Friday, September 30, 2011

USC - Damiere Byrd Update

Per, New Jersey freshman wide receiver, Damiere Byrd, is eligible to play Saturday versus Auburn according to the NCAA Student Reinstatement staff. On Thursday USC notified the NCAA of possible "improper benefits" given to Byrd by an acquaintance, non-USC related. The USC Compliance Department immediately declared Damiere Byrd ineligible until further notice. That is all I know at this time.

Five Keys to USC/Auburn Match-Up

South Carolina will welcome the defending BCS National Champions, the Auburn Tigers, to Williams-Brice Stadium tomorrow in front of a national TV audience at 3:30 on CBS. It’s a day/night SEC doubleheader as Carolina & Auburn get the lead-in game to the Alabama/Florida game at eight o’clock. Last year Carolina played once in the 3:30 CBS time slot and boy was it a memorable performance as the Gamecocks shocked the college football world and defeated then #1 defending 2010 BCS Champions Alabama Crimson Tide. Auburn brings a 3-1 (1-0, SEC record) overall record into the contest. The Tigers suffered their lone blemish two weeks ago versus Clemson as the Upstate Tigers halted the 17-game Auburn win streak 38-24. Both Auburn and USC seem to be offensively challenged in 2011, but the Tigers from the Plains are really experiencing growing pains on defense through four games. You would think Carolina fans would be licking their chops to take a turn at walloping the Auburn piƱata, I mean defense, but after last week’s performance by the offense versus Vanderbilt, Carolina fans might feel like wearing a blind fold when USC is on offense! I expect both teams to play well and another Rolaids rollercoaster at the cockpit! Do you remember the 2006 Thursday night contest against Auburn when the Tigers had possession of the ball the entire 3rd quarter? Nobody has forgotten the beat down Auburn dished out to Carolina in the SEC Championship last December! Auburn owns a six-game win streak versus USC. It’s time for payback on Saturday!

You can’t spell success without USC so let’s look at the recipe for victory against Auburn University.

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid): Last year this team was multiple on offense, less predictable and produced good numbers. The elevator ride that is Carolina’s offense in 2011 just needs a few tweaks to bring back a little cohesion. Speed up the offense with more zone read plays involving both Garcia and Lattimore, shorter passes (slants or quick WR/RB screens) and most importantly a quicker tempo. Quit standing around the line of scrimmage, looking over at the sidelines trying to audible to a perfect play and line-up and set the rhythm for the offense. Auburn is ranked 110th out of 120 teams in the FBS in Total Defense yielding almost 478 yards per game. Clemson rolled up 624 yards of total offense against Auburn two weeks ago and 236 rushing yards, per ESPN.

Achilles Heel: By now every media talking head has taken a turn at dissecting the problems of Stephen Garcia. Garcia is not a game manager. He is a gamer! The kid shows up to play every Saturday, injured or not, and displays a toughness that his teammates respect. Don’t ask Garcia to be a pocket passer and dissect defenses because the end result is turnovers (seven interceptions), which we all know is a slow painful death for a quarterback struggling with confidence in the SEC. In Greek mythology, the principal hero, Achilles, of the Trojan War was invincible except for his heel. Stephen Garcia’s heel is interceptions! Limit Garcia’s throws early in the game to 10 yards or less to build his confidence, and then when the Tigers are lulled to sleep with short slants & screens, SOS can slip in a Trojan horse deep down the field and hopefully catch the Tigers off guard.

Fearsome Front Four: USC’s defensive line played its best game of the season last week as it terrorized an inferior Vanderbilt o-line. Last year, Auburn started five seniors – that is not the case this year. Carolina’s d-line has accumulated 86 of the 287 total team tackles (30%), 14.5 tackles for losses, eight sacks (Clowney leads the SEC with four), six QB Hurries, three pass break-ups, three forced fumbles (Clowney owns all three), one fumble recovery (Ingram), one interception (Ingram) and two TDs (Ingram), per The State. The key will be can USC’s d-line control Auburn’s o-line. The Auburn o-line has only given up three sacks all season. Last week versus Florida Atlantic, the Auburn quarterback was hit 15 times (three sacks) on 62 plays, per TheBigSpur. Last week, the Carolina front four continued to make strides towards the preseason hype placed upon this unit. The Gamecocks d-line has now played six consecutive quarters of spectacular football, and Saturday’s test provides another challenge in defending against the Gus Malzahn spread offense.

Lattimore vs. Dyer the Trilogy: These two running backs were nearly teammates at Auburn until Lattimore spurned the Tigers for his home state Gamecocks back in February 2010. Lattimore & Dyer rank one (Lattimore) & three (Dyer) atop the SEC Rushing leaders. Last year, Lattimore enjoyed little running success versus Auburn when Nick Fairley was patrolling the line of scrimmage, but this year without Fairley Auburn is giving up nearly 226 rushing yards per game. The Auburn defense has only given up two rushing touchdowns to USC since 1996, per The State. The Auburn defense will sell out (8-9 players near line of scrimmage) to stop Lattimore, but IMHO the Duncan, SC native will eclipse the century mark against Auburn in the second half. I see a similar game plan as was the case versus UGA when Lattimore took control in the 4th quarter and piled up the yardage. Dyer is a fantastic running back in his own right, but without Cam Newton this year, IMHO, the Carolina defense can zero in on Dyer, slow down the Auburn rushing attack and make it difficult for Dyer to exploit the USC defense.

Minimize Malzahn Mayhem: Gus Malzahn is the Offensive Coordinator at Auburn. He uses a lot of formations and trickery to fool his opponents. Unfortunately, Ellis Johnson and the USC defense got a double dose of defeat at the hands of Malzahn & company last year. The spread offense has been a bugaboo for the USC defense for several years. The Auburn offense is not as potent in 2011, as it is replacing Heisman QB Cam Newton with Barrett Trotter and five new faces along the o-line. Also, the 2nd leading wide receiver (Trevon Reed) is out this game with an injury. If there was ever a year for USC to finally break through the Auburn ceiling, this is the year, but that Gus Malzahn offense can still score points, and until USC shows it can slow down a spread offense I am a skeptic.

A win versus Auburn moves Carolina to a 5-0 start (6th time in school history) for the first time since 2001, per The State.

Spurspective’s Prediction: Carolina 34 -27

My next blog will be posted Saturday morning with my top ten games for Week Five.

Go Gamecocks!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

USC/Auburn Numbers Crunch, SEC Power Index, USC QB Dilemma & Stock ↑↓

The USC/Auburn contest will be part of a day-night-TV-doubleheader broadcast nationally on CBS at 3:30 EST. The defending national champions, Auburn, will travel to William-Brice Stadium with confidence on their side. How so? Well, considering that Auburn has not lost to South Carolina since the Great Depression Era, 1933, why would the Tigers from the Plains fear a trip to Columbia, SC? Auburn is the lone team that USC has not beaten since the SEC last expanded back in 1992, and the Tigers enjoy a current six-game win streak against the Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier is 0-4 versus Auburn since taking over the reins at South Carolina back in November 2004. In the Gamecocks’ four losses, Auburn has averaged nearly 41 points per game against the OBC’s garnet & black defenses, while the Gamecocks have managed a meager 17 points per game versus Auburn. The cheatin’ Chiziks will bring a Cam Newton-less offense to the cockpit on Saturday, but with Gus Malzahn still engineering the high-octane Auburn offense, Ellis Johnson & crew will have their hands full.
Auburn is still an effective offense but not nearly as potent. Auburn ranks 78th in total offense, averaging nearly 374 yards of total offense. The Tigers have scored 17 TDs, but the defending national champs are scoring one less touchdown per game this year versus 2010. In contrast, Auburn is allowing one more touchdown per game on defense in 2011 versus last year. Auburn has won 68 consecutive games when scoring 30 points or more, per The State. Clemson held Auburn to 24 points, only a Field Goal in the second half. Auburn has given up seven sacks through three games and the Tigers protect the football, as well, only committing three turnovers, per NCAA. Auburn is 11/12 (92%) on Red Zone opportunities, ranking 24th in the NCAA, (ball inside opponents’ 20-yard line) and have scored seven touchdowns and four field goals. Conversely, Carolina has allowed opponents to score 12/13 chances (92%) inside the red zone, which ranks dead last in the SEC and 105th in the NCAA. On the flip side, the Gamecocks’ offense has been ineffective in the Red Zone scoring only 71% (10/14 chances) of the time with ten touchdowns (nine rushing TDs and one Pass TD) and one field goal. The Auburn Red Zone defense ranks 80th in the NCAA, giving up 15/17 scoring drives – an 88% clip. The Tigers’ defense is surrendering 478 yards per game, 227 yards rushing per game and 31 points per game.

It appears going into this game that both offenses will enjoy some success. I think the key match-up will be the USC defensive line against a young, inexperienced Auburn offensive line. The numbers favor a Gamecocks home victory on Saturday, but past history against Auburn definitely leaves doubt in my mind. If USC was producing offensive numbers like it did in 2010 then I would be very confident in choosing USC to win, but after watching Garcia & company sputter against Vanderbilt, I have my reservations in choosing Carolina to remain unbeaten. Oh well, wait until Friday to see my keys to the game and USC/Auburn prediction.

SEC Power Index:
1. LSU – The Bayou Bengals defeated three ranked teams on the road in the month of September.
2. Alabama – The Crimson Tide looks like another hard-nosed mistake-free Nick Saban team.
3. Florida – The Gators are explosive on offense, but QB John Brantley has yet to be tested.
4. South Carolina – The Gamecocks have beaten three teams ranked in the top 55 NCAA defenses.
5. Arkansas – Petrino’s offense is explosive and BAMA makes a lot of offenses look out of sync.
6. Georgia – UGA has a lot of nice young weapons on offense, and the schedule is very manageable.
7. Mississippi State – MSU lost a heartbreaker at Auburn, and the hangover has lingered for two weeks.
8. Auburn – The Tigers are battling inexperience and injuries as they try to replace 18 of 22 starters from 2010.
9. Tennessee – UT suffered a devastating injury when WR Justin Hunter tore his ACL against Florida two weeks ago. Dooley & Co. need to develop a running game fast so defenses stay honest.
10. Vanderbilt – The Commodores defense is legitimate, but the offense looks spurious!
11. Kentucky – Don’t worry UK fans, basketball practice begins in a few weeks and then Big Blue Nation can exact some revenge for a discouraging football campaign.
12. Ole Miss – Houston Nutt may as well put the For Sale sign out in the front yard pronto!

