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September 25, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: Vanderbilt



NO. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA 21, VANDERBILT 3

THE GOOD

OFF NIGHT?: Let's face it, Marcus Lattimore didn't have a great night, but he probably deserved to have one after being Secretariat over South Carolina's first three games. Vanderbilt did a terrific job stuffing the run, but Lattimore still got those couple of extra yards when he needed the first down. Lattimore managed to pick up 77 yards, most of them the hard way, and his 22-yard touchdown run was the same magnificent cut and scamper that everyone is used to seeing. He still had 77 to give him 607 for the season, and added 73 receiving yards to boot. He didn't have a real backup, since Kenny Miles was held up with a sprained wrist/busted hand, but the Gamecocks gave him enough support to win other than him. He did what he could, which some others couldn't say.

TERROR TWINS: It's becoming a pattern - Jadeveon Clowney sets it up, Melvin Ingram finishes. It happened again on Saturday, where Clowney caused a fumble from Larry Smith that Antonio Allen scooped and should have scored on. He would have, except one Vanderbilt player had the presence of mind to wind up and pop the ball loose from Allen from behind, where it took a perfect bounce and rolled into the end zone, and Ingram fell on it. Whatever is going on for Ingram right now - luck or good play, and he had plenty of the latter on Saturday - it's working. He has more touchdowns this year (three) than all of USC's receivers. Combined.

STONEWALLED: Yes, perhaps Vanderbilt got a little bit of raised publicity with its first three wins. Yes, perhaps the Commodores just aren't that good. But anytime a team can hold another team to below 100 yards for a game, it's awful danged good. USC held Vanderbilt to 77 yards. The Gamecocks had 12 tackles for loss and six sacks. They forced two fumbles and had an interception. And the Commodores only got to 77 thanks to 27 yards on the final possession, when USC had its second-stringers in. USC was evenly distributed on the tackles, with Marty Markett leading the way with five stops, and I thought Devin Taylor had an excellent game, although he was only credited with one tackle. Ellis Johnson got a game ball. Deservedly.

A.A. STANDS FOR ALL-AMERICAN: Allen. Four games. Three fumble recoveries. Two interceptions. A team-high 36 tackles. Two touchdowns. Heisman voters will start getting propaganda in mid-October, and while USC may have a bevy of literature, some of it needs to be about Allen.

GETTING THERE: As bad as the offense looked, it converted 10-of-19 third downs. Gamecocks were 15-of-35 coming in.

CONSTANT: Ace Sanders is getting really good at the box-out route, where Garcia can hit him in stride and he can get out-of-bounds. It seems to be the one throw that Garcia can hit every time, at least this season. Sanders led the team with four catches for 75 yards, and is proving to be Garcia's favorite target in the short field (since the long route has been practically non-existent this year).

HE DID IT!: The struggles of Stephon Gilmore have been well-documented over the past 18 games, and many seemed to center on that he seemed to hardly ever play inside on passes where he was out-jumped or beaten on. Gilmore would go for the man and not the ball, which led to the trouble. On Saturday, the pass went deep down the sideline, Gilmore had him step-for-step, he cut inside, leaped at the same time and caught the ball with the receiver. Close call, but the interception stood, and Gilmore had the play. Gilmore's getting coached to play inside, and did so; perhaps the success on Saturday will inspire more of the same.

RUNNING WILDS: Brandon Wilds might have to get that redshirt removed, especially if Miles doesn't get his hand better soon. Wilds, big and powerful enough to not go down on first contact, and speedy enough to avoid some tackles, looked good when he got the ball. His first play, naturally, was called back due to holding, but otherwise, Wilds showed enough to where he could get some carries as Lattimore's backup if Miles doesn't improve. He can still get the redshirt if the Gamecocks choose to "find" an injury for him, but that's up to them.

FINALLY: Victor Hampton made his long-awaited college debut, and looked very strong. He only had two tackles, but played his position well and showed some attitude when he made a stop. The Gamecocks need some help, especially at cornerback, and Hampton can provide that. He's done well off the field as well, and if that continues, there's no reason that he can't be the all-world player he's projected to be.

THAT'S THE SITUATION: No, the Gamecocks haven't looked good, particularly on passing offense and passing defense. But they are still 4-0 and 2-0 in the SEC. It's the first time they've been 4-0 under Steve Spurrier. If they have to win ugly, they're still winning.



THE BAD

BLOCK-HEADS: Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott feels that he has his best five on the field, which is why they played every snap against Georgia and Navy and almost every snap against Vanderbilt. Against the Commodores, though, they didn't look very strong. Lattimore had no room to run, often being swallowed after the handoff, and when Garcia did pull it together to complete a pass, it was sometimes called back for holding. Not a great night for Elliott's boys, and I'm pretty sure he knew it, after being seen several times screaming from the sidelines and venturing onto the field (not that that's a strange sight). The Gamecocks have backups, but aren't using them. Perhaps it's time to change that, going to Spurrier's old line that if the first guys aren't playing well, then give the new guys a chance. Vanderbilt's defense was good, and I would have to say still leading the country with 14 interceptions, but a guy that ran for 246 yards suddenly getting held to 77 isn't solely the cause of playing a strong defense (from a team regarded as the historical worst in SEC history).

AUTOMATIC: There need to be five pages in every playbook. They contain five plays that are automatic, short-yardage pickups every time. These are used in crucial situations where a team may need to use both downs on third and fourth, so it can keep a game-winning or go-ahead drive alive. USC may have those, but sure didn't show it on Saturday. First quarter, fourth-and-1 from the USC 40-yard-line, Garcia was stuffed for no gain when he tried to take the snap and leap over the top. Fourth quarter, USC trying to salt it away with a fourth-and-1 from the Vandy 35, Lattimore was squashed for no gain. Yes, Vandy's defense is good, but on those plays, especially against a tired unit in the fourth quarter, it shouldn't be that good.

