It’s a big week here in Bulldog Nation, even though Doc Saturday likes Georgia’s chances, so we’re pulling out all the stops in preparation for the game against the Gamecocks. So that both fan bases might be made more familiar with Saturday’s opponent, Garnet and Black Attack’s Gamecock Man and I exchanged interview questions.
Gamecock Man is not to be confused with Captain Freedom . . . or, for that matter, with Captain Munnerlyn.
Gamecock Man has published my answers to his questions and his answers to my questions appear below:
1. We have our own offensive line issues in Athens, but it's nice to see we're not alone in that regard. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Gamecock offensive front and how do you expect your linemen to fare against the Georgia defense?
Well, I think it would be a little presumptuous to say that we have any OL strengths as this point. Believe it or not, though, I think that we showed marked improvement in pass blocking against Vanderbilt. The line missed a number of assignments against NC State, resulting in lots of pressure against Tommy Beecher. And we all remember how that ended up. However, against Vandy we got a little better protection for most of the game. Of course, the line blew it on our final drive by allowing two critical sacks.
Run blocking, on the other hand, has been horrible both games. We've had a lot of trouble opening up good holes. In fact, half the time the opposing DLs are in the backfield by the hand off. Mike Davis is tough to take down, so he's been able to get a few yards for us, but we def. need to see some improvement in this area if we're going to have a more balanced offense.
And then there are all the false start penalties. This has been a huge problem, and what's worse, it's been a huge problem at home and at Vanderbilt. I wonder how the line will adjust to the crowd noise at the Swamp later in the season.
It's worth noting that we'll be getting fifth-year senior Jamon Meredith back this game. Meredith is our most experienced and talented OL, and has mostly played LT in the past. He's been playing LT and LG in practice this week, and Spurrier hasn't yet announced where he'll play Saturday.
I think Georgia will undoubtedly be the stiffest test for our line so far. NC State has a pretty good front seven compared to how they stack up at other spots, and Vandy has a well-coached group that can throw you off at key moments with their zone blitz packages. However, with or without Jeff Owens, UGA brings some major athletes to this game. I can only hope that we'll show major improvement with Meredith back.
2. How much playing time, if any, do you expect Kenny McKinley, Chris Smelley, and Tommy Beecher to see this weekend? How effective do you expect them to be in whatever time they spend on the field?
I think that Chris Smelley will start at QB and will play most of the game. You may see Beecher or Stephen Garcia also play some in a platoon system, or, if Smelley throws a couple of early picks, you may see one of them replace him for the game.
Hard to say about Kenny McKinley. Spurrier has said repeatedly throughout the week that he is probably out, but Kenny has been saying that he really wants to go and thinks he might be able to. Based on his injury, I'd say that he's probably out and that Kenny is just trying to get the guys fired up, but then again, if he's anywhere near ready, don't be surprised if you see him.
Hard to say about effectiveness. Given his injury, I certainly don't think Kenny will be able to do as much if he goes. Chris Smelley is a puzzling player; sometimes he looks very good, but he occasionally makes a pass that just makes you want to cry. Hopefully he'll be more consistent this weekend.
3. The Bulldogs have won a couple of blowouts over lower-tier competition in which the scrubs saw plenty of playing time at home. The Gamecocks have faced two B.C.S. conference opponents, including a home game that was tight for a half before being broken open by South Carolina and a road game resulting in a close loss. Are you encouraged by the fact that South Carolina has faced two "real" opponents while Georgia is yet untested? Are you concerned that the Gamecocks have had to tip their hand already while the Bulldogs have been able to keep it simple and avoid putting anything on film? What effect do you expect this to have on the two teams' game-planning and, ultimately, the game?
For the Gamecocks, I think having played two BCS opponents to UGA's none is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, having played two decent opponents means that our coaches should have a better sense of our strengths and weaknesses. So, we should hopefully see some tweaks to our gameplan to compensate for the problems we've had. Because they haven't been challenged by a team that can reveal their weaknesses, UGA doesn't have that benefit.
On the other hand, playing against cupcakes for the first two weeks can be a blessing. A lot was made last year about how the Gamecocks were able to hide their hand against LA-Lafayette while the Dawgs had to put their game out in the open against Oklahoma State. You could make a reasonable argument that UGA didn't really know what they were getting into when we played last year, whereas Carolina had already gotten a sense of what to plan for.
There are a couple of things that I'm curious about whether or not we'll see. First of all, there was lot of talk about whether or not we'd use sets with two tight ends, considering that we have two very good ends in Jared Cook and Weslye Saunders. I'd personally like to see us use this sort of formation, because with McKinley likely out, I think Saunders gives us a receiver who can be just as effective as any of our backup wideouts. I also think the added end could pay dividends in perimeter run blocking.
The other thing that everyone is of course wondering about is whether we're going to see some trick packages with Stephen Garcia. I have no idea what to expect in this regard and whether it'll be effective if we try it, but it's all we're hearing about right now, so I'm anxious to see it.
As far as who the advantage goes to in this regard, I think it's one of those things you just won't know until after the game. If we make a lot of great adjustments that lead to a win, people will say that playing the first two games against decent competition helped us. If UGA has a lot of success exploiting weaknesses they've seen in the past two games we've played, or if UGA successfully unveils some new packages that they didn't use against GSU or CMU, people will say UGA was wise to start with cupcakes. Hindsight is 20-20, you know?
4. I'm a lifelong Georgia fan, so you knew there had to be a Steve Spurrier-specific question. How frustrated is the Ol' Ball Coach with the Gamecocks' lack of consistent progress under his direction? Will there come a point at which he throws up his hands, hangs up his visor, and walks away, as he did following his two-year stint with the Washington Redskins? If so, how close do you think he is to reaching that point?
Reasonable question, but it's a hard one to answer. On the one hand, when asked, Spurrier tends to give all the "right" answers about how he wants to stay here for at least another four or five years. On the other hand, many media personalities like to talk about how Spurrier will retire because he has no stomach for losing and/or how he didn't know what he was getting into at South Carolina.
I'd say the truth is somewhere in between. I do think Spurrier knew what he was getting into here. How many times did he run us off the field while he was at Florida? He must've known that a tough job was in store for him.
However, I do think that it's possible he might leave earlier than expected. It's hard to predict what sorts of decisions a coach will make when he feels like there's no hope or is just sick of a job. And Spurrier has a history of abrupt departures.
Plus, Gamecocks fans are quickly moving out of the honeymoon phase now. This isn't to say that we think Spurrier is washed up. But we want better results on the field, and if Spurrier doesn't at least bring some improvements within the next couple of years, i. e., at least an eight or nine win regular season and a New Year's Day bowl, the fans and administration may get restless, and even if he's not fired, he could leave because he doesn't feel wanted.
5. We've heard a lot about a number of individual Gamecocks leading up to the season, from Captain Munnerlyn to Stephen Garcia to Jasper Brinkley. Which South Carolina players are unknown to Peach State partisans today who will be household names in Bulldog Nation by Sunday?
One player that I keep telling people about is Chris Culliver. Chris plays safety and returns kickoffs. On defense, he's made a few rookie mistakes in coverage but has been effective enough. I'm still waiting for him to have a game changing interception.
Chris has also been effective returning kicks. He's averaging over 28 YPG and had nice returns against Vandy. I think that our offense will need good field position to stay in the game against UGA, so I'm hoping Chris has a big game.
My thanks go out to Gamecock Man for arranging this exchange of interviews.