USC Quarterback Turnaround?: If Stephen Garcia is to lead Carolina to a possible SEC Championship this year then the USC coaches must simplify the playbook for the 5th-year senior. I call for more slant routes, bubble screens and regular screen passes. Quit trying to force the football down the field so much! Garcia is at his worst trying to complete a pass greater than 20-plus yards. Per Tony Barhhardt of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Stephen Garcia has thrown 38 interceptions in 39 career games at USC. Garcia is not a pocket passer like Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Boise State’s Kellen Moore. Garcia is at his best when he is making quick throws (less than four seconds) and involved in the running game. Per ESPN, when Garcia runs the Zone Read Option, the Tampa, FL native completes 71% of his passes. So the key to build up a struggling USC quarterback’s confidence ASAP---is quick, short passes and include Garcia early in the rushing game plans.

Stock ↑ & Stock ↓:

Four teams trending up:
1. #13 Clemson University
2. #19 Michigan University
3. #24 University of Illinois
4. #16 University of South Florida

Four teams trending down:
1. Miami
2. Maryland
3. N.C State
4. Boston College

Notice a pattern A-She-She?

My next blog will be posted Friday afternoon when Spurspective provides its five strategic successes for a USC victory and my Carolina/Auburn prediction.

Go Gamecocks!

Monday, September 26, 2011

USC-Vanderbilt Rewind & Preview Carolina/Auburn Game

Looking back on Saturday night’s game between South Carolina and Vanderbilt can only be described as one thing – UGLY football. Neither team neither distinguished itself on offense nor looked in sync a majority of the game, while the defenses took advantage of the ineptitude of both offenses. If I were not writing this blog, I would have turned the channel to watch another football game. It was absolutely painful to view this entire game. I can envision a lot of embarrassment on the faces of Gamecock football players as they watch film today of their performance on Saturday night. South Carolina looked dysfunctional and flat out overmatched versus Vanderbilt’s defense. I know the elephant in the room for Monday morning quarterbacks is Stephen Garcia, but let’s not ignore other elements of the USC offensive unit that have not lived up to expectations through four games. I called Stephen Garcia’s performance Saturday night, Beecheresque (do you remember the four-interceptions Tommy Beecher threw in the first half of the 2008 home opener versus N.C. State? We never saw Beecher again in a USC uniform.). The bottom line is Carolina is 4-0 through one-third of the schedule and has not played to the level we the fans were expecting. Now let’s look in the rearview mirror at specifically what went wrong Saturday night, and what we can expect moving forward as the schedule begins to get tougher.

I’ll flip-flop my observations today and begin with the criticisms from Saturday night:

→ 5th-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia has reached his plateau! He looks like a guy who has missed several spring practices, doesn’t trust his offensive line, unable to progress through his passing reads and is very uncomfortable standing in the pocket after 1-4 seconds has elapsed post-snap. If you watched Garcia closely Saturday night, he has what football junkies call “happy feet,” which means as he drops back in the pocket and scans the field for wide receivers he never sets his feet, when it is time to release the football downfield to a WR. If a quarterback does not set his feet before he throws the football, typically the ball is uncatchable and results in a turnover or incomplete pass. I know the offensive line did not have their best game last Saturday night, but Garcia had time to throw the ball, and, unfortunately, as a 5th-year senior, he has not progressed as pocket-passing quarterback. If you watch Garcia closely the rest of the season count to one-Mississippi, etc… and notice the longer Garcia stands in the pocket the less-successful he is as a quarterback. I think 1-4 seconds after the snap is the best completion percentage for Garcia. If Garcia stands in the pocket for more than four seconds his completion percentage drops considerably. Through four games, he is 52 of 95 in completions versus attempts, which translates to a 55% completion percentage (unacceptable for a 5th year senior!). Let’s not forget two of Garcia’s completions on Saturday night accounted for almost half of his passing yards, 228 total passing yards. The 52-yard screen pass that Lattimore converted into a touchdown at the end of the first half and the 51-yard ricochet pass that Ace Sanders caught in the second half were very fortunate plays. I think Steve Spurrier is trying to fit a square peg (pro-style offense with Garcia & Shaw) into a round hole (Shaw & Garcia are more spread-type QBs) and the whole “Shaw starting the ECU game” has blown up in Spurrier’s face. After Saturday’s game, please let’s no longer put Spurrier & QB guru in the same sentence. Spurrier has not produced a quarterback in six-plus years at USC except for brief success in late 2006 with Blake Mitchell at the helm.

→ 12 Interceptions is an astonishing number of turnovers from the quarterback position, but that is a statistic that Stephen Garcia has compiled in the last six games, per The State. In contrast, Garcia has thrown only five touchdowns in that same span of games. Garcia is a turnover machine and the sad part is that the turnovers are just very bad decisions from a 5th-year senior QB. Whether Garcia is throwing into double coverage, there is a lack of communication with his receivers or he just does not comprehend the offense he is trying to execute the fact of the matter is we are stuck with no better options on the roster. Teams are continuing to double team Jefferey, yet Garcia tries to force the ball to his All-American WR. BTW, Jefferey was the intended WR on all four INTs Saturday night – enough said! Garcia continues to lock onto Alshon Jefferey, and, until Garcia concentrates his eyes downfield and pass patterns develop the Carolina offense will stay in a funk!

→Where are the weapons in the wide receiver corps? Here is a sad statistic: Melvin Ingram has scored more touchdowns, three, than the entire WR corps, two, per The State. I think whoever is evaluating the talent of our wide receivers better go back and re-evaluate, because our wide receivers are not improving and that includes Alshon Jefferey. We were told in pre-season that Carolina had the most weapons on offense under Spurrier in seven years, but I beg to differ. I do not see an explosive offense! I see predictable play-calling and no infusion of upgraded talent in the wide receiving unit, which leads to opposing teams placing eight to nine players close to the line of scrimmage to stop Marcus Lattimore. Vanderbilt did just that, holding Lattimore 100 yards below his average. Maybe freshman WR Damiere Byrd, who will make his debut this Saturday, can inject some life into a subpar component of Carolina’s offense versus Auburn.

I could go on and on about the rancid play of the offense Saturday night, but let’s switch to the defense that pieced together its best performance since 1987 versus Wake Forest, per The State.

→ 37.5% (18 of 48 total plays) of Vanderbilt’s plays were for negative yardage. The defensive line finally came to play on Saturday night. This unit received a lot of accolades in pre-season about how dominating it would be in 2011. Well it took until game four, but Brad Lawing’s crew finally demonstrated its prowess Saturday night and unfortunately for Vanderbilt it was lights-outs time! The d-line played behind the line of scrimmage the entire game wreaking havoc in the backfield and being disruptive for 60 minutes. Freshman sensation Jadeveon Clowney forced two fumbles Saturday night with one leading to a USC touchdown by Melvin Ingram. Clowney also recorded two more sacks, which places the Rock Hill native atop the SEC leaders in sacks. Coincidentally, Ingram also recorded his first two sacks of the year versus Vanderbilt. The defensive end combo of Clowney, Ingram, Taylor and Sutton has combined for seven sacks in four games and just dominated Vanderbilt’s o-line all night long! These four players combined for five sacks and seven tackles for loss that accumulated 83 negative yards for Vanderbilt, per The State.

→ Stifling USC Defense! Ellis Johnson and Lorenzo Ward finally fixed some mistakes in practice, and the results on the field were a resounding success. IMHO, this was the first game since last year’s Alabama game that the USC defense flew to the football and punished opposing ball carriers. My impression was that the entire defense, especially the Secondary, really improved its tackling. I thought the cornerbacks and safeties really defended the bubble screens consistently all night long, especially Gilmore, Hampton, Allen, Hollomon, Swearinger, Whitlock and Markett. The USC defense gave up 77 total yards and three points after giving up an average of 372 yards per game and 33 points/per game. The Vanderbilt offense converted 1/14 third-down conversions (7%) and that lone conversion didn’t happen until late fourth quarter, four yards rushing on 25 attempts, 73 passing yards on 16 completions, which included a 20-yard completion in the 4th quarter and five total first downs. Now let’s not disregard the fact that Vanderbilt has absolutely one of the worst offenses in the history of SEC football. The Commodores starting quarterback, Larry Smith, is, at best, a junior varsity QB at the high school level. But the defense rose up and bailed out the Gamecocks on a night where the USC offense sputtered all game long. Let’s remember in the last six quarters our Rush Defense has given up 63 total yards rushing! That is improvement and hopefully a building block.

→ Running Backs and Non-offensive TDs! Even though the running lanes were slim pickings against the Commodores’ defense (top 4 in the SEC), I thought Lattimore and freshman Brandon Wilds were effective enough to keep the defense honest. Lattimore was his usual self (nice 22-yard TD run) even though he was held in check for most of the night (the o-line did not provide many running lanes for any of the RBs or QBs). Wilds impressed me with his vision and toughness late in the game as he demonstrated on his late 16-yard gain. Wilds had 3 rushes for 22 yards for a nice 7.3 average.
Once again, the USC defense produces points. The same tandem, Clowney forcing the fumble & Ingram scoring the touchdown, that produced a defensive TD late in the UGA game collaborated in manufacturing the first Carolina touchdown Saturday night in the first quarter. Carolina is using this recipe to tally up victories on this young season, and if the front four can continually get pressure on the opposing QB then Carolina’s defense will remain the beneficiaries of its opponent’s mistakes.

A friend said it best Saturday night. “A win is a win is a win. Go Cocks & pass the whiskey!” With eight regular season games left, Carolina fans might need to seek a non-sobering approach to stomach the remainder of the season, because if these offensive inconsistencies do not get cured then this football team will hover around .500 as the season grows longer. I am anxious for the Auburn match-up to see if Ellis Johnson & Lorenzo Ward has remedied the deficiencies of defending the spread option, i.e. Auburn & Gus Malzahn.

The next blog post will be Wednesday afternoon, where I will provide some USC/Auburn tidbits, Spurspective’s SEC Power Index & more in-depth thoughts on the inconsistent USC QB play.

Go Gamecocks!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Top 10 College Football Games – Week 4

This weekend finds the best games of the week involving SEC teams and an SEC team-to-be. A crucial SEC West showdown in Tuscaloosa tops the list, while quite possibly a future ACC conference game rounds out my top 10 games to watch.

1. Arkansas/Alabama: One of seven FBS games, per ESPN, between unbeaten opponents, as both teams are 3-0. Alabama has won 19 consecutive SEC openers, per ESPN, and the Crimson Tide is 22-1 at Bryant-Denny in its last 23 games (only loss was to Auburn last year). IMHO this might be the jerk bowl coaching match-up, Saban versus Petrino. Arkansas will start two freshmen at offensive tackles. One kid's name is Smothers and I believe Alabama smothers & covers the Hawgs Saturday afternoon.

