For my first post (I know it’s already Thursday, so sue me) that is Gamecock preview related, earlier this week I exchanged a Q&A with Gamecock Man who runs the South Carolina oriented SB Nation website, Garnet and Black Attack. Check them out as they do good work over there. Here are my answers to his questions (note that the questions between us were exchanged prior to the AJ Green news from today):
1. This was the esteemed Senator’s pre-game analysis for last year’s game. Removing the obvious references to Jon Fabris and Norwood, is there any reason to expect this year’s version to be different, last year’s results notwithstanding?
Yes and no–I don’t expect a high-scoring game, but I also don’t necessarily expect another 13-9 or 14-7-type of game, either. I definitely expect this year’s bout to return to the mean and not look like last year’s Twilight Zone game. That said, from my perspective as a Gamecocks fans, our team appears to have the best offense we’ve had in many years. I don’t doubt that UGA is going to be bringing a stout defense to Columbia, but I also expect that we’re going to find ways to move the ball fairly effectively. On the other hand, the jury is still out on our defense. Although we only gave up 13 points because we were great inside the 30, our defense gave up a whopping 400 yards last week. Granted, a lot of that came on USM’s last couple of drives, while the third-stringers were in, and word is we’ll get a potential All-SEC guy back in Chris Culliver. I also think too much has been made of our inability to hastle USM’s QB; the Golden Eagles were running a lot of quick screens and the like that made it difficult for us to rack up the sacks. Still, we didn’t exactly dominate their offense, and that makes me worry a bit about UGA moving the ball. The one good thing I saw was that we did well defending the run, and slowing down King and Ealey will be really important for us against your team.
Whatever happens, I expect this to be another close one.
2. This may have been my biggest criticism from last week’s USC/Southern Miss game, but was Garcia really that impressive? If you’d been listening to the Palmer/James train, you’d think he was a front line Heisman contender. What I saw were a bunch of WR screens coupled with short dump offs to the flats and short crossing routes. He wasn’t really needed to make a difficult throw down the field, which I assume he will at some point against UGA. Are South Carolina fans genuinely excited that this could be a big time year for Garcia or is the excitement more along the lines of amazement that he didn’t make any plays that would be considered “dumb” for a change?
I do think you’re right that Palmer and James, and probably some of our fans, overplayed Garcia’s performance last week. He was a little off on two or three throws that could have made the game an even bigger blowout than it was; there was one post route that sticks out in my head where Alshon Jeffery had a huge lead on a mismatched corner but where Garcia threw it behind the route. That said, he did make a couple of really nice downfield throws, so you have to give him credit for those, too. I do think you’re right that some of the reaction may just be people making too much of the fact that they’re just relieved that he didn’t do anything that seemed particularly stupid–he protected the ball and, perhaps even more stunningly, never got sacked despite feeling a bit of pressure at times. That’s progress for him, though, and if he can continue to do that as well as be an excellent passer at least most of the time, I think he can have a pretty good year.
3. I have to ask it, but this whole “hot seat” discussion. Is this a creation of a zealous media looking for ad revenues and page hits during the off season (I’m looking at you Paul Finebaum), an increasingly vocal minority of UGA fans, or is there some reality to this? (before answering this question, I’d direct you to this blog post by former Gamecock beat writer and current Bulldog beat writer Seth Emerson when posed the same question)
I’m not exactly sure how to approach this question, as I’m not privy to the UGA admin’s feelings about Richt or even your own, although you’re certainly suggesting that he’s not on the hotseat. Here goes, though–as far as guys like Finebaum goes, I think we all know they’re just trying to stir up controversy, draw readers, and increase ad revenue. And certainly, saying Richt is on the hotseat is a little extreme–I couldn’t imagine UGA would fire him unless he completely tanks this year. At the same time, though, isn’t it possible that Richt is starting to feel a little pressure? Don’t get me wrong; I think he’s a great coach who has had a lot of success at UGA. But what happens if he goes 7-5 again? His last few seasons, with the exception of 2007, have looked a lot more like the Goff / Donnan years than Richt’s heyday from 2002-2005. I’m assuming that he’s got to do better than that at least most of the time to keep his job totally secure. All that said, I expect a nine- or ten-win season for the Dawgs this year, which should clear things up nicely for him. But if he struggles, I would think that “vocal minority” might get a lot more listeners than it has right now.
4. Is there really a perpetual Chicago Cub type “next year is our year” mentality around the Gamecock program or is this a myth perpetuated by fans of opposing schools as something to rib our neighbors to the East?
Yes and no. (I think I’ve answered like this to all of your questions, but there it is.) We don’t really believe that every year is the year. Only the most optimistic (some might say insane) Gamecocks fans, for example, believed that we would compete for an SEC Title in either of the past two years. We didn’t have a QB in 2008 and were very young last year, and the reasonable ones out of us were just hoping for winning seasons, maybe eight or nine wins if we got lucky. It’s the vocal minority thing you mentioned, though–the ones expecting SEC Titles are oftentimes the loudest and most obnoxious, and they get taken to be representative of the whole fanbase.
That said, I won’t deny that we’re generally a very hopeful bunch. When trying to figure out why we seem to feel more optimism than our history would allow, you have to remember that, at least in the last decade or so, we haven’t been an awful team. We’ve had a few pretty good years–2000, 2001, and 2005, in particular–and in the others we’ve generally been competitive. Each year seems to have a win or two that could reasonably make one believe that big things are on the way–think UGA in 2007, or Ole Miss last year. And a lot of our losses tend to have this “if only we could have made that one play” kind of quality. There’s a way in which the Gamecocks are constantly dangling the prospect of success right ahead of us, and the fact that it always seems so close makes us believe that eventually it’ll happen.
5. Since both our alma maters have dealt with some level of hand wringing from the NCAA and its apparent lack of commitment to timely responses regarding the eligibility of some players in question (South Carolina didn’t hear until a few hours before kickoff and UGA had to sit out AJ Green for the season opener due to no confirmation from the NCAA on a ruling), what is your thought on the whole process? Hypothetically speaking, let’s say AJ Green is held out this Saturday because no decision has come down and UGA loses by 3 points, but Monday the NCAA determines he was eligible. If something like that happened, there’s no way the NCAA can win the court of public opinion. Is there something the NCAA can do to expedite this process or is the NCAA so lacking on credibility at this point anyways, does it even matter if it tries to save face?
(Note–this answer is coming after the Green decision came down.) I think the NCAA really needs to figure out how to make its decisions quickly and equitably. While I don’t want to suggest that it’s played favorites, it has appeared to be inconsistent when it comes to how long it takes to wrap up each investigation, and that–whether malicious or not–is not equitable treatment. In that sense, it’s undermining it’s very purpose in carrying out these investigations, which is presumably to make sure that no one gets an unfair advantage. In that sense, it’s really important for these guys to get on the same page. Unfortunately, almost nothing about their procedure suggests that’s what they want to do; their bylaws and rulings are filled with vague, open-to-interpretation language, and that makes it seem as if they want to be able to hand down rulings in a completely arbitrary manner. At any rate, I think it’s going to be hard for them to come back from the PR hit they’ve taken this offseason. But the writing may be on the wall for them–if a serious conference reorganization was ever to come to pass, don’t be surprised if the conferences try to get together and create a new governing body that works in their interests.
Again, I’d like to thank Gamecock Man for being a good sport and taking some time to answer my questions.