New QB Same as the Old One

The OBC got 50 hung on him last night and this little ditty came to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

But I digress. The story really isn’t Steve Spurrier. As last night showed, Spurrier is old news. The story is Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his new quarterback, Johnny Manziel’s replacement, Kenny Hill. All Hill did in his first game post-Manziel was throw for over 500 yards.

Spurrier lost his offensive genius title years ago, but he had built a program that had won 11 games for three years running. At South Carolina, or heck, anywhere, that’s incredibly impressive. Last night’s shellacking at the hands of Sumlin, however, proved there’s a new genius in town.

Now, now, I realize I may be late to the party here. Sumlin’s offenses have been putting up huge numbers for years. So what changed? Quarterbacks, that’s what has changed. Previously, I passed over some of Sumlin’s success because of two guys named Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel. But now I’m thinking that maybe it was the offense that made the players, rather than the other way around.

Last night’s beat down of South Carolina in Columbia proved that Sumlin and his Aggies are for real. And it may have also been the shove that pushes the OBC toward that good night.


Is Lattimore Ready?

In 2009, Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower suffered a season-ending knee in game four of the season against Arkansas.  One year later, Hightower was declared ready to go, good as new, and embarked on a new season.  As the season progressed, however, it was clear that Hightower wasn’t all back.  He was a step slower than the year before and was not the same player.

In 2010, Marcus Lattimore burst onto the scene at South Carolina and it was clear that even as a freshman, he was one of the best players in college football.  In 2011, Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury against Mississippi State in the seventh game of the season.  As we’ve approached the beginning of the 2012 season, we’ve heard a lot about Lattimore and his recovery.  By most every account, he’s worked hard and is ready to go.

But, I wonder, is he really ready to go, or is his situation closer to Hightower’s?  Even though he’s healthy enough to play, is he the same running back as before his surgery?  I’m not the only one to wonder.

Dr. David Geier, director of MUSC sports medicine in South Carolina, has written this article appearing at questioning the extent of Lattimore’s injury and the effect on his recovery if his meniscus was injured as well:

Days after the fateful game, head coach Steve Spurrier admitted, “Our worst fears were realized.” According to ESPN, Spurrier told reporters that Lattimore had a torn ligament in his left knee and also suffered “some cartilage damage.”

Since that statement, and especially after his surgery on Nov. 17, there has been little mention of any other damage found in Lattimore’s knee. Specifically, as an orthopaedic surgeon, what I would like to know is whether he suffered a meniscus tear that was treated during that procedure.

As the Heisman Trophy candidate prepares for his return against Vanderbilt today, I am curious for medical reasons. The presence of a meniscus tear could have a profound impact on his football future.

What kind of an effect could it have?

Traditional thinking among sports medicine surgeons has maintained that athletes have terrific success returning to sports at the same or higher level after ACL injuries. Those beliefs have been questioned in recent years. In a column I wrote earlier this year, I even cited a study that showed only 70 percent of college football players returned to play.

Running backs have been shown to have particularly tough recoveries. A 2006 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine looked at return to play for NFL running backs and wide receivers. More than 20 percent of those skill players never returned to play after ACL surgery. A power rating analysis of those players showed that performance dropped by one third if they did return.

A meniscus tear could have an even more detrimental effect. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage that serves as a shock absorber in the knee. It has been estimated that meniscus tears are found in 40 to 80 percent of ACL reconstructions.

I surely hope Lattimore is back and at 100% this year.  I like his style of running and he seems like a decent young man.  I hope all of the hard work he’s put into his recovery will begin to payoff tonight.



Finebaum’s Back on the Spurrier Bandwagon

In his latest article for, Paul Finebaum oozes praise for the old ball coach:

It is difficult to find new ways to express praise for a man many consider the best SEC coach since the legendary Paul Bryant walked the sidelines 30 years ago. However, this 10-2 regular season may have to be considered one of Spurrier’s finest coaching jobs. That’s saying something for someone with a lifetime college coaching winning percentage of .722. [Emphasis added.]

A 10-2 record is impressive, especially when considering how few of those South Carolina has had.  But to call this season “one of Spurrier’s finest coaching jobs” shows a stunning lack of perspective.

