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November 7, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

NO. 17 ARKANSAS 41, NO. 18 SOUTH CAROLINA 20

THE GOOD

Alshon I keep this as a permanent space each week. He's already past the other USC receivers I've seen and is challenging Jerry Rice for the greatest I've seen on any level (OK, that may be pushing it a little, but only a little). Alshon Jeffery is (I have officially run out of terms. How about "sick?"). That one-handed grab he made on the sideline was jaw-dropping. He knew it, too, standing up and putting his hands on his hips like he was George Jefferson instructing Weezy. He became just the third receiver in school history to post a 1,000-yard season (there have been four, but Sidney Rice did it twice), and he's still got at least four games in the season. Yes, he did deservedly get called for offensive pass interference, which took a touchdown off the board, but hell, the way South Carolina played on Saturday, it wouldn't have made that much of a difference. As the wonderful website everydayshouldbesaturday.com said, Jeffery will be pumping gas one day all right -- into his Ferrari, which will be filled with beautiful women.

Red options As USC was conducting its second drive and got to Arkansas' 9-yard-line, I was already calling the play. Fade, right corner zone, Alshon. I've seen it too many times. Nope. Seems that page finally got moved to the back of the playbook, since I think every team in America knows it's coming. Jeffery lined up left, with Tori Gurley and Jason Barnes on the right, after Marcus Lattimore had rushed to the 4. Third-and-goal, Stephen Garcia takes the snap and sees Gurley go out five steps, then box in. Perfect throw and grab as Gurley caught it in his gut and backed into his defender over the goal line. Kudos to Barnes for clearing out the right side so Gurley could cut in as well. A very nice play call and proof that USC doesn't have to always look for its best receiver on third-and-goal.

Was that ... Yep, it was. A really nice kickoff return. Bryce Sherman took a short kick on the run and jetted through the seam and to the left sideline, getting pushed out of bounds by one of the last defenders. Sherm The Worm gained 37 yards on the sprint (it did no good after that drive became a missed field goal), but it at least showed there may be a small glimmer of hope that Matthew Thomas' eight-year-old standard may fall.

Tribute I have often criticized USC's seeming lack of knowledge and/or care about honoring its past, but its tribute to Bob Fulton was very well-done. The players each sported a large "BF" in a black circle on their helmets and the videoboard, after a moment of silence, flashed Fulton's picture and played some of his calls. It was good to hear the old man's baritone one more time over the Williams-Brice Stadium PA, even if the Gamecocks couldn't really do him justice by winning. Chilling when I heard "Hi everybody, this is Bob Fulton," and more chilling when I heard, "This is Bob Fulton, saying goodbye." Goodbye to you, Voice. You are missed.

THE BAD

Trickeration So let me get this straight -- Lattimore is the leading rushing running back in the conference (Cameron Newton is the overall leader) and the focal part of USC's offense, because when he's not in there, the Gamecocks are cooking themselves into early Thanksgiving. Arkansas is ninth in the SEC against the run. USC wins the coin toss and elects to receive, then ... DOESN'T hand the ball to Lattimore. Make that, doesn't even look his way. Stephen Garcia quick-fires and it's at the shoetops of Patrick DiMarco. Garcia nearly bumps into Gurley on the fake handoff, then bombs long for an open D.L. Moore with a step on his man, but it's 3 yards too far in front. Timeout. Garcia rushed by Jerry Franklin and chucks it out-of-bounds. I get the plan to throw Arkansas off-balance, but that threw USC off-balance and had it playing catch-up all evening.

Nine Arkansas was the Gamecocks' ninth game of the season. Ninth. And they called two timeouts by the 5:13 mark of the first. That has got to be one confusing signal, and at this point, how confusing can "Throw it to Alshon" or "Give it to Lattimore" be?

One step forward Finish the sentence. Garcia seems to always get locked into that rhythm, whether it's from game-to-game, series-to-series or play-to-play. On Saturday, it was the last one. As the second quarter began -- and coincidentally, as Lattimore was on the sideline putting a brace on his left knee -- Garcia was doing pretty well. Then he got greedy and threw long to Barnes in the corner of the end zone, an underthrown ball that was two steps behind Barnes but was dropped by Isaac Madison. No problem -- Garcia hit Jeffery with that one-handed catch for 21 yards to get a first-and-goal. He was rushed and sacked, the ball getting knocked out of his hand by Franklin but ruled an incomplete pass (it was close, but that was a fumble). He threw well over Jeffery's head in the back of the end zone, then hit Ace Sanders with a field-position pass. That became Spencer Lanning's first field-goal try, which smacked the left upright and fell back to the turf. USC was only down 10-7 in the second, but then the defense gave up a 57-yard bomb on the very next play.

Speaking of Nobody would give away USC's great success at scoring touchdowns in the red zone this year, but that takes away from having a consistent field-goal unit. That's two straight weeks now where a field goal has been counted on and not delivered, and Patrick DiMarco said that miss, plus the next item on the list, were probably the two biggest turns in the game.

