Tag:Connor Shaw
Posted on: October 11, 2011 2:01 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2011 2:50 pm
 

Stephen Garcia dismissed from Gamecocks

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A failed "substance test" has brought the star-crossed Stephen Garcia era at South Carolina to its final, official end.

Gamecock athletic director Eric Hyman issued a statement Tuesday that Garcia has been dismissed fron the Carolina football program, effective immediately.

“Being a student-athlete at the University of South Carolina is a privilege, not a right,” said Hyman, “For Stephen to return to and remain with the football squad this fall, we agreed on several established guidelines. Unfortunately, he has not been able to abide by those guidelines and has therefore forfeited his position on the roster. We wish him the best of luck as he moves forward in life.”

CBSSports.com South Carolina RapidReporter Josh Kendall reported Tuesday that two sources confirmed that Garcia had failed a "random substance test." Per Kendall, Garcia was reportedly informed of the school's decision Tuesday morning.

“We are all saddened that this has occurred,” Steve Spurrier said in the school statement. “We all feel like we’ve given Stephen numerous opportunities to be a student-athlete here at South Carolina. Obviously, he has chosen not to follow the guidelines of his reinstatement contract. We wish him the best.”

The news comes on the heels of Garcia's benching for the Gamecocks' Week 6 win over Kentucky. Garcia was leading the FBS with nine interceptions thrown when Steve Spurrier elected to go with Connor Shaw as his teams starting quarterback. Garcia did not make an appearance against the Wildcats, with sophomore Andrew Clifford handling mop-up duties in the 54-3 blowout.

Garcia has had a long history of off-field problems and suspensions. The senior has reportedly been on his last disciplinary strike ever since a March incident at a team function resulted in his suspension from spring practice. Hyman and Spurrier both set up "guidelines" for Garcia's return, guidelines which Spurrier said he had been following with commitment over the summer, resulting in his reinstatement just before fall camp.

Garcia's career wraps up with 34 career starts, 7,597 passing yards, 47 passing touchdowns, and 41 interceptions. Though he'll likely be remembered for never quite living up to his vast dual-threat potential, Garcia will also go down as the quarterback who led the Gamecocks to their first-ever win over a No. 1 team (vs. Alabama in 2010, in a 17-for-20 performance that will stand as testament to what he could accomplish at maximum focus) and SEC East division title.
Posted on: October 10, 2011 3:40 pm
 

SEC Poll Reactions, Week 6

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.


(AP/Coaches)

1/2. LSU

No movement for LSU this week despite -- or, in the case of the AP, because of -- the dominant win over Florida. And barring something unforeseen this week against Tennessee, that won't likely change next week, either; the Tigers continue to enjoy a relatively comfortable lead at No. 1 in the AP, but in the Coaches are still closer to being passed by No. 3 Alabama (10 points behind, 11 first-place votes to LSU's 15) than they are to passing Oklahoma (25 points clear, 32 first-place votes).

2/3. Alabama

As we've written multiple times in this space, we're still of the belief that Alabama's overwhelming domination of a top-10 team like Arkansas and road victories top-25-caliber teams like Florida (pre-Brantley injury, anyway) and Penn State should have them a step ahead of Oklahoma--and in the mix for No. 1. But in a week where the Sooners and Bayou Bengals beat Texas and those same Gators by a combined 68 points, no one in Tuscaloosa can be surprised the Tide stayed where they were in last week's polls.

10/11. Arkansas

The Razorbacks defeated Auburn by 24 points the week after Auburn defeated South Carolina in South Carolina. The Gamecocks may be a different team with Connor Shaw at the helm rather than Stephen Garcia (may be; it was just Kentucky, after all), but for now, that's a comprehensive argument for Arkansas wearing the "third-best team in the SEC mantle." And maybe even the "best team with a loss" mantle; only Oregon is ranked higher.

15/13. South Carolina

Auburn's loss freed up the Gamecocks from the head-to-head loss ceiling; Shaw's performance likely reassued voters that they deserved the nod over similar one-loss teams like West Virginia or Nebraska. The result is that the Gamecocks are once again a consensus top-15 team. But should they be? Losing to Auburn at home isn't nearly the same as losing to LSU (in WVU's case) or Wisconsin (in Nebraska's). Until Shaw proves himself against more worthy competition, the Coaches' ranking of No. 13 strikes us as being on the high side.

24/unranked. Auburn

The Tigers hang on in the AP despite the debacle in Fayetteville, with the Coaches substantially less forgiving, placing the Tigers fourth in the "Also Receiving Votes" category. The split decision feels about right for Gene Chizik's squad, with their resume boasting both strong selling points (the win at Carolina, both losses coming on the road at top-10 teams) and big drawbacks (the lopsided nature of the losses, the skin-of-the-teeth wins over Utah State and Mississippi State).

Unranked/unranked. Florida

The Gators dropped out of both polls this week after getting drubbed by LSU. Though still at "No. 26" in each, Florida's fortunate to even be that close; their home win over Tennessee isn't as impressive now that Georgia beat the Vols just as convincingly in Knoxville, their other three wins are all against horrible teams, and the Gators couldn't stay within four touchdowns of either LSU or Alabama.