LOOK OUT!: It was mentioned as a problem in preseason camp. T.J. Johnson was snapping high too many times. It wasn't a problem in the first three games. Now we all see why. Johnson was still snapping it high many times, but Garcia knew Johnson well enough that he knew were to place his hands to get it, pull it down and then direct the play. Well, when Bruce Ellington checked in on the Wild Wing package, Johnson snapped it over Ellington's head for a 16-yard loss. I don't blame Ellington, because he gives up five inches to Garcia and Johnson is used to snapping to someone five inches taller. But you could tell Johnson knew he was the one that screwed up because on the very next snap, Garcia back under center, Johnson snapped it so low that Garcia never had it and Dalton Wilson had to dive on it and recover the fumble. Distressing to see from a center with so much experience, but it didn't cost the Gamecocks - much.

RE-THINK?: I give Ellington a break on the high snap. Not his fault, in my eye. On the others, though … He had two kick returns for 52 yards. Straight-ahead running, no jukes or tries to avoid the pile. On the Gamecocks' second play from scrimmage, Ellington got the ball on an end-around. He skirted the end and dropped the ball. Just dropped it. It rolled out-of-bounds, but he still dropped it. I know it's only been four games, and I know he hasn't played football in quite a while, but is it maybe time to start thinking about returning full-time to a place where he knows he's a full-time commodity - the basketball court? Sure hasn't been any of this razzle-dazzle excitement I was supposed to have seen by now (against three opponents who are regarded as inferior).




THE UGLY

STOP SHAVING: Either he needs to re-grow that beard, or camp in the film room for a week, or something, because whatever Garcia is currently doing, it is not working. A fifth-year senior should not be making these mistakes. Why is it, unless it's that Sanders box-out route, Garcia still can't hit a man in stride? Why is every deep pass a jump-ball? Why is he still locked into the trap of trying to make nothing plays into something? FOUR interceptions on Saturday. One wasn't his fault, the sideline throw to Alshon Jeffery where Jeffery was supposed to run a come-backer and quit running. The others? C'mon.

Scrambling, getting hit, throwing deep with one receiver in triple coverage. Scrambling, sideline throw, never saw the man camping underneath. Scrambling, gets to the 5, the Tim Tebow jump pass where Jeffery thought Garcia was running, the throw was beyond his outstretched hand and picked. And let's not even bring up the other two - Jeffery breaking up a pass to him in double coverage that he couldn't get, but the two defenders should; and the insanely lucky completion that was a pick, but was dropped, and Sanders was there to catch the ricochet.

Garcia offered no excuse but also didn't say it was squarely on him. He said sometimes he over-throws or under-throws, or it's the defense. For as many times as I've stood up for the guy and said he's the best option - and he is, for the offense that Spurrier is determined to run - this is just bad, bad football. A quarterback needs to be a leader, not a guy that depends on his tailback and his defense to do his work for him. Seven interceptions in four games. That doesn't have the NFL, or even arena football, drooling.

THEY WERE ALL … YELLOW: Nine flags for 67 yards. A.J. Cann got hit three times. Many wiped out big gains, like passes where Garcia actually knew what he was doing. It's hard enough to win at USC without USC contributing to the loss.

HOLD ON!: I really don't understand what's so difficult about coming up with a simplified system where the quarterback knows the plays and calls the signals. Every time I looked up on Saturday, Spurrier or Garcia were calling timeout, including one just before halftime, after 15 seconds had run off the clock, on a punt, with 59 seconds left in the half and knowing there were no remaining timeouts and that the team couldn't hit a downfield pass. Spurrier answered with a, "Not really," when asked if there was some mis-communication going on, but there's something troubling about going to the line, crouching, rising and gazing to the sideline with the expression of the lost sheep. Call the play. If there's a tricky defense on, audible. The Gamecocks' offense is in bad-enough shape without not being able to get a play called.

HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE?: After Garcia threw a couple of picks, or there were some ill-timed timeouts, the Williams-Brice Stadium crowd booed. And I don't blame it. It should have booed. It's so frustrating to see a team with this much talent play this badly. I encourage the booing. Perhaps some of the players that are not playing up to snuff will get the message and get it together. As for the recruits that attended Saturday's game and doubtless heard it, take it like this - come here and play so well that you can end it.

GOLDEN HORSESHOE: Has that shiny U-shaped trinket traveled up I-85, then hit I-385 to I-26 and landed in Columbia after beginning its journey in Auburn last year? The Gamecocks are getting so lucky that they ought to make offseason plans for Vegas. Garcia said he'd rather be lucky than talented, and last night, it served him well. That Sanders catch, where the guy had Garcia's fourth interception (at the time), and dropped it with Sanders right in front of him to make a catch? The ball rolling in front of Ingram, who was only trying to escort Allen into the end zone? Spurrier squandering all of his timeouts with an offense that couldn't pass downfield, then seeing Garcia get blitzed, flip to Lattimore and him out-running somebody to the end zone (as good as Lattimore is, his breakaway speed is not a highlight)?

At the end of the day, USC is 4-0. Have the Gamecocks had lucky plays? Good Lord, yes. I realize that Spurrier would much rather win comfortably than on lucky plays, but the wins are there. The problem is keeping that going, and luck doesn't last forever.

[Complete USC-Vanderbilt game coverage: Click here]

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