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September 19, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Furman

NO. 13 SOUTH CAROLINA 38, FCS NO. 24 FURMAN 19

THE GOOD

More More Gil-More Stephon Gilmore continues to show why he's one of the rising stars of the SEC and in all of college football. He just makes plays. Not only has he had time to call out defensive assignments to the other 10 on the field -- since he's rarely challenged by a pass his way -- he hasn't lost any sharpness for when someone does throw to his side. On Saturday, he was in on five tackles, but the play that clinched the win was his 80-yard interception return for a touchdown. Once he got the ball, he didn't hesitate -- head down, straight ahead, not even attempting to juke since nobody was going to catch him. Huge play that turned momentum back to South Carolina after Furman was threatening to pull a Wofford.

Cracking The Book Steve Spurrier wasn't afraid to open his playbook or get caught in the trap of, "Well, it's only Furman ... " The Gamecocks used reverses, delays and mis-direction to their advantage, Stephen Garcia placing and then taking the ball from tailback Marcus Lattimore to run for 28 net yards. USC came out immediately firing, faking an end-around so Garcia could throw for 27 yards to Alshon Jeffery, and while the calls got more conservative as the game went on, that was the cause of not executing the plays that were called. The thought was correct, in that the more looks Auburn has to prepare for next week, the better. Just got to get better at pulling the plays off. One huge one was throwing on third-and-4, deep in Furman territory -- Connor Shaw hit Jeffery for 15 yards and Brian Maddox ran in a touchdown one play later. That took some guts.

Pin The Ears on the Paladins After being criticized for two weeks for slim to none pressure on quarterbacks, USC's defense wasted no time showing a new plan was in place. The Gamecocks were in Cody Worley's face on each of the first three drives and the third downs ended in a first down (rush was good, just a second too late, and the drive ended in an interception anyway), a Travian Robertson sack and an incompletion. The Gamecocks put Worley on his back seven times and knocked Chris Forcier out of the game while scrambling for a loose ball and falling over the prone QB. An asterisk has to be posted because yes, it was nice to see, but it was Furman's line. The Paladins played wonderfully but the competition will be much stiffer in the coming weeks.

Wheels Shaw again showed off his rushing talents, taking the ball four times for 22 yards. On one play, he rolled out right and put his head down, flat out-running the trail man who was intent on punching the ball loose. They are mostly designed runs at this point, but Shaw is proving to be a quick decision-maker when the pressure comes.

Spence Spencer Lanning is fast becoming one of Spurrier's favorite players, and why not? He keeps improving and doing the right things, game after game and practice after practice. After missing a 51-yard field goal last week (his career long used to be 47), Lanning was asked to try again from the same distance on Saturday. He nailed it with room to spare. "I talked to my dad, my parents, my grandparents. My grandfather was giving me a hard time about it last week, saying how I hit it like a girl and everything else," Lanning said good-naturedly. "Sort of have to agree with him." He also had a career-long 58-yard punt and continues to bail USC out of bad field positions.

There Were No ... Yellows I know I wasn't the only one anxiously scanning the ground after Tori Gurley accepted a 15-yard pass from Garcia in the end zone. I was looking for flags, black cats and ladders that Gurley could walk under because we all knew that the touchdown wasn't going to count. But the referee never hesitated in throwing his arms up, apparently not finding any reason to deny the redshirt sophomore. Gurley played a great game and showed that even with Jeffery on the field, he can make an impact.

Sticky C.C. Whitlock and Gilmore each intercepted a pass and several more balls were broken up. Damario Jeffery had two, one that was right in his hands that he couldn't hold on to. For the third straight game, USC got some turnovers and used them to help turn the tide.

Vic, Victorious The Gamecocks are 3-0. The last time that happened was 2007 (bad result) and before that, 2001 (great result). No matter how it looked, it was a win.


THE BAD

Slippin' and Slidin' Garcia had a wonderful game against Southern Miss and a decent game against Georgia -- his numbers were good but his mechanics were only so-so. Against Furman, he took another step back, with again-good numbers but falling play. His two interceptions led to Furman scores, and he was getting away from the one trait he needs to consistently display -- controlling the game. Against USM, Garcia threw the ball away when he was in trouble and threw it to his man when he wasn't. Against Georgia and Furman, Garcia is getting back into panic mode when the blitz comes in, and with USC's sliced-away depth on the offensive line, it's going to keep coming in. Spurrier cut him some slack last week since the Gamecocks didn't need him to throw, but this week, it was back to the familiar perhaps-it's-time-to-give-someone-else-a-chance spiel. "Maybe we need to let (Shaw) play a little bit more at times," Spurrier said.