The result is that the SEC's much-lauded collection of eight ranked teams in the preseason has already been halved in the Coaches poll and nearly so in the AP. Fortunately, Georgia's return could be imminent if the Bulldogs can handle Vanderbilt this week.

Posted on: October 10, 2011 9:36 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 6



Posted by Bryan Fischer


There wasn't a particularly appetizing slate of college football games this week. Sure there was the Red River Shootout Beatdown Blowout Rivalry and a few other entertaining match ups but there truly was not a must watch game from kickoff to the final whistle most of the day. AP Top 25 teams in week 6 won by an average of 24.8 points, with Florida State being the lone upset to an unranked team.

It was another good week of college football, don't get me wrong, but the drama was a bit lacking until late Saturday night when Ohio State-Nebraska took the stage down in Lincoln. The game itself was nothing to write home about in terms of style points but it made up for it in second half theatrics. Taylor Martinez helped lead the storied program's biggest comeback ever, from down 21 points, with three scores, 102 yards rushing and an efficient 191 yards on 16 of 22 passing.
 
When I watched OSU against Miami, I saw a team that was half a step slower than the Hurricanes and looked like they were going through their first spring practice execution-wise. They were a solid Big Ten team but one who just couldn't execute like previous years. It was much different from when my colleague Gregg Doyel watched the Buckeyes in their opener in early September. There was a sense of relief then after a tumultuous offseason and, just as important to the OSU faithful, hope that they would be ok until most of the 'Buckeye Five' returned from their suspensions. Luke Fickell was a coach to believe in and this was a team that still had seemed to have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, according to Doyel:
It was Akron, so who really can say, but what the heck -- I'll go ahead and say it:

Ohio State has two solid quarterbacks in Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller. Ohio State has a promising coach in Luke Fickell. And Ohio State has a team that won't be as bad as some people (OK, me) would have thought, given the terminations, suspensions and distractions of recent months.

Well, that was Akron and things certainly have changed since Doyel wrote that column (one he'd love to have back, I'm sure), including the step up in competition with Nebraska. Granted this isn't your father's Cornhuskers team. They're 46th in total offense and, even more surprising with the Pelini brothers patrolling the sidelines, 59th in total defense. They got whacked by Wisconsin and have flirted with several close games before putting inferior opponents away late. They are no Akron but they're not a top 10 team either.

The Buckeyes looked like they were on their way to a win Saturday by a surprising margin, ruining the Big Ten debut of Memorial Stadium. Things weren't going great but they were at least good. Freshman Braxton Miller looked comfortable running the offense, making plays with his feet and doing plenty to stake the team to a 27-6 lead in the 3rd. After the offense had looked pitiful against Miami and Michigan State the previous two weeks, there were signs of life for the scarlet and gray. With about five minutes left in the third quarter, Ohio State led 27-13 and had rolled up 312 yards of offense.

Then Miller sprained his ankle and all hell seemed to break lose.

"I'd like to say no," tight end Reid Fragel told the Cleveland Plain Dealer when asked if Miller's absence affected the whole team, "but it's one of those things at the back of everybody's mind. I'd like to say no, but at the same time, everybody cares about our quarterback and was kind of worried about him."

Senior Joe Bauserman came on to replace him and went 1 of 10 for 13 yards while the team as a whole had just 39 yards of offense the rest of the game. The Buckeyes went from grabbing an uplifting win on the road to a devastating loss; from a good team to mediocre to bad in a span of about 20 minutes of game time. There were mistakes in every phase of the game and at every level. Execution was lacking and any playmakers on the team seemed to be sitting on the bench drinking Gatorade.

Who deserves blame for it? Well there's plenty to go around. Bauserman, certainly, for the interception and stagnant offense. The defense too, for allowing Nebraska to rush for nearly 200 yards in the second half after holding them to just 37 in the first half. Many OSU fans are quick to blame offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and he rightfully deserves the lion's share for one reason: he didn't have a game plan for Bauserman. At all. He bet big on Miller and when it came time for Bauserman to take over at a key point in the game, Bollman seemed to panic and out-think himself.

What makes it interesting is that Bauserman was at one time the starter and he's played in every game this year. You'd think they would adjust the play calling so that he could nurse the lead and allow the senior to manage the game. Following Miller's injury, there were eight rushes and 10 passes, one of which was intercepted.

"No, Joe is not as mobile," Fickell said after the game. "We have to do a better job of putting him in situations he can handle a little better."

"The floodgates kind of opened and we started to panic a little bit and we never got ourselves back on track."

Those are not the words of a head coach. Jim Tressel - despite his compliance issues - was a terrific head coach because he had everybody buy in to what he was doing. More importantly, he knew what he was doing.

Fickell, a Buckeye through and through, seems to be in over his head and the inexperience really came through Saturday. There are plenty of people rooting for him to succeed but there's a reason why so many other names have been mentioned as the head coach of the team in 2012. Fickell has been thrown into the fire, a very hot one, and is doing the best that he can. Knowing how to manage a program, especially one like this, is not something many know how to do. It takes time and it takes a very good coach, one who is in control of everything and knows just what button to push at the right time. At this point in the season, it's hard to say Fickell has total control nor knows what to do. It's unfortunate but it's also life.

