With South Carolina's big 41-13 win over Southern Mississippi at Williams-Brice Stadium last night it's pretty safe to say that the Gamecocks have exorcised most of the demons that haunted them since a lackluster loss to UConn in the PapaJohns.com Bowl last January. I say most because the guy who reminded us of how bad the loss was nearly every day is still the team's head coach, and he doesn't forget anything, so when a reminder is needed, he'll deliver it.
On the day training camp started, and again yesterday, I went over the five biggest keys to the Gamecocks season as I saw it. With a game under their belt, let's take a look at how they did.
1 - Offensive line must improve... There were a few too many penalties, but with no sacks allowed and more than 200 yards gained on the ground and the unit still looking for unity, I'd say they did well against an experienced group of USM linemen and linebackers. Georgia will bring an entirely new set of talent to WBS next week, but OL confidence should be rising at Carolina.
2 - Will a Number One Tailback emerge? ... Again, we're only one game in, but is ANYONE out there wondering whether Marcus Lattimore will get the bulk of the work next week in practice and against UGa? The freshman didn't disappoint in the least, scoring twice, catching a few passes and running with the confidence of a college veteran. For now, the answer is yes, a number one tailback emerged.
3 - Garcia is a good QB, but can he be great? ... Stephen missed on a few open chances, but that happens to the very best. In all, his game against USM was well above average. He made several nice throws, spread the ball amongst his WR corps and ran with the confidence and attitude of a tailback. His leadership was definitely on display, which only increases the confidence his teammates have in him. The two running TD's were both things of football beauty. Connor Shaw showed some good moments, but this is Garcia's team, and he'll keep getting better if he limits the mistakes.
4 - Special Teams must improve... I had no concerns about Spencer Lanning's abilities to punt and kick, and like Ryan Succop before him, it's clear Carolina has a premier specialist. Kick returns looked good, although with Chris Culliver out we only got to see Bryce Sherman as the go to guy. I thought he did well against USM, but I'd love to see him have a little more room to find holes and burst through. Kick coverage was also good last night. It seems like the work Coach Beamer and the players have put in is working, but again, SEC teams will bring a different set of challenges. A good start is clearly better than a poor one though.
5 - The Gamecocks must "bring it" every night... By scoring 41 points and limiting USM to 13, it seems as if the guys got the message that they can't just walk on the field and win. The effort was good in spite of a light crowd, especially in the first half. Coach Spurrier noted that as the game grew late his team may have eased off just a bit, but that's got a lot to do with personnel and the situation. I still say that this issue is one that could plague the squad if they're not careful, but a positive step forward was taken last night.
... A few other notes ... I was disappointed in the attendance. I know it was a Thursday and the opponent was one USC had never faced, but I would have thought more fans would've bought last minute tickets. Guess they're waiting on more wins. They missed some big debuts though....Speaking of debuts, holy crap is Ace Sanders fast! I was stunned on that reverse call. I, and many, many more, want to see that on as regular a basis as possible. That young man can be a true difference maker in the right circumstance....Finally, a few weeks ago my producer Michael Haney and I had fun with the QB situation. I asked him, after Garcia, who would take a snap first, Shaw or Gilmore. He said Shaw. Kinda fun to see that he was "wrong" on that one!