeous and an envy of what modern stadia need to pattern themselves after ? from the walkways, restrooms, concession stands, chairback seats, signage, scoreboard, video boards, proximity to field, etc. … It really is a treat to watch a game in that kind of venue … Our seats were excellent ? Section 136, Row J (10 rows from the field) at the 42 yards line behind the Carolina bench … The weather was perfect ? 68 degrees, clear skies, and a good breeze … Then the game started! … After Iowa confirmed my worst fears ? an eight minute drive on its opening possession that saw the Hawkeyes pick up three long third downs thanks to the lack of coverage on a tight end ? plays covered by Marvin Sapp and Dion Lecorn (twice) … The ease in which Iowa moved the ball was frightening and quickly it was 7-0 … Then, Tampa’s prodigal son Stephen Garcia took the first snap under center and handed off to Mike Davis for a typical first down of negative yardage ? the surge by the Iowa defensive line left me shaking my head … This was promptly followed with Garcia missing a wide open Weslye Saunders down the middle of the field as he found the Iowa free safety who hauled in the pass like a center fielder positioning under a line drive … I looked at my Mom and said, “that’s the ballgame” … Minutes later it was 14-0 and the rout was on … Dating back to Florida that meant Carolina had dug itself into deficits of 21-0, 10-0, and 14-0 in the opening stanza alone ? won’t win (m)any games playing that kind of football … USC looked like it had spent its bowl preparation on vacation while Iowa looked sharp, fluid, and confident … The exclamation point of the game in my opinion was when Ryan Succop hit a very long field goal and yet South Carolina gets called for not having enough players on the line of scrimmage … Are you kidding me? … That is the most basic formation of football ? placekicking … Totally unprepared! … And to see Ray Rychleski’s histrionics on the sideline from Row J was sickening ? almost like he had been shot on spot and was being tormented to his death … Just a simple example of a terribly prepared team.

Failing Grades - I’m not going to call anyone out here as a student-athlete (I use that term loosely here), but to become ineligible ? for whatever reason ? in this day and age of college football is absurd … I am an alum of the University of South Carolina and I’m not knocking its academic reputation, but Ivy League standards it does not ? and never will ? possess … Show up to class and you are just about guaranteed a ‘C’ grade … Truthfully, I didn’t put a lot of effort into my studies while a student in the early 1990s, but I knew what I had to do to ‘get out’ in four years with a diploma in hand ? it wasn’t that hard! … Throw in the fact that every scholarship football player (everything paid for across the board) and even the squad members have unbelievable resources in terms of academic support … All that tells me is that some where, some how, and some way the message is not getting across to certain players on the football team … Maybe ‘The Dodie’ will address some of these issues, but I have a hard time believing a $15 million academic enrichment facility is needed to pass African-American studies, Interdisciplinary studies (whatever that is), or any other football generated majors … I just hope the light comes on for some of these guys because to have the opportunity to earn a college degree based on their football exploits (half of them never see the field anyway) is a waste if they don’t take care of the main reason you are in school.

Coming & Going - I was a little more than perplexed as to why former strength coach Mark Smith was on the sideline during the Outback Bowl in his customary long sleeve shirt (on a 70-degree and sun-splashed day at Raymond James Stadium) … Isn’t this guy an employee at the University of Tennessee now? … Well, maybe it was fitting for him to endure the up close dismantling of his troops as Iowa physically manhandled South Carolina for 60 minutes … USC looked so small and weak compared to the corn fed boys of the Midwest ? maybe he will turn the Volunteers into a similar style squad … And, the Gamecocks certainly have no speed to balance out the equation as Iowa was superior in all facets of a football team … One guy that wasn’t around to enjoy the football ‘vacation’ (which is what USC has looked like it was on since the bye week after the Florida game) was former recruiting coordinator David Reaves … All I have to say is that after seeing the Gators, Tigers, and Hawkeyes make mincemeat of the Gamecocks, I honestly believe that USC has very little talent across the board … It used to be that South Carolina could attract the skill positions, but the fact that the Gamecocks have had only two 1,000-yard rushers since joining the SEC leaves me thinking that Carolina is going to have to reevaluate who and where they recruit from … The local and in-state kids cannot cut it when you have to share the dozen or so Division I prospects with Clemson and anyone else who comes into raid the Palmetto State … The lines of scrimmage are sorely undersized, under developed, and under talented ? especially along the woeful offensive front … The recruiting gurus can give all of the high marks and praise that they want to come February, but it matters little each fall ? more busts than surprises at USC! … I am sure Coach Spurrier was a little perturbed by some of the comments by Reaves upon his departure from Columbia, especially after taking care of that family amidst his father’s drug addiction and David’s known issues of nightly carousing and bar hopping … I am all for having a good time, but the younger Reaves did not seem to grasp that his actions are watched closely by many that follow college football and the Gamecocks … There is another coach or two on the staff that better get their ducks in a row and straighten up in terms of the night life and such ? fans/administration can stomach it when things are rosy, but won’t put up with it when it comes down to wins and losses … I haven’t even mentioned the departed John Hunt who failed in about every way possible with the offensive line in his four years at USC … In fact, his best performance was when a pair of walk-ons came on strong for Carolina down the stretch in 2005 that propelled the Gamecocks to the Independence Bowl … The lack of development in this unit just typifies the entire offense’s problems … Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who received a very ill-timed raise and contract extension earlier in the season, floated overtures of head coaching possibilities at Army and Mississippi State, respectively … I just don’t see the lure of Johnson as a head coach unless it is at the I-AA level and his desire to stay in Columbia appears to be in a state of flux considering that he (and his wife) had pined for a return to their native state for so long … With an overhauled defensive unit next season, I suspect Carolina will have a tough time matching its early 2008 success and if the last three outings are any indication of what to expect more next year, then yikes! … I expected more with the arrival of Ray Rychleski and maybe a year in the Capital City will pay better dividends in 2009, but I didn’t notice too much improvement in the special teams ? not like I thought I would … It has been mentioned that Coach Spurrier has approached former USC standout Duce Staley about joining the Gamecocks coaching staff in some capacity … No doubt the West Columbia native and Airport High School graduate has the football credentials to serve as a link to the current players but the lack of a college degree seems to be a hurdle for that to happen … Staley, who co-hosts a sports radio talk show in Columbia, appears to have a passion much like USC fans in general ? for that he is popular … I don’t listen too much to the show due to work commitments and usually just pick it up while in my SUV, but he has agitated me a bit with his ‘homerism’ at times ? maybe that will parlay well into coaching ... I don’t know who will be hired/fired over the next few weeks but it will certainly be interesting ? and critical for the direction of this program.

No Love - Why can’t the current group of Gamecocks show some love for the University of South Carolina? … I saw that passion and pride on road trips to Oxford, Mississippi and Lexington, Kentucky, but something happened midway through this season and I have not been able to put my finger on it? … Was the defense’s lack of confidence in the offense too much of a toll to handle all year? … Could the pitiful quarterback play have left the offense in such a stalemate ? no matter who was the signal caller, USC gunslingers seemed to find the other team’s players as much as the ones on their own squad … The coaching shuffle of play calling between Coach Spurrier and his son, Junior, appeared to have been corrected but just 30 points in the final three games leaves a lot to be desired … The players complained that Coach Spurrier & Company were too hard on them ? are you kidding me? … That in itself is a fundamental problem if a guy at the collegiate level can’t take constructive criticism ? be better or get out! … The constant substitution patterns on the defensive line seemed to disrupt the continuity of that unit ? why sub a guy after two snaps? … The mass exodus of underclassmen on defense for the NFL ? Emmanuel Cook, Captain Munnerlyn, and Eric Norwood to name a few ? surely had an effect with this group … Is the NFL that watered down to warrant the caliber of these players? … Throw in the known departures of Jasper Brinkley, Jordin Lindsey, Dustin Lindsey, Carlos Thomas, Jonathan Williams, Stoney Woodson, etc., and it’s going to be a different look for USC in 2009 … Knowing the depth chart I wince at the thought of those guys waiting in the wings, but could they possibly be any worse than what Carolina has done the past three games ? 118 points allowed for a 39 point per game average … The off season is when leaders make themselves accountable and it’s time for USC’s players to step up in the weight room, classroom, and in their off the field actions ? fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.

Say No to YES - The USC Athletic Department has promoted the ‘Garnet Way’ to Gamecock Nation and the YES program for football seating … You know what ? put a product on the field that is worthy of such contributions and you may find people ponying up for such an investment … And folks, that is what it is ? an investment … Don’t give me any of this crap about ‘your love of the University’ and such is what warrants those financial measures ? B.S.! … This is 2009 not 1979 when I started attending Carolina football games … It’s a business and the bottom line in sports is wins and losses ? period … As a Gamecock Club member I expect a “return on investment” and losing to Clemson annually and Vanderbilt two years in a row does not sit well with me … I’ve attended every home and away football game except one (Arkansas 2005) since 2004 and have missed only two home games since 1979 (Clemson 1981 and Ball State 1998) … I have been to every venue in the SEC, have missed only one bowl game (Liberty 1988) of Carolina’s 10 since 1979, and consider myself a pretty knowledgeable college football fan … I know what kinds of facilities, fan bases, and economic influx the other schools have that South Carolina competes with on an annual basis ? I would put USC dead middle in the SEC ? that’s not bad considering the five above you win at an elite level in several sports while Carolina has zero football divisional titles, one SEC basketball championship, and no SEC East Division crowns in baseball in at least five years … Men’s soccer has not advanced to the postseason the past three years, the women’s basketball program is atrocious and is going to take some time to get better, softball seems to have enjoyed its better years, volleyball was better this fall but failed to make the postseason … I could go on and on, but it’s time for the coaches, players, and administration at South Carolina to give Gamecock fans something to crow about … Throwing money at the same problems has not worked in the past so with the riches of SEC membership that should allow USC to address some issues without relying on “Joe Fan” … Start with an internal healing and an admittance that some things need fixing and Carolina might find out that some fans are willing to help financially … Until then, I’m not contributing anything more than I am already doing … I will continue to support USC through the Gamecock Club, but many of my friends have already dropped their memberships in favor of flat screen home TVs and the creature comforts of their living rooms … The W-B is going to become a haven for aluminum reflections due to no fannies in the seats as long as a mediocre product is offered on the gridiron … It is time to do more with less at USC ? Carolina has already done less with more … It is time for our coaches to earn their keep and the sacred cows of their professions to wake up and stop living off the gravy train known as USC Athletics … Adjustments need\ to be made in the selling of the program all the way from the football announcing crew, to the marketing department, to the cheesy home basketball game presentation, etc. … Time for some changes!