Prediction: Alabama BBQs the Razorbacks 37-16.

2. Oklahoma St/Texas A&M: The T.Boone Pickens’ “cowpokes” stampede into “Rick Perry” Field down in College Station for a good ole western shootout. The Cowboys will bring an aerial circus deep in the heart of Texas while the Aggies will be looking to add to their FBS leading 10 QB sacks total.

Prediction: The SEC-to-be Aggies corral the Cowboys 34-31.

3. LSU/West Virginia: The Bayou Bengals will be prowling the Appalachian hills looking for Mountaineers. Last time I checked, West Virginia was voted “Not-SEC-Worthy” by the 12 university presidents. WVU has a sensational QB in Geno Smith, and he will earn his stripes in prime time if WVU can pull off an upset against a very talented LSU defense.

Prediction: LSU is king of the mountainEERS Saturday night 27-17.

4. Florida State/Clemson: No longer the Bowden Bowl, now we have Dat-boy versus Jimbo. I can’t think of another place in America more appropriate for two coaches named Dabo & Jimbo to coach a football game than in Pickens County, SC.

Prediction: Clemson tomahawks the QB-less Seminoles 31-17.

5. Southern Cal/Arizona State: The Fighting Kiffins finally leave Southern California and head to the Valley of the Sun where a guy with a pitch fork awaits. The experts picked these two teams to emerge from the Pac-12 South Division (that sounds weird to say!) and play Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game… oops, forgot Southern Cal is on double secret proBushion!

Prediction: Sun Devils stick a fork in the Trojans, 35-24.

6. Vanderbilt/South Carolina: The Commodores drop anchor in Williams-Brice Saturday night in a showdown of unbeatens in the SEC East (how often has this been said of a USC/Vandy game?). The Dores hope to break on through to 4-0, but the forecast in Columbia all week for Vanderbilt has been Clowney with a chance for pain (not original sorry!).

Prediction: USC sinks the Commodores 30-20.

7. UNC/Georgia Tech: The mountain goats migrate to the ATL to try & slow down the ground game of the fighting Paul Johnsons. The blue bellies and bees are both 3-0 in the A-She-She. Georgia Tech amassed over 700-plus yards of offense versus Kansas last weekend. UNC will be a bit stiffer test on defense for the Yellow Jackets.

Prediction: Georgia Tech continues the ground pound strategy (Donkey Kong Country Returns reference for all you Wii players out there) and beats UNC 33-23.

8. San Diego State/Michigan: Big Blue hosts the Aztecs in the Big House on Saturday. This game is the Brady Hoke Bowl, as Michigan’s current head coach was the head coach at SDSU last year. It shouldn’t be too bitter sweet for Hoke, especially when your QB is named Denard Robinson.

Prediction: The Maize & Blue gives a chilly reception to the boys from sunny San Diego; Michigan wins 34-24.

9. Georgia/Ole Miss: What is being dubbed, the Hot Seat Bowl, as whichever head coach (UGA’s Mark Richt or Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt) loses this game will ultimately find a pink slip in his locker on Monday morning.

Prediction: Georgia’s Mark Richt avoids termination as the Dawgs take a bite out of Houston Nutt & Ole Miss, 35-17.

10. Notre Dame/Pittsburgh: Could this possibly be foreshadowing of a future ACC Conference match-up? At the rate the ACC is gobbling up former Big East affiliates, there will be nobody left to play football in the Big “L”East. Last time I checked, DePaul and Marquette weren’t walking into Notre Dame Stadium to play like a champion.

Prediction: The Fighting Irish outlast Pittsburgh, 41-38.

My next blog will be Monday evening as Spurspective recaps the USC/Vanderbilt contest and looks ahead to Carolina/Auburn, October 1st.

Go Gamecocks!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Inside the Numbers between USC/Vanderbilt Match-Up

Saturday night, #12 South Carolina welcomes an undefeated (3-0) Vanderbilt team to Williams-Brice. The Commodores are under a brand new regime, as former Maryland Offensive Coordinator James Franklin takes the wheel of the Vanderbilt ship. Franklin is the first head coach at Vanderbilt to start 3-0 in his inaugural season since WWII, per ESPN. The Commodores have beaten Elon (opener), Connecticut and Ole Miss at home by an average score of 33-14, per ESPN. This will be Vanderbilt’s first road game of the 2011 season. Franklin is Vanderbilt’s third coach in as many seasons, per The Spurs & Feathers. USC and Vanderbilt have split the last four meetings in this SEC East series 2-2. Carolina has won the last two meetings, narrowly winning in Columbia two years ago, 14-10. The contest with Vanderbilt is the second home game of a four-game home stand. Let’s look inside five keys to the game and see where Carolina might enjoy success Saturday night and where USC could be vulnerable against its SEC East opponent.

Fast Start: The Gamecocks are the second-highest scoring offense in the SEC (41 points/game) but have scored only one touchdown in the opening stanza (Lattimore scored a TD versus Navy in 1st quarter last week, per The Spurs & Feathers). Adversely, USC has fallen behind in its first three games by a combined score of 20-7 in the first quarter. The USC offense has been very lethargic and discombobulated on its opening drives the last two ballgames. An early score would promptly give South Carolina momentum in the game that will energize the crowd and give the defense more opportunities to play with a lead versus a deficit. After the 1st Quarter, Carolina has outscored its opponents 118-80, per The Spurs & Feathers. The Vanderbilt defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense, 250 yards allowed per game, and have recorded eight sacks, per ESPN, so Carolina faces a daunting task Saturday night to produce points.

Avoid Turnovers: Vanderbilt is one of the most ball-hawking defenses in the NCAA so far this young season. The Commodores have 12 takeaways [ten interceptions, Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) leaders on the young season and two fumble recoveries], including five INTs last week versus Ole Miss. The Commodores have scored TDs on three of the ten interceptions, per ESPN. Vanderbilt is a veteran defense with at least nine starters that have at least two years or more of starting experience. So it’s a seasoned unit that the Gamecocks’ offense will battle on Saturday night. Carolina should expect a lot of blitzing and different defensive looks to confuse Garcia & the offense with hopes of inducing a turnover by the Gamecocks.

Vanderbilt Meet Mr. Lattimore: If you remember last year, Marcus Lattimore sat out the Vanderbilt game after being injured at Kentucky, so Brian Maddox rushed for a career high 146 yards on 24 carries. Lattimore enters this weekend’s game as the nation’s leading rusher with 178 ypg, per NCAA. The sophomore sensation from Duncan, SC has scored seven rushing touchdowns. Lattimore leads the FBS this season with 16 runs of 10-plus yards, per ESPN. Vanderbilt ranks 26th in FBS in Run Defense and is giving up 2.45 yards per rush to opponents, 86 rush yards per game and one rushing touchdown, per NCAA. USC ranks 14th in the FBS in Rushing Offense and is averaging 5.82 rush yards/per attempt, 11 rushing touchdowns and 242 rushing yards/per game. So far this season two of Vanderbilt’s opponents, UConn-77th and Ole Miss-98th, rank in the bottom third of FBS rushing offenses. Carolina has a very physical offensive line and IMHO, Vanderbilt will have a difficult night, especially 2nd half, trying to stop a downhill USC rushing attack.

3 ‘Dores Down for Garcia?: 5th-year redshirt senior quarterback Stephen Garcia has been kryptonite, for you music buffs, against Vanderbilt over his career at USC. Garcia is 2-0 as a starter against Vanderbilt, completing 73.6% of his passes (53-72), 667 passing yards (334 per game) and a 4 (TD)-to-1(INT) ratio, per The Spurs & Feathers. Remember last year in Nashville, Carolina rattled off 21 unanswered points to win 21-7 as Garcia put up huge numbers, 31-39, 335 passing yards and two TDs, per ESPN. Vanderbilt understands that Garcia has enjoyed past success against them, but the Commodores also see on videotape this year that Garcia has struggled early in games. So if the ‘Dores can dictate down & distance and Garcia cannot loosen up the Vandy defense’s bottleneck of Lattimore then Garcia’s unblemished record versus Vanderbilt might be in jeopardy Saturday night.

Third-Down Conversion Dilemma: One thing these two SEC East rivals have in common involves third downs. Vanderbilt ranks 116th out of 120 teams in FBS regarding 3rd-down conversion percentage. The Commodores have converted 10/41 third-down conversion chances (24%) through three games. Hooray for USC right? Wrong! Carolina is one of the worst teams in FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate defense ranking 110th out of 120 teams. USC has allowed opponents to convert 23/45 (51%) opportunities. Somebody has to win this key battle Saturday night, and my guess is USC. Vanderbilt is one of the worst Pass Efficiency teams (ranks 102nd) and also has allowed a high number of sacks (10) to the opposition, per NCAA. If USC can reverse its Secondary misfortunes and 3rd-down conversion defense then Carolina wins Saturday night.

USC/Vanderbilt Tidbits:

• Stephen Garcia became just the third quarterback in USC history to eclipse the 7,000 passing yards plateau in a career, per The Spurs & Feathers.

• The last time USC started a season 3-0 (2007 & 2010) the Gamecocks lost their fourth game of the season (at LSU in 2007 & at Auburn in 2010), per The Spurs & Feathers.

• Carolina last started a year 4-0 back in 2001, per The Spurs & Feathers.

• With a win over UGA & Navy, Steve Spurrier won back-to-back three-point games for the first time in 258 college career games, per The State.

• USC has won 15 of 17 home football games, and over the last three years, has compiled an 18-4 home field advantage at Williams-Brice Stadium.

• Carolina owns a 16-4 all-time record versus Vanderbilt, including a 7-2 mark in Columbia. Steve Spurrier is 16-2 all-time versus Vanderbilt.

• Marcus Lattimore has multiple three-touchdown game performances, per ESPN.

Spurspective's Prediction: USC defeats Vanderbilt 30-20.

My next blog will be posted on Saturday morning when I will list my top ten college football games for week four and football recruits visiting USC for the Navy game.

