Posted by: gbake783 | November 29, 2011

South Carolina 3-Peat!

The 2011 South Carolina Gamecock Football team was like riding a roller coaster while watching a soap opera. But I gotta tell you . . . like a giddy twelve year old, I’d sprint-hurdle the hand-rail maze to get in line for another ride.

Gamecock fans are breathing some pretty thin air right now: 10 wins with a bowl game to go;  9-1 against the SEC East the past two seasons with back-to-back victories over Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida.. And to cap it off, we stomped our arch-rival for the third consecutive year. Stomped. Thumped. Whipped. Smacked. However you want to say it, we didn’t just catch a few breaks – we are simply the bigger, faster, nastier team: 34-17, 29-7, and 34-13.

The year was filled with turmoil. Stephen Garcia, our 5th year Quarterback, looked atrocious for five games before getting benched. After the benching, he failed a drug test and was removed from the team. Our back-up running back went down with a wrist injury (Kenny Miles), then our 3rd string (Shon Carson) with a knee injury, and then our 4th string (Eric Baker) with a bad ankle. No matter, though. I doubt most Gamecocks fans hardly noticed because we had the best running back in the country – Marcus, of course (he’s on a first-name basis in the Baker home). Then . . . Marcus . . . nope . . . still can’t speak about. Long story short, we’re down to our 5th stringer, Brandon Wilds. Oh, and we lost our left tackle,  Kyle Nunn.

So, let’s play the “If somebody told you at the beginning of the season . . . ” game. I’d have guessed 6-6 and maybe a bowl game in Shreveport. But this team has a gritty self-confidence. And a great defensive line doesn’t hurt, either. Wilds did a great Marcus impersonation (he’s got that piston-knee thing going on) and Conner Shaw stopped throwing the ball to the other team. Granted, he didn’t throw it to many of our guys, either. But at least we weren’t gift-wrapping short fields to SEC offenses (the Stephen Garcia Special). The schedule helped a little – we transitioned to Conner before Kentucky, Mississippi St, and Tennessee with a bye week mixed in. And we changed running backs right before the bye week. We were a little boring. We ran the ball, relied on that defense, and just played smarter, tougher football.

As you can probably tell, I’ve completely abandoned any effort at impartiality. Who cares! I doubt Clemson fans read this far anyway. I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts from the season with emphasis on the Clemson game.

I need more Melvin in my life: Melvin Ingram – the defensive lineman who wears number 6, savior of our season – where were you these last three years? Well, mostly injured. I worry that Melvin is a genetically engineered mutant from another planet designed solely for playing defensive tackle in the SEC. I’d read sketchy sounding reports of legendary athletic feats: Melvin catches punts behind his back; Melvin the 275 pounder runs a 4.6 40; Melvin can break dance; Melvin can throw a football a quarter-mile. Melvin nearly cost Mark Richt his job when he beat Georgia all by himself: a fake punt touchdown (my favorite parts are at 0:12 when he runs over the Georgia punt returner and the incredulous Bulldog mascot at 0:21) and his fumble recovery for the game clinching TD. Lying in bed Friday nights I’d be giddy imagining Melvin sprinting around the QB’s blind side for a strip-sack. He’s so athletic and so thick – he’d just swallow the opposing QB. He’s not tall, which only helps him gain leverage as he bull-rushes helpless O-linemen. Melvin dominated the Clemson offensive line Saturday night. They simply couldn’t handle his relentless power and quickness. I warned my Clemson friend they hadn’t seen anyone like Melvin this season, which he breezily dismissed. And Melvin seems a genuinely likable kid. I wish him well in the NFL – I’m gonna miss you, Melvin. If you could, bequeath some of your dramatic flair to Jadaveon, I’d really appreciate it. (BTW: Melvin, Jadaveon, Alshon, and Conner are also on a first-name basis in the Baker home).

I Believe in Spurrier: This oft quoted (and mocked) line  is ubiquitous in the state of South Carolina. This season is a testament to one undeniable fact: Steve Spurrier is a winner. His offenses may not be as prolific as they once were. But he knows how to win, demands that everyone around him win, and doesn’t tolerate losing. In fact, he takes it personally. I read some of the quotes from Dabo Swinney, Clemson’s head coach, after the game Saturday night. He couldn’t pass the buck faster: “You have to take the good with the bad,” “We [the coaching staff] had guys in the right spots, they [the players] have to make plays,” and “We knew exactly what they were going to run, our guys just kept making mistakes.”  Memo to Dabo – these excuses are no consolation to an angry fan base. I recommend you take a page from Spurrier. When we lose, he takes it personally and makes no excuses. He says things like, “We got outplayed and outcoached. We’re going to coach better and win. We’ve gotta coach ’em up.” Translation – coach better or find another job. We’ve been through so many offensive line coaches and special teams coaches I stopped keeping track.

I know Clemson fans don’t want to admit this, but Spurrier has built the better program. We’re getting the better players and now we’re gathering athletic depth that South Carolina fans have never seen. The Gamecocks this year lost the three most important players on the field: QB, left tackle, and tailback. And we still went 10-2 while playing in the SEC. In years past, everything had to go right for us to win. Now we can win a variety of ways: special teams, defensive touchdowns, or grinding one out on the ground. And Conner’s coming around – I could see him winning a pass-happy shootout (not four weeks ago, though). Against Clemson on Saturday night, our athletic depth on the defensive front dominated the game. By the second half Clemson’s QB, Tajh Boyd, so jittery from getting smacked around, he ran from shadows into the arms of awaiting tacklers. Melvin, Jadaveon Clowney, Devin Taylor, Antonio Allen, Stephon Gilmore, and Devonte Holloman were simply too athletic for our in-state rivals.

S-E-C! S-E-C!: Fans of Big 12, Big 10, and ACC teams hate this chant. Why? Because it probably means they’ve just had a very long night watching their boys get smacked around by a bigger, faster, and meaner SEC squad. I read an entertaining editorial earlier in the season on why we chant S-E-C. The author’s conclusion? It’s “the last polite way to root for the South.” Any true SEC fan will affirm with unshakable conviction usually reserved for discussions about the Trinity – SEC Football is second only to the NFL (not kidding – I’m sure there’s some LSU and Bama fans that would like their chances against the 2011 Colts). I share this confidence. The conference top-to-bottom is so athletic, tough, and diverse that teams from the SEC are just better. They have to be – the competition forces it. The 2011 Gamecocks played a very traditional I-formation Georgia team, a physical option-threat Mississippi State, a pass-happy Arkansas, a spread-offense Auburn, and a lightening fast Florida.

So, when Clemson started 8-0, I have to admit, I was a little worried. The season’s nadir was the day we lost to Auburn and Clemson waxed Virginia Tech. I shouldn’t have put any stock in it. My favorite brag from the South Carolina beat writers comes via Scott Hood, “What happens when you face a Southeastern Conference defense? Well, 153 yards happens.”

SEC domination is nothing new. I heard a New York Jet beat writer take credit for coining the statement, “We got Tebowed.” Sorry, dude. SEC fans were saying that for four years. What does it mean? Tim Tebow crushes your team with feat so athletically impossible as to appear lucky.  See here or here for examples. My point? SEC teams have excellent coaching staffs, freakishly athletic players at every position, and rabid fan bases. This process simply makes them physically and mentally tougher. That SEC quality was on display Saturday night.

I hope our team doesn’t get ripped out of a good Bowl game – I think we deserve the Cotton or the Citrus (I think it’s actually called the Capital One Bowl now, but I’ll probably always call it the Citrus).

Regardless, it was an entertaining season. Thanks Gamecocks.


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