Ohio State's 3-3 with six games left, four of which they'll likely be decided underdogs. A bowl game is probably still likely but the program seems like it's adrift and capable of falling off the cliff if the staff isn't careful.

"You've got to rely on some guys," Fickell said. "And it's about leadership. But I don't know. That's what we're going to have to really look back at."

The leadership has to come from Fickell and the upperclassmen on the team, it shouldn't be 'I don't know' coming from the head coach or something that they'll 'have to look at.' There will be a lot of soul-searching going on in Columbus this week as well as some growing up for Fickell and company.

Stat of the week

According to the Associated Press, the state of Florida has been shut out of the AP poll for the first time since December 6, 1982. Not just the big three of Florida, Florida State and Miami, the entire state. There's just one California team (7. Stanford) and four from the state of Texas (20. Baylor, 21. Texas A&M, 22. Texas, 25. Houston).

Stats of the week

- Florida's loss to LSU was the worst loss for the program since 1996.

- Texas A&M is ranked in the top 25 but feature the nation's worst pass defense at 347.6 yards per game. They're behind Kansas and UNLV who have three wins between them.

- There were five SEC conference games and the winning quarterbacks had a combined 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

- Mark Richt earned his 100th win at Georgia and has a 100-36 overall record with the program.

- 27 players across the country are averaging over 100 yards rushing per game. Last year, just 19 finished with an average over the century mark.

- Arizona's Nick Foles leads the country in completions per game, is third in yards per game, second in total yards, fourth in total offense and has a 5-1 touchdown to interception ratio. Yet his team is 1-5 because the defense is 115th in total defense, 117th in scoring defense and second to last in the country in sacks.

- With a touchdown catch against Texas, Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles is the active leader in career receiving touchdowns with 10 more than the next guy, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd.

- Surprisingly Illinois is tied for the nation's third longest winning streak at seven games. Stanford has the longest (13) followed by Oklahoma (10). Alabama and LSU both have seven game streaks as well but obviously will play each other in November. New Mexico and Florida Atlantic have the longest losing streaks at eight games, while Memphis has lost 15 straight in conference.

- The Pac-12 leads the country in passing and has 31 more passing touchdowns than any other conference (153 total). The Big Ten leads the country in rushing and has 11 more rushing touchdowns than any other conference.

- UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel improved to 9-0 against Washington State at three different schools (Colorado, Washington, UCLA). One of the wins came as a non-conference win while at Colorado. With eight wins in conference play, that would mean 25% of Neuheisel's Pac-12 conference victories have come at the expense of the Cougars.

- According to the Big Ten Network, every time Michigan has started 6-0, they've gone to the Rose Bowl.

Yard-by-yard

- There was plenty of Boomer Sooner at the Cotton Bowl this weekend, enough to cause Bevo to turn away from the field of play so he didn't have to see anymore of the Longhorns. Most saw Texas as overrated, moving into the top 10 largely because they hadn't lost and because they're, well, Texas. They had some momentum coming into the game and thought they had a solid backfield that would be able to make a few plays in Bryan Harsin's offense. Nope. The story of the game wasn't Oklahoma's potent offense, but its spectacular defense that had a coming out party and reminding everyone that though they might not be Alabama or LSU's, they are still pretty good. The Sooners set six defensive school records against the Horns, including eight sacks. Final score: Oklahoma's offense 34, Oklahoma defense 21, Texas 17.

- It really didn't matter what true freshman quarterback took snaps under center for Florida, they were getting fed to the wolves. Or at least one Honey Badger, who picked off starter Jacoby Brissett's deep pass in the third quarter. It's rare for LSU to have the advantage at the quarterback position but it was pretty clear they had the advantage at just about every position in their 41-11 rout at home. The Gators have issues but they're still a solid football that's just trying to find some footing. The Tigers, meanwhile, look like they used the weekend to tune up every phase of their game, controlling throughout and limiting their opponent to 2 of 11 on third down and 213 total yards. The lasting images of the game might have come from a punter and a back up quarterback. Much-maligned quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw a touchdown pass in a manner Florida fans are quite familiar with - a jump pass near the goal line. Brad Wing became an overnight sensation after faking a punt and taking it 52 yards to the house late in the first. Wing, however, raised his arms slightly before crossing the goal line and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag that took the points off the board. That was about the only thing that went wrong all day for Les Miles' crew.

"We showed everybody that we are capable of some special things against a really good Florida team," said Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery. "I want more. I want a National Championship. I want to play the best ever."

- Virginia Tech just doesn't lose back-to-back games at home under Frank Beamer. Perhaps it's the 'Enter Sandman' music the PA announcer puts on late in games but there's not much you can do to stop the Hokies. Miami thought they did thanks to Lamar Miller, who broke off several big runs in the fourth quarter before catching a throwback pass for a touchdown to pull the Hurricanes to within three. He gave them the lead with a 30 yard run late in the game before Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said 'Sorry, I'll take that' on an option on fourth-and-one to scamper 19 yards for the game-winning score. The comeback by Thomas capped an overall great day for him, going 23 of 25 for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

- Staying in the ACC, the surprise team in the league might be Georgia Tech, not Clemson. The 6-0 Yellow Jackets held off a late charge from Maryland after building a 21-3 lead going into the fourth. "They whipped our tail pretty good in the end," Tech coach Bobby Johnson said. Still, his squad is undefeated and among the top 10 in a good number of offensive categories. The passing game wasn't there against the Terrapins like it was in previous games but they still managed to eek out a victory. By the way, it's ok if you missed watching this game on account of Maryland's uniform combination, which featured mustard yellow pants.