Go Gamecocks!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

USC’s Notice of Allegation, New Look SEC and Football Recruiting Hot Board

As I sipped my coffee (black, no cream) and slowly walked down my driveway to pick up my Tuesday morning edition of The State newspaper, there are certain headlines I expect to see: Obama Wants Higher Taxes On the Wealthy (shocker!), Unemployment in South Carolina Rises (Surprise?) or Another Republican Presidential Debate (Honestly let’s get Romney and Perry in a Texas Steel Cage Match, winner gets Obama!) So as I unfolded the paper and gazed upon the headline yesterday morning, I almost choked on my coffee as the headline displays: NCAA Spells out Allegations against USC
So on top of Garcia inconsistent play, the USC defense giving up 33.3 points per game (ranks 100th in NCAA, per ESPN) and opponents converting 51% on third downs, now my alma mater faces public scrutiny as Carolina was served an NOA, Notice of Allegations, by the NCAA. How was your cup of coffee yesterday morning Dr. Pastides? Athletic Director Hyman I hope the first phone call you made yesterday morning was to USC’s Compliance Department and you went all Donald Trump on everyone in that department? The main recipient of the Gamecocks’ ire should be Jennifer Stiles, USC Director of Compliance. Miss Stiles how on earth can a governing body of student/athletes sign-off on a 3-star hotel room for $14.95/per night? Did it ever cross your mind that $15/per day for a hotel suite, where USC has housed several dignitaries, faculty and athletic staff costs a little more than a dinner at Applebee’s? I checked the Whitney Hotel website today and the Low Price Guarantee for a one-bedroom suite is $109/per day. I called and asked for the Stiles Special and rudely received a dial tone. The first move I would do if I am AD Eric Hyman or Dr. Pastides is penalize Jennifer Stiles and her subordinates in the Compliance Department where it hurts---the wallet! I would fine each compliance department personnel a certain percentage based on a salary scale and proportionately equal to making up the difference of $47k. Jennifer Stiles would get the brunt of the monetary penalty for her lack of oversight. $47,000 is the reduced total rates accumulated by 12 USC athletes (10 football players & two track athletes) over a period from May 2009 thru October 2010, per The State newspaper.
Now in regards to the SAM, Student Athlete Mentoring, Foundation in which two former USC graduates, Steve Gordon (President) and Kevin Lahn (Treasurer), are members of the board. Allegedly from the Spring of 2009 through February 2011, these two persons made impermissible recruiting contact, provided impermissible recruiting inducements to prospective student athletes (WR Damiere Byrd and 2010 Florida signee Shariff Floyd, Floyd’s college decision came down between UF/USC) and provided extra benefits to student athletes through the SAM Foundation in the amount of $8,000. Damiere Byrd’s father serves on the Board of the SAM Foundation. USC Coach G.A. Mangus had a previous relationship with Gordon and Lahn while Mangus was the Head Coach at Delaware Valley, which is just outside of Philadelphia, PA. This SAM foundation is centered in the Northeast and tries to help prospective student athletes find college scholarships in several sports. Lahn and Gordon provided several inducements to football prospects (in 2010 brought 49 football prospects to a USC summer camp, per The State), a basketball prospect in which Carolina was recruiting but never offered and offered inducements to USC Track Coach Curtis Frye and 16 track athletes, per The State. Since the allegations USC has disassociated itself from Lahn and Gordon from being a member of any type of USC clubs.
Carolina has until December 14th to respond to the allegations and is set to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions February 17-18 in Los Angeles. I am not sure what type of punishment will be acceptable but I am probably guessing that USC will lose scholarships and some sort of recruiting sanctions as a result of these allegations. Any self-imposed penalties from now until February 2012 would look good in the eyes of the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Happy Valentine's Day USC!!!

Conference re-Alignment:
It appears college football is driving the bus with $$Benjamins$$ riding shotgun towards a destination of mega conferences. Here is how I project the SEC will look by 2012, no later than 2013 after Texas A&M and Missouri officially join the Southeastern Conference:
SEC East: Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt
SEC West: Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri and Texas A&M
Shifting Auburn to the SEC East Division makes sense being that Auburn is the eastern most school in the SEC West Division. That would put four of the traditional six SEC powers, Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the SEC East and the remaining two SEC traditional powers, Alabama & LSU, would remain in the SEC West, per The Birmingham News. Why Missouri? Well the St. Louis (21st) and Kansas City (31st) television markets would expand the SEC TV audience further west leaving more of a Southeastern Conference footprint near Big 10 or Pac-12/16 territory. Missouri geographically makes sense because it already borders three SEC states, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. IMHO the SEC will not add two additional teams to increase to a 16-team conference unless teams like FSU ($20 million buyout to leave ACC), Notre Dame (pipe dream!) or Texas (afraid of the competition) have a change of heart. So who knows what the landscape of college football will look like before the 2012 season kicks off, but I am confident the SEC will have two new members join the best athletic conference in the NCAA.

Football Recruiting HotBoard:
Carolina is sitting in an enviable position right now because the Gamecocks can be very selective as to whom they target for the last 5-7 scholarships in the 2012 class. Here is my breakdown of where things stand today with the remaining prospects. Commitments in BOLD

Brendan Nosovitch (PA)

Running Back:
Kendric Salley (SC)
Keith Marshall (NC); UGA leads by a wide margin; if Richt is fired then Marshall’s recruitment heats up!
Jela Duncan (NC); Duke leads but if USC were to offer then IMHO the Gamecocks can land this kid
I’Tavius Mathers(TN); committed to Ole Miss; but Houston Nutt is sitting on the hottest seat in the SEC, so USC could get back in the game if Nutt is fired at end of the year
Wes Brown (MD); set to reveal top 10 schools this weekend; claims USC will make top 10

Wide Receivers:
Shaq Roland (SC)
Kwinton Smith (SC)
Jody Fuller (NC)

Offensive Line:
OT Brock Stadnik (NC)
C Clayton Stadnik (NC)
C/OG Cody Waldrop (FL)
OT Joe Harris (GA)
OT Mason Zandi (SC)
OG Quincy McKinney (Fork Union Prep School)

Defensive Line:
DT Carlos Hood (GA)
DE Darius English (GA)

DE/DT Jonathan Bullard (NC); USC/UF battle with no leader; Bullard’s teammate, Ledbetter, committed to UF but Travian Robertson’s former high school coach now coaches Bullard’s high school team. USC coaches feel confident in landing Bullard; Shawn Elliott is lead recruiter
DE Tyriq McCord (FL); USC leads UF, Southern Cal, Miami and Georgia; plays at Garcia’s former high school; hybrid DE or LB; USC plans playing McCord at DE; G.A. Mangus lead recruiter
DT Carlos Watkins (NC); Clemson leads UF, BAMA and USC (final four schools); I expect Watkins to be committed to Clemson soon! Shawn Elliott lead recruiter
DE Jhaustin Thomas (GA); Auburn leads USC and UF (not a take); Thomas says he will visit USC but that remains to be seen; might not have a scholarship offer from USC available in the not so distant future if he does not commit soon;

ILB Kaiwan Lewis (NJ)
OLB T.J. Holloman (GA)

LB Raphael Kirby (GA); committed to Miami but listening to other schools pending UM’s NCAA investigation; USC & UGA right behind Miami and working hard to get an official visit; highest rated linebacker prospect on USC’s LB board; Lorenzo Ward lead recruiter
LB Reggie Northrup (FL); committed to Miami and similar situation as Kirby (above) listening to other schools pending the NCAA investigation into UM; same high school as current Gamecock Shaq Wilson; Steve Spurrier Jr. is lead recruiter
LB Quanzell Lambert (NJ); BAMA & Iowa lead USC and several other schools; same high school as Damiere Byrd; G.A. Mangus is lead recruiter

Jordan Diggs (FL); Gamecocks legacy as Dad, Shed Diggs, played at USC in mid-80’s; has not visited USC campus this year yet but is expected to take a USC official; USC & Nebraska lead; currently sitting out high school season due to a transfer issue earlier this year; G.A. Mangus is lead recruiter

Kyle Fleetwood (GA)
T.J. Gurley (GA)
Elijah Shumate (NJ); USC leads Rutgers, Notre Dame and Michigan; expected to visit sometime in the fall and announce at Army All-American Bowl in early January; good friends with Damiere Byrd and Sheldon Royster both USC freshmen from New Jersey; G.A. Mangus is lead recruiter
Lucas Thompson (FL); Miami leads USC; apparently headed to Miami until NCAA allegations surfaced at UM; Jeep Hunter is lead recruiter
Karl Joseph (FL); lead recruiter is Jeep Hunter
Traveon Henry (FL); lead recruiter is Jeep Hunter

Rico McWilliams (GA)
Chaz Elder (GA); USC leads UGA; Elder was expected to commit to Carolina at the end of August but UGA’s coaches convinced Elder to hold off on a commitment; Elder visited UGA unofficially for the USC/UGA game; Elder’s mother wants him to attend USC; Lorenzo Ward is lead recruiter
Wayne Morgan (NY); BAMA leads USC (no offer); G.A. Mangus is lead recruiter
Chris Moody (GA); Georgia Tech and Missisippi State lead USC; wants to play QB in college; Lorenzo Ward is lead recruiter
Chris Brown (SC); Brown just committed to Notre Dame this past weekend; long rumored to be a USC lean;USc recruiting as a defensive back but Notre Dame offered as a wide receiver; this battle is not over for Brown’s signature; Steve Spurrier Jr. is lead recruiter

Kelvin Rainey (FL)
Jerrell Adams (Fork Union Prep)
Devin Shaw (NJ); Iowa (written offer) and USC (verbal offer) lead several schools; not sure how much USC is actively pursuing this prospect but I’ll keep tabs on him; G.A. Mangus is lead recruiter
Stefon Diggs (MD); Auburn & Florida lead USC, Maryland, BAMA, Clemson, Miami; this prospect visited USC unofficially during the summer and enjoyed himself; needs to take official visit to USC for the Gamecocks to be serious contenders; G.A. Mangus is lead recruiter

My next blog will be Friday afternoon when I go inside the five keys to a USC victory over Vanderbilt.

Go Gamecocks!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kenny McKinley, #11 - One Year Later

It's hard to believe today is the one-year anniversary of former Gamecock great Wide Receiver Kenny McKinley's death. I'll always remember McKinley for throwing the football up into the stands after his second TD reception in the Liberty Bowl win over Houston back in 2006. McKinley always had a smile on his face and seemed to be a very joyous individual. He represented Carolina well during his playing career and left the University of South Carolina as the career leader in receptions (207) and receiving yards (2,781), per Wikipedia. Kenny McKinley was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fifth round in the 2009 NFL Draft. McKinley played in eight games during the 2009 season, per Wikipedia.

R.I.P. #11 Kenny McKinley!

