South Carolina Football Mid-season Report Card
It's almost impossible to believe that we're basically at the halfway point of the season.
As such, it's time to hand out midseason grades for the various units of what has been, all things considered, a successful first half of Gamecock Football.
There have been ups and downs. The team has lost in heartbreaking fashion at Auburn in a game that has a lot of South Carolina fans thinking, "Hey, we win there and are we No. 1 right now?"
But without that loss, it may very well be the case that South Carolina doesn't beat Alabama in its next game.
So without further ado:
There really isn't a whole lot to say about the special teams play thus far—which, when it comes to special teams, is what most coaches want to hear.
Sure, it would be nice to have a few blocked kicks returned for TDs, or a punt or kick return for a TD, or a 63-yard field goal.
However, in the end, having an unbelievably solid dual punter and kicker in Spencer Lanning is more valuable than flashy special teams. Lanning is 4-of-5 on field goals, with his lone miss coming on a 50-plus-yard attempt. He's 20-of-21 on PATs, with the lone miss coming on a bad snap/hold.
He's perhaps performing even better in his capacity as a punter, where on 15 punts he's averaging 46 yards. His lone mistake may have been booting one of his kicks too far in the Alabama game, which allowed for one big return.
Kickoff coverage and kick returns have been solid but unspectacular. No returns for TDs for or against.
Overall, the coaching has been very solid. Steve Spurrier seemed to have excellent game plans against UGA and Alabama especially.
The offensive play-calling against Alabama was sublime, and they realised that defensively, if you could shut down the running game and get to Greg McElroy, Alabama was going to have a hard time moving the ball.
The knock was the coaching in the Auburn game.
South Carolina's defense could not find an answer for Cam Newton's running attack. To be fair though, nobody has found an answer for Cam Newton.
On offense, many questioned pulling Stephen Garcia. However, it is unclear how much of that was frustration and how much was Spurrier genuinely being fearful of a Garcia concussion because he kept taking direct shots to the head due to his "head down" running style.
Where it counts, in points allowed per game, South Carolina is No. 5 in the conference. However, they have given up quite a lot of yardage against the pass. South Carolina is fourth against the rush despite being gashed by Cam Newton.
The passing yardage allowed must be somewhat balanced by the fact that they are tied for the most sacks with 19. This was essentially what happened in the Alabama game. Alabama did move the ball in the air, but crucial sacks killed a lot of drives.
South Carolina has shown that it can absolutely shut down conventional running attacks, even when they feature, perhaps, two of the five best running backs in the country. It remains to be seen whether or not they will repeatedly have trouble with athletic QBs or if that was just Cam Newton doing things only Cam Newton can do.
South Carolina needs to get a little more production out of the linebackers, as they're depending a little too much on the spurs, safeties and corners for big plays, which takes away their ability to be ball hawks.
This is an offense with a LOT of weapons. Marcus Lattimore has proven to be a beast to tackle when the offensive line opens holes. Alshon Jeffery is making a case for being the best WR in the country.
Tori Gurley, Ace Sanders and D.L. Moore are all very, very good, though they get outshone by Alshon at times.
Stephen Garcia has been up and down, but more up than down overall. Take away two crucial fumbles against Auburn, and he may be getting himself in the Heisman conversation as the leader of a top five-ranked team. However, you can't take away mistakes, as Garcia knows all too well.
He played his best game ever against Alabama, not coincidentally because the OL played their best game ever.
The key here is Garcia's decision-making and the offensive line's play, which are intertwined. If South Carolina's OL can block like they did against one of the hardest teams in the country to block, Alabama, then this offense is by far the best in the SEC. If they can't, Garcia will likely make some bad decisions, and Lattimore will find trouble getting to a place where he can use his tackle-breaking ability to wear defenses down.
In my experience, teams rarely regress on the offensive line after a statement performance like the Alabama game unless there is a major injury.
Overall, it's hard to find too much fault with the way the team has played thus far, without picking too many nits.
The lone loss was in a night game, at Auburn. Sure, it's a game they could have and perhaps should have won, but if you're going to fall short, it's a somewhat justifiable place to do so.
The Gamecocks absolutely dismantled Alabama. Unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, the national media made that game more about Alabama's loss. What they missed in doing so was seeing a team that played absolutely dominant football.
I think a lot of people assume that Alabama played flat, or had a poor game plan, or all of the above. That's not really what I saw.
I saw an Alabama team that played a decent, though not absolutely great, game get outplayed by a team that had more offensive playmakers and enough defensive playmakers.
South Carolina has a tough road ahead if it wants to win the SEC East and perhaps the SEC Championship. However, they showed on Saturday that they have that capability.