Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Lattimore’

What are the chances that we see another happy splash like this at the end of this season?

It’s not football season until I try to lower your expectations about the Gamecocks, right? Okay, you don’t have to answer that question. This could really be a season like no other. Because of that, I think we need to look a little deeper at what to expect. (Translation: I’m just making up an excuse to write more) We’ll split this preview up into three parts:

Part 1: Where is this team in the national pecking order?
Part 2: 1st half predictions
Part 3: 2nd half predictions and other useless stuff

How good is this team? No, really.
I imagine that you have some pretty fond memories of last season. The Gamecocks finished 11-2 and beat Nebraska in the Capital One Citrus Bowl, 30-13. First 11 win season in school history, (second double-digit win total overall, more on that later) best final poll ranking ever. Here are some other, um, accolades:
-Wins against Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson in the same season
-Connor Shaw finished second in the SEC in passer rating
-Marcus Lattimore missed the final 6.5 games of the year, yet finished 7th in the SEC in rushing yards
-Went undefeated vs. division opponents
-Beat Clemson for the 3rd year in a row
-Went on a legitimate run *after* losing the returning passer and rusher from the previous season

So, all of these things were great. No, really, they were. Hell, the HBC even gave the team rings (I’m not so sure if that’s the finished product) for their accomplishments. But since I’m supposed to be about perspective, let’s have just a little:
-In the loss to Auburn, the Tigers ran about 238 plays, and the Gamecocks were peeing their pants instead of driving down the field to either tie or take the lead.
-The team got rings for winning, among other things, the Citrus Bowl—which was played in front of about 10,000 empty seats. The Citrus Bowl is still played on New Year’s Day, which is great. But, it’s probably a 3rd tier game at best.
(So maybe it’s hard to really nitpick here. That’s not so bad!)

Anyway, the heights reached last season were dizzying, to say the least. But you have to wonder “Now what?”, right? Is it time to take another step into the rare air of “top five national title contender”, or did South Carolina miss out on taking charge while teams like Florida and Tennessee struggled? Will 11 wins and another 3rd tier (or second tier) bowl game be enough? How quickly would the city burn to the ground if the Gamecocks won the SEC Championship? Will this be a letdown season? What actually qualifies as a “letdown”? Since things could go either way, I’ll yo-yo between signs of a promising season and signs of a letdown. Let’s face it, folks: The “what if” game is really fun!!

Letdown Sign: Breakthrough years are sometimes followed up with breakdown years.
While I may have still been in diapers, I’m sure some of you are quite familiar with the Black Magic season of 1984. At that time, it was the best season EVAR for the Gamecocks. Wins over Georgia, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Florida State and Clemson led to a 10-2 record and a birth in the Gator Bowl against Oklahoma State. That next year? Not so awesome. And no, this isn’t just a South Carolina thing:
-Georgia Tech went 11-3 and to the Orange Bowl in 2008, only to go 6-7 in 2009.
-Kansas went 11-1 and won the Orange Bowl in 2007, but fell to 8-5 in 2008.
-Illinois made it to the Sugar Bowl with a 10-2 record in 2001, but fell to 5-7 in 2002.
-Maryland won 31 games (and the ACC once!) from 2001-03, only to go 5-6 in both 2004 and 2005.
-Ole Miss tripped (sorry, Eli) to 10-3 and the Cotton Bowl in 2003, only to go 4-7 in 2004.
(Of course, these are not elite programs in the slightest. Makes for great comparison to the Gamecocks, you guys.)
I understand that South Carolina went 9-5 in 2010, but if you recall how those last two games turned out, 2010 was definitely a breakthrough. Also, take a guess for how many 9 win seasons South Carolina has had in their history. Still guessing? The answer is 3. By comparison, Oklahoma has had 32 ten win seasons. So, yeah—last year was a breakthrough. Unfortunately, history isn’t very kind to that sort of thing.

Next Level Sign: Stability
For the first time in something like 309 years, Steve Spurrier has a quarterback that he’s pleased with. As I noted before, Connor Shaw was second in the conference in pass efficiency. The offense is no longer just a “See how far Marcus runs, pop five or six hemorrhoids, then throw it deep to Alshon Jeffrey” (my unbiased scout’s take). The offense has a foundation of the zone read, and there are capable receivers around to keep the defense from focusing on just one. Instead of going outside to get a defensive coordinator after Ellis Johnson left for Southern Miss, the team promoted Lorenzo Ward. Nothing “feels” different around here. That’s not really a bad thing at all.