- Arizona State has finally started to live up to expectations while Utah hasn't even come close to them. The Sun Devils defense forced three straight turnovers at one point in the third quarter, quick enough that quarterback Brock Osweiler couldn't even get his jersey cleaned in time. "They were cleaning it one second and the next second it was, 'Hey, you got to go,"' he said. "But that's a credit to our defense. They were staying focused, playing with a lot of intensity, creating turnovers." As sharp as the defense has looked the past few games, the offense has shown off an explosive side as well, scoring 18 straight points in four minutes. Dennis Erickson's squad also won a road game, big because they have a showdown and possible championship game preview with Oregon this week. For the Utes, we all worried about the grind of a BCS conference and it does seem like they're wearing down in the second half of games after starting relativly strong. Of course, it helps to have a healthy quarterback but they just haven't had one as Jordan Wynn missed yet another game. They've lost six of their last 10 and need to do something against the back half of their conference schedule to make a bowl.

- Remember when Florida State was fifth in the country and everybody was whispering they were back? Me neither. The only ranked team to lose to an unranked foe, the Seminoles had their issues with Wake Forest. After a previously injured E.J. Manuel returned in the second quarter to replace starter Clint Trickett, he threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene and many expected FSU to start moving from there. Wake running back Josh Harris had other ideas, breaking off big run after big run on his way to 136 yards and an upset. The Demon Deacons have now won four straight and are undefeated in ACC play even if they are flying under most people's radar. Wake has only five wins against Florida State all-time but have won four of them since 2006 and four of the last six.

- On one hand, it was Kentucky. On the other hand, it was an impressive showing by South Carolina. Steve Spurrier made a change at quarterback and Connor Shaw paid off as the Gamecocks had more yards on offense since the Old Ball Coach started calling plays in Columbia. The 54-3 win was also South Carolina's biggest victory since joining the SEC, thanks in large part to the sharp play of Shaw, who went 26 of 39 for 311 yards and four touchdowns. About the only one who didn't score was running back Marcus Lattimore.

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Quote/Tweet of the week

"That #11 ranking was such a farce. If Texas had Complete Scouting Services they wouldn't lose to OU so bad."

- Infamous recruiting scout Willie Lyles.

Fisch's Finest

Like the AP poll, my top 10 does not change.

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma

4. Boise State

5. Wisconsin

6. Stanford

7. Oklahoma State

8. Oregon

9. Clemson

10. Georgia Tech

Where we'll be this week

Mr. College Football Tony Barnhart will see if Connor Shaw is the real deal as South Carolina heads to Starkvegas to play Mississippi State. Dennis Dodd will take in the sights and sounds of Knoxville as LSU plays Tennessee. Brett McMurphy will see if Texas shows any improvement as they host Oklahoma State while Bruce Feldman will head to the Pacific Northwest to see a possible Pac-12 Championship Game preview with Arizona State and Oregon.

Leaning this way

Michigan at Michigan State

Anything can happen in rivalry games and it would certainly make the Spartans' season if they pulled off an upset of Big Blue and a top 10 team. Mark Dantonio has had a bye week to help prepare to stop Denard Robinson but Michigan's improved defense will be enough to help squeak by in a close game in East Lansing.

Oklahoma State at Texas

Those 55 points Oklahoma scored? Oklahoma State had that by halftime last week. The young Texas defense will have their hands full again this week with what might be an even better passing offense. The defense for the Cowboys is nothing special so the Horns should be able to put up some points of their own but there's just too many weapons for Brandon Weeden to keep it close.

Arizona State at Oregon

Dennis Erickson's squad got a road win and have been playing as well as anyone on defense the past couple of weeks. They've been forcing turnovers left and right and will need to continue that if they're to have a shot against the Ducks. LaMichael James won't play but the offense is still potent with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas coming out of the backfield. This could be a championship game preview and Oregon wins thanks to another big second half.



Posted on: October 9, 2011 3:43 am
 

SEC Winners and Losers, Week 6



Posted by Jerry Hinnen

A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 6.

WINNER: Les Miles.

For years, college football fans have come up with excuse after excuse for why Miles has been less than a terrifiic head football coach, despite his gaudy records and 2007 national title. He's just lucky. Anyone can recruit that kind of talent to LSU. His clock management is terrible. Never lost fewer than two games in a season. He can't get his offense fixed. Did we mention he's lucky? This offseason, one prominent blogger went so far as to place Miles No. 1 on a list of "the Worst Coaches in College Football."

