Palmetto State Update
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A week ago, it appeared as if the Gamecocks of South Carolina were on the road to a huge year. They had just defeated the number one team in the country, Alabama, putting themselves in great position to win the SEC East. A week ago, it appeared that Clemson might be on the edge of disaster, having lost at North Carolina to make it three Ls straight. The play-calling was being seriously questioned in Tiger Town. A week later, college football showed us why you have to take things one week at a time...
South Carolina. We will start with the Gamecocks, who seem primed for the big-time, but are having trouble making that last step in the East. Florida, Georgia and Tennessee - the three-headed monster of that division - each are having down years. This is a once-a-generation type of happening. This is the year, Gamecocks! But you have to go out and get it.
This past weekend's game against Kentucky gives me the perfect chance to rip USC a new one, but I'm not going to as I still think this team is going to win the East. But it was a disappointment for sure. Not only does it make USC now have to fight to win the division (a win over UK would have basically closed the deal with Florida losing again), it knocks them way back in the national rankings, something that is important to any program, both for fun and for serious reasons. By putting themselves within one loss of Florida, the November 13th game in Gainesville is still perhaps for the division.
South Carolina has the weapons to do big things, but I can't understand some of the things that happen. We can debate for hours over whether Head Coach Steve Spurrier should have kicked it or thrown it into the end zone at the game's end Saturday, but still that leaves a question: Why did USC not throw it up to Alshon Jeffery? To me, Jeffery is one of the top wide receivers in the college game and is extremely hard to beat in a jump-ball type of situation.
Another question is what happened in the USC locker room at halftime? Spurrier has been a coach for nearly 25 years at the college level, and his team - clearly more talented - loses the second half by a score of 21-0. I just have to wonder what happened there. I was busy running around at the wedding, and have yet to see the replay, but I am quite surprised this happened.
But what's done is done, and now South Carolina must get it together and win the SEC East. That alone would be a huge reason for celebration in Columbia - and rightfully so. In a way, I as a Clemson fan am pulling for them to do it. Why not? It's been 18 years since the Gamecocks joined the league. I would say the dues have been paid.
The upcoming schedule sees USC face Vanderbilt (away) and Tennessee (home). I see the Gamecocks winning both of those games, and if they do, that would set up a game in Gainesville where USC would have to win. A UF win would give both teams three SEC losses, with the winner getting the head-to-head decider. Florida is very capable of losing another game outside of USC (the Gators play at Georgia in two weeks), but at this point, they are still alive.
Basically, after half of their schedule, the Gamecocks are very much in the running to win their division. Now, it's time to put up or shut up. It is there for the taking, let's sit back and see if USC can take it. Playing Vanderbilt next is a gift sent down from the Heavens. Star running back Marcus Lattimore is banged up, and everyone on the team could use an easier opponent. Yes, I know, Vandy is very capable of upsetting the Gamecocks. But my point is that USC would rather play Vandy right now than a much tougher SEC opponent.
Clemson. Like South Carolina, Clemson has had a chance at big things this season, but haven't been able to close the deal. A close loss at Auburn I think really hurt this team. CU wanted that game very, very bad, and the way the defeat came in such a crushing matter sort of changed the tone of the early part of the season. Every game has analysis that goes to the point of absurdity, but looking back, that could have been a program changing win and our guys let it slip away.
Still, the tigers had two weeks to get over it and improve, yet came out against Miami at home and gave the ball away six times in another loss. Again, the Tigers saw themselves on the same playing field of a big-name, nationally ranked, high-profile team, but found a way to record an L. Miami had big tight-end Leonard Hankerson beasting around, and their guys are very fast across the board. So when you play a team with that kind of talent, you must protect the ball even more, and Clemson didn't do that.
But the game that hurt the most is the UNC loss of two weekends ago. Not only was it just an ugly game to watch, but the loss put CU two games behind FSU in the ACC Atlantic standings. Now, even if the Tigers win out - including a win at FSU in November - the Seminoles will have to slip again in conference play to lose the division. The biggest question to me involving the UNC game was why Andre Ellington only ran the ball twelve times in the game. To me, that is your best offensive player.
But despite the early season hole Clemson has dug for themselves, they are still alive to do some damage in 2010. They beat Maryland 31-7 Saturday to get the taste of winning back in their mouths, and now welcome in a Georgia Tech team that they would love to knock off. The Jackets have won the last four meetings after the teams went back and forth for a decade.
With a streak of ACC games ahead, Clemson just has to win now. Period. Any more losses means the end of any kind of hardware. FSU must lose, and the Tigers know that, but winning is the only thing that matters.
And to do that winning, Clemson must find someone who can catch the ball. So far in 2010, that has been the glaring problem. I would utilize tight-end Dwayne Allen as much as possible (Allen did have seven catches at UNC, 19 for the year), and send running back Jamie Harper out of the back-field or a slot type position. There has to be at least a threat of a pass or Ellington (and Harper) have nowhere to run. Teams are playing the run hard against Clemson because they know there is little threat of a passing game.
A big game against Georgia Tech Saturday at 3:30 is next up for CU, and a win would be one major step back towards respectability. Clemson is still looking for a win over a good opponent this year, and while GT isn't having the best year in their history, they are still a solid, well respected program and this would be a boost.
I would be surprised if Clemson didn't make a run here in the second half of 2010, as traditionally the Tigers have been a second half of the season type of team. A lot can happen in a whole half of a season, so if you are a Tiger fan, I would stick with this team through the end. I like the team's attitude, and if someone can step up and catch the ball, this could still be a pretty good year.
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