South Carolina Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Gamecocks Win Over Mizzou
Almost from the opening kickoff, South Carolina looked completely dominant, throttling Missouri, 31-10, on Saturday afternoon.
The Gamecocks made a statement that should be heard loud and clear across the SEC with this win, and there's plenty to be excited about moving forward for South Carolina fans.
So what can we take away from this beatdown of the Missouri Tigers? How will this win impact the Gamecocks' bid for an SEC East title and possible BCS berth?
Here are 10 things we learned from the 4-0 South Carolina Gamecocks with their win today over Missouri.
Marcus Lattimore Is 100 Percent
What is lost in the amazing performance by Connor Shaw today is the fact that Marcus Lattimore absolutely imposed his will on the Missouri defense.
Lattimore wasn't called upon to carry the load today, but his 85 yards on 21 carries and two rushing touchdowns showed us that he's capable of being the same old Marcus.
Throughout the game, he was running over, through and around defenders. He looked completely comfortable lowering his shoulder, making cuts and running at every speed imaginable.
Oh, yeah. He also led the Gamecocks in receiving yards, too. He had seven grabs for 60 yards on the day.
Okay, so it's not exactly Heisman-esque. But it has to be reassuring to everyone on the South Carolina sideline to know that Lattimore is as much a weapon now as he has ever been.
South Carolina's Defense Is Underappreciated, but Oh So Important
Missouri isn't as bad as its 0-2 record in the SEC leads one to believe.
Let's not forget, this was a team that had a real shot at beating Georgia in its first-ever SEC conference game a couple of weeks back.
But South Carolina's defense never gave Missouri a shot to get into this game.
James Franklin was under constant pressure and was limited to just 92 yards passing on an 11-of-18 performance.
South Carolina also held Missouri to just 109 yards rushing on the day.
Defense wins championships, and the Gamecocks may have themselves a championship-caliber defense.
There's a Reason Jadeveon Clowney Was the Nation's Top Prospect
As if we didn't know it already, Jadeveon Clowney is really fast and really strong.
Still young, the true sophomore is proving to be a real asset to the South Carolina defense. Beyond the numbers (4 tackles, 1 sack), Clowney's biggest contribution is his ability to take whole areas of the field away from the opposing offense.
With sure tackles and enough ball pursuit speed to catch anyone on the field, Clowney is one of the Gamecocks' playmakers who can make an SEC title possible for South Carolina.
Where's Shaq Roland?
We were all led to believe Shaq Roland would be an electrifying addition to the Gamecocks this season. And there was no reason to doubt he would be.
So, one can be excused for asking "where is he?"
The freshman wideout has just three catches in the first four games of the season for just 55 yards and one TD.
Sure, he's young. Yes, he's inexperienced.
But if the Gamecocks really want to be an elite team in the SEC, another big playmaker on offense couldn't hurt.
Steve Spurrier's Still Got It
There aren't many current coaches with more experience than Steve Spurrier.
Of course, another way to say "experienced" is "old."
But unlike so many coaches in the later years of their careers, the "Head Ball Coach" shows no signs of becoming obsolete.
Today, Spurrier completely outcoached Gary Pinkel with effective play-calling on both sides of the ball, and he used his talented personnel in a much more effective way than his counterpart.
Spurrier, a mere six wins from becoming South Carolina's all-time winningest coach, is showing he can still coach with the best of them, and there's no way his style will become stale anytime soon.
And his interviews are still weekly classics.
Shaw's Great Passing Disguised His Great Running
We've already alluded to Shaw's great rushing numbers, but his 20 straight pass completions—clearly a big story—hides the fact that his feet are what really made those pass completions possible.
Shaw has become such a great dual-threat quarterback that his passing ability is creating running lanes he can, and does take advantage of when necessary.
Shaw had 41 yards on 12 carries, and there isn't a coach in the nation who will complain about a 3.4 yards-per-carry average from the quarterback.
More importantly, Shaw's performance with his arm today provides South Carolina with a legit threat for the good old QB draw. Shaw's longest run of the day—10 yards—came on a draw when Mizzou dropped back to try to find any way to disrupt Shaw's amazing efficiency.
And finding yards when scrambling is always a bonus.
The Secondary Is Capable of Stopping the Pass
The South Carolina defense came into this game ranked 91st in the FBS in pass defense, having given up 262.3 yards through the air per game.
After today's lockdown of Missouri passers, that number will improve a lot.
The Gamecocks held the Tigers to just 146 yards passing, and a combined 18-of-26. But the snaps that really counted—those against Missouri's starters—yielded few, if any big-play opportunities.
In fact, when you take away Missouri backup Corbin Berkstresser's 7-of-8 for 54 yards and a touchdown, the secondary has a spectacular afternoon of pass coverage.
The guys still have a way to go before they can be considered among the conference's elite secondaries, but the Gamecocks are clearly making some improvements.
The Kick Return Game Does Exist, and It's Good!
It's hard to imagine, but through three games this season, South Carolina did not return a single kickoff.
Thank you, new rules.
But today against Missouri, South Carolina found time to make two kick returns, and averaged 29 yards per return thanks mainly to Bruce Ellington and his 50-yard return in the first half.
But the kick return game isn't the only special teams unit that was impressive. Ace Sanders was absolutely electric with his 17.7-yard average on his six punt returns for 106 yards.
When you add in the 164 yards added by the kick returners, we're starting to see a complete South Carolina football team emerge—exactly what Steve Spurrier needs to finally break through and capture that long-awaited SEC title.
Connor Shaw for Heisman
He may not have the speed of a Denard Robinson.
He may not have the size and pure athleticism of a Cam Newton.
But when it comes to leadership and efficiency from a quarterback, there's probably none better in the game right now than South Carolina's Connor Shaw.
Just looking at the numbers is enough to make your eyes bulge: 20-of-21 (including 20 straight) for 249 yards, two TDs (which gives him a mind-boggling 228.4 passer rating today) and 12 carries for 41 yards.
That's better than 73 percent of the total offensive output of South Carolina on a day when the Gamecocks had nearly 400 yards of offense and 31 points.
One game a Heisman winner does not make, but if Shaw can continue this kind of effective, game-controlling leadership through the SEC gauntlet, there's no reason "Shaw for Heisman" can't be a realistic statement.
The Gamecocks Are for Real in the East, and Maybe Against the West, Too
We've looked at the offense, the defense and the special teams, and all three facets looked pretty darn good today against Missouri.
So how far can this South Carolina team go in 2012?
The 4-0 (2-0 SEC) Gamecocks will have as close to a "gimme game" as exists in the SEC next week when they make the trip to Kentucky.
Then, the road gets a lot tougher.
Georgia, at LSU and at Florida are the next three games for South Carolina.
As it currently stands, South Carolina matches up very well against any team in the East Division. Georgia is clearly a winnable game, as is Florida (even with the improvements made in Gainesville).
But can the Gamecocks beat a top-ranked and defending SEC champion LSU team? And what about a potential SEC Championship Game meeting with Alabama (although a lot can happen between now and then)?
After today's performances, we'll go ahead and call South Carolina an SEC East favorite. But an SEC favorite? Even with a perfect game from the Gamecocks, that title probably still belongs to the West and teams like LSU and Alabama.