Letdown Sign: Injuries
Okay, so injuries happen. And college football teams carry something like 174 players, so if someone gets hurt then the backup comes in and you’re set, no problem. There’s only one problem: It never works out that way. There is a general consensus that Marcus Lattimore is one of the best running backs in the country. Of course, he missed half of last year with a serious knee injury. I say serious knee injury because the school never said what actually happened to his knee. While there’s plenty of reason to think that Lattimore will play great this year, production after a serious knee injury isn’t really an exact science. Also, do you remember that Connor Shaw suffered two concussions last season (against Arkansas and Nebraska)? The more we learn about head injuries, the worse that sounds…right? Don’t let the drafting of Stephon Gilmore fool you, the South Carolina secondary was not awesome last year. Of course, now the team is down one starter in that part of the defense already. Again, injuries happen. But when thy happen to a team expected to actually do well, um…

Next Level Sign: About those expectations…
Sure, South Carolina starts the season ranked in the Top 10. Football Outsiders says the most likely result for the Gamecocks is 8-4. The average projected wins (still through Football Outsiders—they may be nerds, but they’re usually not wrong) is 7.7, which is lowest among any of the other teams ranked in the top 10. The media members who attended SEC’s media days think that Georgia will win the division. (Of course, Andy Staples favors the Gamecocks) From what I’ve seen, Sports Illustrated is the only major publication that has Georgia ranked below South Carolina (I need to renew my subscription!). Of course, since I have “Great Hype Falls Hard” tattooed on my chest, I think this is great news! If South Carolina continues to win, they’ll surely climb the rankings by default (because at least 3 of the teams ahead in the rankings will lose at some point). This “lying in the weeds” status is just the thing to lead to something awesome. And yes, I used the word “awesome”.

Letdown Sign: IT’S SOUTH CAROLINA!
I was going to use the schedule as a letdown factor, but I “knew” that LSU would likely be on the schedule this season, and The Swamp is only intimidating if Florida is actually good (that remains to be seen). As I mentioned before, the Gamecocks had only had three NINE win seasons, ever. Remember the mostly likely scenario I mentioned before? That would be the 11th eight win season ever. I will agree with you if you were to say that this has been a healthy growth for the Gamecocks. But, of course, that’s not the most difficult thing to do when you’re 11 games over .500—-all time. Remember those “successful” basketball teams from the late nineties? Flamed out in the first round. Even the back-to-back champion baseball team went down in a cloud of Asian-American + gigantic strike zone dust to Arizona. This is just guessing, but I believe there are more people who believe in non football forces (karma, the “football gods”, luck, the moon) when rooting for their team(s). Well, that sort of stuff has never really been on the side of the Gamecocks. There’s a certain Cubs/Clippers/Mets/Maple Leafs aura to the Gamecocks that just hasn’t been shaken…ever. Everything is seemingly in place now. Will that matter, though?

Here’s hoping that I’ve worked you up into a nice enough lather in order to read my predictions for every game next season. To be continued.

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I could sit here and commit to doing multiple posts about the Gamecocks, but we know that’s not going to happen. I do plan to periodically post about the pulse of the team on a semi regular basis. Of course, since I’ve already done one all South Carolina post, this could fulfill my requirement.

Say what you will, but this will probably be the play of the season.

Before we begin, I should let you let me have it. You may recall that I had the Gamecocks pegged to lose their first game against East Carolina. For what it’s worth, that was a bold call. And admit it: You were scared shitless when the lead for East Carolina grew to 17. You were also terrified when the Pirates were up 24-14. Yours truly was ready to write the epithet for this game after seeing four turnovers in the first half (And, I was justly called out for doing so).

But, of course, ECU decided to get cute and commit their own mistakes, and South Carolina did what good teams do—take advantage of opportunities. Sure, giving up 37 points is not ideal, but considering that it took ECU 56 pass attempts to get 260 yards, you have to feel good about the, uh, efficiency. Anyway, I should own up to being dead wrong. That win says a lot about resiliency of the Gamecocks. And let’s be honest, that’s not a word you could use for this team before. So, I will gladly eat crow here, and realize that maybe this team will be awesome after all.

Anyway, I’ve “watched” most of the first two games of the season, and there have been a few things that have stuck out to me the most. I want to say that I have a finite number of topics to throw out, but I’m a man who’s not about limits. Anyway, here’s what I’ve noticed thus far.

1. Marcus Lattimore is somehow underrated.
If you were to ask someone who is the best player in college football right now, many of them will mention Andrew Luck. (I’m not saying that they’re wrong, but let’s be honest—if you’re tall, white, and play quarterback with at least a lick of common sense, you’ll be loved in college football. More on that later, maybe) I watched one of the ESPN analysts talk about his incredible balance. I thought, “Man, this is one play. Surely that was an irrelevant fact, right?” Well, the game against Georgia showed off his balance and then some. He also has an insane ability to always fall forward. He is supremely a running back. There’s not a lot of flash to his game, but let’s be honest, the flashy guys don’t last very long anyway (Unless you’re Barry Sanders). It’s almost like you look away for a second, and then…boom, Marcus has 150 yards rushing. It’s truly a special thing.