But after today's dominating 41-11 win over Florida and the Tigers' 6-0 start to the 2011 season -- a start that includes wins over four different ranked teams -- even Miles's most ardent detractors have to admit the Mad Hatter has put together the kind of upper-upper-echelon team that can't be explained by recruiting or luck or happenstance alone. Yes, it helps to have Ryan Baker and Tyrann Mathieu and Michael Brockers around, but even superstars like those don't make the kind of terror-inducing defense LSU has today without the guidance of John Chavis, who Miles recruited to Baton Rouge personally. Yes, it's tough to not have a strong running game with Spencer Ware and a veteran line, but that running game wouldn't be nearly so effective if Jarrett Lee hadn't shaken off a career's worth of failures to become exactly the steady, accurate (and vs. the Gators, bomb-tossing) quarterback the offense needs--a development that can be directly traced to Miles's much-derided hire of Steve Kragthorpe as his team's new quarterbacks coach. The Tigers have been special teams killers for far too long under Miles to dismiss their contributions as mere "luck," as evidenced once again Saturday when punter Brad Wing noticed the lack of a Gator punt safety and took off for what should have been a 44-yard touchdown.

In short: to watch the Tigers' rise to 6-0 and their dismantling of the Gators and not see Miles's fingerprints all over them is an exercise in willful ignorance. Luck can explain some of his successes, and the natural advantages of being LSU does explain a little more. But these Tigers? They are only explained by having a coach at the very, very top of his field.

LOSERS: Auburn's wide receivers.

Tiger quarterback Barrett Trotter hasn't played well of late, and has the numbers to prove it--6 of 19 for 81 yards and a pick against Arkansas, to be specific. But he also hasn't gotten much help from his wideouts with leading receiver Emory Blake out ... if he's gotten any at all. Remove a 44-yard reception for Travante Stallworth on a second-half flea flicker completion, and Auburn's wideouts combined for all of three receptions for 21 yards. DeAngelo Benton had a particularly rough evening, dropping one late first-half pass that could have set up an Auburn field goal, getting called for a hold that would eventually force an Auburn punt, and letting a late Trotter pass whistle through his hands for the aformentioned interception.

WINNERS: Backup quarterbacks.

Jacoby Brissett aside, it was a good day to be a current (or recent) second-stringer in the SEC. Connor Shaw cemented himself as the new South Carolina starter and then some with his 311-yard, 4-touchdown, zero-pick performance vs. Kentucky. Mississippi State's Tyler Russell came off the bench to complete 11 of his 13 passes, three of them going for second-half touchdowns that turned what had been a 3-0 halftime deficit into a 21-3 win over UAB. Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers didn't have much of an impact statistically (11-of-18, 104 yards, 2 INTs), but led a couple of decent drives and looked as composed vs. the Alabama pass rush as you could hope.

And then there's Lee, who you'll remember was not only Jordan Jefferson's backup with just days remaining before the season, but many fans' favorite to drop to third-string behind JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger. Against Florida Lee completed only 7 passes--but he also only attempted 10, and those 7 completions averaged a gain of 22 yards.

LOSER: Stephen Garcia.

The career of one of the SEC's most recognizable stars, magnetic talents, and frustrating enigmas appears poised to end not with a bang, but with a whimper. Though you can't ever say never with Steve Spurrier, Shaw's confident command performance against Kentucky suggests he's going to be the Gamecock quarterback for quite some time to come. There's going to be much more difficult opponents ahead for him than the hapless Wildcats, but does it matter? Spurrier's surprising patience with Garcia through his awkward start to this season now looks poised to be turned against him as Spurrier lets Shaw work through the same rough patches Garcia endured.

Which means that in the end, Garcia's senior season hasn't been undone by the off-field troubles that so many have expected to be his downfall. It's gone south because he simply hasn't produced on the field, because aside from one half against East Carolina, he's never looked as good in 2011 as Shaw looked Saturday. It's not how we expected things to come to an end for Garcia (if this is the end), but nothing about Garcia's time in Columbia has ever played out as expected, has it?

LOSERS: Kentucky fans.

The Wildcats kicked off to open their game against the Gamecocks, forced a fumble on the return, and recovered just outside the Carolina 20. Cue the shots in the stands of overjoyed Kentucky fans high-fiving each other and celebrating the best possible start.

60 minutes later -- and only 96 Wildcat yards, 6 Wildcat first downs, and 3 Wildcat points which came immediately following that fumble recovery later -- those same fans had to be some of the most miserable in the country. It's one thing to watch a poor football team; it's another to watch a team that seems so hopelessly outmatched on offense and doesn't seem to be showing any kind of week-to-week improvement. After failing to top 300 total yards against Louisville or Florida, the Wildcats have now failed to top 300 yards in their games against LSU and Carolina combined.

So about that kickoff: were those fans happy to have that one moment of joy? Or all the angrier for that joy being so completely misleading?

WINNER: Georgia's defense.

Before the game, we asked if the Bulldog secondary could live up its gaudy post-Boise State numbers against the likes of Tyler Bray and Da'Rick Rogers on the road at Tennessee. The answer: mostly. Bray and late-game injury replacement Matt Simms did throw for 290 yards at a perfectly respectable 7.3 yards-per-attempt clip, and without an interception.

But they never did throw a touchdown, either; in fact, the Volunteers were kept out of the end zone entirely until Simms snuck in from a yard out with only 2:45 to play in the game. Thanks to the Dawg defensive backs keeping the Vols in front of them, and the UGA front seven stuffing the pathetic Tennessee ground game to the tune of .4 yards per rush (yes, .4), Bray and Co. finished the game with all of 12 points on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs offense wasn't much to write home about -- Isaiah Crowell didn't even hit the 60-yard mark on the ground, the red zone offense sputtered, and like his Vol counterparts Aaron Murray threw neither an interception nor touchdown pass -- but after years of seeing their team score like a pinball machine only to lose after another lackluster defensive display, we expect Dawg fans will take it.

