South Carolina, has a recent history of producing good NFL prospects at cornerback. Players such as Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons), Jonathan Joseph (Cincinnati Bengals) and Captain Munnerlyn (Carolina Panthers) have all proved their worth as players in the league.
Some think that Stephon Gilmore may be the best the University has ever had. Others had Chris Culliver rated as a potential day one draft pick. Akeem Aguste is one of the hardest-hitting players in college football, and DeVonte Holloman was supposed to have a breakout year.
It was basically the same personnel as last year, where South Carolina was one of the best passing defenses in the country.
So, ummm, what happened?
I believe a couple of things happened here.
For one, Darian Stewart's loss hurt the experience level of the secondary, as he was an underrated player for the team.
However, I look no farther then the switch of Akeem Aguste and Chris Culliver.
I understand the coaches' reasons behind why they did it. I really do. They wanted to take advantage of Akeem Auguste's ferociousness, and keep Chris Culliver from hurting his shoulder again (he ended up getting hurt anyway).
However, you have two of the better players at their position, and you take them out of it to try something new. Chris Culliver's speed and reaction time made him an excellent and rangy safety. He played help defense extraordinarily well.
Akeem Auguste's fierceness made him a dangerous cover corner. He was physical, and capable of battling the strong SEC wide receivers.
Just take a look at the numbers from the previous two seasons for these two players:
Chris Culliver, Safety, 2009: (11 games), 62 total tackles (six per game), six tackles for losses, two sacks, nine pass breakups, one forced fumble.
Chris Culliver, Corner, 2010: (seven games), 34 total tackles (five per game), four for losses, one sack, two pass breakups.
Akeem Auguste, Corner, 2009: 38 tackles, two for loss, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles
Akeem Auguste, Safety, 2010: 58 tackles, four for losses, one sack, two pass breakups, one forced fumble.
With these numbers, two things stick out. One, Chris Culliver was a MUCH better safety than a corner. If you look at the per-game averages, each one is higher. The pass breakups are particularly startling, as he only had two in seven games in 2010. He had nine in 11 games in 2009 as a safety.
The second thing? Akeem Auguste is nowhere near the safety Chris Culliver is. He played poorly all season, and only had two pass breakups.
They are pretty similar statistically as corners. Akeem Auguste's power did lead to two forced fumbles.
I believe that the switch truly did hurt the defense. Is it the only reason? Absolutely not. Depth concerns and injuries depleted a struggling unit.
The reality is, Chris Culliver was a one-of-a-kind safety who was highly praised during the offseason by media outlets as one of the top safeties. The team removed a great safety from his position, inserted an unproven safety commodity in Akeem Auguste, while keeping the corner position the same in terms of ability.
That was a lose/lose in retrospect, and I wonder, would Coach Spurrier make the same choice again?