Recruiting Rah-Rah - For the next month we will hear the rhetoric of recruiting gurus on local sports talk radio shows and in their writings on Gamecock message boards … I just ask to stop with the praising of these high school football players … Just report their facts ? heights, weights, 40 times, and what other schools actually offered scholarship papers to them … Nothing more! … I don’t need to hear any hype or B.S., about the “next great hope” ? there is no such thing … Give me guys that want to work hard, do right, love the fact that they are at USC, and enjoy playing football ? the rest is immaterial … Iowa proved that to me ? those guys rebounded from a 6-6 season a year ago and posted a 9-4 record in 2008 … I never see Iowa mentioned in the Top 20 when it comes to recruiting … However, they were the second best team I saw in person this year vs. Carolina ? the only one better was Florida … Iowa doesn’t try to out-cute you either ? it’s just line it up and play football on both sides of the ball ? how refreshing.

Winter Doldrums - I used to love college basketball … I remember the Independent days, the Metro Conference battles, and of course, the SEC encounters … However, with the season starting so dadgum early in the fall and taking so long to play a season, it just doesn’t interest me until January or so … I have been to four home games this year and sit in my Section 205 seats ? despite the ushers trying to get the upper deck faithful to move to the lower bowl where unused faculty, students, and corporate seats are awash in availability … The parking situation is pathetic as the University whores out its parking around Colonial Life Arena for ridiculous amounts over the course of an entire season … So, we make the trek from the bank parking lot across from Todd & Moore or through the Vista all the while passing empty parking lots … It is more like a chore watching USC these days … College basketball is supposed to be fun, but the way that Carolina promotes this sport is nauseating … Some local yokel television personality bounces around the arena asking people “to give it up” while yelling into the microphone … The silly promotions, the endless number of timeouts in the game today, the movement of chairs to mid-court for each USC pep talk, the lack of consistency in scoreboard names or players actually in the game, the reverberation of the loud sound system around an empty arena, etc., it’s just enough to turn you off of Gamecock Basketball … Throw in the fact that Carolina will be fortunate to win five league contests and it’s going to be a long winter for hardwood fans … At least there are some good restaurants in the Vista and surrounding area to make the trip worthwhile.

Good luck to you and yours in the New Year of 2009 and Go Cocks!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Week #12 - My thoughts and observations …

JAX Bound – KCock93 and I loaded up the Ford Explorer Sport Trac Friday morning and departed Cayce at 10:15 … The weather was terrible until we reached I-95 as a driving rain accompanied us for the first 60 miles … But, once we were able to “get going” at a good pace we stopped at a Western Sizzlin’ for lunch in Pooler, Ga. … We were looking for ‘local fare’, but since the Sizzlin’ had closed its doors on Knox Abbott Drive in Cayce some years ago, we decided to give it a try for nostalgia sake … We each ordered the petit sirloin and with the accompaniment of a salad, yeast roll, Texas toast, baked potato, brownie, and tea you could hardly go wrong with the $12 price tag – total! … An older lady was our waitress and she was super nice … She informed us that she had a daughter living in Gaston, S.C., after living several years in Lugoff – she preferred the drive to Gaston, which shaves about an hour off her trip from near Savannah … She also told us that her neighbor’s house had burned down that morning and that she had driven back home twice to make sure her home was not affected – talk about too much information for folks passing through … Oh well, I guess if it gave her some peace of mind to get it off her chest that it was worth listening while we shoveled food down our throats … After lunch we got back on track and made good time as we pulled over for a gas fill up in Kingsland, Ga., just above the Florida state line … We were checked into the Holiday Inn Express around 3:30 p.m., and since our parents were heading down later that afternoon we decided to wait upon their arrival … My mother has always been a Gamecock fan and was a regular attendee at Williams-Brice Stadium for more than 25 years, but some time in the mid-1990s she chucked it pretty much altogether for the comforts of my parents home … My father is a USC die-hard (guess apples don’t fall from the tree) at football, men’s basketball, men’s soccer, and baseball games but he always finds a way to get Mom to take in the Florida football game – every other year in Gainesville! … I think the main reason Mom is willing to go is because they generally eat at some nice places and this weekend was no different – much to the liking of my tastebuds and wallet .

The Chart House – Our parents had made reservations at The Chart House at Jacksonville Landing and the place has an aquatic décor of oyster and clam shell ornaments along with a seafarer’s theme throughout the establishment … After KC93 and I polished off a couple of Coronas at the bar while my parents enjoyed a couple of Grey Goose martinis, we were seated right by a window overlooking the St. John’s River … If I have my stories correct, my grandfather on my Dad’s side, was the state sales manager for Jim Beam a number of years ago and while working in Jacksonville one week he was entertaining some clients by the river when a stiff wind blew his favorite Bear Bryant type fedora into the water below – he had several other hats in that same style, but that one was his favorite and I remember listening to him lament the fact that he had lost it in such fashion … Anyway, my father, brother, and myself enjoyed oysters on the half shell while my mother tried the lump crab stacked on a mango salad – exquisite appetizers! … For entrées my brother and father had the outstanding Snapper Hemingway, my Mom dined on a lobster tail, and I had the scrumptious blackened Mahi Mahi – great texture and good heat for seasoning … KC93 and I continued through the meal with another 4-5 Coronas and my parents shared a bottle of red wine … Great meal and fun time by all … We got back to the HIE around 11:15 p.m., and called it a night in preparation for the SEC “Game of the Week” in Gainesville.

North Florida – One thing that is always a constant in north Florida is the presence of the much maligned jorts, mullets, tank tops, and mud bogging … Some things never change! … On the way down from JAX to G-ville Saturday morning we pulled over to grab a $7 bag of boiled green peanuts that were absolutely incredible! … They were literally pulled right out of the pot on Hwy. 301 and the vendor told me that he does this for every home game as he buys the goobers from a local supplier … Of course, their Gator attire consisted of some royal blue t-shirts replete with the infamous jorts and crocs – fashion wear for adults that is "a sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament" (kudos Austin Powers) … The trip through the north central part of the Sunshine State is really an eye opener as you roll (literally thanks to the constant flux of speed traps) past the towns of Baldwin, Lawtey, Starke, and Waldo – nothing like the pride of a prison system to keep these areas thriving (remember Ted Bundy)? … It was pouring rain when we awoke in Jacksonville but luckily had cleared for the trip down and we made the 1 ½ hour drive in nice weather.

UF Tailgating – There might not be a better place in the SEC to tailgate than on the outskirts of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium … In 2006 we found a spot near the J. Wayne Reitz Union Center, which serves as the student union for the UF campus – kind of like the Russell House at USC … It is situated off Museum Road and if you get there earlier enough (i.e., 11:00 a.m., for a 3:30 p.m., game) parking is free under a canopy of trees covered in Spanish moss … We met a guy from Naples, Fla., who – also donning crocs – let me know that he wasn’t a resident of Gainesville, but that he had spent 8 ½ years of his life getting an undergraduate degree … He was nice enough to allow us into their area as he blared a Neil Young tribute CD from his Suburban and grilled every kind of meat under the sun, um, clouds, throughout the day … About an hour later my friend K.P., his wife K.P., and his two friends arrived to tailgate with us … The great thing about the Reitz Union Center is that the bathrooms are located on the bottom floor and are clean as a whistle … Another plus is that the center has a food court with a wide selection of foods and we opted for Subway sandwiches since we had a good breakfast at the HIE earlier in the day … One note, we never saw any law enforcement enact the open container policy, because we just drank our canned Natural Light beer out of koozies, but we did hear that several people were warned for not having their alcoholic beverages in cups.

56-6 – Oh yeah, there was a game Saturday afternoon as well … One of the garnet-colored wearing glass co-owners of a Gamecock website kept spewing on the radio Friday morning that USC fans would see a revolutionary style of offensive innovation and trickery beyond the imagination on special teams – I saw both at Florida and I never want to see that display again … Awful … In a span of 2:15 late in the first quarter the game was over and the next three-plus quarters is still a blur to me after watching those all blue uniforms with orange helmets zoom all over the gridiron … Gamecock Nation was well represented in Gainesville, but even the Orange & Blue faithful hit the exits early at The Swamp as the game was 28-3 at the half – and an identical score line the next 30 minutes … We stayed until the final whistle and good luck to the Gators in their quest for another National Championship … P.S. – The Swamp does not have a bad view in the stadium and the UF administration pulled off another great flyover that featured

Game Thoughts – Someone needs to get Urban Meyer a uniform with a jersey number on it, because I have never seen a coach stay on the field as long as this guy does … He rants, raves, and wreaks havoc on the Florida sidelines to the point that an astute SEC official should flag him for “over coaching” … My goodness – what is there to do as the head coach at Florida? … If I was a Gator fan, I would be asking how in the world this team lost a game this year … The speed of Florida is simply incredible and even though South Carolina is a SEC-fast team compared to other regions of the country, there is no team that is any faster than the 2008 Gators – unreal … Kenny McKinley made six tough catches for 37 yards, Spencer Lanning logged 10 punts for a 40 yard average and downed three inside the 20 yard line, and Ryan Succop was true on both field goal attempts from 41 and 44 yards … Other than that – nothing to write home about regarding individual superlatives … A former great mid-1970s quarterback at South Carolina sat behind us and was involved in a verbal exchange with a couple of Florida fans midway through the first quarter and even indicated that a little bit of pushing was going on, but I didn’t pick up everything with my headphones on … I do know that the couple got up and left midway through the second quarter because the guy kept complaining about sitting in the USC section – real loyal fan with seats like those :-).

Postgame – What more was there to say? … We ran into one of our long time buddies J.C., on the way out and he was down at The Swamp on a “guy’s weekend” with his stepson … We just laughed at what had transpired and said leave the loss in Florida and get ready for the open date and Clemson! … We didn’t waste any time getting out of town and fortunately a police woman gave us a break when she opened up another lane of traffic for us to get left out of the Reitz Union Center lot so that we could circle around to University Drive and the route out of Gainesville … With my parents in tow – we decided to make it a late supper at Morton’s Steakhouse in Jacksonville down near the waterfront … It was excellent and the host, Alex, was extremely helpful and courteous as we were still in our game wardrobes … Come to find out he is an avid Florida State fan and was keeping us posted on the FSU/Boston College game … He told us that Jeff Fisher, head coach of the undefeated Tennessee Titans, usually dines at Morton’s the night before the game, but that he had broken tradition this weekend … We all ordered the single cut filet mignons after three of us enjoyed the Chopped Salad while my Dad ate a Beefsteak Tomato Salad … Accompanied by steamed jumbo asparagus and sautéed mushrooms the meal was perfect along with a couple of Sam Adams’ Oktoberfest beers for KC93 and myself while the folks downed a bottle of red wine.

Sunday Drive – We eschewed the HIE breakfast and got on up the road stopping once in Kingsland, Ga., for gas … Great weather allowed KC93 to put it in the wind and driving time from south Jacksonville was 4 hours, 15 minutes (8:45 am – 1:00 pm) and with one breakfast stop at Burger King during our gas stop we made it back to Cayce in great fashion.