LOSER: Clarity in the SEC East.

South Carolina was the preseason favorite. They were the favorite after they beat Georgia. But then Garcia struggled and Florida beat Tennessee, and the Gators were the favorite. And then Carolina lost to Auburn and Florida lost to both Alabama, and lots of people considered Georgia as the new favorite. But now that Shaw looks to have healed the Gamecocks' Achilles heel ... are they the favorites? Or is Georgia, still, after beating Tennessee? Or is Florida just ripe to return once their schedule eases up? All we really know is that none of the other three teams is winning the division, and that the East winner is going to be a two-touchdown underdog to the West's come December. Past that? your guess is as good as ours.

WINNERS: Everyone who loves college football. Let's not go crazy by saying something like "LSU and Alabama isn't going to be the only game that matters in college football this season"; with Wisconsin, Stanford, Clemson, Boise State and of course Oklahoma all looking at potential undefeated seasons, it's too hasty to even lay claim to LSU and Alabama as the nation's best two teams.

That said: if you're a college football fan, and you've watched Alabama and LSU play this season, and you know how good they are, and you've considered how much fun it would be to watch them meet, undefeated, with a trip to Atlanta on the line on Nov. 5 ... then every week that passes with the two of them still unblemished is a good thing. This was one such week.





Posted on: October 8, 2011 4:25 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 18 South Carolina 54, Kentucky 3

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Barring injury, the Stephen Garcia era came to its all-but-official end as Connor Shaw shredded the Wildcat defense for 311 yards and 4 touchdowns without throwing an interception. That was more than enough help for the Gamecock defense, which held the utterly feeble Kentucky offense to all of 96 total yards and forced five turnovers. At one point in the fourth quarter, Kentucky quarterbacks had thrown as many interceptions -- four -- as completions.

WHY SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Shaw's confident, in-control performance had a lot to do with it. The sophomore looked little like the overwhelmed player that started the season opener against East Carolina, making sharp passes, correct reads, and even some hay on the ground on the zone read (42 rushing yards, even after accounting for several sacks). So effective was Shaw that the Carolina offense barely even needed Marcus Lattimore, who had the quietest 100-yard rushing day (4.6 yards per-carry, no touchdowns) it's possible to have.

But as big a story as the Gamecocks' offensive success was, even it might have been eclipsed by the endless whirlpool of horror that was the Kentucky offense. Carolina's defense is solid enough (and even had Melvin Ingram available after the SEC's leader in sacks overcame an ankle injury), but Joker Phillips can't have many excuses for this kind of wretched display: 4-of-26 passing for 17 yards, 2.9 yards averaged over 27 carries, as many turnovers -- six -- as first downs. Morgan Newton gave the Wildcats nothing through the air, forcing Phillips to turn to freshman Maxwell Smith in the second half ... only for Smith to throw interceptions on his first two passes.

With Shaw in command, the Gamecock offense once again looks like a unit capable of powering the team to an SEC East title. But even accounting for their competition, Kentucky's barely looks capable of taking the Wildcats to, say, the middle of the Sun Belt standings.

WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA WON: As soon as Shaw proved he wasn't going to follow in Garcia's scattershot, interception-prone footsteps, which he did on the Gamecocks' first possession: 7 plays, 80 yards, capped with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Alshon Jeffery. With Kentucky's offense, that was Game Already Over.

WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA WON: After weeks of listless performances and sleepwalks past overmatched competition -- not to mention the ugly 16-13 loss to Auburn --dispatching an SEC opponent in such ruthless fashion will be a huge jolt of confidence. With Florida looking totally overmatched at LSU, the Gamecocks have reestablished themselves as a favorite -- and maybe the favorite -- in the East.

WHAT KENTUCKY LOST: In the win/loss column, just another game they were supposed to lose. But after another horrific blowout, the Wildcats' confidence and morale looks to have been blown into a million tiny, tiny pieces. Kentucky looks far more like a future 0-8 SEC team than even a 2-6 one.

THAT WAS CRAZY: Up 33-3 early in the fourth quarter and driving, Steve Spurrier called for a Lattimore-to-Shaw-to-Ace Sanders flea flicker that gained 25 yards. A nice play, but why use it at that stage of this game? Spurrier's never been known for his mercy when it comes to blowouts, and that call won't do anything to change that reputation.

Posted on: October 6, 2011 3:33 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 6

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

In which we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:



Florida's running game: can you give your quarterback(s) any breathing room?
Any team that can start Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps at tailback and then substitute the other in for the first is going to be a threat on the ground, regardless of who their team faces; when the tiniest sliver of a crease could equal an 80-yard touchdown before the coaches have their headsets correctly adjusted, the Gator ground game is where a defense's focus is going to start ... and probably finish.