Monday, September 19, 2011

USC-Navy Rewind and a Sneak Peek to Vanderbilt

Am I the only Gamecocks fan who is double fisting with a beverage in one hand and a bottle of Rolaids in the other hand? This game scared me to death and I am just grateful USC escaped with a victory. Navy is an admirable opponent that refuses to give up until the clock displays all zeroes in the 4th quarter. As expected it took Carolina just over three quarters to make defensive adjustments and get acclimated to the speed and precision of how Navy executes its Triple Option offense. It’s very difficult for the Carolina scout team offense to simulate a well-oiled version of the triple option in three days of preparation for Navy. I cannot fault Ellis Johnson’s stop troops for the challenges they faced on slowing down the Midshipmen offense. The combined Rush Attempt-to-Pass Attempt ratio was 91 rush attempts to 34 pass attempts which is almost a 2.5-to-1 rushing advantage. Carolina had eight possessions, scored on four (3 TD’s & 1 FG), one turnover (interception), two turnover on downs and one take a knee at the end of the game. Navy had seven possessions, three TD’s, two punts, one turnover (interception) and one turnover on downs. Not a lot of room for error for either team. So let’s take a look at how USC strategically beat Navy this past Saturday night and remember we are undefeated (3-0) and not playing our best football. Twelve years ago we were 0-11 and the worst team in NCAA. My how expectations have changed in Columbia, SC over the last dozen years!
The Good:
1. Marcus Lattimore - enough said! The sophomore sensation had 37 rushes for 246 yards and three TD’s. Lattimore remains on the Heisman ballot!
2. Lattimore is one of three running backs to rush for over 200 yards during Steve Spurrier’s coaching career (twice for Lattimore, 2010 versus UF he ran for 215 yards) per ESPN.

3. USC’s power running game helped pave the way for 254 rushing yards!

4. I-Formation success: Lattimore ran for 167 yards on 24 carries in the I-formation with a lead fullback & a handful of plays as a single back. That is 68% of his rushing yards (almost 7 yards per attempt) in a traditional formation. It’s what we call old school line-up and punch your opponent in the mouth! His biggest gain of the night in the I-formation occurred on the game’s first play when the sophomore sensation rumbled for 31 yards.

5. Zone Read Option: In the zone read option formation, Lattimore gained 79 yards on 13 attempts. That is 6 yards per rush attempts (not bad!). His biggest gain on a zone read play occurred in the 1st quarter when he gained 21 yards.

6. Third Down Conversion: USC converted 56% (5/9) of its 3rd down attempts

7. Play Keep Away: USC won the time of possession battle with a 2:30 minute advantage (31:15 to 28:45)

8. Pass Efficiency: Garcia completed 72% of his passes (18/25)

9. Spread the Pigskin: Garcia distributed the football to seven different pass catchers (5 WR’s, 1 RB & 1 TE)

10. Spur Antonio Allen: The Ocala, FL senior is playing lights out this year so far. He intercepted the 4th quarter pass to end Navy’s upset hopes and also forced a fumble in the 3rd quarter which USC was unable to recover (margarine hands Marty Markett could not corral the ball before Navy recovered it inside the USC 20-yard line)

11. DE Duo: Defensive Ends Devin Taylor & Jadeveon Clowney made impact plays in crucial moments of the game. Late in the 2nd quarter Devin Taylor stuffs Navy QB Kriss Proctor on 4th & 2 in USC territory. USC turns around and goes 32 yards for a 48-yard field goal as time expires in 1st half. Jadeveon Clowney on Navy’s 2nd possession of the 4th quarter records a tackle-for-loss (3 yards) on first down and then on 2nd & 13, Clowney & Holloman corral a Navy RB for no gain to force 3rd & long. Then on Navy’s final 4th quarter possession Clowney applies tremendous quarterback pressure on 3rd & 7, as the freshman sensation is tackled from behind by a Navy o-lineman, and forces an incomplete pass.

12. FG Kicker: Back-to-back games Jay Wooten has nailed a long field goal (48-yard FG) right down the middle with plenty of distance

13. 4th Quarter Run Defense: Held Navy to 59 yards rushing in the second half. Navy had only 17 yards rushing in the 4th quarter combined on two drives.

The Bad:

1. Third down Defense: Coming into the game USC allowed 45.2% in two games, ranked 93rd in NCAA (per ESPN). Navy converted 9/14 third down conversions for a 64.3% clip on Saturday night. After the Navy game USC’s third down defense is now yielding 51%. This is an atrocious indictment on this team’s inability to get off the field in crucial situations! If Ellis Johnson, Lorenzo Ward, Brad Lawing, Jeep Hunter and John Butler do not correct this ISSUE, the Gamecocks will not have the magical season we all hoped for in pre-season.

2. Red Zone Turnovers: USC failed to score its first red zone attempt on the first drive of the 3rd quarter when Garcia was hit as he tried to throw the ball away and fluttered a duck into the waiting arms of a Navy defender at the 9-yard line. When offensive possessions are minimized like Saturday’s game; turnovers in the red zone can make a huge difference in a win or a loss.

3. Early QB Jitters: Garcia once again missed open wide receivers for big plays early in the game. He barely overthrew Ace Sanders on a deep post route on Carolina’s opening drive. Then on the very next play he airmails a wide open Bruce Ellington by seven yards. Ellington would have easily picked up a first down and probably much more. Ellington was on Navy’s 28-yard line and the ball landed on Navy’s 21-yard line. I guess Garcia thought he was throwing to Shaquille O’Neal!

4. First down Rush Defense: In the 1st quarter USC allowed Navy eight rushes for 65 yards on first down. That averages to eight yards a rush. Unacceptable!

5. Red Zone Defense: The Gamecocks failed to keep the Midshipmen from reaching the end zone inside Carolina’s 20-yard line on two opportunities.

6. DT Robertson Running Mate: It’s about time for another defensive tackle to step up and make some plays alongside senior Travian Robertson. Robertson is getting double teamed constantly while his interior teammate is getting physically overwhelmed. Junior Aldrick Fordham is a serviceable backup but he is not a SEC-type starter along the defensive line. Hopefully freshman Kelcey Quarles returns for the Vanderbilt game as he sat out Navy’s game with a concussion.

7. Give Ellington the Ball: Athlete Bruce Ellington touched the ball three times on Saturday night. Once on a screen pass and twice on kickoffs. Spurrier has to devise schemes to get more touches to Ellington as the season moves forward.

8. First Half Run Defense: USC's defense surrendered 215 yards on the ground to the NCAA's #1 Rush Offense in the first half.

The Ugly:
1. The only ugly moment in the game occurred in the 2nd quarter when Garcia was sacked. On 2nd & 10 with a five wide receiver formation, Garcia sat in the pocket for seven seconds scanning the field for an open wide receiver before deciding to run when he was tackled from behind for a five yard loss. As a redshirt senior, please throw the ball away if after seven Mississippi you cannot find an open wide receiver!

Oh well a win is a win and we’ll take a three point or 30-point win right now although my stomach would prefer a 30-point win. As we look forward to Vanderbilt on Saturday night (ESPN2/7 p.m.) new Vandy Head Coach James Franklin (former Offensive Coordinator at Maryland) has invigorated the Commodores program with a defensive mentality. Vanderbilt is a top-20 defense in many NCAA defensive categories (20th scoring defense per ESPN) on this young season as they demonstrated on Saturday intercepting five passes (per versus Ole Miss, returning one INT for a touchdown. On offense RB Zac Stacy had 169 rushing yards, including a 77-yard touchdown run versus Ole Miss as the Commodores spanked Ole Miss 30-7. It’s an SEC East Division opponent and the undefeated (3-0) Commodores should not be overlooked.

My next blog will be Wednesday afternoon when Spurspective will give an update on USC basketball recruiting, the Gamecocks football recruiting hotboard and some more USC/Vanderbilt tidbits.

Go Gamecocks!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Week Three Top Ten College Football Games

Here in Columbia, SC, it finally feels like fall, as the morning temperatures were in the upper-50s and the expected high today is in the low 60s. It should be perfect football weather, especially here in the Deep South. Well this weekend the Sunshine State takes center stage for college football, so grab your chips, beverages and remote because good games encompass the television from Noon ‘til Midnight.

1. Oklahoma/Florida State: Last year, Boomer Schooner steamrolled Chief Osceola in Norman as the game was not even competitive. The Seminoles will be looking for some Sooner scalps as payback. Oklahoma does not play well away from home and the Doak should be rocking & rolling on a late Saturday night game.
Prediction: FSU leaves a trail of tears for Oklahoma after Saturday night, Seminoles 31-27.

2. Tennessee/Florida: The Nick Saban coaching tree reunion pits Dooley versus Muschamp. These two coaches were on Saban’s LSU staff during the last decade and square-off Saturday in Gainesville. UT is a young team with dynamic playmakers at QB & WR. UF is a strong defensive, blue collar team. I like UT going all loco on the reptiles in the Swamp! The Bray, Rogers & Hunter QB/duo-WR combo is the best in the SEC, IMHO.
Prediction: Ole Smokey narrowly skins the Gators, 31-28.

3. Ohio State/Miami: There will be no South Beach Diet in this contest, as there will be a smorgasbord of NCAA investigators in attendance to watch these two institutions of non-integrity. The QB match-up of OSU’s Joe Bauserman and UM’s Jacory Harris is about as sexy as Rosanne Barr versus Rosie O’Donnell. Between the Nevin Shapiro and Terrelle Pryor side shows during the pre-season, this game represents two tradition-rich programs.
Prediction: Hurricane Shapiro leaves quite a Pryor-less tattoo on the Buckeyes backside, Miami 30-17.

4. Auburn/Clemson: The Lake Hartwell Classic comes to the Valley of Sassafras Mountain up in Pickens County. The Clemson Tigers take a break from SAC 8 Conference (South Atlantic) opponents (a little sarcasm, sorry Troy & Wofford) and finally join the 2011 college football season. Auburn rides a 17-game win-streak into Clempson, while sCUm tries to avoid the boo birds, which are perched atop Death Valley.
Prediction: The “cheatin Cam Chiziksdestripe the “one, two, three plays away” Clemson Tigers, 44-36.

5. Arizona State/Illinois: This Pac-12/Big 10 (really 12) contest pits two former Sunshine State college coaches. ASU’s Dennis Erickson (former Miami coach in early 90s) versus Illinois’ Ron Zook (former Florida coach post-Spurrier). The Sun Devils have probably the best middle linebacker in college football in Vontez Burfict, while the Illini have one of the best young QBs in Nathan Schellhasse.
Prediction: Illinois pitch forks the Sun Devils, 27-24.