Open Date & Clemson – Another free weekend that comes at a great time for the Gamecocks … Get the Florida game out of the system altogether and let’s go take care of a 5-5 Clemson team that has to win its final two contests at Virginia and vs. South Carolina to qualify for a bowl game … Give me 7-8 wins a year and a victory vs. Clemson and it’s a big season at South Carolina … I’ve been attending since 1979 and USC has recorded a ‘W’ just eight times vs. the Tigers in that span … Carolina owns a 5-8-1 record at Memorial Stadium during this time frame … Another statistic is that during those 29 seasons the team with the better record entering the game has won 20 times, lost eight games, and one decision ended in a tie … Three of the last four outings has seen the team with the lesser record win the contest.

*** 1979 CU 8-2, SC 7-3, SC WIN
*** 1980 CU 5-5, SC 8-2
1981 CU 10-0, SC 6-4
1982 CU 7-1-1, SC 4-6
1983 CU 8-1-1, SC 5-5
1984 CU 7-3, SC 9-1, SC WIN
1985 CU 5-5, SC 5-5
1986 CU 7-2-1, SC 3-6-1, TIE
*** 1987 CU 9-1, SC 7-2, SC WIN
1988 CU 8-2, SC 8-2
1989 CU 8-2, SC 6-3-1
1990 CU 8-2, SC 5-4
1991 CU 7-1-1, SC 3-5-2
*** 1992 CU 5-5, SC 4-6, SC WIN
1993 CU 7-3, SC 5-5
1994 CU 5-5, SC 5-5, SC WIN
1995 CU 7-3, SC 4-5-1
*** 1996 CU 7-3, SC 5-5, SC WIN
1997 CU 6-4, SC 5-5
1998 CU 2-8, SC 1-9
1999 CU 5-5, SC 0-10
2000 CU 8-2, SC 7-3
2001 CU 5-4, SC 7-3, SC WIN
2002 CU 6-5, SC 5-6
2003 CU 7-4, SC 5-6
*** 2004 CU 5-5, SC 6-4
*** 2005 CU 6-4, SC 7-3
*** 2006 CU 8-3, SC 6-5, SC WIN
2007 CU 8-3, SC 6-5
2008 CU 5-5, SC 7-4

Soccer – Kudos to Coach Shelley Smith’s squad that reached the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season, but just like 2007, the Gamecocks bowed out in the First Round in extra time … Carolina’s 3-2 loss to William & Mary at Durham, N.C., ended USC’s season at 11-7-4 overall … Danila Monteiro is the only senior departing this squad so Carolina should be in good shape to challenge for a top four finish in the SEC in 2009 … As for the men’s squad, Coach Mark Berson’s 31st team ended its year with an 8-6-5 mark after posting a 1-1 record at the Conference USA Tournament … USC whipped host SMU, 3-0, but dropped a 2-0 decision to C-USA regular season and tourney champion, Tulsa … Four seniors – Kevan Hawkins, Spencer Lewis, David Smith, and Brennan Williams – depart Columbia, but the nucleus of some now well-seasoned players return for 2009 … Next year is a critical season for the Gamecocks, which reached the NCAAs 17 times from 1985-2005, but has missed postseason play each of the last three years despite posting a 30-16-6 (.635) record (11-5-1, 11-5, 8-6-5) … A reminder to all that in men’s soccer only 48 teams make the postseason tourney out of 200+ teams and 32 of those spots are automatic bids to conference champions … It’s probably the toughest playoffs to qualify for in any NCAA sport … However, there is enough talent at Stone Stadium to finish 1-2 in C-USA next year and make a run in the postseason – something that has not happened for the Gamecocks since 1998.

M-Basketball – Is it just me or does the home court at Colonial Life Arena not look awful? … I wasn’t a big fan of the gradient fill of the foul lanes and actually prefer the new look in that regard, but the lettering on the rest of the floor is gaudy to say the least … Congratulations to Coach Darrin Horn for becoming the first men’s basketball coach at USC to win his first two games since World War II (that is a stat I heard today and I’m not looking it up but it sounds about right) … Anyone else having a hard time getting jazzed up about basketball season before Thanksgiving? … I have always felt that the sport should not start until December since it is played until the first weekend of April as this part of the country just doesn’t get into games against the likes of Jacksonville State, Gardner-Webb, N.C. Central, etc. … The women play arch-rival Clemson on Wednesday and hopefully Coach Dawn Staley’s troops can level their mark at 1-1 after dropping the season opener at Penn State.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Week #11 - My thoughts and observations ...

Last Home Game - Hard to believe that November 8 was the last home game of the 2008 season (my the time has flown by) ... Looking back through the annals, USC closed out its home slate on 11/6/04 vs. Arkansas and 10/28/00 vs. Tennessee as the earliest last home games in recent memory ... We had a great time tailgating on a clear and windy day in the Capital City ... We arrived at the Farmers Market around 9:15 and enjoyed Bojangle's biscuits and a homemade sausage/egg/cheese casserole for breakfast and a batch of homemade sausage/cheese dip with tortilla chips as a pregame snack -- nice tribute to the "Swine of the South", Arkansas! ... Of course, the Natural Light was flowing and a good time was had by all in preparation for the home finale.

BBQ, Rkansaw Style - No need to discuss too much of the game now that it's Monday, but USC showed its mettle late in the third quarter when Jordin Lindsey stretched up from his defensive end position and intercepted Casey Dick's pass and then rumbled 40 yards to turn a 20-14 affair into an insurmountable two touchdown lead that was secured when quarterback Stephen Garcia connected with wide receiver Kenny McKinley on the patented fade route to ensure the victory ... Early on I thought the game could turn into a laugher when USC raced to a 10-0 lead and then led by the same margin at intermission (17-7) ... However, give the Hogs and Coach Bobby Petrino credit that they hung in there despite not having nearly the amount of talent they possessed the past couple of years ... Every time Carolina seemingly was ready to put the game away the Razorbacks somehow managed to cut into the deficit, but in the end the better team won a pretty entertaining contest at Williams-Brice Stadium ... Congratulations to cornerback Addison Williams who picked off the first pass of his USC career in the first quarter ... Kudos also to Stoney Woodson who intercepted a pass for the fourth time this year - a team high and I believe the eighth in his career - underrated player for the Gamecocks ... Ryan Succop drilled a 54-yard field goal and followed it up with a 37-yarder, but it perplexes me as to how he could miss the 25-yard chip shot -- the good news is that he has connected on five of his last seven attempts after struggling through a one-of-six span a month ago ... Eric Norwood (9 tackles, 3 sacks) and Darian Stewart (7 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 pass broken up) were menacing behind the line of scrimmage as Chris Culliver and Marvin Sapp provided super cover with seven stops a piece ... My favorite Gamecock this year has been Akeem Auguste and he tallied six stops and a PBU ... I didn't know what to think of Petrino after his carousel with Louisville, the Atlanta Falcons, and then Arkansas, but he's a good coach and feel he will have Arkansas back in the hunt sooner rather than later in the SEC West.

Moving On Up - South Carolina's victory on Saturday enabled the Gamecocks to swap positions with Arkansas as the best sub-.500 SEC team since 2000 in league play ... In 71 SEC games during that span USC owns a 34-37 (.479) mark which is better than five other SEC foes: Arkansas (33-37, .471); Ole Miss (27-43, .386); Kentucky (18-52, .257); Miss. State (16-53, .232); and Vanderbilt (12-58, .171) ... The top half of the SEC the past nine years is as follows: Florida (52-19, .732); LSU (50-20, .714); Georgia (50-21, .704); Auburn (49-21, .700); Tennessee (45-26, .634); and Alabama (35-34, .507) ... Plus, the win vs. the Razorbacks improved USC to 5-4 vs. Arkansas in Columbia and 7-10 overall against Carolina's permanent SEC West Division rival.

Halcyon Days - Don't look now South Carolina football fans, but this is the "golden era" for the gridiron Gamecocks! ... Dating back to 2004, USC has compiled .500 or better seasons for five consecutive seasons ... As a fan since 1979 I'll take that kind of production every year as long as it includes bowl games -- 2004 (brawl) and 2007 saw those goals missed -- and a 50/50 result with Clemson ... However, the Gamecocks have now proven that they belong in the Southeastern Conference when it comes to football and a span of such "success" should not be scoffed at as a 34-24 (.586) record overall and a 19-20 SEC mark are impressive totals considering how tough this league is in football ... Since 2000, USC is 61-45 (.581) overall.

2008, 7-3 (4-3) Bowl Game
2007, 6-6 (3-5)
2006, 8-5 (3-5) Liberty Bowl Champions
2005, 7-5 (5-3) Independence Bowl
2004, 6-5 (4-4)
2003, 5-7 (2-6)
2002, 5-7 (3-5)
2001, 9-3 (5-3) Outback Bowl Champions
2000, 8-4 (5-3) Outback Bowl Champions

Recruiting - This is a cut-and-paste of my comments regarding the recruitment of Chris Bonds from last week ... I'm not much for the recruiting process and the ins-and-outs of the business, but here's hoping Chris Bonds finds "greener pastures" elsewhere than Columbia ... This young man has gotten on my nerves the past four years with the constant open door policy at South Carolina and yet does not include the Gamecocks in the final three. So be it ... I like Jay Frye at Richland Northeast HS and know it's his goal to see his players get opportunities at the next level -- where ever that may be ... I have no problem with that whatsoever ... But, this guy is totally overrated and really has not improved enough to warrant any more attention from the Gamecocks ... Not playing his final prep games tells me a lot about the character of this kid! ... I coach high school kids and if a player "opted out" for his own sake due to "not wanting to get hurt', then he can go ahead and turn in his uniform ... No doubt that the folks at RNE have bent over backwards through his career there and helped him along after numerous injuries and setbacks ... The least he could do is "man up" and "be a guy" ... Soft! ... That is what recruiting is about (discussing 17 year old decisions) ... Bonds is not new to the process ... He milked it for everything it is worth - for this I applaud him ... However, it's time for USC to cut the umbilical cord in Columbia and let him go afar the next 2 1/2 months until he signs ... "No room at the Inn" is what I would tell him ... Good luck to him and I hope he prospers, but it's time for Chris & Company to leave the Garnet & Black alone ... Good for David Reaves (AND HIGHER UP THE CHAIN) ... Glad to know the "open bar" has been closed to some locals! ... I stated this a long time ago ... I don't get involved in recruiting for this reason alone ... However, this guy has been in the limelight of football recruiting since his 8th grade year and kudos to him for milking the system ... However, he has not progressed as a player and is probably as good as he's going to be - reminds me a lot of JJ Brown from several years ago ... No problem in that either, because he's going to get his collegiate education paid for - and he needs to take advantage of that opportunity ... I'm just glad it won't be in Columbia ... Not jaded - just relieved! ... Phil Kornblut's family is zoned for RNE HS and his son played football for the Cavaliers ... They are "close" in that regard ... I don't want anything bad for the Bonds Family - just don't want Chris logging a scholarship at South Carolina - maybe as an invited walk-on and perhaps a scholarship later on if he can prove his worth (and health) ... Simple as that.