That probably goes double for LSU this Saturday, since with John Brantley out and some combination of true freshman Jeff Driskel and other true freshman Jacoby Brissett taking over at quarterback, the Gators' passing game is the most glaring of question marks. But it doesn't matter how badly the Tigers stack the box, how fearsome LSU's defensive front is, how well John Chavis has his charges prepared--Florida must find a way to get Demps, Rainey, and possibly Trey Burton moving forward on the ground. Even with Brantley looking as sharp as he ever has in the first half, the Gators still couldn't rush the ball at all vs. Alabama; Rainey, Demps, and Mike Gillislee carried 17 times for 13 yards, and the end result was zero points over Florida's final 10 drives.

If Driskel and Brissett have any prayer of completing passes consistently against the carnival of athletic freaks that make up LSU's secondary -- in Baton Rouge, no less -- that secondary is going to have to be not just concerned but downright obsessed with the Florida running game. That won't happen if that running game doesn't pick up some good early gains, maybe break a 20-to-30-yarder somewhere, and keep the Gators out of anything but the occasional third-and-long. Otherwise, Chavis's Tigers will spend all afternoon teeing off on the newbies under center and generally choking the life out of Charlie Weis's attack. Weis failed miserably in his first attempt at finding a way to run the ball against an elite SEC defense; a second failure will equal a potentially even-more-miserable defeat.



Barrett Trotter: are you up to giving Auburn a passing attack again? The Tigers' 4-1 record and road upset of South Carolina has helped mask a major, major flaw in the Tiger offense, and a surprising one given Gus Malzahn's track record: Auburn's vertical passing game has all but vanished. In the five quarters since the start of the second half against Clemson, junior QB Trotter has completed just 52 percent of his passes, for only 5.9 yards an attempt, while throwing 4 (often ugly) interceptions to just 3 touchdowns. That's not to mention the eight sacks taken by Trotter the last two games or that neither FAU nor the Gamecocks are going to be mistaken for having world-class secondaries any time soon.

Judging by Arkansas's efforts to stop the run against Texas A&M (or lack thereof), Trotter should get plenty of help from Michael Dyer and the Auburn running game. But that alone won't be enough for the Tigers to keep pace with the Hogs, not given the way Bobby Petrino's quarterbacks have shredded the Auburn defense the past two seasons (702 combined yards, 7 touchdowns) and the kind of form Tyler Wilson and Jarius Wright are in right now. With the Tiger secondary as flammable as ever (provided your quarterback isn't Stephen Garcia), Arkansas is going to score a boatload of points.

Which is why the injuries to receivers to Trovon Reed and Emory Blake couldn't have come at a worse time for Auburn. Trotter already needed to take a substantial step forward to keep the Tigers within striking distance on the road; now he'll have to do it without two of his top three receivers. If there was ever a week for Malzahn to earn his substantial assistant's salary, this looks to be it.



Georgia secondary: are you for real? When Kellen Moore gouged the Bulldogs for 28-of-34 passing and 3 touchdowns Week 1, it looked like the Bulldog defensive backs had regressed back to their dark Wille Martinez-led days. But with safety Bacarri Rambo returning from suspension, the Dawgs have held their last four opponents to team QB ratings under 86 and rank 11th in the country in opponent's pass efficiency despite the Moore carpet-bombing.

Those past results are no guarantee of future performance, since facing Tyler Bray in Neyland Stadium represents a vast step up in competition from the likes of Garcia, Zack Stoudt, the slumping Chris Relf and whoever it was Coastal Carolina trotted out. But it's worth remembering that the Vols still have next-to-nothing going on the ground; even after totaling 199 yards against Buffalo, the Vols rank a horrid 109th in the country in yards per-carry. If the Dawg defensive backs can slow down Bray at all, the Vol offense could grind to a halt ... and barring another turnover-fest from Aaron Murray, Georgia should be able to walk out of Neyland with the victory.

So: can those Dawg DBs slow down Bray or not? The evidence to date is encouraging, but with the memory of Moore's night at the Georgia Dome still lingering, it's not compelling just yet.

Other SEC questions worth asking: How does AJ McCarron look against the Vanderbilt secondary? (Don't laugh; this is the best set of defensive backs McCarron has faced yet. A strong showing would further cement the belief that the Tide have no Achilles heels.) Can Marcus Lattimore keep pace in the Heisman race? (Sure, most of the attention on Carolina is focused on new quarterback starter Connor Shaw. But a second straight subpar outing against a Kentucky defense that kept LSU's ground game bottled up for a half would put the sophomore badly behind at the midseason mark.) Does Mississippi State have any fight left? (The Bulldogs have looked utterly listless and deflated ever since losing to LSU. Is there any indication that could change down the road vs. UAB?)

Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:06 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 4:11 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC, Week 4

Posted by Jerry Hinnen


1. LSU and Alabama are the SEC's No. 1 and No. 2, or No. 2 and No. 1, and no one else is close. Yes: Arkansas could recover from today's beatdown in Tuscaloosa and still head to Baton Rouge at the end of the year with a chance to sneak off with the West title. Yes: South Carolina has the league's best player in Marcus Lattimore and more than enough weapons on both sides of the ball to beat anyone, LSU and 'Bama included, if Stephen Garcia's head is screwed on correctly. Yes: with Charlie Weis rediscovering the Gators' lost running attack behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, Florida looks like the most dangerous team in the East and could do anything in the Atlanta one-off.

