South Carolina Football: Are the Gamecocks Fading Down the Stretch Again?

DJ BatchlerCorrespondent INovember 8, 2010

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 06:  Head coach Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks cheers on his team during warm ups before the start of their game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Another November is upon us, and another less than lackluster performance by the Gamecocks has been turned in. The Gamecocks came into their game against SEC opponent Arkansas, and they absolutely phoned it in.

Every aspect of the game seemed half-hearted. The fact that the game didn't matter in the SEC East division race was apparently very clear to the Gamecocks and their coaching staff. Spurrier disputed that in his Sunday press conference, but I don't think there's too much to dispute as evidenced by the box score.

I actually shouldn't say the entire coaching staff, because Ellis Johnson's defensive game plan has been turned in as if each game hasn't mattered. The Gamecocks are a healthy 6-3 and bowl eligible, but the defense has looked horrendous all season long.

The statistics given last week before the Arkansas game are out the window now. Another 300 yard passing game given up, though it was only 303 this week. The average of a little over 19 points is gone with a 41 point defensive letdown as well. Ellis Johnson has been given raises and extensions, and anyone who has watched his defense can only wonder why.

Johnson also made sure the blame didn't fall on his strategy and scheme saying, "I expect to see the players playing better." It is safe to say that everybody expects them to play better, but when they're not lined up on a man, a quarterback like Ryan Mallett can pick them apart, and he did.

A defensive game plan like that will do wonders for Florida's sometimes shaky offense. In terms of defense, the Razorbacks question mark coming into the South Carolina game was their run defense. They made a commitment through the week to stop the run and did so. They made adjustments, something South Carolina's defense hasn't done all season.

This isn't an assault on South Carolina's defense; this is honesty. A soft zone defense isn't going to work against a team with any semblance of a passing attack. The worst part of the Arkansas game is that the defense wasn't the only problem. For the first time this season, the Gamecocks offense looked bad for four quarters.

Execution was less than ideal. The game plan was abandoned again just as soon as Marcus Lattimore came to the sideline with a slight knee injury. The running game all but vanished when the play-calling combination of G.A. Mangus and Steve Spurrier returned to their pass happy roots.

The offensive line didn't play a great game. Stephen Garcia didn't play a great game. Garcia was replaced with Connor Shaw, who was injured by a big hit from an Arkansas defender. The play was penalized as a late hit, though Shaw's feet weren't completely out of bounds. The "intent" of him going out of bounds may have had something to do with it.

When Shaw went out of the game, Seth Strickland got his first real playing time for the Gamecocks. In typical Steve Spurrier fashion, the starting quarterback found himself a place on the bench while the second and third string quarterbacks finished out the game with the same amount of success.

This week in practice will determine what the Gamecocks do for the rest of the season, especially their trip to "The Swamp" to take on the Gators this Saturday night for a trip to the SEC Championship game. Can Spurrier rally the troops following a bad performance at home? Or will the late season fade, as has become customary, rear its ugly head?


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