Oh, man Trailing 10 points to the best quarterback in the conference, 3:15 left in the first half, at your own 38, the smart money says to punt and hope your defense has enough mojo in it to hold them off until halftime. Instead, facing fourth-and-6, the ball is direct-snapped to the upback on a fake punt. Dalton Wilson got no yards. Now, it could be one of those plays where if it works, you're a genius, and if it doesn't, you're a fool, but it seems to me the bads far outweigh the goods here. If it doesn't work, you're giving Ryan Mallett a short field and the chance to make a 10-point lead into 17, and that's exactly what happened. "We thought it looked pretty good, and it did look pretty good," Steve Spurrier said. "But one guy backed out somehow or another and we didn't block him. And I'd do it again." Would you, now?

Takeaways Tennessee seemed to solve USC's problems with holding onto turnovers, and Arkansas took it right back. Antonio Allen dove right over a loose ball, letting a receiver that fumbled get it right back after seeing it lying there untouched, between Allen's feet (it was ruled an incomplete pass anyway). DeVonte Holloman intercepted a pass that Stephon Gilmore tipped, but the possession became nothing. Byron McKnight scooped and scored on a fumble, but that only made the score a tiny bit more respectable.

The 6-2 Skid USC has been 6-2 before, and has hardly ever finished like it once was 6-2. The loss naturally triggered thoughts that it might happen again. That chance is there, sure, but after Florida are Troy and Clemson, both of whom are, um, not good. Have to see where this one ends up, but it all comes down to next week as to how this season will be defined.

THE UGLY

Complete It's not who's calling the plays. It's not the schemes. It's a lot of both, mixed with players simply not making stops. "I expect to see players playing better," Ellis Johnson said. "We wouldn't have beaten an average team tonight. And we didn't play an average football team." The Gamecocks knew they would be facing a stiff challenge, and for the first quarter, actually did a decent job of covering their receivers, but then started missing tackles. Holloman whiffed, Akeem Auguste was beaten around the edge, C.C. Whitlock stopped sprinting for just two seconds and then got torched on the 57-yard pass -- it's too familiar and too disgusting. There is simply no way a secondary with this much talent should be playing this badly. And the problem is, every other team on the schedule knows what to do to beat USC. Now, the Gamecocks won't face near the type of quarterback or passing attack down the road as it did on Saturday, but that's little comfort. It's like the kick return game last year -- once a spot is weak and the opponent knows it, it will continue to be weak.

And now it's worse The Gamecocks will have to try to get better without Whitlock, who suffered a severe concussion on the first play of the third quarter and did not return. Johnson said he didn't want to go into too much detail, but the knock was "serious," making it very doubtful for Whitlock to be around for the Florida game. He was playing in place of Chris Culliver, who was lost for the season last week, and he will be replaced by two options. Marty Markett is a walk-on corner who got his first defensive action on Saturday, while Jimmy Legree is a redshirt freshman.

What's going on? Lattimore is talented and a program-changer, but there is no reason why a team with this much experience should look so clueless when he's not playing. He went out, so did the offense. It was just as it happened at Kentucky, and the Gamecocks really haven't recovered since. The offense since then has scored some points, but really since that halftime, has not been what it was. It's disturbing to see a team depend so much on one player, especially when that player is a freshman and there is other talent around, and has now been hurt twice in four games. Lattimore is the motor of this team, and that's great when he's in the game. When he's not ...

Listen up If the Gamecocks beat Florida next week, they win the SEC East. Fact.

So why is everybody complaining?

Of course it would have been nice to see USC have some gumption and play like it belonged on a college field. It wouldn't have mattered if the Gamecocks beat the Razorbacks by 50 points once next week's game began, but it would have been nice to see. Put it this way -- as Garcia said, perhaps this is what they needed to wake up.

What exactly would they have gained by playing perfect? A chance to be at least co-East champions and the chance to be perfect at home. The last time they were perfect at home was 1987, which turned into a bowl loss. As for winning a piece of the East, yes, USC would get a trophy and be able to hang a banner, distribute rings, etc., but if there's no trip to Atlanta involved, do you really want to brag about that? It's like being the teaser at a horse stable -- you're doing all the grunt work, then letting the stallion come in and finish the job.

Nothing was lost on Saturday (except personnel, which can't be planned). Auguste said that it was a minor setback and he and his teammates would be ready to play next week. That remains to be seen, but they surely won't be overconfident, which could have been the case with a win.

There was nothing substantial lost on Saturday and nothing gained. This team, even by winning out, was not going to play for the national championship. As for a BCS bowl, win next week and win in Atlanta and that's a reality.

The title is still there. It wasn't going to be won this week.

If this happens next week, by all means, complain. But if it doesn't, feel free to come back and delete your posts that you made this week.

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