2011 Pre-Season Preview: #18 South Carolina Gamecocks

2010 Record: (9-5, 5-3 in SEC)

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (186-73-2 All-Time, 44-33 at USC)

Last Bowl Game: 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl (lost to FSU 26-17)

Final 2010 AP Ranking: #22

Final 2010 CFBZ Ranking: #19


Schedule

9/3: East Carolina

9/10: at Georgia (2010 result: won 17-6)

9/17: Navy

9/24: Vanderbilt (2010 result: won 21-7)

10/1: Auburn (2010 result: lost 35-27 on 9/25 and 56-17 on 12/4)

10/8: Kentucky (2010 result: lost 31-28)

10/15: at Mississippi State

10/29: at Tennessee (2010 result: won 38-24)

11/5: at Arkansas (2010 result: lost 41-20)

11/12: Florida (2010 result: won 36-14)

11/19: Citadel

11/26: Clemson (2010 result: won 29-7)

 

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 30.9 ppg (6th in SEC, 38th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 154.36 yds/game (8th in SEC, 60th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 238.4 yds/game (6th in SEC, 44th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 392.8 yds/game (7th in SEC, 47th in Nation)


2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 23.1 ppg (6th in SEC, 43rd in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 112.43 yds/game (3rd in SEC, 12th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 241.9 yds/game (10th in SEC, 97th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 354.4 yds/game (7th in SEC, 46th in Nation)

 

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: +0.0 per game (9th in SEC, 56th in Nation)

Penalties: 41.6 yds/game (2nd in SEC, 19th in Nation)

 

Returning Starters:

Offense: 7

Defense: 6

Kicker/Punter: 0

 

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB Stephen Garcia, Sr (224 of 349 for 3059 yds, 20 TD, 14 INT)

Rushing: RB Marcus Lattimore, Soph (249 for 1197 yds, 4.8 ypc, 17 TD)

Receiving: WR Alshon Jeffrey, Jr (88 rec for 1517 yds, 17.2 ypc, 9 TD)

Tackles: CB Stephon Gilmore, Jr (79)

Sacks: DE Melvin Ingram, Sr (9)

Interceptions: CB Stephon Gilmore, Jr (3)

 

Bowl Predictions:

Athlon Sports: Outback Bowl (vs Michigan State)

Phil Steele: Outback Bowl (vs Wisconsin)

 

South Carolina didn’t have one of the best offenses or defenses in the SEC but they did what no other Gamecocks team could do. They made it to the SEC Championship Game. Was it because they were a much improved team or was it because everybody else in the East was down? I think it was a combination of both of those factors. As it does almost every year the start of the season hinges on the outcome of the Georgia game and last year the Gamecocks won that battle by eleven points to give them the leg up on the Dawgs. The next three SEC games were a roller-coaster ride as they lost a heart-breaker to eventually National Champion Auburn by a TD, shocked #1 Alabama by beating them soundly 35-21 and then fell to a mediocre Kentucky team 31-28. The Gamecocks started off 4-2 but only 2-2 in the SEC. South Carolina won five of their next six but fell to Bobby Petrino and the Hogs at home by 21 points. The Gamecocks took a 9-3 record into the SEC Championship game but gone blown off the field by Cam Newton and Auburn 56-17. South Carolina finished up by losing their bowl game to FSU and finishing 9-5. It was a very good year for South Carolina because they finally got over the hump and won the SEC East but the two consecutive losses at the end, including a destruction in the SEC Championship Game, had to leave a bad taste in their mouth.

Marcus Lattimore was one of the most hyped recruits to hit Columbia in recent memory and once he got to campus he delivered. His two best games were against Georgia and Florida and Spurrier rode him to the tune of 37 attempts against Georgia and 40 against Florida. He was a workhorse and as he went, the Gamecocks went. In every game the Gamecocks lost, Lattimore did not rush for 100 yards. The other offensive stud for the Gamecocks was Alshon Jeffrey. He nearly doubled his production from 2009 as he increased his reception total from 46 to 88 and became one of the premier WRs in the Nation. For South Carolina to repeat they need Lattimore and Jeffrey to equal their production from last year and possibly better it. The wildcard in the South Carolina offense is the controversial Stephen Garcia. Garcia is clearly one of the more talented QBs in the SEC but he has yet to play a full year with his head screwed on straight. He is back from suspension again and it seems like he’s ready to take this QB job for real this time. I think Garcia is the key to this season for the Gamecocks offense. I believe it’s hard to expect Lattimore or Jeffrey to improve their numbers and 5-3 might not cut it in the SEC East this year. For South Carolina to repeat in the East, they need the best Stephen Garcia to show up every week.

