Like Kyle, I feel a little weird about this loss because I expected it. If anything, I said last Sunday that we would have to win the running game, or we'd lose. We did. If anything, I feel better about the team we have because I didn't see the things I am used to seeing destroy our chances to win football games. For example:
We were even in turnovers. All turnovers are not created equal, of course. When Washaun fumbled I had a flashback of his fumble in the 2009 Kentucky game. It felt like the same type of rally-killing mistake. Turnovers inside either 20 yard line just kill you, because they most likely either put points on the board or take them off. Still, Aaron Murray did not throw a single interception, which I would have never foreseen.
We won the penalty battle, with a total of 4 for 25 yards. That's as disciplined as our football team has been in years. Now, I'm just waiting for some of those who poo-pooed the penalties for the past two seasons to now complain that the lack of penalties signals that "we're just not nasty enough." Check the message boards and blogs. You'll find that guy somewhere, I promise.
The defense actually made adjustments and improvements after halftime. They held South Carolina scoreless from halftime to the 1:12 mark of the 4th quarter. They gave up 146 2nd half yards compared to 208 in the 1st half. Over 1/3 of South Carolina's total yardage came on their first two drives. Did they miss some tackles? Sure. Did Bacarri Rambo stand around the pile a couple of times? Absolutely. But that's missing the forest for the trees. When you only give up 17 points on the road in the SEC you should expect to win more than you lose. We asked for a defense that gets tougher as the game goes on. At least for one afternoon in Columbia that's exactly what Todd Grantham delivered.
The criticism of Mike Bobo for this game makes sense to me. I get that we didn't get in the endzone. But it's not that we didn't move the ball. It was that we didn't move it consistently. Some also may have literally forgotten every Georgia/South Carolina game played before 2009. Leaving out the 2009 shootout, Georgia is averaging 15.3 points per game against South Carolina going back to 2005. But 6 points ain't gonna do it on the road in the SEC. You have to manufacture some scoring opportunities.
However the broader criticism of Bobo as a coordinator is just mystifying to me. The weirdest part is the criticism that Bobo was once again "too conservative". We threw 21 passes and ran the ball 20 times. With a redshirt freshman quarterback starting his first conference game on the road, that's riverboat gambler level playcalling in my book. And many of the critics are the same folks who've spent the whole summer urging that Bobo should rely on his running game and not force Aaron Murray to do too much. The dissonance, it's deafening.
And unlike Willie Martinez, it's not like Mike Bobo is a historical underachiever. His offense is averaging 30.2 points per game over the last two plus seasons. If we can't win games with that production, it ain't Mike Bobo's fault. Did we go 3 and out more often than I would like on Saturday? Sure. 5 times to be exact. 3 of them during that disastrous 2nd quarter. 3 out of the 5 began with solid gains that left 2nd and 6 or less. The other 2 began with Murray incompletions. To me that indicates not that we were calling bad plays, it indicates that we were not executing on consecutive plays.
On that note, you know what would make Mike Bobo look like a smarter playcaller? If our vaunted offensive line executed better. Watching that game a second time was painful. But it made it clear to me that our offensive line was just not giving the backs any holes. None. We churned out a blinding 61 yards on 20 attempts, just under 3.1 yards per rush. That's on the offensive line, pure and simple. South Carolina has some talent along the defensive line, but not that kind of talent. If there is a unit two weeks into the season that looks suspect, it's that group. Which means that for the second season running the offensive line that was supposed to be our biggest strength is instead looking like a weakness. If they wait until the Auburn game to figure things out again this season, Stacy Searels will have some questions to answer.
But you know who doesn't have any questions to answer? Marcus Lattimore. I spent the whole game screaming about missed tackles. Then i went back and watched it over and was surprised to see that there weren't as many true missed tackles as I thought. Instead there were instances during many Lattimore carries on which a Bulldog defender was dragged for 3 more yards. If you have the tape, go back and watch Knowshon Moreno. You'll see a lot of the same thing. Some tailbacks run with great body lean and have excellent lower body strength. Lattimore is one of them. He may be the best tailback we see all season, with the possible exception of Arkansas's Ronnie Wingo. I indicated this week that I wasn't impressed with the Gamecock tailbacks 54 yard effort against Southern Miss. I'm still not. But in the long run I think our defense will get a measure of vindication from Lattimore's production over the next couple of years. Somebody get that kid to sell them some overpriced memorabilia, stat. If you could get your sports agent's license first, I would be most grateful.
Speaking of which, A.J. Green's absence may have affected the game, but I don't think it cost us the game. Neither, in and of itself, did Ealey's fumble. South Carolina played far and away the most complete game they've put together against us during the Mark Richt era. We played so-so, and it wasn't good enough. So-so is generally what happens with a new defense and a freshman quarterback, at least early in the season.I hoped that so-so would be enough, it wasn't. That stinks, but I can't even really imagine being surprised. As a fan it's acceptable to indulge in post-loss garment-rending. As a coach or player, it's less than useless. I'm taking a long term perspective on this team, and continue to believe that they'll improve as the year goes on. Trust me on that or don't. The choice is yours.
One criticism that looked valid to me on Saturday was the recent criticism of our strength and conditioning program. On both the offensive and defensive lines, the Gamecocks just looked stronger to me. They were asserting their will over us over and over again. Most of the Gamecock rushing yardage in the 1st half came on a simple halfback isolation play. The line "zone" blocks, picking up the closest threat, and let's the tailback pick through the trash and find daylight. The Carolina linemen were getting a helmet on a helmet and moving people out of the way, which was the only truly disturbing thing I saw on defense all day.
Another valid criticism was the 2nd half turnover usage. Coach Richt said postgame that it was on the coaches, and that they'd work it out. I The thing I like about Coach Richt is that he took responsibility for it. I imagine he'll get it fixed, and I know we weren't the only team with that particular issue in the early going. At any rate, I don't think that snafu made the difference in the game. It was agitating, but not ultimately fatal. The ingrown toenail of early season gaffes.
We're not out of the SEC East race, though we have made things harder. Florida has looked anemic against Miami and South Florida. The Gators and Gamecocks both have to face the buzzsaw that is the Alabama Crimson Tide, who last night would have locked up my blogpoll vote if I had one. South Carolina also has yet to demonstrate that they can avoid the late season swoon that is their trademark during the Spurrier era.
If we handle Arkansas at home (who by the way didn't look that great against UL-Monroe, but more on that later this week) then I think things will start to click a little. But we have to survive that one, or things could go downhill fast. You're never as good as your wins or as bad as your losses. I think the past 2 weeks will eventually be a great example of that old adage. but for now, this one hurts. Let's hope the team moves past the distraction of the A.J. situation, learns from this one and moves on. The next couple of weeks will go a long way toward determining what kind of season we have. We need to hold serve, keep improving and see what happens. There's still a lot of football yet to be played, and a lot of it will be better played than what was on display yesterday.