South Carolina took the field for public consumption for the first time in 2011 without their star quarterback Stephen Garcia. Many people have looked at the situation with his suspension as a death stroke to South Carolina's repeat chances to win the SEC East.
How did the team look without him on the field? That is just one of many questions that needed to be addressed during the spring game. Other questions include, who steps up beside Alshon Jeffery as the number two wide receiver? How will the pass coverage improve? Who steps up in the kicking game? Are there any solid return men on the field?
With so many questions, the spring game actually turned out to be an eye opening experience.
This Gamecock team is going to be good. Really good... and it doesn't matter who is throwing the football. There were only three penalties, which is unheard of in a spring game. Very clean game, and they already look ready to go out and win some games, which cannot be said about the team last year.
First of all, no question... Connor Shaw will be the man IF Stephen Garcia does not return to the team.
The top three quarterbacks all had a nice spring game. Dylan Thompson's first throw was a deep bomb touchdown to DeAngelo Smith...but statistics lie...that was a ball that should have never been thrown, and a great catch by Smith.
However, Thompson proved that he can push Shaw...but he won't be the one. He had too many wild throws and two interceptions.
Andrew Clifford looked comfortable, but not anything more than a three.
Conner Shaw had a solid, if not spectacular spring game. He struggled mightily with the deep ball, but he is extremely fast and uses his feet to allow receivers to get open. If he starts hitting on some deep balls, he could be an extremely productive quarterback.
On his second drive, he had two throws that showed what type of player he could be...he threw a beautiful pass to Alshon Jeffery that split two defenders and was placed beautifully. He followed that with a gorgeous toss to Ace Sanders, who had a spectacular spring game himself.
Marcus Lattimore will have an even bigger season in 2011, but Kenny Miles will be a great number two runner.
Marcus Lattimore came out on the field noticeably bigger. He was powerful, and he looks like an NFL player already. He didn't play much, but every time he touched the ball, good things happened.
Kenny Miles looked like a starting running back himself. He has taken some lessons from Lattimore, and seemed to always fall forward. He is very fast, and he has the explosiveness to make himself a scary change of pace back.
Eric Baker looked pretty good as well. He has solid lateral movement and good hands. A big surprise though, was the running back Josh Hinch. He had a great day catching the ball.
The offensive line is no longer a question mark.
Watching the game on ESPN 3, the two announcers continued to make comments about how solid the offensive line looked. It was not hyperbole. The offensive line was strong. They gave good protection for passes, and good push for running. Depth is an issue...but it could be a great, great year for the offensive line.
DeAngelo Smith and Ace Sanders could be star wide receivers, if the impressive spring game is any indication.
Everyone knows who Alshon Jeffery is. He is one of the best receivers in the nation, and will obviously warrant a defenses undivided attention.
However, with Tori Gurley leaving for the NFL, no clear-cut number two existed coming into the spring. Now, it looks like a two horse race between the incredibly fast Ace Sanders, who looked like Steve Smith of the Panthers during the game, and DeAngelo Smith, who caught three touchdowns and looked like the next big star for South Carolina.
It looks as though these two players will be super productive, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Smith as the number two guy, and Ace running from the slot. That would be a dangerous trio of guys catching the ball.
There are some younger defensive players who could have a huge impact on the team.
Sharrod Golightly had a great day. His final interception on the last play of the game sealed the game for the Garnet team. Victor Hampton was on the field a great deal, and looked like an emotional and fast player. Both guys looked like they will see the field early and often.
Kelcy Quarrells on defense looked like a mammoth and talented SEC lineman. He could push for heavy time, and even looked like he could be a starting caliber tackle.
Some other notes:
-Matt Coffee looks like an excellent blocking fullback.
-Justice Cunningham may have received the largest cheers of the day when he drug about 5 defenders for a first down after making a catch.
-Nick Jones had a couple of great returns... he looks very fast.
-The second half was mostly garbage time.
-The "off the bench" play wasn't as spectacular as usual, as it didn't end with a touchdown and wild celebration.