The South Carolina defense can usually be counted on to be the strength of the team. Last year they took a small step back as they allowed more points than in the previous two years. They also took a big step back against the passing game. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 the Gamecocks were in the top two in the league every year against the pass but last year they fell down to 10th in the league. South Carolina had six games where it gave up over 300 yards passing (they lost 3 of those games). Despite the passing game struggles it wasn’t about getting to the QB as South Carolina led the SEC in sacks and improved their total from 2009 by 15 sacks. This year the Gamecocks add the top recruit in the Nation, DE Jadeveon Clowney to the mix. It will be very interesting to see how quickly he can make an impact in the SEC. South Carolina does lose some starters on the defense this year but they still have a very talented group of players and are looking to make improvements on that side of the football this year.

South Carolina is the favorite to win the SEC East. They have one of the top combination of skill players in the Nation in Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey. But as I said earlier, it would be difficult to expect those two players to make great improvements this year (because of how good they were last year). If the Gamecocks are to make a bigger splash this year it will be because of the defense, Stephen Garcia or other players stepping up. Is South Carolina ready to climb that ladder and become a Top 10 team? I think they have the talent, I’m just not sure if they are ready to take that big of a step. Repeating in the SEC East would make a big statement to the fanbase and to the rest of the Conference. Does this team have what it takes? We reached out to the South Carolina Gamecocks based blog Leftover Hot Dog to get their take on this years team. 

 

Much of the talk this off-season has been on Stephen Garcia. What are you expecting out of the QB position this year?

Expectations for Stephen Garcia are simple – don’t make mistakes.  This can be said for Garcia both on and off the field of play.

Off the field of play, he is on a ‘zero tolerance’ leash after serving out his fifth suspension recently.  So the expectation is for him to finally mature and word is he has been doing just that.  He has been a leader in summer workouts and believe it or not he has reportedly given up alcohol.  These indications bold well for improved on-the-field play.

Speaking of that, he just needs to not make dumb mistakes.  No forced throws, no fumbles and no interceptions at crucial times.  Garcia simply needs to say “hut” and hand off to Marcus Lattimore or get the ball to Alshon Jeffery in space.  Easy enough.

For Garcia, he just does not need to be the Achilles heel of the team in 2011; do that and good things will happen in 2011 for the team and for him personally.

 

Marcus Lattimore made a huge impact as a freshman last year. This year South Carolina has the #1 recruit in the Nation coming to play in Columbia. What type of impact do you think Jadeveon Clowney will have for the Gamecocks?

Jadeveon Clowney is a special player, the once-in-a-lifetime type.  He dominated high school and expectations are for him to get around to doing that in college.  It may not be year one but most will guarantee that he will be a disruptor at defensive end and find his way into the NFL.

Speaking of this year, the defensive line at USC is arguably the best in the SEC.  Devin Taylor, Travian Robertson, Aldrick Fordham and Melvin Ingram are any coaches’ dream for a line.  Throw in Clowney and wow.

Having a strong line already works in Clowney’s favor as he does not have to come in and be the savior.  He can learn and grow, which is dangerous for a gifted player like Clowney.  Expect him to come on strong by the middle of the season, once he adjusts to the speed of the college game.

Despite having a lot of talent on the defensive side of the football the Gamecocks finished 10th in the SEC in passing yardage allowed. What has been done this off-season to address this area?

The Gamecocks did not have the luxury of depth last season in the secondary and the linebacking corp was not as strong as in years’ past.  Both of these things have gotten better for 2011.

There are lots of redshirt freshman in the secondary ready to step up but don’t take that as a lack of experience in the group.  Elders Stephon Gilmore and Akeem Auguste will lock down the corners.  DJ Swearinger and Jimmy Legree will be the safeties.  This group, on paper, is much improved for defensive coach Ellis Johnson.

What will help the defense as a whole is a strong linebacking corp to go along with the already mentioned beast of a defensive line.  Shaq Wilson should be back at middle linebacker after missing most of 2010, he has a high motor which means good things for USC.  At WLB, depth is good just needs someone to step up as Rodney Paulk, Quin Smith and Damario Jeffery are looking to be a difference maker at this spot.

USC uses a hybrid-type linebacker/safety called a Spur.  Two excellent players are fighting for the starting job here – Antonio Allen and DeVonte Holloman.  Either player will make the team stronger no matter which one is playing.

As you can see, the defensive side of the ball is much improved with depth and this means the team will be good for the full game not just when the first team is in there.

Also Coach Ellis Johnson has made some adjustments in scheme in the offseason, more of a 3-4 type defense to help cover the increasingly used spread offenses by opposing offenses.

All this above should take USC from 10th to top five in 2011 as far as defense in 2011 rankings in my view.