6. West Virginia/Maryland: The Mountaineers venture to College Park, MD to shoot ‘em up some turtle soup hopefully. This game features some young talented quarterbacks in WVU’s Geno Smith and Maryland’s Davey O’Brien. This could be an offensive fireworks show.
Prediction: No soup for you, Mountaineers, Maryland wins 37-30.

7. Michigan State/Notre Dame: Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly must be wondering if he made a deal with the devil in a previous life after a 0-2 start. The Irish have compiled over 500 yards of offense through two games but remain winless. Last year’s MSU/ND game witnessed a little trickery with a Spartans’ fake field goal on 4th down in overtime. The miscues that follow the Irish in 2011 will continue on Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: Sparty enjoys a little luck in beating the Irish 30-27.

8. Utah/BYU: The Holy War rekindles its rivalry in the Mountain Time Zone on Saturday. The Utah Utes fresh off their first-ever Pac-12 loss face the conference-less Cougars. The Cougars look lethargic on offense through two games, while the Utes lost on a blocked field goal versus Southern Cal last weekend.
Prediction: Utah declaws the Cougars, 24-20.

9. Ole Miss/Vanderbilt: The reverend Houston Nutt leads Johnny Reb up to the Music City to face an undefeated Vanderbilt squad. The offense is status quo in Nashville, but the defense is revitalized (top 5 in SEC defense), while Ole Miss seems to be punchless against teams with a pulse.
Prediction: Vanderbilt remains undefeated as Johnny Reb surrenders to the Commodores, 23-19.

10. Texas/UCLA: The Longhorns might be making this trip more frequently if Texas bolts for the Pac-12 after the conference expansion frenzy on the horizon. UCLA is underachieving as usual under Head Coach Rick Neuheisal. The Longhorns and Bruins of Westwood are both quarterback challenged so Iwould not expect a western shootout!
Prediction: The Longhorns put a good ole fashion Texas-sized steer on the backside of the Bruins, 23-20.

Enjoy the weekend of games. My next blog will post on Monday evening with a USC/Navy review and a look ahead to the Carolina/Vanderbilt match-up next weekend.

Go Gamecocks!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Five Strategies to Sink Navy on Saturday

The #10 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks finally get some home cooking this weekend in front of a friendly crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday evening. Carolina is 17-4 over the last three seasons in the comfy confines of the cockpit (per, suffering single losses at home in 2009 (#1 Florida 24-14) and in 2010 (#17 Arkansas 41-20). The Gamecocks lost twice in 2008 (#2 UGA, 14-7, and #14 LSU, 24-17). Under Spurrier, Carolina has steadily made Williams-Brice an intimidating venue for opposing teams. USC is 15-0 at home versus non-SEC/Clemson competition since 2005. Navy will witness one of the best college football entrances with 2001: A Space Odyssey and the student section will be rocking the North End Zone with Sandstorm. 80k+ will not intimidate the Midshipmen. Let’s remember these are the young men brave enough to protect our country with their service in the military post-college. Navy will be ready to play on Saturday night inside hostile territory in SEC country. I predict a close ballgame tomorrow night, so let’s take a look at some of the keys to the game between USC and Navy.

1. DO NOT allow history to beat your program twice!! Ever since this game was put on the schedule the ghosts of 1984 have echoed throughout the evenings down at the Proving Grounds across from Williams-Brice. On a side note, whoever scheduled this game in the athletics department should be permanently removed from future scheduling! Why on earth would someone with any football sense schedule a triple-option wishbone offense on this year’s schedule? Weren’t Louisiana-Lafayette or Middle Tennessee available? I am sure Coach Spurrier and the defensive coaches would love to have five minutes in a dark room with the academic moron who chose Navy for the 2011 home opener for $900k. Now back to the 1984 ghosts, the Napolean MacCallum-less Midshipmen raced out to 38-7 lead (31 straight) before Carolina awoke from its stupor. Do not allow newspaper clippings or radio/television talking heads to build-up an apparition that cannot be beaten on the football field.

2. Discipline! The USC defense will have its easiest scheme of the entire season this week versus Navy, but based on the first two weeks of this season, this defense is severely lacking in executing assignments. If the defense executes its tasks, then the Midshipmen will have a difficult night moving the football. The key to defending the triple option is to make sure a USC defender is responsible for the fullback, the quarterback and the pitchman. Wofford runs a similar scheme to what Navy will bring to Williams-Brice, and we know how much trouble our defense has had with Wofford in the past. Discipline, discipline on defense! Read your keys and do not try to execute more than your assignment on each defensive play.

3. Play behind the LOS! The USC defensive line must create havoc behind the line of scrimmage (LOS) on 1st & 2nd downs versus Navy and cause negative yardage plays. If Carolina can dictate down & distance to the Midshipmen, then 3rd down becomes much more manageable for Ellis Johnson and the defensive stop troops. If the pendulum swings in Navy’s favor in down and distance on offense, meaning the Midshipmen are facing 2nd & 3rd and less than two/three yards, then Carolina will face a very challenging Catch-22. Catch-22 meaning does USC bring eight, possibly nine, defenders close to the line of scrimmage and leave no security blanket at the back of the defense, as well as leave the cornerbacks on an island one-on-one versus the wide receiver. Hopefully Carolina is successful generating negative plays on 1st and 2nd downs.

4. Dominate Time of Possession: I know versus ECU the Gamecocks came out slinging the ball down the field to no avail. Last week versus UGA it took three quarters before the USC rushing attack revved up after watching quarterback Stephen Garcia airmail several poor passes in the first half. If Spurrier goes against his pedigree, then Sean Elliott’s troops along the offensive line should go mono-a-mono against an undersized defensive line and torpedo Navy’s momentum by sustaining long, clock-consuming drives, while the Navy offense enjoys the game as bystanders on the sidelines. If Carolina has an edge in Time of Possession then I will bet USC is winning the game. If Navy has a decided advantage in Time of Possession, then the Midshipmen could sink the Gamecocks’ home opener.

5. Unleash Bruce Ellmighty’on! The duo-sport star had a nice debut versus ECU in the kickoff return game as well as situational wildcock formations. Last week against Georgia, Bruce Ellington’s impact on special teams was negated due to UGA’s ability to kickoff deep into the end zone for a touchback. Ellington ran the wildcock formation once in the first half, but the UGA defense was ready for #23 and stonewalled the Berkeley, SC native for no gain. I predict Bruce “Almighty” Ellington will be the offensive star not named Lattimore at the completion of this game.
I have had a bad feeling about this game after watching our defense get gorged last week versus UGA. If you look back at our last four games [Auburn (SEC Championship), FSU (bowl game), ECU and UGA] our run defense has been non-existent. Now comes the #1 rushing team in the NCAA and our defensive coaches are busy doing the annual secondary shuffle after poor performances in the first two games. I cannot believe USC corrects its defensive lapses in one week against the most fundamentally sound football squad in college football. The fans at Williams-Brice will enjoy the fireworks on Saturday night because the scoreboard will be busy.

Spurspective’s Prediction: USC sinks Navy in a squeaker 42-38.

My next blog will be Saturday morning when I post my top ten college football games of the weekend.

Go Gamecocks!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Football Recruiting Visitors, SEC Power Index and Navy/USC Tidbits

It’s been 313 days (November 8th, versus Troy) since the sights & sounds of Williams-Brice were on display. Finally South Carolina will play its 2011 home opener. USC fans should be sky high with enthusiasm with a top ten football team debuting at the cockpit (My unofficial nickname!). The pageantry and tailgating will be a spectacle as fans have been gearing up for the home opener all offseason. With the home opener, Carolina will finally have the opportunity to host some unofficial visitors (football prospects) as football recruiting is a 24/7 cycle. In the recruiting world, anytime a university gets a high school or junior college prospect on its campus, the chances of ultimately signing the player rises. It’s commonplace for schools to host unofficial visitors. An “unofficial visit” is equivalent to a student prospect that pays out of his or her pocket for the entire trip while visiting a university. The institution is not allowed to provide any reimbursement to a prospect that is on an unofficial visit. Seldom do college coaches like official visits during a game because it diverts attention away from game preparation. Now coaches will make exceptions if high-profile players want to use an official visit on game day. The norm is to encourage a prospect of high value to make an official visit to a high-profile game, i.e., Auburn, Florida or Clemson for this calendar year. USC, as of right now, is not expecting any official visitors for the Navy game. Here is a preliminary list of unofficial visitors for Saturday night. The list is comprised of 2012 verbal commitments. There will be other prospects attending who are 2013 & 2014 prospects, but I will focus on the 2012 class:
Verbal Commitments (per
WR Shaq Roland - Lexington, SC (4-star)
RB Kendric Salley – Williston, SC (3-star)
WR Kwinton Smith – Dillon, SC (4-star)
OL Brock Stadnik – Greensboro, NC (4-star)
OL Clayton Stadnik – Greensboro, NC (2-star)
WR Jody Fuller – Monroe, NC (4-star)
OL Mason Zandi – Chapin, SC (2-star)