Big Point Spread - The Associated Press has the Gamecocks (7-3) ranked #24 nationally and Florida (8-1) #3, respectively ... The Gators have wrapped up the SEC East Division and will play Alabama (10-0) for the Southeastern Conference Championship in December so the only thing riding on this game between bowl-bound teams is pride -- essentially that is it ... I hope South Carolina approaches the game with a free-for-all attitude and that Coach Spurrier throws caution to the wind and unveils his bag of tricks because with an open date before heading up to arch-rival Clemson this is an excellent opportunity to knock off the three-touchdown favorites -- or at least take them to the wire like the 2006 squad was able to do ... Since joining the SEC for football in 1992 Florida owns a 19.7-point margin of victory at Gainesville vs. USC (35.1-15.4) ... As good as Carolina's defense has been this year (130 points allowed in SEC play for an 18.6 average), Florida's has been even more impressive with just 94 points allowed (13.4 average) ... Factor in that the Gators have almost doubled the Gamecocks in SEC points scored (303-157) and the odds-makers have this matchup ending in a rout ... This game reminds me of the 2000 clash with UF at The Swamp that the Gators rebounded from a poor start to steamroll the Gamecocks 41-21 ... As a bettor I like South Carolina and the 22 points and a four-quarter game is what I hope to see at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this Saturday ... Go Cocks!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Week #10 - My thoughts and observations

My thoughts and observations …

Condolences – First off, I would like to express my condolences to the family of James Wingo, who passed away Monday, November 3, 2008 … He sat directly behind me for more than 20 years in Section 9 and battled Alzheimer’s the past couple of years … Mr. Wingo was a track standout at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson and was a Letterman in the same sport at the University of South Carolina … His son, Stuart, and I basically grew up together at Williams-Brice Stadium throughout the years and I wish the Wingo Family my condolences at this time … Also, my cousin BKB lost his maternal grandfather this past week and the service was Sunday in Columbia … His grandfather, Buddy Sullivan, was a very good athlete at Dreher High School and during the Outback Bowl season in 2000 we had the opportunity to visit him at his Pinellas Park, Fla., home near Tampa … My thoughts are with my aunt, uncle, and BKB … P.S. – A “Berrian” alert went out at the service … Boy, you out there?

Tailgating – The easiest trip to Williams-Brice Stadium this year occurred this past Saturday … We ventured out the 12th Street Extension in Cayce via I-277 and Bluff Road and were parked by 3 o’clock … Where were the Gamecock fans? … If anyone parks at Stadium Place let me in on some information – is it still open? … Every time we’re heading to the game that place looks like a bomb has exploded because no one is around … What gives? … Do they not open the gates early? … Anyway, lots of cold Natural Light accompanied a D’s Wings (Parkland Plaza in Cayce) spread … Our Kingsport, TN fan that makes every USC home game (and a bunch of the away games, too) was primed to take a “W” back to share with his Big Orange brethren in eastern Tennessee and he was not disappointed as Carolina won for only the third time vs. UT since joining the SEC for football in 1992 … We stayed around for about an hour after the game, but with the early exodus of so many Gamecock fans and the lack of attendance by the Big Orange faithful we were able to scoot home relatively quickly postgame.

ScUTtled – USC took care of their chief SEC East Division nemesis, Tennessee, in fine fashion (27-6) on Saturday in Columbia … The Gamecocks dominated from start to finish and the outcome was never in doubt after Stoney Woodson made a perfect break on Nick Stephens’ pass and raced 68 yards for a score to give Carolina a two touchdown advantage on the first play of the second quarter … For some reason USC had not been able to buck the single-digit trend of losing vs. the Vols as seven of the previous eight meetings had been decided by that form and yet only one of those games was a Gamecock victory … Hopefully, this will be a watershed win and perhaps a changing of the middle tier in the Division as SC and UT have split the past four encounters … Since 2005, USC is 14-16 in the SEC while UT owns a 15-15 mark … One note, in 1992 when South Carolina upset Tennessee 24-23 on Halloween day in Columbia, I was working at USC in the Sports Information Department under the direction of Kerry Tharp (Tom Price had just retired and “KT” and Brian Binette ran the day-to-day office operations) … Tharp, a native of Louisville, Ky., earned his Master’s Degree at UT and worked in the SID for long time UT SID, Bud Ford … The evening before the football game a Cockaboose (new to USC at the time) was the setting for a UT gathering and Coach Johnny Majors was the guest – I had the privilege of shuttling Coach Majors around with some other UT folks in my 1988 Jeep Cherokee Laredo between the USC campus and their hotel headquarters off Two Notch Road in northeast Columbia … It is amazing how much you can soak up and learn when you are in the company of such respected folks in their professions and you could not have met a nicer gentleman than Coach Majors … However, the next day UT slipped on a banana peel as a resurgent USC team – led by walkon linebacker Hank Campbell – stopped James Stewart and the Volunteers on a two-point conversion with less 1:30 remaining in the game – Trick or Treat! … That was basically the end for Coach Majors and the Phil Fulmer era began at UT … I’ve never been a Gamecock fan to dislike Coach Fulmer, because entering the year he was 147-45 overall with a National Championship, a pair of SEC titles, and five East Division crowns … Plus, I have met a couple of his long time assistants (Dan Brooks and John Chavis) who we share a mutual friend … Only legendary Coach Robert Neyland has coached or won more games in Knoxville and Fulmer owned an 8-8 mark in bowl games … Here’s wishing good luck to the Great Pumpkin!

Catapults – If you are an aspiring punter or just like to see a lot of hang time then the Palmetto State’s Capital City was the place to be for you on Saturday … I can’t remember more punts in a game as Carolina’s Spencer Lanning matched kick for kick the entire Colquitt Clan – this time with Britton doing the duties … Lanning (8-360 yards) and Colquitt (9-408 yards) probably needed crutches on Sunday as the duo combined for 17 punts, 768 yards, a 45+ yard average, and even downed five inside the 20 yard line … Whew! … Not to be outdone were the punt coverages of both teams as Carolina allowed only 31 yards on seven returns Tennessee bettered those numbers with marks of two returns for -2 yards – impressive for both teams! … #29 Chris Hail was excellent on his coverage as was #59 Charles Turner and – my boy – #3 Akeem Auguste!

Perfect Palmettos – Kudos to whomever came up with the Palmetto Tree logos opposite the SEC logos at Williams-Brice Stadium … Again, another indication that the current administration “gets it” when it comes to the little things … Selling your program as a SEC member and the flagship institution of the Palmetto State is a no-brainer and that is a super “touch” on the gridiron.

SEC Since 2000 – A win vs. Arkansas or Florida would give South Carolina its fifth .500 or better SEC campaign in nine seasons … In fact, a victory this coming Saturday vs. the Hogs would flip-flop positions between the permanent SEC East/West foes … SEC records since 2000: #1 Florida (51-19, .729); #2 LSU (50-19, .725); #3-T Auburn (49-21, .700); #3-T Georgia (49-21, .700); #5 Tennessee (45-26, .634); #6 Alabama (35-34, .507); #7 Arkansas (33-36, .478); #8 SOUTH CAROLINA (33-37, .471); #9 Ole Miss (27-43, .386); #10 Kentucky (18-51, .261); #11 Miss. State (16-53, .232); and #12 Vanderbilt (12-57, .174) … .500 or better seasons since 2000: 9 – Florida, Georgia; 8 – Auburn, LSU; 7 – Tennessee; 5 – Alabama, Arkansas; 4 – SOUTH CAROLINA; 3 – Ole Miss; 2 – Miss. State; 1 – Kentucky; and 0 – Vanderbilt.

Bowling – Barring a melee in the finale at Clemson and Gamecock Nation should be afforded the opportunity to go “bowling” this postseason at a pretty desirable locale … I love that time of year as it puts an exclamation point on what has been a pretty good season of gridiron action … I have only missed one bowl game (1988 Liberty) since 1979 and the postseason trips are an absolute blast … I fully expect South Carolina’s defense to shut down Arkansas this week and a scoreline of 27-13 looks about right to me … That would give USC seven victories with two games remaining – that’s in the realm of Outback and Chick-fil-A destinations with the outside chance of perhaps a CapitalOne, Cotton (mainly SEC West), or if things don’t go right then a Music City … Either way, get on the road and support the Garnet & Black! … Being bowl eligible last year and in 2004 and not going left a bad taste in my mouth and I fully enjoyed the trips to the Independence and Liberty Bowls – no such thing as a “bad bowl”! … Plus, the Gamecocks are 4-1 in their last five trips after starting 0-8 – nothing like fun at a neutral site against other big-time conferences.

Sooiee Pig – Time to stick ‘Tusk’ on a BBQ pit as the Razorbacks invade Columbia this Saturday … USC is 4-4 vs. Arkansas at The W-B and it’s time we get over the .500 mark at home in this series … The Hogs lead overall 10-6 in a series played annually since 1992 … Arkansas owns 3-1 marks at Fayetteville and Little Rock, respectively … Three of the last four meetings have seen a lot of points scored, including 84 last year (SC 36-48 AR) … In 2006, the Hogs outlasted USC 26-20 and in 2004 Lou Holtz recorded his final Carolina victory with a 35-32 win … The lone defensive struggle recently was a 14-10 win by USC in 2005 at Fayetteville.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Week #9 - My thoughts and observations …

Open Date – Thank goodness! … Eight straight weeks of Carolina Football is a grind no matter how much you love the sport and following the team … This season has already included trips to Nashville-TN, Oxford-MS, and Lexington-KY and five home games … USC is 5-3 on the year and 2-3 in SEC action … The Gamecocks sport a 3-2 record at Williams-Brice Stadium and a 2-1 mark on the road ... I plan on doing as little as possible when it comes to college football this week to gear up for the stretch run that includes two crucial home contests vs. Tennessee and Arkansas after the break – no reason USC shouldn’t be favored to win those games and if we come back for the November 15 game at Florida with a 7-3 record overall and a 4-3 SEC mark, then there will be all to play for with a potential SEC East Division title within reach.

Pregame – We left Cayce en route to the State Farmers Market around 3 o’clock on Saturday … We opted for the 12th Street Extension, I-77, and Bluff Road path and made our parking spot in the Watermelon Shed around 3:20 p.m. – no problems with S.C. State Fair traffic (that is always so overrated) … The cold Natural Light flowed from the outset and we tailgated with Zesto’s broasted chicken, French fries, cole slaw (best in Columbia), and rolls … It was a lively tailgate following consecutive SEC road victories and everyone was in high spirits for the 8 p.m., kickoff … The infamous D.E., sat with me during the game and we had a good time cheering on the Gamecocks.

