Talking With the Enemy: 2011 South Carolina Version

Similar to last year, Gamecock Man from the great South Carolina blog, Garnet and Black Attack, has been kind enough to exchange a few questions and answers with me related to the game.  Check out my responses to his questions here.

1. Was the rough showing against East Carolina to start the game just early game jitters or did it expose some chinks in the South Carolina armor?  I know East Carolina piled up its lead based on turnovers, but the same could be said for South Carolina’s comeback being largely aided by East Carolina turnovers.  Did the first game performance take some wind out of the sails of the South Carolina fans or are you guys just brushing it off and still expecting big things this year?

It both did and didn’t expose weaknesses in Carolina’s armor. A lot of our problems could be chalked up to early game jitters. The turnovers were all fumbles, most of them from players who either aren’t likely to fumble often (Marcus Lattimore) or players who won’t get many special-teams touches from here on out (Stephon Gilmore, Kenny Miles). If they had been Stephen Garcia interceptions, it would be a different story, but I don’t think these turnovers were very predictive of what’s going to happen this year for Carolina.

Of course, you could say that our comeback was just as much a product of turnovers as our early deficit, but I’m not sure that really says much about how this game played out as most people think. At the end of the day, Carolina won by almost three TDs. That’s right about what Vegas thought would happen. People look at the score and the early deficit and say Carolina struggled, but I’m not sure they’d be saying that if Carolina had marched to a more conventional 19-point victory. I kind of see it as being that the TOs made the game more interesting than it might otherwise have been, but at the end of the day they evened out and the scoreboard reflected the difference between the two teams.

You also have to note that the turnovers weren’t the only anomaly; Shaw starting was the other. Does the first quarter go as badly with Garcia under center? Probably not.

All of this said, I do think Carolina showed some chinks, particularly in the secondary. East Carolina moved the ball well through the air at times, both due to poor schematics from the coaches and our players’–particularly Stephon Gilmore’s–inability to make key plays. Carolina has some depth returning in the secondary this weekend, but I still think UGA has the potential to hurt Carolina with Aaron Murray’s arm.

2. There’s been lots of sentiment that if you lined up the talent that South Carolina has this year in a Florida or Texas uniform, they’d be widely considered a top five team.  Do you believe that South Carolina is being underrated this year (if being a pre-season top 15 team is really grounds to be underrated) or the perception is accurate that they are good, but largely aided by the fact that the traditional three big powers in their division all seem to be in a down cycle right now?

South Carolina’s talent level has obviously risen a good bit since Spurrier arrived. Never before has South Carolina had quite this many All-American and All-SEC-type players. That said, I still think South Carolina’s depth is a bit worse than your Oklahoma’s, Alabama’s, etc. Carolina is a few OL and DB injuries away from having serious problems. However, the top-level talent is as good as anyone in the nation. I really don’t think that anyone has as good of a RB-WR combo as Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery. And the defensive line is chock full of NFL talent.

As far as the East being on a down cycle, I certainly think the East being down had something to do with Carolina’s East title. Can you imagine that Carolina team winning the East in one of the years that Florida won the national title? Probably not. That said, Carolina won the games it had to, and it did beat a top-ranked Alabama team. It’s not like last year’s Carolina team was comparable to past 6-6 and 7-5 Carolina outfits. It was certainly an improved team.

As far as the East this year goes, I’ll wait until the end of the season to comment.

3. Jadeveon Clowney.  We’ve all seen the high school videos of him looking like an NFL player in a pee wee football league.  How do you feel about his performance in the East Carolina game and how do you think he will be utilized against the Dawgs?

He looked fantastic in the ECU game. He was all over the field, got at the QB a few times, and made some nice plays tackling runners and receivers. He did overpursue a couple of times, showing some freshman inexperience. Those mistakes may take some time to weed out. However, other than that he looked very good. Granted, that was against a bad ECU offensive line, but I expect an impact from him this year, including his first career sack against UGA. It’s hard to say whether he’ll be on the field quite as much this weekend, though. Against ECU, he played almost every significant down, but we were running a small, coverage-oriented defensive line because ECU never runs the ball and likes the short pass. That won’t be the case against Georgia, and I expect that–other than on obvious passing downs–you’ll see Clowney rotate with Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram (Ingram played DT against ECU but is likely to play more DE against UGA) more so than be on the field with both of them at the same time.

4. To echo your question to me; if you had to take one player from Georgia’s roster, who would it be and why?

I’d go with Brandon Boykin. We could use a player like him at CB, and obviously he’s a playmaker in other phases of the game, too. Can’t have enough players like him.

Plan B might be Drew Butler. Seriously. Carolina may struggle punting this year, so we could use Butler.

5.  What will it take for Georgia to pull the upset (that’s right, Vegas has South Carolina as a three point favorite – never thought I’d ever live to see a South Carolina team favored in Sanford Stadium) this Saturday?  Should Mark Richt start polishing up his resume or do you think the man will prove us all wrong and show that Georgia just ran into a buzzsaw last week against Boise State?

I think the key for Georgia in this game is improved offensive line play. Based on the performance against Boise, I really, really like the way our DL matches up against your OL, and if Crowell can’t find room to run and particularly if Clowney, Taylor, and Ingram are all over Murray on every pass, this game will likely be over quickly. However, if UGA’s OL play improves and gives Murray some room to work, I think UGA can gain some yards in the air. Defensively, UGA needs to force turnovers. USC has lots of offensive talent this year and should be able to move the ball well, but the potential for forcing some TOs is always there with Garcia at QB.

In sum, I think the matchups favor Carolina in this game, even more than the line indicates. I’ll go ahead and say that if Richt loses this game, he’s probably done. He and his staff screwed the pooch on the Boise game. To say nothing of winning, UGA should have at least been able to play closely with Boise if the Dawgs are really a Top-25 team. Instead, UGA got ran off the field more or less as soundly as many of Boise’s more respectable conference opponents. That falls on the coaching staff; there’s no excuse for such underwhelming play from a program with such obvious advantages. There’s still time to right the ship if Richt can rally the troops this weekend, but if he doesn’t do it now, he’ll likely need to do something drastic, like win out, to save his job. And if he loses this game, I doubt his team will be able to go on that kind of run.

Much thanks again to Gamecock Man for taking the time to exchange Q&A’s with me.

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