Yes, there were struggles to overcome:

Although South Carolina was picked to win the SEC East, in the first half of the season Spurrier battled the demons of longtime starting — and often suspended — quarterback Stephen Garcia. After a stunning home loss to Auburn on Oct. 1, Spurrier jettisoned Garcia for the final time for off-the-field transgressions. Spurrier then lost sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore, a preseason Heisman candidate, to a season-ending knee injury. Many feared the loss of Lattimore would devastate the offense and lead to several more losses, badly the ending a season which had started with such promise.

But you could also argue that poor coaching decisions led to some of the above and cost the Gamecocks an opportunity to play for a national championship.

Spurrier’s handling of Garcia was pathetic.  Garcia’s story is a sad tale of one stumble after another.  Spurrier gave him chance after chance to redeem himself, but Garcia couldn’t quite do it.  In the end, it’s fairly obvious that he gave Garcia too many chances.  It’s a touch situation to handle for sure, especially when you want a player to finally “get it.”  But if Spurrier had dealt with Garcia sooner, Connor Shaw would have likely led the team to a win over Auburn.

Think about it.  The other SEC powers absolutely destroyed Auburn.  Alabama, Georgia and LSU absolutely destroyed Auburn.  And just like South Carolina, each of those teams played host to Auburn.  But the Gamecocks lost a stunner 16-13.  Auburn allows an average of 44 points per game against the Big 3 and South Carolina manages 13.  That doesn’t seem possible.

That loss ultimately cost the Gamecocks a slot in the SEC championship game versus LSU.  Now, South Carolina didn’t look impressive offensively for much of the season, but at the time the Gamecocks were ranked No. 10 in the country and a win over Auburn could have drastically altered the remaining course of the season.

The reality is that Spurrier’s lifetime achievements are fantastic, but his run at South Carolina – especially the resurgence Finebaum is gushing over, is due as much to the pathetic state of the SEC East as it is to coaching.


SEC 2011: Review of the Preview

Way back in the pre-season, I predicted the order of finish for both divisions in the SEC, along with who I thought would meet next Saturday in Atlanta.  Now that the regular season is finished, let’s take a look at how I did.

SEC East

1) Georgia Actual 10-2 (7-1), Predicted  10-2 ( 7-1)

  • Preview: “Mark Richt will remain on the hot seat after the Bulldogs lose to Boise and South Carolina, but 10 straight wins later, his future in Athens is extended.  Georgia probably has the league’s best quarterback, at least for this year, and brings in hotshot freshman Isaiah Crowell, who will try to be this year’s version of Marcus Lattimore or Michael Dyer.”
  • Review: This is probably my best call of the season, although I thought South Carolina would wind up in Atlanta.  Crowell had a decent year, but never came close to Lattimore status.  Murray exceeded expectations and has a good shot to be the SEC’s offensive player of the year.

2) South Carolina Actual 10-2 (6-2), Predicted 11-1 (7-1)

  • Preview: “Steve Spurrier calls this his best team yet in Columbia.  If OBC can keep his troops clear of the buffet lines and cocktail parties he may be right.  Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Stephon Gilmore and yes, even Stephen Garcia make it hard to pick against the Gamecocks for a repeat.  They’ll stumble against Mississippi State, but earn another berth in the SEC Championship Game.”
  • Review: The Gamecocks successfully transitioned from Garcia to Connor Shaw and finally hit their stride when Shaw came up to speed.  Although the Gamecocks lost to Arkansas, it was a lackluster loss to Auburn that kept them from a repeat trip to Atlanta.

Continue reading

Stallings, Spurrier, Garcia and Discipline

Apparently, Steve Spurrier has finally cut the chord and dismissed Stephen Garcia from the South Carolina football team.  Every time I heard about football players being disciplined in the SEC, my mind always wanders back to the days of Gene Stallings and David Palmer at Alabama

Palmer was a fantastic college football player that played for the Tide during the 1991 through 1993 seasons.  He wasn’t big and he he didn’t have the speed of a player such as a Pierre Goode, but the kid could flat play.  Wide receiver, punt returner, quarterback – you name it he could play it.  He was probably one of the better defensive backs as well.

But Palmer was always getting into trouble.  His knack for this was especially on display during 1992 when he was arrested two times for drunken driving – once in the summer and once after the first game of the season.  The second arrest came the night after Bama’s first game of the season – a game in which Palmer had been suspended from playing because of the first arrest.