LSU – No use dwelling on the negatives, LSU is a better football team in all three phases of the game … That game was out of my system when I got back to the State Farmers Market – I had a different perception leaving the Vanderbilt and Georgia games … I went with my heart earlier in the week and predicted a 23-19 Carolina victory and thought that might come about when USC led 17-10 at the half after surprising me with all of the Gamecocks scoring in the 2nd Quarter … However, the Bayou Bengals absolutely dominated the second half, especially the 4th Quarter when Louisiana State rolled up an 11:39 – 3:21 advantage in Time of Possession … The Gamecocks once again were involved in a 2008 SEC game that wound up seven points in differential – Carolina is 2-3 in those contests … USC has definitely improved, however, LSU is the defending SEC and National Champion and seemed to me that they were never unnerved and totally determined not to lose two games in a row … Keilan Williams (15/72) and Charlie Scott (16/61) combined for 31 carries, 133 yards, and two touchdowns as LSU rushed 46 times for 164 yards and that allowed the quarterback duo of J. Lee (16-26) and A. Hatch (2-3) to keep a balance that totaled 363 yards in all on 75 offensive plays … Conversely, USC only ran 57 plays that included a much maligned six sacks and a paltry 1.3 yards per rush on 31 attempts … Defensively, USC fought hard, but was manhandled near the goal line and allowed 22 first downs … LSU converted 6 of 14 third down opportunities while limiting USC to just 1 of 9 – essentially that was the ballgame … In the special teams category, LSU’s Colt David made his only field goal attempt on the Tigers’ second possession of the game when he connected from 48 yards away … Carolina’s Ryan Succop went 1-of-2 as he hit from 21 yards but also had an inexcusable 39-yard miss at home – making him 3 of his last 8 after hitting all four attempts vs. UAB on September 27 in Columbia … The Gamecocks lost the turnover battle (3-1) once again as Carolina threw an interception and lost two fumbles … South Carolina put up a valiant effort, but LSU is better – period!

Fear the Hat – Say what you will about Les Miles, but the guy is 39-7 overall at LSU since 2005 and that includes two SEC West Division titles, one SEC championship, and last year’s National Championship … The November 8 game vs. #2 Alabama should decide the SEC West Division and you can bet #11 LSU will not want to yield to former head coach Nick Saban … I remembered Miles from his days at Oklahoma State on the staff of former Cowboys coach Bob Simmons, who had just one winning season in six years at Stillwater … After a 4-7 season in his inaugural year of 2001, Miles led the Cowpokes to three consecutive winning seasons and a 2-2 record in four seasons vs. arch-rival and national power Oklahoma.

Gamecock Nation – Well done South Carolina fans! … I recorded the game and watched most of the replay on Monday … Very impressive! … The crowd was electric and into the game the entire way … The student section was the best I have ever seen it in Columbia dating back to 1989 – reminiscent of the 1987 Clemson game … The spirit rags – white, thank goodness – showed up great against the sea of Garnet & Black and the north end zone and that section of the East stands was in constant motion the entire time … I believe it was the best home game setting since the 2005 Florida game … I’ve heard some local radio shows rail against the fans for leaving with four minutes remaining, but I really didn’t notice it too much from Section 9 … How many really left Williams-Brice Stadium? … For my money - $55 per ticket – I thought it was an outstanding atmosphere and one that had to impress the national television audience … Remember, we all love college football and there are only seven home games a year so why leave early if you did? … I love night games at Williams-Brice Stadium and the electricity was there for the full 60 minutes.

Game Balls – Emanuel Cook continues to prove he is the best defensive player not only at USC, but in the SEC … The junior from Riviera Beach, FL, tallied a game-high 11 tackles with eight solo stops … Chris Culliver chipped in nine tackles (six solos) and one pass broken up … Eric Norwood got another tackle for loss (1.5 credited) and had eight stops with four solos and a PBU … Carlos Thomas held on to a J. Lee pass and returned it 46 yards to setup South Carolina’s go ahead halftime score … Stephen Garcia never looked rattled to me and I don’t believe he will face a tougher defense the rest of the season … The redshirt freshman completed 14 of 26 passes for 215 yards (15.4 average), one TD, and one INT … The six sacks were partially his fault (I know of one in particular, but the Offensive Line is just pathetic) … I thought the two improvised plays where he found Kenny McKinley (one catch, one drop) down field after scrambling just shows you what kind of potential he has athletically – if either Chris Smelley or Tommy Beecher were behind center vs. LSU, then the sack total would have read a dozen! … The tight ends of Jared Cook (5 for 74) and Weslye Saunders (1 for 26, 1 TD) were outstanding and IMO under-utilized throughout the game as the middle slant/drag route was open all day … Spencer Lanning had his booming shoes on this past weekend with a 44.8 average on five punts that included one being downed inside the 20 yard line … I would be remiss not to mention Umpire Wilbur Hackett who leveled Garcia on a play late in the 2nd Quarter with a shoulder charge that I’m sure put a smile on all zebra stripes everywhere – luckily it didn’t cost USC any points.

OL Woes – Needless to say the offensive line is a top concern … I stated before the season about knowing quite well that Carolina had the quantity to field an OL, but I questioned the “quality” of that group … Is this really what Coach John Hunt has to work with or are others just not getting an opportunity, because the game-to-game and season-to-season product is pitiful … I have read where a couple of “insiders” and parents have commented that to truly know the OL scheme that you must realize their assignments and their responsibilities … Well, I don’t know what those assignments/responsibilities are because that is not shared with “John Q Fan” … However, what I do get to judge is 12 Saturdays a Fall and since 2005 the product is absolutely poor … No fire, no emotion, no determination, no grit, no passion, etc. … What is left to say? … No talent? … No coaching? … How would we ever know? … The only thing that is fact is that South Carolina averages 2.9 yards per rush and has allowed a national high 30 sacks … Last year those totals read 3.6 AVG and 31 Sacks … In 2006 it was 4.5 AVG and 24 Sacks and and in 2005 it was 3.1 AVG and 30 Sacks … Folks, those are not good numbers, save for the average in 2006 … Everything else adds up to at least two sacks per game … Simply put, the OL is soft and that includes everyone – you don’t judge an OL individually … It’s like a glove – unless all fingers and thumb work together properly then it’s bound to have gaps and disruptions … Somehow or another Steve Spurrier has been able to get past this obvious weakness to the tune of a 26-19 record and 13-16 SEC mark – not bad with a sieve known as the offensive line!

Dropped Balls – What is going on with Mike Davis? … Ever since The State newspaper highlighted he and Cory Boyd last season about not fumbling the ball, he appears to have gone in the tank … Not only is he averaging just 3.9 yards per carry on 97 attempts, but he has only scored twice, and is averaging just 53.9 yards per game … The senior from Columbia, S.C., has caught 16 passes, but has dropped at least half that number … Throw in the fact that he has either lost the ability to block or just doesn’t want to block anymore and he’s become a liability in the backfield … Maybe he can get things turned around because Carolina has got to find someone to tote the rock consistently forward despite the lack of blocking … Poor old Addison Williams – the kid just can’t catch a break in the secondary … Despite recovering a fumble for the second straight week, Williams was inserted at corner back to cover for Captain Munnerlyn and Carlos Thomas due to more cramps – something that Thomas said “that he and Munnerlyn should have done a better job of prehydrating” … Sure enough, just like Clemson last year on the final drive and Ole Miss this year on the opening drive, the LSU coaching staff saw #7 out there and immediately picked on him with a 36-yard pass from Jarrett Lee to Demetrius Byrd to give the Tigers 1st-and-10 at the South Carolina 20-yard line … Six plays later LSU scored the game-winner and won 24-17.

Bumblin’, Fumblin’, Stumblin’ – How about the problems up the road at Clemson? … I don’t comment often on our arch-rivals, but the troubles in Tiger Town are a real mess! … The real problem as I can see is the fact that the disillusioned Clemson fans and their perceptions of what Clemson football is in 2008 … They want to be SEC-like with the pomp and circumstance of big time college football, but are stuck in the fourth or fifth at-best league in the country … I am not going to down play what Clemson did in the 1980s ... Danny Ford had a solid program before and after a mythical National Championship in 1981 and three subsequent years of probation ... However, for the Tigers faithful to consider Clemson as an elite program is just not true the past 15 years ... Since 1993, Clemson has finished in the AP Top 20 just once -- 2000 (#16) ... Look it up if you want to verify it, but here are the numbers: 2007 - #21; 2005 - #21; 2003 - #22; 2000 - #16; 1993 - #23 … Clemson has benefitted from playing in the ACC by compiling just above .500 seasons and going to minor bowl games ... If that's below the expectations of the Tigers fan base then maybe some hard facts analysis needs to be spun by the spin-meisters wearing orange … By the way, the bush-league antics of Dabo Swinney leave a lot to be desired … From the arm-in-arm walk across the field to the kissing of the rock to the running/gunning down the hill – that is hairy high school crap and Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson smirked the entire first half because if a ‘real team’ would have been against the Yellow Jackets this past Saturday then chances are GT loses – wasn’t going to happen with the shenanigans Clemson pulled to cap off a nationally embarrassing week for the upstate school … Time to start beating those guys on the gridiron!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Week #8 - My thoughts and observations …

Friday Fun – KCock93 and I departed Cayce around 8:15 a.m., on Friday and stopped for a McDonald’s breakfast in Clinton, S.C., that took an unexpected 20 minutes for drive through service – not a good start … After checking the weather throughout the week, neither of us were prepared for drizzling rain or a gray day which is what we encountered until we reached the other side of Asheville, N.C. … However, from that point on there was never a cloud in the blue sky that hovered above the entire weekend … We rode on fumes to Jellico, Ky., as we stopped for gas and in lieu of lunch we opted to make time to get to Lexington for an afternoon at Keeneland Race Track … We checked into the Holiday Inn Express (HIE) on Elkhorn Dr., around 2:45 p.m., and made it over to Keeneland for the final three races of the day … What an experience! … This was my third trip to Keeneland and it is an incredible way to spend a college football weekend in the Bluegrass … The scenery (people, horse track, rolling hills, etc.) is just unbelievable and when you win some $$$ on each race, well, it makes the day that much better … I’m not a big “bettor”, but I do like to have a rooting interest in the events I’m attending and some luck was on my side as I came out a good bit ahead while enjoying cold Bud Light beers and people watching and, of course, the horse races … It was hot (85 degrees) and the sun just baked everyone there but what a great time … KC93 didn’t fare as well on his bets, but we were able to leave knowing that we were “to the good” as far as our financials … Georgia fans used to get the benefit of playing UK every other year in the month of October while the short horse race season is in full force at Keeneland – fortunately, USC is the benefactor these days … I hope that will continue in the future and encourage any Gamecock fans to plan a visit to Lexington in the future because the UK game is truly the most underrated Southeastern Conference football experience – especially when Keeneland is open, the leaves are changing on the scenic drive from SC to KY, and considering that South Carolina usually fares pretty well on the gridiron at Commonwealth Stadium … After polishing off a couple of cold Natural Lights post-race at the Ford Explorer SporTrac, we headed to the hotel for a brief respite and then ventured out for a good meal … After driving around spotting out some places near our exit we found a place called Raffertys, but it wasn’t exactly what we had in mind but luckily ran into several members of the Ultimate Tailgaters (UTGs), who are just about everywhere the Gamecocks play in football, basketball, and baseball … We decided to pass on Rafferty’s Restaurant & Bar and ended up at Carrabba’s Italian Grill – a place that KC93 and myself had never dined even though there is one out in Harbison in the Midlands area … Generally speaking, I would rather spend my money in locally owned type restaurants and businesses, thus when I want Italian fare I opt for the likes of Villa Tronco, Moe’s Grapevine, Dianne’s, etc. … I had always heard the hype of Carrabba’s, but I found the place very bustling and loud … We had time to enjoy a Moretti beer at the bar before we were herded to our seats and then were waited on by a waitress that seemed more interested in starting her night on the town … We each ordered the veal marsala and on a scale of 1 to 10, the entrée received a 5.5/6 and the rest of the meal (bread/oil, salad, etc.) was only average … Guess I’m glad that I tried this away from Columbia, because now I will definitely continue to patronize the ‘locals’ … After a long day traveling, betting, and boozing, we called it a night after watching Louisville/Memphis on ESPN to get ready for a critical SEC contest for USC on Saturday.

