With the Gamecocks 41-13 win over Southern Mississippi in the first game of the season, many Gamecock fans are thinking bigger and better things for 2010. While those things may be possible, they will not be possible without these four key adjustments.
The defensive strategy of the Gamecocks paid off against Southern Miss, but it likely won't against the teams from the SEC. At least not as it was executed against Southern Miss. Southern Miss didn't put up many points, but they put up more yards than some Gamecock fans were comfortable with.
The tempo of the game needs to be dictated by South Carolina, and there are things they can do to make that happen. So without further ado, these are the four adjustments South Carolina must make to become a contender in the SEC.
The defense gave up more than one big play against Southern Miss, but were able to buckle down in crunch time and keep Southern Miss out of the endzone. The biggest play was due to blown coverage by the middle of the Gamecock secondary. I'm sure that play was shown, and is still being shown in the film room, and with good reason.
The Gamecocks defense has been the highlight of the team for a few seasons now. Ellis Johnson has received rave reviews, including some deserved praise from the ESPN crew calling the Southern Miss game this past Thursday.
Johnson can no doubt "coach 'em up" and has on a few occasions had his group pull out the win for the Gamecocks, or at least save the game. The Gamecocks can not simply rely on the defense in 2010, but the defense must continue to step up and execute their coverages and complete their tackles, two things that have been problematic in the last few seasons.
Without execution and good tackling the Gamecocks will end up in the highlights, on the wrong end of rushing and passing performances, again. The group as a whole is better, as the young standouts have another year of experience under their belts. The future does look bright for the talented Gamecock defense.
As stated previously Stephen Garcia has proved to the viewers that he is the starter at South Carolina. Now he must continue to step up and make the right decisions. Be it getting rid of the ball, scrambling for a few seconds or a few yards, or checking down and hitting the open receiver or calling an audible at the line.
One of the most accurate critiques of Garcia has been his decision making. Though he's usually criticized after the play has started. More critical however is the decision making before the snap. He hasn't had an offensive line that could allow him much more than three seconds in his tenure at South Carolina, though he was second in the SEC in yardage last season. He must make decisions before the play to benefit himself and the team.
Garcia has the ability to be a great quarterback. He also has the desire. He appears to have matured a great deal over the off-season. Now he must turn it into results. Not necessarily statistics, but slowing down, or speeding up the game to suit himself and the offense.
He leads the team, and in doing so can control the opposing defense. He simply must make that happen for the Gamecocks to be truly successful. The Gamecocks, like many other teams, rush to the line, get a look at the defense then turn to the sideline for the play call. Garcia must get the team to the line, get himself in position get the play call, and then let the play unfold.
There were a few times in their week one game where the team, including Garcia didn't look entirely comfortable. That's understandable, it's the first game of the season, and the first against an opponent in eight months. It is still an issue that must be corrected.
On both offense and defense third down is the down that decides the game on most occasions. The South Carolina defense must get off the field on third down. Conversely the offense must convert on third down, and not let themselves get into third and long situations.
The SEC is a dog eat dog conference and Saturday after Saturday the third down statistic usually favors the winner. So making third down a focus is a must for being competitive in the SEC, or any other conference. Third down for the South Carolina defense has been an Achilles heel, though not in every game, but in the important ones.
If The Gamecocks can keep third downs around 60% on offense, and keep opposing offenses under 40% South Carolina can truly be a contender. I know that theory is nothing original, but that makes it even more true. Teams that dominate third downs are the teams that win championships.
Steve Spurrier is known for his "bag of tricks" and South Carolina fans were treated to a reverse to highly touted recruit Ace Sanders for fifty plus yards. There is no reason for the Gamecocks to not continue using gimmick and gadget plays down that road.
Not to mention the fact that the Gamecocks have depth and the ability to rotate different players in and out to keep the opponent guessing. There were times in the season opener where Stephen Garcia wasn't on the field, and backup quarterback Connor Shaw was lined up at wide receiver.
With Garcia, Shaw and Gilmore all capable of taking snaps and getting results, in times when the defense is on their heels, it is imperative to take advantage of that. It doesn't matter who the opponent is, if the Gamecocks can keep changing up their offensive personnel the defenses will get confused and will be more likely to give up a big play.
If the Head Ball Coach's team can keep make these and other adjustments, and keep with them the sky really is the limit for the Gamecocks. Each week is a different, and seemingly bigger challenge in the SEC. 2010 is the year the Gamecocks are supposed to step into the spotlight. The pieces are there, now it comes down to the coaching and the execution.
With daunting trips to Florida and Clemson at the end of the year, the early October bye week is questionable to say the least. The toughest games aren't crowded together, and the traditional "Orange Crush (Florida, Tennessee, Clemson)" is more spread apart than usual.
The rest of the season is scheduled as follows:
September 11 - Georgia
September 18 - Furman
September 25 - @ Auburn
October 9 - Alabama
October 16 - @ Kentucky
October 23 - @ Vanderbit
October 30 - Tennessee
November 6 - Arkansas
November 13 - @ Florida
November 20 - Troy
November 27 - @ Clemson