Palmer was eventually reinstated during the 1992 season and became a key component of that championship team.  Although Stallings endured some criticism for how he handled Palmer, his credibility had already been established years before.  Following the 1962 season, Stallings, then a member of Paul Bryant’s coaching staff, voted to suspend Joe Namath for his use of alcohol.  Stallings’ response has echoed with me for years:

“I think he needed the relationship with the team,” Stallings said. “I think he needed the camaraderie and the fellowship of being in a good environment. The dorm. The dining hall. The plane. The bus. The hotel. I felt like he needed that more than we needed him.”

Palmer believes the coach was right. The coach believes it is too early to tell.

“I’ve never said the decisions I made were the right ones,” Stallings said. “I’ve said I think they were right. We won’t really know whether this is the right decision for two or three years.”

Palmer needed the team more than the team needed Palmer.  The game results might argue against Stallings’ point, but he was right.  The team might have lost games without Palmer, but the season wouldn’t be cancelled without him.

Palmer without the team, however, may not have turned out so well.

As is noted above, Stallings said time would tell if his decision was the right one.  Obviously, it was.  Yes, Bama went on to win the 1992 national championship and Palmer was a big reason for that, but he also went on to have a successful seven year career in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings.  More importantly, he’s leading a productive life and giving back to his community.

So what does that have to do with Spurrier and Garcia?  Well, we generally assume that Spurrier has made all of his decisions based simply on wins and losses.  While I’m sure that has factored into his decisions, what we don’t know is the relationship that the coach has with his player.  We see the outward handling of Garcia by Spurrier, but we don’t see how these issues are struggled with behind the scenes.  It’s easy to be cynical about these situations, especially if you’re a fan of an opposing school.  And certainly after six or so suspensions everyone begins to question your sanity if you don’t kick the player off the team.

But discipline isn’t always a black and white situation.  I’ve recently been reading a bit about church discipline and have been told there are at least three purposes for it:

  1. Glorify God.
  2. To maintain the purity of the church.
  3. To reclaim or keep the disobedient sinner. 
Since many of us worship college football teams anyway, it’s not too much of a stretch to apply this approach to discipline to our teams as well.  Of course we want our teams and their behavior to glorify God (i.e. act right and do the right things), but discipline should also be applied to maintain the structure of your team (i.e. don’t let the inmates run the asylum) and to help transform the team member that may be struggling.  These things, in turn, define the character of your team and the culture of your program.
Sometimes there are fine lines that need to be walked to get all of this done.  Handle one situation wrong and your team thinks you’re lax on the rules and chaos reigns.  Handle a situation another way and the team could rebel at your heavy handedness.  But if it’s done correctly, it teaches your players how to operate in society.

Again, after six or so suspensions, it’s pretty easy to say too much grace has been shown to a player.  But we still don’t know what went on behind the scenes and what Spurrier’s plan was to help or reclaim Garcia.  I’ll go ahead and give Spurrier the benefit of the doubt and assume that he thought Garcia needed the team more than the team needed Garcia.  Unfortunately, though, Garcia has now run out of chances.

Week 5 Picks

Alabama 21, Florida 13 – If The Tide can get steady play from it’s quarterback and keep Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in check, they can escape Gainsville with a win.

Arkansas 35, Texas A&M 31 – The Hogs welcome aTm to the party with a loss. One concern: Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson received a slight concussion against Troy and was beaten up against Bama.

South Carolina 41, Auburn 31 – The October nightmare begins for the Tigers. The Gamecocks haven’t played well thus far, but can’t help but get untracked against Auburn.

LSU 56, Kentucky 6 – I don’t expect a hangover for LSU after the trip to West Virginia. Kentucky is not a good team, so the Tigers can name their score.

Ole Miss 24, Fresno State 23 – This is the toughest game of the week to pick. Which scheduling guru signed the Black Bears up for a game against Fresno? In Fresno? I guess that’s the way this season is going for Ole Miss. I have no logical reason for picking the Rebels other than they happen to play in the SEC.

Georgia 31, Mississippi State 17 – A huge game for both sets of Bulldogs. UGA is the better team and should win with ease.

Tennessee 52, Buffalo 17 – Tyler Bray should have another big game against a lesser opponent.

Vanderbilt – The Commodores have an off week to prepare for Bama.