GAMECOCKS HOPE TO WATCH RECORDS FALL AGAINST BLAZERS
By John Loveday || Over his first twenty-two games at the University of South Carolina, Marcus Lattimore has demonstrated a knack for finding the end zone. And when he darted through the East Carolina defense for a six-yard touchdown run last weekend, he tied the USC career touchdown mark shared by Harold Green and 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.
Of course it took Green 44 games to reach 33 total touchdowns. Rogers? He needed 46 games to reach that mark.
Lattimore will look to break USC’s careeer touchdown mark in his 23rd career game this week against the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) Blazers. Also USC head coach Steve Spurrier will be looking to earn his 200th overall collegiate win next week. It’s doubtful Spurrier will focus much on this milestone, however it is an impressive addition to his legacy when you consider only three active Division I-A coaches (Mack Brown of Texas, Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech, and Chris Ault of Nevada) have met that mark.
Before we predict how the ninth-ranked Gamecocks will fare against the Blazers, let’s hand out some grades from last week’s win over the Pirates …
USC OFFENSIVE GRADE: A-
What a difference a week makes.
In the season opener against Vanderbilt the South Carolina passing game looked, well, nonexistent. The Gamecocks managed only 67 passing yards (and 272 total yards). Against ECU the Gamecock offense exploded. Led by backup quarterback Dylan Thompson, the Gamecocks amassed 397 passing yards and 528 total yards en route to a 48-10 win. Eleven different players caught a pass against the Pirates – with sophomore tight end Rory Anderson leading the way (90 yards, 2 touchdowns). Senior receiver D.L. Moore also hauled in a pair of scoring strikes.
Making his first real splash? Sophomore speedster Damiere Byrd, who finally displayed his deep threat ability – catching two passes for 81 yards. Highly touted freshman Shaq Roland also hauled in his first two catches as a Gamecock and junior receiver DeAngelo Smith caught his first career touchdown.
While the passing game was dominant, the Gamecocks’ ground attack was nowhere near as potent as it was against Vanderbilt. USC only rushed for 151 yards – led by Marcus Lattimore’s 40 yards on 13 attempts (with the aforementioned record-tying touchdown). It was clear from beginning of the game ECU was going to keep seven or eight players in the box and force USC to throw the ball to win the game. Obviously, Dylan Thompson was more than willing to oblige.
Even though ECU was loading the box, USC was unable to get the sort of push it needed to pick up yardage on the ground. In addition, Thompson will need to learn the value of getting out of bounds and/or sliding down to avoid big hits. Thompson also stared down his receivers at times, a bad habit which will surely improve with more game experience. Nevertheless, Thompson displayed the potential Spurrier has raved about all offseason. In fact it will be very interesting to see how Spurrier utilizes Thompson and Shaw down the road when the South Carolina starter is back at 100 percent.
USC DEFENSIVE GRADE: A-
The Gamecock ‘D’ gave up 403 total yards against ECU – but numbers can be deceiving. Most of the unit’s starters were pulled in the third quarter after USC built a 35-3 lead. The most impressive stat of the day? The five Pirate turnovers that USC forced – including an interception returned for a touchdown by cornerback Jimmy Legree.
Speaking of Legree, the junior from Beaufort, S.C. has had an impressive start to the 2012 season: recording 9 solo tackles, 3 assisted tackles, one interception, one tackle for loss, and 3 pass breakups through his first two games. Most of the fan base, including myself, was concerned there might be a drop-off in production when senior Akeem Auguste when down in fall camp with a major groin injury. However, so far Legree has proven himself – and seems very comfortable shifting from safety back to his natural cornerback position.
With the air raid offense that teams like East Carolina run, they will almost always put up lots of yards utilizing quick slants, screens and other up-tempo play calls. However, yards don’t mean anything if you can’t get into the end zone. Obviously the Gamecock coaching staff was disappointed that not all of the defensive backups played with full intensity and focus at all times. However, whenever you can get backups in the game it proves invaluable to the depth and experience of your team.
USC SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: B-
USC’s kickoff coverage was solid against ECU – and was vastly improved from game one against Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks did not attempt a field goal, but a poor snap and hold in the fourth quarter forced a missed PAT. Tyler Hull continues to be the best option at punter. Hull averaged 40 yards on four punts against the Pirates, with a long punt of 51 yards. Also, two of Hull’s punts were downed inside the 20 yard line.
UP NEXT: UAB
ECU is far from a world-beater, but they are a solid team that should challenge for the Conference USA championship and play in a decent bowl game. USC will host another Conference USA opponent next week in UAB. Unlike ECU, the Blazers are not expected to compete for a conference title this year.
Picked to finish second-to-last in their division – ahead of only lowly Memphis – UAB is not expected to come into Williams-Brice and compete with the Gamecocks. Of course Louisiana-Monroe wasn’t supposed to compete with No. 8 Arkansas last week, and we all know what happened there.
On offense UAB has decent talent at the skill positions, but replacing four offensive linemen will be difficult. That point was proven in week one when the Blazers lost a home game to the Troy Trojans 29-39 (UAB had a bye last week). In addition, with an inexperienced offensive line UAB only managed 134 rushing yards while giving up two sacks and five tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
This is a glaring mismatch against the Gamecocks’ front seven.
On defense UAB gave up 453 total yards and 39 points against Troy. One would think the USC offense – whether it is led by Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson – should be able to move the ball and put some points on the board. The linemen and linebackers were expected to be the strength of the UAB defense, however after giving up 262 rushing yards against Troy expect the Gamecocks to be able to move the ball on the grond.
With the emergence of backup Dylan Thompson, USC seems to have two quality options at quarterback. Steve Spurrier insists that Shaw remains the starter, and after an additional week of rest and treatment he should be ready to play against UAB. However, I would imagine both will see the field extensively on Saturday. My prediction? Gamecocks 52 – UAB 10
John Loveday is a South Carolina public school educator and sports enthusiast. Reach him via email at email@example.com.