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.

Advertisements

Genius No More

I pretty much knew Steve Spurrier was no longer an offensive genius after the 2011 South Carolina – Auburn game.

Now I’m sure:

“To me, it’s always interesting: Those up-tempo teams, they don’t always win now,” Spurrier said. “I know their coaches are all bragging about how fast they want to go and this, that and the other. It’s helpful every now and then. Every now and then, we’ll get up there and snap it, but we’re not interested in seeing how fast we can score. Really, the up-tempo teams, if their defense is not a great one, I don’t see that it’s any advantage trying to go real fast and make your defense play a whole bunch.”

If Nick Saban or Will Muschamp said this it would make some sense.  This coming from Spurrier may mean the end is near.  For him or us.

Carolina and Ole Miss Win on Opening Night

As you’ve heard by now, South Carolina beat North Carolina 27-10 and Ole Miss surged late to beat Vandy 39-35.  I called both of these shots, but it’s a little early to start bragging.

There are two big stories worth following that come out of these games.  The first is how Jadeveon Clowney laid an egg and the second is the pressure put on Vandy because of the loss.

Clowney didn’t play well and there were two reasons for that.  The first is, obviously, his conditioning.  And, obviously, it wasn’t where it needs to be.  The second is that North Carolina obviously schemed to account for Clowney.  No surprise there, and guess what?  Every other team on the schedule will do the same, too.  Clowney is a great talent and I have no doubt he will wind up having a great season.  But the lesson learned last night is one so many before have also had to learn.  It really is hard to stay focused and motivated when everyone tells you all off season how great you are.

Vandy, meanwhile, has to dig out of an early hole.  The Dores have an easy one next week against Austin Peay and a likely loss in two weeks against South Carolina.  Wins against UMass and UAB should follow and the game against Missouri on October 5th should determine whether they head into their bye week 3-3 or 4-2.  Things get much tougher after that with games against Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida and Vandy could head into the final quarter of the season 3-6 or 4-5.  I think you see where I’m heading.  The final three games – Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest – will determine whether they anchor down for a bowl or set sail for the post season.

 

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 postandcourier.com 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.

 

 

14 Burning Questions for 2012: #2 – South Carolina

We’re almost finished.  14 SEC teams and a burning question for each.  Today we answer a question related to South Carolina.

#2 – Can South Carolina survive their schedule?

Last year should have been the Gamecocks’ year.  The returned Heisman trophy contender Marcus Lattimore at running back, a seasoned quarterback in Stephen Garcia, Alshon Jeffery at receiver and a defense that included Melvin Ingram, Stephon Gilmore and Jadeveon Clowney.  They also had a very, very favorable schedule.  Georgia in week two and Arkansas and Florida in November should have been their only three tests.

Things looked good on paper, but pretty much crumbled from the start.

Lattimore was lost early in the season to a knee injury.  Garcia acted like an immature clown and Jeffery looked to be out of shape.  The offense went on to average 30.1 points per game, good for fifth in the conference, but that average is somewhat misleading.  Take away 56 points against East Carolina and 45 against Georgia, 54 points against helpless Kentucky and 41 against The Citadel and you’ve got an offense that scored about 22 points per game – good for 10th in the league.

Carolina’s worst performance offensively, by far, came against Auburn in a 16-13 loss.  These same Tigers were pounded without mercy by Clemson, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia and Alabama.  Heck, even Samford scored 16 against Auburn.  This Auburn defense gave up an average of 408 yards per game, but somehow held Carolina to 289 yards – the second lowest total they allowed all year.

The offensive performance by Carolina was mystifying.  And it cost the Gamecocks their second consecutive SEC East title.  Carolina also lost to Arkansas, but the Auburn game was winnable and they gave it away.

A season later, the Gamecocks still have a good team, but the conditions are much different.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is gone along with Ingram and Gilmore.  Garcia left in mid-season last year and Jeffery departed for the NFL.  And Lattimore plans to return from a major knee injury.

The schedule is also one of the toughest in the conference.  It’s not exactly Alabama circa 2010, but it does include Georgia (h), LSU (a) and Florida (a) back-to-back-to-back and it includes Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas and Clemson.

So why do I like the Gamecocks so much this year?

Well, first, I think Steve Spurrier is once again the best coach in the East.  It’s taken him a while, but he finally has this program where few thought he could take it – consistently at the top of the East.  He has some talent in Columbia and he also loves to beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Second, he finally has a player at quarterback.  Connor Shaw took over for Garcia last year and played admirably.  He played in all but three games in 2011 and became the starter in the Kentucky game.  Overall, he completed 65.4% of his passes for 1,448 yards, 14 touchdowns and only six interceptions.  Those numbers don’t compare favorably to Spurrier’s Florida offenses from the 1990s, but these are different times.  Shaw also rushed for 525 yards and eight touchdowns.  He’s truly a double threat at quarterback and with a 65% completion mark and a good TD-to-Int ratio, he’s just what the Gamecocks need.

Third, if Lattimore is healthy, he’s the best back in the conference, if not the country.  I have my doubts as to whether he can return 100% one season after surgery.  For his sake, I truly hope so, but that’s a lot to ask.  If, and that’s a big if, he can come back, the East will have a hard time stopping Carolina.

Fourth, though the overall schedule is harder, the East is somewhat down.  I just don’t see Florida jumping back to the top of the East in year two of Will Muschamp and I’m not sure Georgia has the discipline to compete for an entire season (especially in the head-to-head with South Carolina).

Fifth, I think their defense will be good enough.  The biggest loss was Gilmore, and the secondary won’t be as good as 2011, but the defensive line and linebacking corp are still both very good.

Yes, the environment has changed quite a bit for the Gamecocks compared to 2011, but they should have enough talent and coaching skill to fare very well, even with a tougher schedule.

Finebaum’s Back on the Spurrier Bandwagon

In his latest article for SI.com, 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