SEC Power Index – Week Three Edition
1. LSU – The Bayou Bengals had a breather last weekend versus instate whippin’ boy Northwestern State. LSU opens SEC play this Thursday night in Stark’vegas’.
2. Alabama – The Crimson Tide return back to Bryant-Denny Stadium this week after defeating Penn State last weekend to hand a six-figure check to North Texas for an a$$ whipping!
3. South Carolina – It might be too high for a team giving up 40+ points per game, up and down offense, and player shuffling galore in the Secondary, but USC has beaten UGA & ECU away from Williams-Brice.
4. Arkansas – Explosive offense, improving defense and the most talented WR corps in the country. Let’s see how Arkansas handles Troy this weekend versus sCUm.
5. Florida – So far the Charlie Weiss & Wil Muschamp marriage is working. This weekend the competition ratchets up severely versus UT. We’ll see if there are chinks in the Gators’ armor come Sunday evening.
6. Auburn – The horseshoe stuck in Gene Chizik’s derriere is enormous! Auburn has now won 17 straight games dating back to the 2010 Outback Bowl win over Northwestern. How many bottles of TUMS do the AU coaches go through weekly?
7. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs were once again snake-bitten versus Auburn. Bulldogs QB Chris Relf, 6’3”/250+ pounds, gets upended at the goal line Saturday afternoon in Auburn as time expires and loses by seven points. Now with a quick turnaround, MSU must face LSU on Thursday night without two starting OL against possibly the best DL in the country.
8. Tennessee – Is there a younger, more explosive QB/duo-WR tandem in the country than QB Tyler Bray throwing to the WR tandem of Justin Hunter & Da’ Rick Rogers? The Volunteers travel to Gainesville on Saturday for the first test of the season for Derek Dooley’s young bunch of Vols.
9. Georgia – The Dawgs were ready to play on Saturday afternoon versus USC. I thought UGA played very inspired football. Now, can Georgia continue taking positive steps forward and build a little momentum? The big game, IMHO, will be at home on October 1st versus Mississippi State.
10. Vanderbilt – The Commodores are 2-0 to start the season with wins over Elon & UConn. Saturday, Vandy opens SEC play versus Ole Miss in Nashville before traveling to Columbia next Saturday to play USC. Over the last decade, this annual series has achieved a level of parity. Vanderbilt has won 3 of the last 4 contests between the schools (per Wikipedia).
11. Ole Miss – Has Houston Nutt slipped down the pecking order of SEC coaches? Ole Miss lost a heartbreaker in Week One to BYU. This week, the Rebels travel to the Music City and face Vanderbilt. Ole Miss is 6-4 versus Vanderbilt since 2000.
12. Kentucky – Kentucky might be the biggest undefeated (2-0) fraud of this young season. The Wildcats barely squeak out a win versus WKU in week one and then win unimpressively versus Central Michigan last week. This Saturday, the ‘Cats host in-state rival Louisville in the Commonwealth classic. UK better secure victory number “3” because the cupcakes come off the schedule after Saturday. The next three opponents are Florida (home), at LSU and at USC back-to-back-to-back weekends.
Here are some tidbits surrounding the Navy/USC match-up Saturday night per ESPN:
Navy is 9-9-2 all-time versus SEC competition
Carolina is 4-3 versus Navy all-time
Navy has not beaten a top-10 team since beating then #2 USC in 1984 (38-21)
Navy is the #1 Rushing football team in the NCAA averaging just over 400 yards/game
Navy has yet to surrender a Passing TD in 2011
Navy has not started 3-0 since 2006
Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman will attend the game because his son is a freshman on the Navy football team
Steve Spurrier is 42-0 all-time versus non-BCS schools
The two institutions have not met since 1988
USC is 4-0 versus Navy at Williams-Brice Stadium
Carolina will pay Navy $900k for this game

I will post my next blog Friday afternoon. I will break down the five keys to victory for Carolina in the Navy game.

Go Gamecocks!

Monday, September 12, 2011

USC/UGA Review and Look Forward to Carolina/Navy Match-Up

What a barn burner in Athens, Georgia Saturday evening! IMHO, Georgia was the better team Saturday night, but sometimes the more opportunistic team comes out ahead on the scoreboard. I will give props to the Bulldogs. IMHO Georgia outplayed USC and was the more physical team for three quarters. I was thoroughly impressed with QB Aaron Murray and return specialist Brandon Boykin. What competitors! Murray took some serious shots from the Gamecocks defense throughout the game but kept getting up off the turf and keeping UGA in the ballgame. Boykin continually flipped the field position battle in UGA’s favor for most of the game on kick & punt returns. I underestimated UGA’s potential after week one. The Bulldogs played like a wounded animal backed into a corner and came out fighting. My prediction of a 37-17 USC victory was grossly insulting to Bulldog nation. I thought UGA played physical at the point of attack on offense in the running game and carved up the Gamecocks secondary when opportunities were available. On defense, the Dawgs stacked the box to stop Lattimore and forced Garcia to make plays which, for about three quarters, worked successfully. As well as UGA rebounded from their opening week’s performance, I thought Carolina overcame several obstacles to gut out a win in Sanford Stadium. Big-time players make big-time plays when the game is on the line. This game came down to a handful of plays, and Carolina now has difference makers on both sides of the ball. Two years ago, USC lost a similar game in Athens, 41-37, where USC rolled up over 500-plus yards of offense but could not overcome a 15-point deficit and deficiencies in the Special Teams play. On Saturday evening, Carolina won the turnover battle, negated UGA’s special team’s advantage and made critical fourth quarter plays with the outcome of the game in the balance.
The Gamecocks, for only the third time under Spurrier in seven years, begin the season 2-0, for the second year in a row. The barometer for a successful Gamecocks’ season usually starts with a “W” versus Georgia; the annual border battle this year provided fans on both sides with an instant classic. There were eight lead changes (The State newspaper), and, after a slow scoring first half, both teams combined for 60 second-half points, and Carolina manufactured three more nonoffensive touchdowns. Let’s take a look at some of the positives and negatives from Carolina’s SEC opener between the hedges.


1. Non-offensive touchdowns are becoming a common theme in 2011. Carolina scored three more touchdowns the unconventional way on Saturday. Melvin Ingram’s 68-yard TD run was a highlight as he hurdled multiple UGA tacklers on his way to the end zone. Antonio Allen made it back-to-back weekends scoring a touchdown as he stepped in front of an Aaron Murray pass in the 3rd quarter and returned it 25 yards for a ”pick six”. The last unconventional score gave USC its biggest lead of the game, 45-35, when Jadeveon Clowney recorded his second sack of the game, separating the ball from QB Murray, allowing USC teammate Melvin Ingram to scoop up the loose ball and score his second TD of the game. In two games, the Carolina defense and special teams have combined to score 35 points, per The State newspaper.

2. This team has difference makers that step up and make plays when their number is called: Spur Antonio Allen (two scores in two weeks), DE Melvin Ingram (two scores versus UGA, one on special teams and one on defense), and Kicker Jay Wooten nails his first field goal of the season in a pressure-cooker situation! How about a 49-yarder in hostile territory right down the middle with room to spare! RB Marcus Lattimore rose up again versus UGA after a slow start. The sophomore from Duncan, SC gained 94 of his 176 yards in the 4th quarter (per Pete Thamel of the NY Times) and had a key 36-yard run to setup USC’s final offensive touchdown. Lattimore is a STUD!! QB Stephen Garcia was very sluggish in the first half with multiple overthrown passes and a couple of near interceptions. His best first half throw was the incredible TD pass to Jefferey in the back of the end zone to give Carolina a 7-6 lead. Then in the second half with the game on the line, Garcia makes two key throws. The first was an 8-yard slant to Jefferey on 4th-and-3 to setup Jay Wooten’s 49-yard field goal. Later in the 4th quarter, Garcia rolled out towards the USC bench and threw a perfect strike to Ace Sanders for about a 30-plus yard gain. A few plays later, Lattimore gashes the UGA defense on a long run and a couple of plays later Lattimore plowed into the end zone.

3. Special Teams play was pivotal in the outcome of this game and the pendulum swung in USC’s favor throughout the game. The first key play was the on-side kick recovered by UGA that was negated by an off-sides penalty on Georgia’s Baccari Rambo. The Gamecocks sputtered on the drive following the botched on-side kick, but USC punter Joey Scribner-Howard boomed a 59-yard punt, which finally flipped the field in USC’s favor (Scribner-Howard averaged 44.5 yards per punt). Carolina got the ball back near midfield and scored in five plays on a 34-yard TD pass from Garcia to Jefferey giving USC a 7-6 lead. As halftime approached, USC setup a punt formation and called for a fake punt. Melvin Ingram took a direct snap, avoided two tacklers and outran the UGA specialists en route to a 68-yard TD run. In the third quarter, Kicker Jay Wooten gave USC a 31-28 lead after nailing a 49-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare. Clutch kick in an intimidating atmosphere! The big factor was that UGA only managed two field goals off special teams. The Bulldogs all-American kicker Blair Walsh was 2-3 on FGs. The difference in the game - a Field Goal! Also, USC kept UGA’s Brandon Boykin out of the end zone even though he had several nice returns on seven kickoff attempts. New Special Teams Coach John Butler has invigorated the special teams play at Carolina so far this year.

4. USC not only handled Georgia but also the zebra stripes on Saturday. I don’t blame the referees often, but the no-calls on several blatant UGA holds were unbelievable! Devin Taylor was held numerous times in the backfield, as were Clowney and Ingram. I don’t know if the fix was in or not for Richt, but the zebras kept the yellow hankies to themselves on several obvious offensive holds.

We highlighted the positives now let’s look at the not-so-'SPUR'fect.

1. Lack of offensive focus in back-to-back games to start the 2011 season. USC looked lackadaisical throughout the entire first half on offense and must correct slow starts if the Gamecocks want to avoid pitfalls down the road.

2. Secondary Swiss cheese is becoming a weekly adjective to describe the Gamecocks backfield defenders. #15 Jimmy Legree better learn how to tackle this week, because, through two games, his play at free safety has been abysmal. Legree was toasted in the 2nd quarter on a Murray TD pass and then missed a tackle in the open field early in the 4th quarter allowing UGA to tie the score at 28-28. Through two games this year, the defense has given up eight passing TDs.

3. The front seven on USC’s defense must be more disciplined in their gap control responsibilities. Too often, UGA’s running backs took advantage of Carolina’s aggressiveness and over pursuit to the ball carrier, and Crowell & company would cutback through running lanes left exposed by the Gamecocks’ defenders. Assignment football and run lane accountability must be preached this week versus Navy.

4. Was the offense - especially the wide receivers - overhyped in preseason? IMHO, yes! I have not seen a second WR step forward yet. Ace Sanders is trying, but he has not cemented himself yet. Garcia continues to lock onto #1. Now the wide receivers must get separation to get open, and possibly the UGA defensive backs covered better than expected, but this WR unit must begin to step out from behind Jefferey’s shadow and elevate the unit’s production as the season grows longer.

5. Speaking of overhype, were we misled on the potential of this defense? IMHO, this defense is not better than it was in 2010. After two games the USC defense is giving up almost 40 points per game. The secondary is still an enigma, the defensive line was manhandled by an underachieving UGA OL for much of the game, and, to me, the linebackers looked slow moving to the ball. Rodney Paulk, in particular, still looks hampered by his multiple knee operations. I know we played without LB Damario Jefferey, but I was disappointed by the play of the linebackers in filling the running lanes, the physicality of the defensive line and the overall poor tackling of the entire defense especially the defensive backs.
There is the good and the bad. We are 2-0 atop the SEC East and return to Williams-Brice for four straight home games. This week’s match-up will be a tough draw for the Gamecocks. I am skeptical five days away from kick-off based on our defensive performance through two games. IMHO, our offense will have to outscore Navy for us to win, because I seriously doubt our ability to stop a run-heavy behemoth in Navy. Do not underestimate Navy this Saturday night, Carolina fans! Just ask Notre Dame!

