South Carolina football has had an interesting year so far in 2011.
The Gamecocks have seen their record improve to 3-0 for the third time in seven seasons for head coach Steve Spurrier after beating East Carolina, Georgia and Navy. However, it hasn't been the most conventional way for Spurrier, but the main focus for the Gamecocks has been Marcus Lattimore.
Lattimore has pushed himself to the top of the NCAA in rushing yards with 534 yards this season. He's scored seven touchdowns and has outrushed 76 of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. He's a key reason for their success this year.
South Carolina is a team that can improve as the season goes on, and they still have a great opportunity ahead of them to control the SEC East. The next few slides will give you an idea as to how the Gamecocks can do that.
Let's get the easiest one out of the way, shall we?
South Carolina is currently 1-0 in SEC play in 2011. The Gamecocks do not face Alabama or LSU this season and have a great chance at being favored in every SEC game this year. The easiest thing to do would be to win all eight conference games. However, the SEC is never that easy.
There are a few road blocks in the middle of the schedule with road trips to Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas. This should be a critical three-game stretch for South Carolina. Auburn and Florida look like they might be tougher SEC home games now that we've seen them play a few times this year.
It seems like this is a year that 6-2 in the SEC should be good enough to win the division. I think the Gamecocks will be able to accomplish that this year as long as they continue to find a way to win the close ones.
Marcus Lattimore has been hard to stop in 2011.
He's leading the nation in rushing, scored three touchdowns two out of the three games this year, and he appears to get stronger as the game goes on.
South Carolina has yet to find a groove in the passing game, but it hasn't stopped this offense from producing thanks to the performances of Lattimore. He's been able to carry the load for the Gamecocks, and he doesn't look like he's ready to stop any time soon.
The SEC will focus all their strengths on shutting down the run against the Gamecocks, but it doesn't seem likely with Lattimore in the backfield. If he continues at this pace, don't be surprised if he ends up in New York as a Heisman finalist.
He's performing at a high level and whereever he goes, South Carolina will follow.
We've seen it time and time again. A player gets injured and a season unravels. Hopes and dreams are lost.
South Carolina cannot afford injury to some major players like Marcus Lattimore, Antonio Allen, Stephon Gilmore and D.J. Swearinger or any injuries to the offensive line.
Lattimore was mentioned in the previous slide about how well he's doing so far in 2011. We saw what happens when he was injured last year. USC lost the Kentucky game with Lattimore out in the second half. They struggled against Vanderbilt with Lattimore sidelined.
The Chick-Fil-A Bowl was lost when Lattimore left the game with a slight concussion. He is the most valuable piece to the offense right now, and without him, it's tough to say where the Gamecocks are at this point in the season. It's a possibility they are 0-3.
The Gamecocks' secondary has taken its hits in 2011. They've already had their struggles against Georgia and East Carolina. Can you imagine what would happen if Allen, Gilmore and Swearinger were out?
It's a nightmare situation if you lose one or more of those players in the secondary. It's a young group behind those guys, and you don't want to rely on freshman to make plays against high-powered offenses this year.
Offensive line is another area that needs good health all season long. The starting five have really come together and helped this running game, especially Marcus Lattimore, put up some impressive numbers. The second group is young and inexperienced and would be a big drop off from the starters if there are any injuries.
Good health goes a long way, and South Carolina needs some this season.
Let's be honest. This is not how we expected Stephen Garcia to start out his senior year.
He didn't start in the first game against East Carolina. He struggled against Georgia. The opportunities for big games were there for Garcia, but his confidence level has been shaken. Maybe it was the fact that he didn't start the first game or a lack of faith in his receivers, but he hasn't stepped up and played to his potential like he has in the past.
Garcia looked better against Navy completing 18-of-25 passes for 204 yards, but the Midshipmen didn't really have the secondary the likes of most SEC teams. He did hit seven different receivers in the game and counted on players who weren't named Alshon Jeffery. It was a nice step in the right direction for Stephen Garcia, but his potential is so much higher.
Steve Spurrier brought him in to win championships, and he did the first part of that in 2010 with an SEC East championship. Now it's time to aim higher and shoot for an SEC title. Garcia has the talent. He just needs to play at the level we know he can. The Gamecocks could certainly use their "gunslinger" lighting up the SEC for one more year.
Here are the numbers for South Carolina's defense through the first three games:
- Rushing yardage per game, 182.3
- Passing yardage per game, 189.7
- Points per game, 33.3
These aren't really what you'd call "a great defense."
The Gamecocks have the big names. Stephon Gilmore and Devin Taylor were All-SEC selections. Jadeveon Clowney was the top recruit in the country. So why are the Gamecocks giving up so much on defense?
It's hard to say. I think there's been some poor fundamentals at times. South Carolina has had a tough time with tackling. I know it's basic but they've missed a lot of opportunities to wrap up on defense. I also think the secondary is still figuring out their assignments.
East Carolina and Georgia exposed the secondary to a tune of eight touchdowns through the air. I think there was some bad timing on a few big pass plays that allowed the opposing receiver to come down with the catch.
It's all fundamentals. These are things the defense can work on and get better as the season continues. There are some impressive offenses coming up the next few weeks including Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas, so the time is now to get it corrected.
If this defense can improve and "tighten" up, then it gives South Carolina a chance to continue to get better to reach their goals.
As they say, defense wins championships.