South Carolina crushed UAB 49-6 Saturday night in one of the closest 43 points blow outs I can remember. Steve Spurrier picked up his 200th collegiate win, and the Gamecocks extended their winning streak to 7 games. The streak is the second longest in USC history. The Gamecocks moved up one spot in each of the polls to #7 in the AP and #6 in the Coaches'.
The Gamecock offense wasn't very productive early and struggled to find a rhythm at several points through out the week. Connor Shaw didn't look as crisp passing the ball as we might have hoped, but he has been coming back from an injury and missed many, many reps the last two weeks. He re-aggravated his injury, so we'll be waiting out his status all week again.
Dylan Thompson played well in relief like he had last week. You can be sure there'll be plenty of talk about who should play given Shaw's slow start and Thompson's pretty numbers. When someone strikes up that conversation remember that while Thompson has set Conference USA defenses ablaze, Connor Shaw has beat SEC teams. Both quarterbacks have work to do, but both are capable of leading this team.
The wide receivers continued to assert themselves. Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders have emerged as the go-to guys and there's no reason to think they won't be productive the rest of the season.
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Marcus Lattimore only carried the ball 12 times, and it seemed clear the coaching staff didn't want to overuse him. The strategy paid off because Lattimore finished the game as healthy as he started it, and he should have fresh legs for games in which we'll need him more later in the season. He also found time to put his name atop the all-time USC leader boards for rushing touchdowns and overall touchdowns.
Shaq Roland and Mike Davis, two talented and hyped freshman found some more playing time in the second half. Roland caught a nice touchdown pass on a post from Dylan Thompson. He may be able to emerge as the third receiver as the season progresses. Mike Davis looked dynamic and strong in his limited carries. I don't think there's any sense wasting a red shirt on him. He can help the team this season and may be the #2 running back in a few weeks.
The defense looked like they were going to get run through in the first quarter. They didn't give up many points, but they did give up over 100 yards. They adjusted and stymied the Blazers the rest of the night. For all of the yards UAB managed in the first quarter, they only finished with 267 total.
Many, many defenders played superb football for four quarters, but they seemed to be placed in inadvisable positions early. Especially on long yardage downs the coverage seemed to be way too soft and something akin to a prevent. As a result UAB converted more long downs than they should have. Luckily Lorenzo Ward made a change and those conversions slowed considerably.
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D.J. Swearinger continues to assert himself as a leader of the defense, and the fumble he picked out of the air to return for a touchdown might very well be the difference between a comfortable 49-6 win and a closer and less impressive 35-20 win. He's a game changer.
The defensive line continued to get stronger and stronger as the game wore on. Jadeveon Clowney was held on almost every single play, and he still managed to record 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Instead of a sophomore slump he appears to be ready to break out as an All-American performer. The rest of the line including Devin Taylor played exceptionally well.
Freshmen played early and often. It looks like Ahmad Christian, Stephon Diggs and T.J. Gurley are going to be part of the defense, and not just in garbage time. They are going to get significant playing time and are going to be the future of this unit.
The Red Zone defense merits a mention as well. UAB made it inside Carolina's 20 yard line 3 times. They came away with only one field goal. Andy Demetra pointed out on twitter just how good the red zone defense has been. Opponents have run 17 plays for a total 4 yards.
Special Teams continue to need work. The opening kick off was terrible in every way imaginable. For one the coverage was converging on the left side. Two, rather than kick it to the end zone, Carolina tried to pin the return team deep. Three, the kick only traveled to the 15 yard line, and four the kick was to the right side of the field. The one smart thing about that kick coverage set up was putting Damiere Byrd on the field. He managed to run down the returner; otherwise that's a quick 7-0 UAB lead.
Hopefully Joe Robinson learned his lesson. He seemed to for this game. After that dumpster fire of a kickoff to start the game he made some changes. He inserted Adam Yates to kick the ball into the end zone. That worked perfectly every time except for when Yates hooked the ball out of bounds.
Kicking it out of the end zone is what we need to do. The reward we get in terms of field position in kicking it short and covering it is entirely too small to risk the big returns we will give up against strong return teams. We can screw around with the East Carolinas of the world, but the LSUs and Floridas will run those kicks back and run our season. Kick the ball out of the end zone. Period. Let's not have to revisit this issue again.
Speaking of kicking, the punting game is awful. Officially South Carolina averaged 37.5 yards per punt. That includes one beautiful 18 yarder. It also includes a punt that went 35 yards and was inexplicably not caught. Instead it rolled for 16 yards. If we take the UAB mistake out of the equation, South Carolina's punting average should have been 34 yards, which is terrible. Either that needs to be fixed, or Carolina needs to go for it on fourth down a lot more.
That's a lot of complaining for a 43 point win, but I like to think this program is on the verge of accomplishing much more. If some things can be corrected, this team can be great. If they can't we'll have an entire off season to talk about what might have been and console ourselves with fond memories of dominating C-USA teams with less than our best stuff.
Get more great South Carolina sports analysis over at Leftover Hot Dog.