Is everyone finished panicking? It's true South Carolina didn't look as good as we'd like them to, but this happens every year. Whenever the Gamecocks open against someone with a pulse, it's an ugly game where the defense plays well, and the offense can't seem to do much at all. After that game the team develops and the opener is nothing more than a W on the schedule.
Last season the Gamecocks trailed big early against a very bad East Carolina team. In 2009 there was the 7-3 win over NC State. The 2008 NC State game was only 13-0 until the 4th quarter. Louisiana Lafayette was only a 28-14 win; Mississippi State 15-0; Central Florida 24-15. Some of those seasons turned out to be better than others, but rarely was the opening game indicative of much of anything.
It usually takes two weeks for the offense to get going. This year South Carolina essentially has three weeks. East Carolina comes to Columbia next week, and they will bring a defense that's about as strong as you'd expect from a Conference USA team. The next week UAB is the opponent. If that offense isn't clicking at the end of that game, then panicking will be appropriate. Until then, relax, it will come around. Keep reading...
Speaking of the offense…I was surprised with the offensive line. I expected them to be dominant or at least controlling. For large parts of the game, they were neither. It seemed that Vanderbilt was stunting and blitzing more than the line was expecting, or perhaps in ways they weren't expecting. Whichever it was, it was effective, but it should be something that can be handled with more coaching.
To the line's credit at times they opened some nice holes for the running game. As weak as some of the pass protection seemed, there is good reason to be optimistic they'll be able to move some defenders around.
The passing game was bad. It produced the fewest yards of the Spurrier era. Part of the problem was Connor Shaw's injury and absence from the game, but there wasn't much production before the injury either. It seemed that Shaw became more tentative after that early interception. He also seemed to run when the pocket broke down instead of scrambling and looking down field again. That's something that will certainly be a point of emphasis for GA Mangus and the HBC this week.
Shaw was an effective passer last season. That wasn't by accident, and it wasn't a fluke. He will be one again this season too. I wasn't in Nashville and was at the mercy of ESPN's cameras, so I can't say if there were open receivers who were missed or if Vandy's secondary had them covered pretty well. It seems we'll have to wait at least one more week for our receiving corps to emerge.
Marcus Lattimore looks like he is back to me. Some people mentioned that he looks a step slow, which I didn't see. I think many people remember him being bigger than life and nearly unstoppable. It's those memories that color their perception of his recovery I think he is all the way back and will benefit from playing on real grass instead of wet field turf.
The defense was a bright spot on Thursday night. They gave up one very long pass because of a safety mistake, but other than that they were very solid. We were able to get pressure with only 4 on several occasions. When we brought blitzes they were effective. The run defense looked strong, and there's every reason to believe this will be the strength of the team again.
Jimmy Legree looked good at corner and especially good in run support. D.J. Swearinger looked like a senior captain should. Shaq Wilson should be solid at Mike linebacker and spectacular if he keeps making game changing interceptions. Clowney has continued to develop and should be a stalwart. In fact, the entire d-line should change games.
Special teams weren't too awesome. The punting game was bad. We should never have 31 yard punts, and didn't do well on our opportunity to pin the Commodores deep.
The kickoff team had one nice play where they kicked it out of the endzone. We need more of that. Coverage was still a little suspect, and Damiere Byrd had to save a touchdown with his speed.
*Vanderbilt's one touchdown came on a fluke-y play. What if that doesn't happen? If that doesn't happen because the safety blows him up, this game doesn't get very close. The Commodores were never able to sustain a drive, and there's no reason to think they would have otherwise. South Carolina would have maintained the momentum and been more comfortable. The offense wouldn't have been magically fixed, but Vanderbilt wouldn't have been playing with as much belief in themselves. I think without this play South Carolina wins 24-6.
*What if Shaq Wilson doesn't intercept the ball in the first quarter? The Commodores take a 3-0 lead, have all the momentum and believe they can win. South Carolina's offense takes even longer to get on track, and the Commodores win 16-10.
*What if D.J. Swearinger is called for pass interference in the 4th Quarter? The Commodores would have 1st and 10 at the South Carolina 47 with 1:47 left. It probably wouldn't have changed anything. The Commodores still couldn't sustain any drives all day. They needed an 80 yard drive which wasn't likely.
This week Carolina has their home opener against East Carolina at 12:21 on Saturday.
Get more great South Carolina sports analysis over at Leftover Hot Dog.