Friday, September 29, 2006

The State of South Carolina, in a Nutshell

"We've got some guys who just don't think well."

A few other thoughts on the game:

1. Syvelle Newton is a very good quarterback. I hate to second-guess Steve Spurrier, whom I (and most rational Georgia fans, in their heart of hearts, like), but why was Newton not playing from the start of the year? He's certainly more accurate than Blake Mitchell and his running threat allows USC to be threatening in the five-wide set that Spurrier likes to use.

You can't throw a ball much better than this.

2. As good as he is, Sidney Rice is proving to be a limiting factor for South Carolina because USC always uses him in the red zone and opponents know what's coming. Against teams with athletes to defend the jump ball, South Carolina becomes relatively easy to handle in the red zone. The Cocks played Georgia fairly even (at least moreso than the final score indicated) and they played Auburn very even, but their inability to score touchdowns in the red zone doomed them in both games. When Mitchell was the quarterback, this was understandable because South Carolina can't run the ball. With Newton at quarterback, South Carolina can spread opponents out and then use Mitchell as a running threat inside the ten. The upshot is that they should get better as the season goes along, but Spurrier needs to get out of the "throw the ball up to the big guy" rut. In other words, Steve Spurrier needs to stop being Jeff Bowden. I will now hurl myself into a grizzly den for making that comparison.

This is not a high-percentage play.

3. I don't mean to get all Heismanpundit on you (I'd have to start by reaching into my nose and pulling out a quarter of...nevermind), but Tommy Tuberville needs to let Al Borges throw the ball a little more. Tuberville has freely admitted that he put the brakes on Auburn's passing game against LSU. Someone might need to explain to Tommy that his defense, while very good, is not impregnable. They allowed 311 yards against LSU and the Bengal Tigers were in position to steal the game at the end, after having already been turned back on a previous drive in dubious circumstances. Auburn then allowed 349 yards last night and they were a dropped touchdown pass away from overtime with South Carolina. Someone might also explain to Tommy that just because a strategy works doesn't mean that it was the right strategy. Tuberville intentionally limiting his offense and prevailing is like, oh, I don't know, Stalin purging his entire officer corps in the 1930s, but still prevailing on the Eastern Front.

There, I've now compared Steve Spurrier to Jeff Bowden and Tommy Tuberville to Stalin. Is that deranged enough for you? Shall I now pour a barrel of wine-spit on my head?

Like Spurrier's love affair with Sidney Rice, I can understand Tuberville looking at Kenny Irons, his offensive line, Cody Bliss, and his defense and deciding "you know, Woody Hayes was right!" However, unless Brandon Cox is more suspect than he looks (and Auburn averaged 9.5 yards per pass attempt last night without throwing an interception in 19 attempts) or Auburn's receivers are a bigger problem than I'm thinking, Auburn needs to throw the ball more to stay out of the nail-biting games that they've played against their two quality opponents. This limited gameplan is not going to cut it against Florida (certainly not two times) and it presents risks against Georgia and Alabama, as both teams have good defenses to keep games close (especially if Auburn is limiting itself offensively) and athletes to make the one big play at the end of a close game. Auburn looks like they have superior personnel, but when they shorten the game, they increase the chances of an anomalous result.

There was one particular instance when Auburn was WAY too conservative and that was the 3rd and two on their last offensive play. Auburn's defense had just been on the field for a 15-play, 94-yard drive. They desperately need a first down. The Tigers line up in an ace set with Irons in the backfield and three receivers split left. South Carolina had eight in the box against Auburn's six blockers. So what happens? Naturally, Auburn runs the ball and Jasper Brinkley nails Irons short of the first down. This was either a bad decision by Brandon Cox not to audible into some sort of safe pass or it was excessive conservatism by Tuberville (and possibly Borges) with the lead. I'm going with the latter possibility.

Anyway, that was a lot of negativity. Overall, last night's game was a highly entertaining Thursday nighter. South Carolina played well enough, especially under center, to lead me to believe that they pose a threat to upset Tennessee, Florida, and/or Clemson. Auburn survived a road test against a game opponent and remains perfect. For my criticism of Tuberville that he's not using his talent optimally, there's a hidden compliment in there that Tommy has done an excellent job of putting together a quality roster.


Ski said...

in defense of Spurrier, on that last play/jump ball to rice south carolina's quarterback was (if memory serves) being blitzed and didn't have time to look for his second receiver.

personally, this was the first time i'd seen south carolina play this year and it warms my heart to see spurrier in action.

Anonymous said...

Spurrier should have had a back in the backfield on that play. Running a 4th down with an empty backfield is an open invitation to blitz. A back could have helped with protection, too.

Michael said...

I liked the five receiver look becasue it forced Auburn to make it obvious that they were blitzing. It also opened up a potential QB drawn if the blitz didn't come. The problem was that USC spread out the Auburn defense, but still made the predictable, low-percentage call. Spurrier was correct after the game to say that they should have thrown a slant there. They had match-ups all over the field to do so.

Peter said...

Nice post, Michael.

Re: your final point about Auburn, I'm going to agree with you. I think it's a mistake for teams with a talent edge (not a dominant edge, but a modest one) to shorten the game and try to grind it out every week. It's a strategy that ensures a team like Auburn will win 10 games, but it absolutely decreases the margin for error, and lets chance back into the equation. One of these games, it won't be the Tigers' day, and they'll drop one.

They should do more to keep luck out of the equation as much as possible. Open it up.