But until one of those teams actually beats one of the two Goliaths currently standing atop the conference, we're going to assume the gap between LSU and Alabama and the rest of the conference is even wider than it was purported to be at season's beginning. In fact, this blogger would argue these are the two teams that belong atop the polls as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.

Why? LSU has the best overall body of work of any team in the FBS, having beaten three ranked teams away from the friendly confines of Death Valley. And if Mississippi State doesn't look like they're going to live up to their preseason ranking, beating Oregon and West Virginia by a combined 39 points (and largely throttling a Duck offense that's rolled in its usual fashion ever since) should only look better as the season progresses.

But if LSU has the best body of work, it's Alabama that after Saturday has the single most impressive performance of the season. Not many SEC fans have doubts about Arkansas's offensive personnel (running back excepted), and even fewer would question Bobby Petrino's offensive scheming. But the Tide made the Hog attack look utterly ordinary, all while showing off the kind of explosiveness in the offensive backfield (hi, Trent Richardson!) and special teams (hey, Marquis Maze!) that should give them all the scoring firepower they'll need. If Arkansas goes on to be the top-15 team they've been supposed to be this offseason -- and we don't see any reason to doubt them yet -- then drubbing that top-15 team by 24 points that felt like 44 makes for the best single-game showing of the year so far.

So ... which do you choose? The team that's flashed the highest ceiling, or the team with the best scalps on the wall? We don't know. And fortunately, we don't have to choose--their meeting on Nov. 5 (barring an upset between now and then) will choose for us. We just know that choosing any other SEC team at this point is denying the obvious.

2. Florida is the East favorite, and Stephen Garcia is the reason. It's not that the Gators wiped the floor with Kentucky, though their willingness to keep the pedal to the proverbial metal was impressive. (They do wipe the floor with the 'Cats every year, after all.) It's not that the Gamecocks' issues in the secondary can't be overcome -- after collecting a pair of key sack-and-strips against Vanderbilt, Jadeveon Clowney can apparently do a lot of the overcoming by himself -- or that the slow start for Alshon Jeffery can't become a fast finish if he gets better quarterbacking.

What it is is, well, that quarterbacking. Garcia didn't just throw four interceptions Saturday against the 'Dores; he threw four awful, braindead, hilarious, Steve Spurrier aneurysm-inducing interceptions. Vandy has an outstanding secondary, but when you run straight backwards on 3rd-and-15 and blindly launch a pass so aimless and floated even the Wounded Duck Association of America immediately asks to be disassociated from it (as Garcia did for his first), an outstanding secondary isn't necessary. Garcia was terrible, plain-and-simple, and frankly lucky he hadn't already been pulled by the time Connor Shaw entered in the fourth quarter.

South Carolina can do a lot of things even when Garcia is terrible. They can do even more if he's hovering around "passable." (Like beat Georgia, for instance.) But they can't win the East if he's not playing somewhere near the top of his game, and judging by Saturday's performance, the top of his game is far, far away from him.

3. The SEC West might not be quite that brutal. Is it still the roughest, toughest division in college football? Probably. But part of its preseason reputation was due to the presence of both Auburn and Mississippi State in the preseason polls, and right now neither squad is playing like they deserve so much as a spot at the bottom of the "Also Receiving Votes" barrel.

The Bulldogs were supposed to lick their wounds this week against Louisiana Tech after crushing losses to Auburn and LSU. But the Bulldogs from Ruston nearly inflicted the biggest wound yet, tying the game at 20 on a late field goal and driving to the State 20 with under four minutes to play before a Garciaesque interception from true freshman QB Nick Isham ended the threat. Another pick would help MSU escape in overtime, despite Tech's 359-340 yardage advantage. 

But at least hard-luck Tech had already taken Southern Miss and Houston to the wire. FAU hadn't scored a touchdown in their two games, losing to Florida and Michigan State by a combined score of 85-3. And yet the Owls found themselves down just 10-6 to Auburn at halftime and finished the game with just eight fewer yards. While most of the frustration from Auburn fans has been centered on the Tiger defense, this time it was the offense doing most of the struggling, as they finished with just 315 total yards (the second-lowest total of Gus Malzahn's tenure) and two offensive touchdowns.

Both teams will no doubt play much better games against competition they take more seriously, in weeks where they're not recovering from emotional losses. But even if they do, neither the Bulldogs nor Tigers currently look like a threat to any of the five teams at the top of either division. 

4. Houston Nutt's odds of coaching in 2012 are now less than 50/50. A 27-13 home loss to Georgia isn't great no matter how you slice it. But the Rebels' performance was even more deflating than the scoreline suggests. The Dawgs outgained their hosts by nearly 300 yards (475 to 183), held them without a second-half point, and only kept them in the game via Blair Walsh's uncharacteristic three missed field goals. The Rebel passing game continued to be the sorest of sore spots, as Zack Stoudt and Randall Mackey combined to complete just 12 of their 30 passes for just 149 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. If not for an 82-yard punt return reverse for a touchdown pulled out of Nutt's bag, the Rebels likely would have finished in the single digits in scoring for a second straight week.

So maybe it looked better on the scoreboard than the 30-7 defeat at Vandy. But Ole Miss still didn't offer any reason to think they're not on their way to 1-7 (or worse) in the SEC.


Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:05 am
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