Best-Laid Plans ... I know I heard it at least three times last week, from Spurrier. "We need to let Kenny Miles play more. He'll get the ball a lot." Miles played against Furman, but got five carries for 10 yards and one catch for 7 yards. Furman kept the game so close that Spurrier was forced to go with his best back -- Lattimore, who ended 3 yards short of 100 -- and that pushed Miles back to the bench. Having the game so close was obviously not counted on, and using the best option was a necessity. But there has to be a few more plays out there for Miles -- he was the team's leading rusher last year and averaged over 5 yards per carry. He can play, everyone knows he can play, and I daresay having a two-back set wouldn't be the end of the world -- Lattimore got 97, but was stuffed at the line several times.

THE UGLY

The Next SEC Expansion Team? So let's get this straight -- USC could block Georgia and knock it off the ball, but couldn't do it to Furman? The Gamecocks rushed for 182 yards, Lattimore peeling some nice runs late in the game, but in the first half, the Paladins were all over USC's backfield. Lattimore took his lumps even in the play that worked so well against the Bulldogs -- double tight end set, run over left guard. Yes, I know Furman's a good team and I know this game was their Super Bowl. But c'mon, people -- linemen with NFL size and strength go to Georgia and USC, not to Furman. Straight size and talent should have won that battle right away.

Open Auditions It's nobody's fault, but USC continues to lose personnel at the position it can least afford to -- offensive line. Already without Hutch Eckerson (sprained ankle) and Garrett Chisolm, who was out due to a funeral, the Gamecocks lost starting guard Rokevious Watkins to a sprained shoulder in the second half. Spurrier is expected to give an update on Watkins this afternoon, but either way, USC is running out of options. As Spurrier and line coach Shawn Elliott say, "it is what it is," and they have to play with who they have, but the question is, who DO they have? By my count, here's how it breaks down. Starters -- Terrence Campbell, Kyle Nunn, T.J. Johnson, Jarriel King. Questionable -- Eckerson, Chisolm, Watkins. Have played some -- A.J. Cann, Cody Gibson, Ronald Patrick. Heading for a redshirt -- Corey Robinson, Tramell Williams. Barely played -- Steven Singleton. Walk-on -- Travis Ford. Perhaps it's time to go hang a sign at the Strom Thurmond Fitness Center that says, "Anyone 6-foot-5 and at least 260 pounds who is interested in playing offensive line, please report to the practice field at 4 p.m. Cleats and jerseys provided."

Only at USC ... I thought I could avoid having to write that phrase this year. I should have known better. It happened again -- a play where I wondered, "Does this ever happen to any other team in college football?" Then I realized USC had pulled the same thing eight years ago. Furman's Shawn Boone tipped a Garcia pass inside the 10-yard-line, kept his eye on the ball and hauled it in, running for a pick-six touchdown. The only difference from when Georgia's David Pollack did it against Corey Jenkins was Pollack stripped it in the end zone. It put Furman right back in the game just as USC was about to embark on the potential salting drive. The explanation: "Jarriel (King) is supposed to cut the guy, the D-end, so we're looking down the field," Garcia said. "So I can't see if the guy is on the ground or not. I just threw it to (Bryce) Sherman, and the Furman player was standing there, so there wasn't anything I could do." Spurrier: "I told the guys I need to quit calling those plays that he can throw interceptions or touchdowns the other way. We aren't going to throw that swing pass anymore."

Soapbox I feel compelled. I know that most of you agree with me -- a win is a win, no matter the score or how a team looks while winning it. But there always have to be some detractors, and they make their feelings known at my place of employment. To these, I offer the following -- what did you expect? You know as well as I do that USC always, always, always plays to the level of its competition and 10 times out of the year, that's a great thing. The other two, the Gamecocks won't look very good but they will win. I know everybody's giddy about a Top 15 ranking and whipping Georgia last week, but it's not like USC transformed from last year's 7-6 team to winning the national championship overnight. It's mostly the same guys, just with a new-found belief in themselves. They're not going to be perfect because no team can be -- I don't think there's any team that knows that better than USC. But they're winning, they're 3-0 and they all realized that no matter what happened, it's over and the Gamecocks won. Kindly follow their advice and save your opinions on what a team "should" look like for your next go-round on Xbox.

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