UTGs – The Ultimate Tailgaters are a special breed of Gamecock fans – they support Carolina Athletics with their time, money, and unwavering allegiance … Their moniker is, “First to Arrive, Last to Leave” and when Chris F., informed me Friday night that they would be setup near the stadium at 7 a.m., I had no doubt that they would keep their word … True enough, I received a text Saturday morning while eating a decent breakfast at the HIE – scrambled eggs, hard boiled egg, bacon, and cranberry juice – informing us that they were ready to go bright and early … KC93 and I stopped by a filling station for some ice, water, chips, and deli sandwiches to snack on … With the early kickoff there was no time for lunch … The UTGs (Chris F., Kathy F., Kirk H., Woodie C., Brad F., Ronnie G., Ray S., Mark B., Jessica L., etc.) were stationed at the former Hal Mumme Pass now named Sports Center Drive right off of Cooper Drive … Tailgating adjacent to the Nutter Football Training Center on a grassy knoll provided a great venue for the full day’s activities … Manning the ‘mic’ from time to time were Mark and Chris as the USC theme music blared out of the speakers while everyone enjoyed their favorite beverages and snacks … I never got the nerve to try the Wild Turkey American Honey, but assume it would go down pretty good after a big dinner for dessert … The group had checked out a place called Liquor Barn on Friday and told me about their expansive selections of just about everything, including the Wild Turkey variation … Bill M., Alex C., Rhonda, and Anita showed up a little later to complete the group … Really a fun time tailgating with the UTGs and I’m sure we’ll join their tailgates in the future!

Midnight Madness – I didn’t attend the tip-off of basketball season at Rupp Arena Friday night, but some friends of mine did and I watched some small clips of video from the production and was most impressed by the Big Blue faithful … Apparently, more than 23,000 showed up for the event, including 12 of the Top 50 national recruits for next year … The pictures and videos showed a spirited and hyped-up atmosphere in a facility that is nice when it comes to nostalgia, but pales in comparison of South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena in terms of amenities, center court scoreboard, etc. … Just another reason why USC should continue its dominance on the gridiron because the UK faithful live for hoops – that, and the fact that Joker Phillips is the heir apparent to Coach Rich Brooks in football.

Commonwealth Stadium – This facility is one of the newer ones in the SEC as it was completed in the early 1970s and provides a beautiful setting for college football … The grounds around the stadium are well kept and the place is immaculately clean … Inside, the low upper decks make sure that there is not a bad seat in the house and from my lower deck perch a few rows behind the USC Band in Section 116 we had a great view from the corner of the end zone on the South Carolina bench side … The announced crowd was 70,822 this past Saturday, which was the largest ever to see the Gamecocks and Wildcats in Kentucky and their improvements to C.M. Newton Field are definitely noticeable … This was my sixth USC/UK game in Lexington and the games have been notoriously close in the past and this past weekend proved no different as South Carolina’s seven-point victory was the sixth straight contest that was decided by single digits in the Bluegrass: ’08 (24-17); ’06 (24-17); ’04 (12-7); ’02 (16-12); ’00 (20-17); ’98 (28-33) … Prior to the game talking to some UK fans that greeted us with “Go Cats” and our response of “Go Cocks”, you could sense that they felt 2008 was the year to break the eight-game losing streak to South Carolina and end the Steve Spurrier jinx after 15 losses in as many tries – wait ‘til next year UK fans!

7-Up! – All four of South Carolina’s 2008 SEC games have been decided by seven points and the Gamecocks own a 2-2 record, including a 2-1 mark on the road … Under Steve Spurrier, USC is now 13-11 in games decided by single digits and 13-7 in decisions of double digits … Overall in SEC contests, Coach Spurrier owns a 13-15 record (8-7 on the road) since 2005 and Carolina is 17-19 in SEC play since 2004 … Records through seven games under Coach Spurrier: 4-3 (’05); 5-2 (’06); 6-1 (’07); 5-2 (’08) for a total of 20-8 … USC is 6-10 after the seventh game since 2005, including just a 2-6 mark in Columbia … Below are the SEC records sine 2000:

.731, 49-18, Louisiana State
.721, 49-19, Florida
.710, 49-20, Auburn
.701, 47-20, Georgia
.657, 44-23, Tennessee
.493, 33-34, Alabama
.493, 33-34, Arkansas
.471, 32-36, SOUTH CAROLINA
.373, 25-42, Mississippi
.242, 16-50, Kentucky
.239, 16-51, Mississippi State
.176, 12-56, Vanderbilt

60:00 Men – If there is one fact that Steve Spurrier has relayed to his troops it’s the notion of playing the full 60 minutes and checking what the scoreboard reveals at the end of the game … In reality, when it comes to any athletics, all you can ask of your players are to leave 100% of your efforts on the field and see where that gets you when the final whistle blows … I believe this team has competed for 60 minutes in every contest except one and that was at Vanderbilt when I questioned the commitment of several players after observing their actions and antics from behind their sideline … Fortunately, the message seems to have permeated the USC team and as long as Carolina puts forth that type of effort, then win or lose, I can proudly support the Garnet & Black.

Folly 4s – For the fourth time since 2001, South Carolina has reeled off four consecutive wins in a season … In 2001, USC opened the year with a 5-0 mark before losing at Arkansas … A year later, following a 1-2 start, the Gamecocks were victorious in four straight games before falling at LSU … In 2005 with a 2-3 mark, Carolina won five consecutive games before losing the regular season finale vs. Clemson … This season at 1-2, USC has tallied four straight wins and will host LSU on Saturday … Every winning streak involved a victory vs. Kentucky … Ryan Succop missed four of five field goal attempts … USC turned the ball over four times in the first half with two interceptions and two fumbles.

Wild West – USC owns an 11-14 mark vs. SEC West Division foes since 2000, including a 1-0 record this year with the 31-24 victory at Ole Miss … USC will host LSU this Saturday and Arkansas next month to round out the 2008 slate … 5-0 vs. Miss. State, 2-2 vs. Alabama, 3-5 vs. Arkansas, 1-2 vs. Ole Miss, 0-2 vs. Auburn, and 0-3 vs. Louisiana State.

White Out – I have always liked the all white uniforms Carolina has worn throughout the years, but this season’s attire is just plain out sharp! … I really like the Under Armour duds and when the temperature gauge reads 80 degrees or more (no way was it 73 degrees at game time) then I’m all for wearing the Storm Trooper outfits.

Dirty “D” – I have been thoroughly impressed with the South Carolina defense this year and stated in the preseason that the Gamecocks’ biggest recruit of 2008 was the hiring of Ellis Johnson as Defensive Coordinator … I was fairly critical of Tyrone Nix’s schemes and styles when a lot of the local media really didn’t want to point the finger at the former DC due to his temperament and friendliness to them – amazing how personal relationships interfere with simple and just analysis when it comes to the scribes and on-air personalities … This group is as “sure tackling” 1-11 as I can remember and absolutely has some studs that will definitely be in the NFL in the near future … In my 30th year of Carolina Football, USC has a chance to make this the most feared defensive unit to set foot on the gridiron … The 1987 unit was my favorite with its “Black Death” persona and the skull and cross-bones celebrations … Take a look at the best “Ds” the past three decades:

141 - 1987 (8-4, 11.8)
*** 105 - 2008 (5-2, 15.0) ***
181 - 2000 (8-4, 15.1)
200 - 1980 (8-4, 16.7)
205 - 1979 (8-4, 17.1)
230 - 2001 (9-3, 19.2)

yUcK – Folks, as pleased as I was with the win in Lexington, let’s face it – you can’t spell sUcKs without UK … The Wildcats’ offense is abysmal as is their quarterback play with Mike Hartline … Joker Phillips, the offensive coordinator who used to coach at South Carolina (2002), has his work cut out for him, because the Wildcats have zero playmakers outside of Dicky Lyons, Jr., who was injured early in the second quarter on a legitimate tackle by Carlos Thomas – hey UK sideline reporter, it wasn’t a horse collar! … Hartline has a weak arm and literally shot-puts the ball in an upright position – not very athletic at all … The dink-and-dunk philosophy just illustrates how weak their receiving corps is and the lack of any production from the ground game left the Big Blue in neutral all afternoon … Not once did I feel that UK could drive the ball on South Carolina … Their offense is a shell of the one that featured the 2007 high flying exploits of Andre Woodson, Jacob Tammie, Rafael Little, Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson, etc., that averaged 37 points per game … For Kentucky to improve on its 4-2 record then the Wildcats are going to have someone step to the front on offense and from what I saw on Saturday, I’m not sure they have the personnel to do so … I would seriously consider getting Randall Cobb under center from here on out.

Muddin’ – Neither team generated anything on the ground as Carolina averaged just 2.2 yards per carry and Kentucky 2.8 en route to 78 and 62 yards, respectively … That would be understandable with poor field conditions, but on a clear and dry day in Horse Country, that wasn’t the case … USC opted to run the ball on 1st Down 18 times while attempting 12 passes on the same down … Carolina gained 36 yards on 17 carries and also had 1 carry for 25 yards on that down … Throwing the ball, USC was 5 of 11 for 44 yards and one sack … In short yardage situations on 2nd Down and 3rd Down, Carolina chose to run the ball five times compared to zero passes … Out of the shotgun formation, USC attempted eight rushes and 28 passes compared to 22 runs and 13 passes from under center … I’m pretty much resigned for USC to sling the ball around the yard 45-50 times per game, because through 2/3 of the season I don’t see the running game getting any better for the Gamecocks.