My next post will be Wednesday when we'll look ahead to recruiting visitors for the Navy game, Spurspective's SEC Power Index and tidbits about Navy.
Go Gamecocks!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Week Two Must-Watch College Football Games

Week two brings several conference openers, inaugural conference games for some Pac-12 teams and some interesting interstate match-ups. So get your food, beverages and college colors coordinated before Noon kick-off today.

1. USC/UGA: Would there be another game ahead of the Gamecocks? The naysayers are coming out of the woodwork against Richt. This is USC’s best team to enter through the gates of Sanford Stadium, and this might be one of worst offensively challenged Bulldogs team. Prediction: The Gamecocks walk the David Pollacks, I mean Dawgs 37-17.

2. Notre Dame/Michigan: Hopefully Mother Nature will not interrupt this game, as last week both teams sat through weather delays. Maybe Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly has taken an anger management course since last Saturday, while Brady Hoke’s season actually begins this week against arch rival Notre Dame.
Prediction: The Irish break out their throwback uniforms and the Red Zone luck is on the side of the Fighting Irish this Saturday night as Notre Dame wins in the Big House 41-30.

3. Alabama/Penn State: Saban brings his herd of pachyderms up to Happy Valley to face JoePa and the Nittany Lions. This could be a defensive struggle as both teams’ QBs aren’t exactly proven players. I look for the SEC to continue its dominance over the Big 10 (+2).
Prediction: Roll Tide wins 24-16

4. Mississippi State/Auburn: The Bulldogs trek over to the Plains to take on a new looking Tigers team. No Newton on offense and no Fairley on defense equal trouble for the defending champs as we witnessed last Saturday versus Utah State. MSU is very explosive on offense but untested on defense. This game will be high scoring and I like the boys from Starkvegas to avenge last year’s loss.
Prediction: Mississippi State outlasts the Tigers in a shootout, 44-38.

5. Missouri/Arizona State: An interesting late Friday night game (10 pm). Missouri was unimpressive in week one with a win against an FCS opponent, while Arizona State ran up the score against a high school team. Look out for Sun Devils middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whom Sporting News voted as the most hated college football player because of his ferocity on the football field.
Prediction: (Friday night) ASU torches the Tigers in Tempe 33-17.

6. Texas/BYU: Interesting match-up of two potential conference opponents (rumor is Big 12 invites BYU to join Big 12 to replace Texas A&M). BYU was less impressive playing Ole Miss last Saturday and Texas speared Rice in a snoozer.
Prediction: BYU upsets Texas in Austin 24-17.

7. Utah/Southern Cal: Norm Chow returns to his roots in Southern California as the offensive coordinator for Utah. This is the Utes’ initial Pac-12 conference game, and they get to travel to the Coliseum and face the fighting Kiffins (Lane & Monte). USC is down, and Utah has never played a Pac-12 game.
Prediction: Utah wins its first Pac-12 game 27-19 in the Coliseum.

8. Virginia Tech/East Carolina: Beamer Ball rolls into Greenville, NC. The Hokies smacked down Appalachian State last week, while the Pirates ran into a buzz saw in the second half of their game against USC. This could be a trap game for Virginia Tech, as the Pirates QB Dominique Davis is a very good quarterback.
Prediction: Virginia Tech gets the running game going and beats ECU 42-30.

9. Rutgers/UNC: Rutgers comes south of the Mason-Dixon line and travels to the A-She-She to face the blue bellies. UNC is under a lot of turmoil, as the season began with the Butch Davis saga, but performed well in their opener versus James Madison last week. Rutgers played a JV team last week and will get a wake-up call in Chapel Hill.
Prediction: The Mountain Goats chew up the Scarlet Knights 38-13.

10. Colorado/California: This is the opening Pac-12 conference game for both teams and Colorado’s first ever Pac-12 home game. The fighting left-wingers from Berkeley, CA host the the liberal stampeding Buffaloes from Boulder. The Buffaloes hope to find Berkeley to their liking (I am sure, politically, they will) and pick-up their first ever Pac-12 conference win.
Prediction: California skins the Buffaloes 23-17.

During the weekend, please remember Sunday is the 10th anniversary of 9/11. God Bless the USA!

My next post will be Monday afternoon to review the USC/UGA game.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Inside the Border Battle: Five Keys to Victory

USC opens its 20th season in the SEC on Saturday with its rival south of the border between the Hedges in Sanford Stadium. Carolina is 8-11 in SEC season openers (of the 19 SEC openers 16 have come against UGA) and 2-4 under Steve Spurrier in SEC openers. In those six years, Spurrier is 2-3 versus Georgia and 0-1 versus Vanderbilt (2008 lost 24-17). When the Gamecocks open SEC play in Athens, Carolina is 1-2 under Spurrier winning in 2007. USC’s average margin in two losses at UGA under Spurrier is three points (lost by two in 2005 & lost by four in 2009). USC won by four points, 16-12, in 2008. Carolina is looking to start 2-0 under Spurrier for the third time in seven years. 2007 USC began 2-0 before finishing 6-6. In 2010, Carolina began 2-0 en route to the SEC Eastern Division title before finishing 9-5. Historically, this early season match-up has been a barometer of success for both of these teams. When Carolina beats UGA, the Gamecocks generally enjoy success and when Carolina loses to Georgia the season usually goes south. So let’s take a look inside the key match-ups between these two SEC Eastern Division opponents.

1. Establish the Run Game: Carolina must go into this game with a mindset to run the football. Georgia will be adamant to avoid a Marcus Lattimore encore (37 carries/182 yards) in front of their home fans. UGA demonstrated improvement versus Boise State in defending the run but lost a key component to their defense when starting middle linebacker Alec Olgetree broke a bone in his right foot early in the game. The Bulldogs will be starting a walk-on in his place. Also, Georgia’s starting nose guard, Kwame Geathers, suffered a shoulder stinger versus BSU and missed practice through Wednesday nursing his injury. That leaves UGA with a JUCO transfer, John Jenkins, as the only true option at nose guard if Geathers can’t play. Jenkins has battled weight and conditioning since arriving in Athens in July. Carolina cannot get deterred if they find a lack of running room early in the game. Spurrier knows when USC runs the rock the Gamecocks have had tremendous success. I place the rushing total over 150 yards to be successful. Also, look for Stephen Garcia and Bruce Ellington to have chances to hurt the UGA defense with QB keepers on the Zone Read play. Lattimore will get his 100-plus yards rushing versus Georgia!

2. Dirty Murray’s Jersey: Last week against Boise State, UGA’s offensive line gave up six sacks with multiple blitzes and a straight four-man pass rush. Even though Carolina did not register a sack against ECU, the front four got pressure and QB hurries, especially in the second half. IMHO this is Clowney’s coming-out party. I don’t care who Georgia trots out at its Left Tackle position, Clowney will introduce himself A LOT to Aaron Murray on Saturday afternoon. If Carolina gets pressure with the front four, it will be a very long day on offense for UGA. I expect max protection (RB & TE stay into block on pass plays) and that may slow down the pass rush, but, more importantly, there will be fewer receivers running routes. Ellis Johnson will turn up the heat with blitz packages on Saturday to try and get Georgia’s offense rattled. I expect USC’s d-line to record at least six sacks and several QB pressures.

3. Avoid Special Teams Blunders: Remember in 2009 when UGA kickoff return man Brandon Boykin returned a 100-yard kickoff for TD that helped stake the Bulldogs to a 15-point lead? Carolina was atrocious on special teams in Athens two years ago, which basically cost them the game. I would implore USC to kick the ball out of bounds away from Boykin and let UGA have the ball at the Georgia 40-yard line. Georgia is offensively challenged. Let’s not give up easy touchdowns off of special teams’ lapses. If Carolina is bold enough to kick-off to Boykin, then the Gamecocks better tackle Boykin. Pooch kicking (instruct the kicker to pop the ball up to around the 30-yard line and allow your defenders to cover the kick-off easier) is even a better option than giving Boykin & UGA an opportunity to ignite momentum and change the course of the game.

4. USC Passing Accuracy: If UGA stacks the box with eight players (number of defenders within 5-8 yards of line of scrimmage) to stop Lattimore, then the spotlight turns to 5th year senior QB Stephen Garcia. Garcia will have plenty of chances to hit receivers downfield for big gains (20-plus yards downfield from line of scrimmage). Last week we saw a very vanilla passing game plan from Carolina. There were a lot of deep throws downfield but not a lot of screens, slants or intermediate routes. This week, SOS opens up the playbook and challenges Garcia and the WRs to loosen up the UGA run defense enough until the Dawgs are forced to divert defenders to the passing game. If Carolina can consistently complete passes early in the game that will open more running lanes for Lattimore to exploit a possibly tired and soft UGA defense in the second half.

5. Endure Emotional Start: The red & silver will be fired up at the outset of this game. Sanford Stadium will be an emotionally charged atmosphere, as this game is being pegged as a do-or-die game regarding Richt’s future tenure at UGA. The Gamecocks must survive the first ten minutes of the first quarter without any mental mistakes that could lend the Bulldogs more optimism. Even though UGA lost last weekend on a neutral field this is a new season within the SEC, and these two teams were the pre-season favorites of sports media in picking an SEC Eastern Division winner. The added pressure to win this game is evident amongst Georgia players and coaches, but if USC executes and avoids turnovers, then the last 30 minutes of the football game comes down to coaching and players. Advantage Gamecocks!!

Facts for this game:

1. USC has nine turnovers in its last two games (five versus FSU in the Peach Bowl/four versus ECU).

2. Georgia has never opened the season against two Top 25 ranked teams

3. Georgia QB Aaron Murray is 6-8 as a starter at UGA.

4. USC has only beaten UGA back-to-back once (2000 at Williams-Brice, the Quincey Carter debacle and then in 2001 at UGA 14-9 with the last-second Phil Petty to Brian Scott TD pass) since the SEC expanded in 1992.

5. Since the SEC expanded in 1992, UGA has started the season 0-2 twice. In 1993, the Bulldogs lost to Carolina and Tennessee. Then in 1996, Georgia lost back-to-back to Southern Miss and USC to begin the season.

6. In the last two games, UCF in the 2010 bowl game and Boise State, UGA is 5-27 (18.5%) on Third Down Conversions, has given up nine sacks, and Murray has a 2/3 (TD/Interception) ratio.

7. And finally for you Vegas insiders, per Greg Roberts, during the Mark Richt regime at Georgia - when playing at home and coming off a double-digit loss, Georgia has never covered the spread!

My prediction: USC 37-17

I will post my Week Two top 10 college football games to watch on Saturday morning.

Go Gamecocks!!!