2. Stephen Garcia won’t get it done playing like this.
Well, maybe he will? I mean, did you think that the Gamecocks would have 5198 defensive and special teams touchdowns? (It’s possible that the actual number could be slightly exaggerated.) Anyway, take a look at his stats. If you start weeping, that’s okay. He’s not completing half of his passes, which is waaaaaayyyy down from what he did last year. Also, if you looked at some of those passes, they were way off. Not even close. That’s…not good. The decent QBs are completing at least 65 percent of their passes (Okay, maybe 62). Also, the interceptions won’t cut it later in the season (Of course, they still could—at this point, what’s the hardest game…at Arkansas?). Sure, he made two great throws (one for a TD to Alshon Jeffrey, another a key conversion to Ace Sanders). But, at some point, opponents will key against the run. Will Mr. Garcia be bologna or filet (courtesy ESPN First Take)? Unfortunately, the jury is still out.

3. The coaching staff BELIEVES in this team
Sure, Steve Spurrier seems to like his “Aw, shucks, we’ll see what happens out there.” strategy for the media (which really drives yours truly up the wall, but this post isn’t ALL about me). But think about it. He purposely held out Stephen Garcia, probably knowing that it was Stephen who gave the team the best chance to win. Of course, I’m sure he didn’t think that:
1. Connor Shaw would be so ridiculously flat
2. That Garcia would bring so much energy to the team and the crowd. I mean, the players practiced too. So, shouldn’t they have shown a little more confidence with Connor Shaw leading the offense?

But that pales in comparison to the move pulled off in the second quarter of the Georgia game. Facing a fourth down, the punt team came out. Well, I’m pretty sure that Melvin Ingram is not always the upback. (Don’t worry, I’m looking out for you. A quick explanation on the upman for those of you that were wondering.) I mentioned this on Twitter when it happened, but usually, “trick” plays (I have a problem with calling them trick plays because NOBODY’S BEING TRICKED. All the stuff is still happening on the field!) are usually a last gasp sort of thing. Teams pull them out when they think there’s no chance. (Pull them out—DRINK!) But having your 275 lb defensive tackle as the upman, who takes the snap and runs for a touchdown? That’s an Eff You, folks. The coaching staff made this call because they knew they were going to win this game. No other way to put it. That’s a trust and level of confidence that I just haven’t seen before. (Sure, it helps when you have great players) If the coaches believe in the players, then the players will believe in themselves. And if the players believe in themselves, well…I think you get the point.

4. The defense…uh, um…
Sure, a win is a win. But when you’ve given up 79 points in two games…that’s not very good!!! I think the Seattle Mariners have scored a total of 79 runs all year, and they’ve played over 140 games! Anyway, it’s hard to deny that there are playmakers on the defensive side for this team (Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney, sometimes Stephon Gilmore, et al). And there have been big plays made. But…Aaron Murray had a pretty good day minus the turnovers, (Jerry Jones could not be reached for comment) and Isiah Crowell ran wild. While you want to believe that things will pipe down for the defense, it’s going to be hard to expect 21 points off of special teams and turnovers each game. And, with Navy coming to welcome the team home Saturday, this would be a good time to get things in order (last I checked, Navy was pretty good at running the football). And let’s be honest for a minute: Has there been any time where you could remember a stretch of consistently good defensive play by South Carolina? It sure would be a good time to start.

5. This is not a “me first” team.
I am a self-proclaimed “old school/old guard” guy when it comes to sports (Of course, the fact that I have to stretch twice a day just to avoid knee pain probably just makes me OLD). One thing that annoys me to no end is when players get all boastful after making a tackle/first down/mildly significant play. (I also hate standing at home plate to watch your home run and the designated hitter—but hey, that’s just me) Anyway, that’s not what you see with these guys. Hell, Marcus Lattimore is so gracious that I think his demeanor would be illegal in at lest 15 countries. Even after coming in and pretty much saving the day, Stephen Garcia was munching down on the humble pie after the game. Melvin Ingram seemingly shrugged off the fact that he made three sensational plays (the fake punt, picking up the fumble recovery, and recovering the onside kick by Georgia). I’m not saying that you should never celebrate. But this team as a whole seems focused. That’s a BIG deal.

So, what do these five things mean? Should we all start booking our trips to New Orleans? Are the shortcomings just a recipe for disaster (that road trip to Starkville, Knoxville and Fayetville is not only going to be a Redneckpalooza, but those will be tough games)? It’s too early to tell. But with what this team has done so far, but you have to like what you see if you’re a Gamecock fan. Let’s just hope that this isn’t all thrown out of the window this Saturday. (No, that wasn’t a jinx)