Charlie Strong? – I know the former USC DC (1999-2002) is at Florida these days, but new UK Defensive Coordinator, Steve Brown, could have been mistaken for the old Carolina saying of “3rd and Long Charlie Strong” … Geesh! … I remembered him from his NFL playing days with the Houston Oilers of the 1980s and he must be having a nightmare this week as he reviews the film of all the 3rd-and-Long plays Carolina converted on Saturday … 13 times USC faced a distance of greater than 3rd-and-5 and eight times the Gamecocks converted, though two plays did result in Chris Smelley interceptions … 3rd Down Catches: Jason Barnes (2-44yds); Jared Cook (2-24 yds); Joseph Hills (1-24 yds); Mike Davis (1-18 yds); Weslye Saunders (1-13 yds); and Kenny McKinley (1-11 yds) … All told, USC was 8 of 17 on 3rd Down and that is where Carolina won the game as the Wildcats converted just one of 16 opportunities.

Highs – Stephen Garcia completed 10 of 14 passes for 169 yards (16.9 yard average) with a beautiful game-winning touchdown pass to Weslye Saunders … Garcia looked outstanding in the second half and engineered the Gamecocks’ second consecutive come from behind road victory … Kenny McKinley hauled in seven passes for 88 yards and a score and looks 100% healthy … Jason Barnes continues to come up with big plays with four catches for 88 yards … Jared Cook tallied four receptions for 36 yards and Saunders had two catches for 20 yards from the tight end spot … Joseph Hills had a big third down conversion with a 24-yard catch and gallop … Spencer Lanning again watched most of the game as the USC punter, but contributed two punts for a 43.5 yard average … Captain Munnerlyn picked up a blocked field goal by Jordin Lindsey and raced 81 yards for a touchdown … Munnerlyn also returned a kickoff 84 yards that setup another score … The linebacker trio of Jasper Brinkley (8 TKL), Darian Stewart (7 TKL), and Eric Norwood (6 TKL) were everywhere for USC as the D-Line neutralized the UK line of scrimmage and allowed them to do their job with aplomb … Marvin Sapp was sure handed as well with five stops … Akeem Auguste is going to be a mainstay in the secondary with five stops and Emanuel Cook continues to prove he’s Carolina’s best football player with five tackles … Clifton Geathers is starting to come on with ½ a sack and one stop and supplied pressure all day … Jordin Lindsey was active as well (½ a sack) and even played defensive tackle at times in the second half … Chris Culliver is going to be a star at free safety as his two picks and three assists can attest – time for the staff to let him concentrate on these duties and get him off the kick return team … USC’s defense limited UK to a 6.5 yard average per play and only 218 yards in total … I thought Coach Spurrier called a whale of a game offensively and USC left so many points out on the field that I am encouraged about the final stretch of 2008 that we might get to see what he has been trying to build in Columbia … I don’t know if I have ever seen that many wide open receivers in a game.

Lows – As good as Chris Smelley’s numbers (9-of-23, 2 INTs) were in Oxford, they were a 180 of that in Lexington … Terrible performance despite him connecting with McKinley on the only ball that he threw really well all day for the TD … The run blocking and running backs performance left a lot to be desired at UK – and for the entire season regarding that matter … Captain, I love your tenacity and competitiveness, but you have to learn about punt returns and that is when you can’t field them to run away from the ball – don’t track it down on the roll … Addison Williams turned in his first positive play at USC by falling on a deflected ball by Munnerlyn and four returns for a -1 yard average will get you killed vs. a better opponent …

Quotes – Chris Culliver, “The whole game it was really us making mistakes, not them making plays. When we corrected them, we shut them down. We knew they wasn’t going to score on us as long as we kept our intensity up. We dominated them today. Dominated.” … Ellis Johnson, “We just got out of some situations. I didn’t think we put very good pressure on the quarterback. I thought there were several times that we had coverage situations where Kentucky had a chance to make the play and just didn’t.” … Jason Barnes, “We were waiting on Garcia to go in. He came out with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence. He was zinging them in there like he’d been doing it his whole life. That’s what I like to see. That’s what we needed on offense.” … Micah Johnson (UK Linebacker), “When they changed quarterbacks, the pace of the game changed. It was tough for us to get the right personnel out there to match up against their offense.” … Steve Spurrier, “To have four turnovers in the first half and miss four field goals and win the ball game, maybe that’s a first in South Carolina history. We’re going to play Garcia now. We’re going to play Stephen. He’s earned it. He’s our quarterback.” … Stephen Garcia, “That’s pretty much storybook. I’m just gonna stay low to the ground and keep a low profile and go from there.”

Forecast – I like South Carolina to defend the Williams-Brice turf and send the Bayou Bengals from Red Stick home with a 23-19 loss!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Week #7 - My thoughts and observations …

Road Trip – There really is nothing like getting on the road for a Southeastern Conference football road trip … This time KCock93 and I opted to fly out of Charlotte – thanks to Delta SkyMiles – and flew to Memphis, Tenn., on Friday … We saw a good number of Gamecock fans on the flight, including a group from Spartanburg and another group from Myrtle Beach … While traveling I enjoyed reading Brandenburg Gate by Henry Porter and have about 100 pages to go – good espionage thriller leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 … We rented a car from Enterprise at the airport via the internet earlier in the week and when we arrived they said they didn’t have it in stock, so they asked if I would like to take a Chevrolet Colorado (truck) … Very nice vehicle! … It was brand new – less than 1,000 miles on it – and had 4-wheel drive with XM radio and nice truck-grooved tires … Super truck (I might be in the market for one)!

Walking in Memphis - Beale Street is a G-O-O-D-T-I-M-E as “that long blonde haired boy” (Alan Jackson) would say – a comment from my grandfather, Papa Walt … My first visit to the Mississippi River based city, named after the ancient capital of Egypt that was located on the Nile River, was in 2006 for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and we had a really good time then as well – ain’t winning great? … There is something to do for all ages and the entertainment is outstanding … We took a taxi from the Crowne Plaza to Beale St., and immediately made our way to the Flying Saucer to check out some of the Major League Baseball postseason and found a really good beer called Ghost River Glacial Pale Ale that is brewed in Memphis by Ghost River Brewing … The amber colored beer was so good I had four of them! … From there it was over to the Blues City Café for dinner … The pork ribs, hickory smoked and lathered in a maple barbeque sauce, simply fall off the bone … Along with cole slaw, Texas toast, baked beans, and steak fries, it’s quite a deal for $13.95 (half-rack) … I had a couple of Sam Adams to wash it down as the comments were few and far between KC93 and myself as we “got after it” a bit … If I can ever get away from not ordering the ribs at BCC, I’m going to get their “world’s best tamales” – they looked incredible … I’m not a sweets eater, but for anyone that is, I don’t think you could go wrong by trying the Apple Dumpling with Ice Cream – those things were being sold by the droves and though it’s a lively atmosphere, there really isn’t much noise at the tables as everyone seemingly concentrates on eating everything in sight! … After dinner we ventured down Beale St., taking in the live music and at the end of the strip watched some rousing Blues sets and downed “Big Beale St. Beers” (Blue Moon) for about an hour … Afterwards we tipped the world famous Beale Street Jumpers (young black guys that are street performers who do all kinds of crazy flips, flops, air somersaults, etc. in their trademark big white T-shirts, blue jeans, and white tennis shoes – they are amazing) … Afterwards we ducked into a side alley for a live performance of a really good band that had their own entourage of girls “getting after it” – quite a sight! … Then, we made our way up to a bar across from The Peabody Hotel (you know, the place with the duck walk) and had a couple of more beers before turning in around midnight.

Saturday Morning – You could not have ordered better weather for the football game … After an outstanding southern breakfast (eggs over medium, grits, bacon, toast, grapefruit juice) at the Crowne Plaza (thanks Priority Club), we put our Gamecock flags and magnets on the Colorado (that is one nice truck) and headed to Oxford … Driving down KC93 announced that 9 of 10 sports scribes at Memphis’ Commercial Appeal had picked Ole Miss to win the game – I had selected 21-20 (good guys) … It was in the mid-60s that morning and not a cloud in the sky – incredible! … It’s an easy drive and a pretty one as well – I know Mississippi gets a bad rap about a lot of things, but the Magnolia State really does have some beautiful land and their highway system is well kept … From the Crowne Plaza to Oxford is right at 80 miles and an easy drive from 240-55-278 … We stopped at a Wal-Mart in Batesville to pick up tailgating goodies of chicken fingers, deli turkey sandwiches, chips, water, and of course, a case of Natural Light beer to put in the $1.88 styrofoam cooler! … The traffic wasn’t bad at all until we neared the main campus exits despite fans pouring in from all over … We decided to bypass the coliseum corridor in favor of the University exit and were quite surprised to find a parking lot right down the hill from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium – that had a sign out front boasting it was a Par 5 distance for $10 … It was a great spot and we ran into several seasoned USC fans that we see at a good many on the road trips … By 10:45 a.m., we were drinking cold beer and snacking away while listening to country music on WKIX 106-FM – good station! … We made our way to the stadium about 12:30 and luckily were in the East stands with the high sun to our backs for the first half – talk about a “red neck”!

I Love Mississippi – One thing you can count on when Ole Miss and South Carolina tangle on the gridiron is a close game … Entering the game the Rebels and Gamecocks had played 13 times with 10 of those contests being decided by single digits, including 10 of the last 11 meetings … Make that 11 of 12 now … What a game! … For the face value of $50 per ticket, fans definitely got their money’s worth on Homecoming in Oxford … Ole Miss had not lost a Homecoming game since 1996 and it is something they take very seriously … The last time Carolina traveled to Oxford in 2003, USC rallied in the fourth quarter only to lose 43-40 to Eli Manning’s Rebels … Would history repeat itself? … After a frantic first half that saw highs and lows for both teams the opening stanza wound up 21-17 in favor of Ole Miss … However, USC clamped down the Rebels in the second half and outscored Ole Miss 14-3 for a 31-24 victory … What a win for the Gamecocks – maybe the most significant of the Steve Spurrier era … Also, the new Daktronics video board at Ole Miss is outstanding and the stadium itself – all at one level – ensures that there are no bad seats … They have done a good job in their renovations at a solid SEC venue ... Also, kudos to the USC football team for acknowledging the fans that traveled to Oxford - great celebration for a well earned SEC road victory that was completed with Elvis on the video board performing 'An American Trilogy' from Hawaii that ended with the public address announcer saying, "Elvis has left the stadium".

Sizzling Smelley - Obviously quarterback Chris Smelley enjoyed his finest game in the Garnet & Black with 327 yards passing on 22 of 32 completions with one interception and three touchdowns … Smelley was hot as a firecracker in the second half by connecting on 15 of 17 throws and should have had a fourth TD pass if not for tight end Jared Cook pulling a hamstring on a 63-yard pass play down the Ole Miss sideline … It appears that Smelley finally feels comfortable in the pocket and is actually making reads through his progressions – something that didn’t happen towards the end of last year or earlier this season … I really liked the way he distributed the ball (nine players had receptions and four with more than 50 yards) and outside of a very poor INT and a couple of other mis-throws thought he did a fine job … He still needs to chunk the ball out of bounds every now and then instead of taking a sack, but he has definitely improved under Spurrier’s tutelage.