 

4. Give us three SEC players you don’t look forward to playing this year.

  • Running back Michael Dyer from Auburn is one player that I do not look forward to seeing USC face in 2011.  Dyer can hurt you with his speed and with Cam Newton gone, the Tigers will rely more on him this coming season.  The USC defense cannot allow him to run-up-and-down the field this season.
  • Linebacker Jerry Franklin for Arkansas is another player that I don’t want to see USC face as he is a beast for the Razorbacks and could cause fits for USC’s offense.  He is good in coverage and also can pressure the QB.  The USC offensive line has to account for him at all times.
  • The spread of Dan Mullen and quarterback Chris Relf of Mississippi State is something I dread, especially the fact that the game is played in Starkville.  Relf is not the best QB in the SEC but he does a good job of running Mullen’s spread offense.  He has Chad Bumphis to pass to or Vick Ballard to hand-off to; both are good weapons that USC’s defense will have to bring their “A” game to overcome.

 

5. Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games this year?

Three games define USC’s season in my view – Georgia, Arkansas and Florida.

at Georgia, Sept. 10

This is the early SEC statement game for both teams and for South Carolina it could be the game that determines if 2011 is going to be a really special with a BCS happy ending or just another grueling SEC season with ups-and-downs.

“Between the hedges” is never an easy venue to claim victory.  The Gamecocks have won in Athens once during Steve Spurrier’s tenure in Columbia and that win propelled South Carolina to a 6-1 start in 2007. Spurrier is 2-4 against the Bulldogs as the Gamecocks head coach.

A USC win would continue the hope of a SEC East title defense in Atlanta a reality for the ‘Cocks and could spell doom for UGA and the job status of Mark Richt.

at Arkansas, Nov. 5

The Razorbacks always poise a difficult challenge for the Gamecocks.  The barnyard bash could be the toughest game for USC as the Gamecocks have a tendency to struggle in Fayetteville. South Carolina won in Spurrier’s first attempt on the road against the Razorbacks in 2005 (14-10), but the past two games at Razorback Stadium have not been so kind.

With Arkansas amongst the favorites to with the SEC West, this early November battle could have major implications in the race to represent the SEC in Atlanta.  The Gamecocks will need their secondary as these Hogs have offensive explosion capabilities combined with a good defense.

Florida, Nov. 12

This game will have many storylines in 2011 from Muschamp versus Spurrier to a potential decisive game for the answer as to who will be the SEC East representation in the looming Conference Championship game.

New Gator coach Will Muschamp will bring the Gators into Williams Brice Stadium and will be looking to take a chop out of the Gamecocks hopes of a SEC East repeat. This game will showcase loads of talent and surely be a SEC classic.  The Gamecocks will have to have their spurs up as a lot will be riding on this game.

 

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

The Gamecocks finished the 2010 season 9–5, 5–3 in SEC play to win the SEC Eastern Division; anything less than doing this again will be a disappointment in 2011 in my view given the SEC East landscape combined with the talent the Gamecocks have this season.

Not out of reality are the Gamecocks having the chance to go undefeated or 11-1 given the schedule being in their favor this season.  Most media pundits agree and have the Gamecocks going to the BCS.  I for one use caution when even dreaming of this scenario as I am a lifelong diehard Gamecock fan so I have seen hope get kicked in the mouth.

I honestly feel that USC will finish 2011 with a 10-2 mark and repeat as SEC East champs.  I stop short in saying they will win the SEC Championship as I do not know who the SEC West will have due to my struggle to pick between Alabama, LSU and Arkansas as the SEC West representative.   A BCS bowl is a strong possibility for USC in 2011.

 

CFBZ Top 25

#1-#17?

#18 South Carolina Gamecocks

#19 Ohio State Buckeyes

#20 USC Trojans

#21 Georgia Bulldogs

#22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

#23 BYU Cougars

#24 Missouri Tigers

#25 Texas Longhorns

 

2011 Team Previews

ACC- Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, NC State, UNC, Virginia, Wake Forest

Big 12- Baylor , Iowa St, Kansas, Kansas St, Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech

Big East- Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn, USF

Big Ten- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota ,Northwestern, Ohio St, Penn St, Purdue

C-USA- East Carolina, Houston ,Marshall, SMU, Southern Mississippi, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UCF

FCS- Georgia Southern, Georgia State

Independent- Army, BYU, Notre Dame

MAC- Akron, Ball St, Bowling Green, Buffalo , Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Temple, Toledo, Western Michigan

MWC- Air Force, New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming

Pac-12- Arizona , Arizona St, California, Colorado, Oregon St, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington

SEC- Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee

Sun Belt- FAU, FIU, Louisiana, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy , ULM, Western Kentucky

WAC- Fresno St, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico St, San Jose St

Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Student Section and founder of College Football Zealots

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