Coming Out Party – Hello Jason Barnes! … The redshirt freshman from Charlotte, N.C., turned in his best game with seven catches for 76 yards and two TDs … The 20-yard TD pass he held onto when getting his helmet knocked off in the back of the end zone was a big time play! … Then, with Carolina trailing 21-17 late in the 3rd Quarter, Smelley hooked up with Barnes for the all important go ahead touchdown – some past USC teams would have faltered when facing this situation.

Welcome Back – Good to see you Kenny McKinley … The all-everything senior returned to the gridiron almost in a decoy role, but still managed to haul in four passes for 58 yards … He commands attention when he’s on the field and this allows the other receivers and tight ends to get into the flow … Junior Moe Brown (3 REC, 67 YDS) also bounced back after being MIA since the Georgia game ... What a lick Akeem Auguste delivered - kid's going to be a player!

Tough Running – I know the statistics don’t look great for Mike Davis vs. Ole Miss, but I thought his tough 73 yards rushing were integral in keeping the Rebels off balance … Right now, USC’s best feature is its passing attack and it was open all day vs. Ole Miss … However, a healthy Davis toted the ball 19 times and collected one catch for 17 yards … The fourth down call late in the fourth quarter was not good and I was hoping to see another QB sneak behind Jamon Meredith at left guard – go behind your best blocker, especially one projected to be a First Round pick in next April’s NFL Draft.

Play of the Game I – Sophomore free safety Chris Culliver’s bone jarring hit on D. McCluster turned what appeared to be a 28-17 Ole Miss advantage into the turning point of the game … What a hit! … Then, USC’s best football player, junior Emanuel Cook, picked up the loose ball and showed off his running skills that made him a renowned player in the Florida prep ranks, as he rumbled 52 yards to set up what would then be the go ahead score on Carolina’s next possession … Nice job by ECook to wrap up the ball as the opposing player raced him down.

Play of the Game II – Trailing 14-10 early in the 2nd Quarter, sophomore defensive end Clifton Geathers tracked down Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead and not only got a five yard loss, but also knocked the ball loose where junior tackle Nathan Pepper scooped up the ball and – lesson learned by Big Nate from the 2006 Clemson game – wrapped up the ball en route to a 29-yard scamper for USC’s first lead which evaporated the quick start by Ole Miss and proved that Carolina was in the ball game.

Play of the Game III – Normally a 95-yard drive would get this honor and considering the sputtering of the USC offense this fall maybe it deserves the #1 “play of the game” … It’s semantics really, but what an amazing answer after Ole Miss pinned South Carolina at the 5-yard line early in the 4th Quarter .. 11 plays and 4:39 later it was 31-21 in as fine a drive engineered by a USC QB in some time … The touchdown play is something I don’t think we would have seen Smelley pull off 3-4 weeks ago, but his improvisation of the pass to Joe Hills really illustrated his maturation process … With a 10-point lead with 8 ½ minutes remaining things looked good for the Gamecocks that went on a 28-7 run after falling behind 14-3.

Offense Evolution – I think what what we are witnessing is the evolution of Coach Spurrier’s offense at USC … The younger players seem to have grasped the concept and their roles for contributing and this will only get better (or should) as the season progresses … In SEC games, USC has rushed for 92 (Vanderbilt), 18 (Georgia), and 78 (Ole Miss) yards compared to 171 (N.C. State), 172 (Wofford), and 158 (UAB) … However, Carolina has rolled up 831 passing yards in the three SEC outings – 233 (Vanderbilt), 271 (Georgia), and 327 (Ole Miss) … Carolina has only punted 15 times (2 ½ per game), but USC wasn’t getting the opportunity to finish drives due to interceptions (12) and bogging down for field goals … But, USC has converted 20 of 24 opportunities in the Red Zone (13TD, 7FG) and that kind of efficiency should pay dividends in the second half of the season.

OL Outs – Talked to some USC fans at the airport and prior to the game on Saturday and a guy that really keeps his ear to the ground so-to-speak, mentioned the defections of several sophomore offensive linemen at season’s end … I questioned the quality of the group because I knew they had the quantity to be serviceable and heard encouraging reports by Kyle Nunn, Quentin Richardson, and TJ Johnson.

Nix Nixed – Not to rehash my feelings of former USC Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix, but I sure am glad he is in Oxford and not Columbia … The low total vs. I-A foes this year that Ole Miss has held opponents to is 23 points (Vanderbilt) and six of those came on a 79-yard INT return … So, the other five games has seen 24 points or more go against the Rebels … The adjustment that Ellis Johnson made to nullify Dexter McCluster’s prowess doubtfully would have been done a year ago at USC and we would have witnessed another Arkansas or Florida debacle … 3rd and 20 (long) was exactly what we needed against a Nix defense ... He lived up to his USC reputation for giving up the real estate when your team can not afford it most! … This year will be a grace period for the Mississippi native, but you can bet that Houston Nutt plays to win and if these shenanigans continue next year then the Southern Miss alum might be looking elsewhere.

SEC – Only five teams have a league winning percentage of greater than .500 midway through the 2008 slate and below is an update on the SEC standings from 2000-present:

.721, 49-19, Auburn (1 title)
.721, 49-19, LSU (3 titles)
.696, 48-21, Florida (2 titles)
.687, 46-21, Georgia (2 titles)
.667, 44-22, Tennessee
.485, 32-34, Arkansas
.471, 33-37, Alabama
.456, 31-37, SOUTH CAROLINA
.368, 25-43, Ole Miss
.246, 16-49, Kentucky
.227, 15-51, Miss. State
.171, 12-58, Vanderbilt

Time – How did a non-televised game take 3 hours and 17 minutes to play? … Well, when you have the bozos known as SEC officials huddling up after nearly every series then the game tends to drag on … Thus far, only one game has been finished under three hours – Wofford (2:34) … I don’t mind the time so much as it is the long breaks and lack of flow to the game … If Pay-Per-View is the root cause, then I vote to eliminate that option altogether – with nearly 6,000 empty seats in Oxford, I’m sure the Ole Miss brass will consider that next go around … Plus, I heard the broadcast wasn’t very good.

Shanks – Maybe the lack of punting opportunities contributed to Spencer Lanning’s nine-yard shank in the 2nd Quarter … In the past three games USC has only attempted three punts and the two vs. UAB resulted in a 44.0 average … No touchbacks for Ryan Succop on six kickoffs and a missed 38-yard field goal kicking off artificial turf – everyone gets a mulligan from time to time (I hope that is all it is) … I don’t understand Chris Culliver’s kickoff returns strategy – just a 20 yard average and a 23.2 average for the season – I expected more.

Delta Queens – No doubt that there is something in the water down on the Mississippi Delta as the old saying goes at Ole Miss – “where they redshirt Miss Americas” … However, there were some lookers in Memphis proper as well and the USC traveling crew was well represented … One of the better weekends for eye candy in recent memory.

Basketball – On the way out to Memphis, I saw Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Stansbury at the Charlotte airport after a recruiting visit ... He was donning his maroon MSU adidas basketball training jacket ... He was approached by two Gamecock women who asked him about "How do you like our new coach?" and his reply was "I liked the old coach" ... He went on to ask the women, "Why don't the Gamecock fans turn out for basketball like they do for football ... Y'all could be 0-13 and fill that stadium, but unless you're having a really good year in basketball, that place is never near full ... USC basketball fans are perceived as the worst in the SEC with the exception of Auburn."

Me Likes Ole Miss - Ole Miss fans are among the nicest and most hospitable in the SEC ... They share many a Gamecock fans wishes of "let's get bowl eligible" and the 8-9-10 win seasons are gravy ... A couple from Coffeyville, MS introduced us to red pepper crackers – awesome – and genuinely appreciated the USC faithful for making the long trip westward.

Gamecock Nation – The USC crowd exceeded my expectations – I would venture to say there were close to 4,000 in Oxford out of their announced crowd of 54,628? … Amazing to see so many of the same faces on the road year after year and game after game despite the results from the team sometimes … I would rather attend the away games than the home games, so much more atmosphere and what it means to the other fans -- SEC ones in particular … We met some fine ones on this trip from Coffeyville, self-proclaimed “country folks” who liked to brag about the margaritas they could get about 15 miles away so that the preacher and church folks wouldn’t see them … I felt like I was on the road to Itta Bena (O Brother, Where Art Thou)

Questions - What in the heck was CC Whitlock doing on that play in the 4th Quarter when the Ole Miss receiver was essentially doing jumping jacks, but Snead never saw him – whew, that would have been an easy six for the Rebels … Also, how does Addison Williams wind up on the same side of the field as Whitlock late in the game? … If you noticed the opening plays of the game, while Captain Munnerlyn sat out for suspension, Snead went right after Williams’ receiver … Maybe a redshirt would benefit Williams or Whitlock in the future?

Vandy - WOW! ... They may be doing it with smoke and mirrors, but Vanderbilt is certainly long on one attribute - HEART ... They never stop believing and playing for each other ... I don’t like Vandy, but it really is a great story for what is the essence of sport - playing hard, believing, and loving the game … It will be interesting to see what happens if Bobby Johnson takes a higher profile job after this season and how Vandy does in his absence … Of course, Johnson is also the only coach since 1980 to post losing seasons at I-AA power Furman University and he achieved that ‘honor’ twice during his tenure in Greenville.

Tigers Reeling - I said at the beginning of the year that Carolina was a 7-8 win team and Clemson was a 7-8 win team ... Now, the Tigers will be lucky to get there still having to face Georgia Tech, @ Boston College, @ Florida State, Duke, Virginia, and South Carolina … When I heard the Maryland/UVA final, my jaw dropped as I was certain the score was reversed …

Succop in the Clutch? - This may be the game he's called upon to win the game for us and if it is from 37 yards, he needs to deliver ... He could go down as the top placekicker in USC history with a "game-winner" in his repertoire, something he lacks ... I know Alabama missed several FGs and this is exactly what gives the Wildcats hope.

"My Old Kentucky Home" - Gamecocks are 4-0 at UK in the 21st Century: 2006 (24-17); 2004 (12-7); 2002 (16-12); 2000 (20-17); AVG 18-13 … It will be another tight one in horse country – time for the boys to recognize they’ll need their game faces on from the get-go (remember the Vanderbilt loss from last year) … Call to the Post – heading up on Friday for an afternoon at Keeneland and an early kickoff on Saturday … What a great aspect of this trip in October - to fully appreciate Lexington is to enjoy the trip to Keeneland for the horse racing – awesome time! … I like USC 23-13 UK … See you in the Bluegrass!