Second Thoughts: Kentucky
It happened again.
There South Carolina was. Up 27-7 with 4:59 left in the third quarter and Kentucky driving. Surely, they wouldn't give up anything to the lowly Wildcats, would they?
Yes they would.
A 12 play, 75-yard drive ended in a touchdown for the Gamecocks at the start of the fourth quarter to bring the score to 27-14 in favor of the Gamecocks. As South Carolina would receive the kickoff, Bruce Ellington would proceed to break off what appears to be a solid kick return only to fumble at the SC 35-yard line, where Kentucky would recover. The Wildcats would score thanks to the short field and like that, they would bring this game to within six points of South Carolina.
Not the finish that you were hoping for from the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. Especially considering the fourth quarter collapses in the past two games.
The Gamecocks answered with a score and two-point conversion to increase their lead to 14 points but Kentucky wasn't finished. The ensuing eight play, 82-yard ends in a Jalen Whitlow touchdown and now the lead is back down to seven points with just over four minutes left in the game. Kentucky tries to hit a short kickoff away from the Gamecocks but Shamier Jeffery catches the ball in mid-air and falls to the ground giving South Carolina possession.
With this much time left, South Carolina needed to pick up a first down or two to close out the game and they went with the players that they rode the entire game: Connor Shaw and Mike Davis. Davis picked up 17 yards on four carries and Shaw completed a short pass to Damiere Byrd but they were able to pick up two first downs allowing themselves the opportunity to take a knee to close out the victory over the Wildcats.
Once again, an uninspiring finish that left the Gamecock fans wanting more from a team that should have been Kentucky by three touchdowns. It's tough to see what exactly the problem is with the Gamecocks ability to finish a game. Maybe it was the special teams blunder by Bruce Ellington that shifted the momentum. Maybe it was a defense that failed to limit a basic offense by the Wildcats late in the fourth quarter. Whatever the problem is, it's certainly not South Carolina's offense. They've done their part this season and continue to carry the load of the team.
Sooner or later, this could come back to bite them if the rest of the team doesn't step up their game.
With that said, let's take a look at this week's Second Thoughts on the Kentucky game.
-- I thought this would be a game that Jadeveon Clowney could have a big day. He had an opportunity to go up against an offensive tackle that he seemed to have the advantage against, but when the game started, Clowney was nowhere to be found. Where was he? On the sidelines. In his jersey. With no pads.
Clowney pulled himself out of the game with an injury that was later described as a bruised muscle area around his ribs. The coaching staff had no idea that Clowney wasn't going to play until right before the game. Normally, the trainers let coaches know in advance who will play and who wouldn't. This was a scenario that didn't play well with the coaching staff and the frustrations showed after the game.
The comments that have been made by Coach Spurrier seemingly has opened up the floodgates of "Clowney has quit on the team" or "Clowney is a distraction" stories from all over. Whether this is true or not, we don't know. I think the only thing we can do is wait for this weekend's game to see whether or not Clowney is on the field for the Gamecocks. If he is, then all questions about his dedication should be answered. If he isn't on the field, then there could be some merit to those discussion.
For now, we just have to sit back and try to avoid the media circus that will be Jadeveon Clowney this week. Hard to do right?
-- How impressive was Connor Shaw on Saturday night? His performance was a catalyst for the Gamecocks victory over Kentucky. He ran the offense to near perfection as the Gamecocks scored on nearly every possession he was in at quarterback and he finished 17-of-20 on the night. He also added 50 yards rushing to put his night over the 300-yard total offense mark for the seventh time in his career.
Shaw has really turned into a fantastic quarterback. He seems to be making better decisions with the football, knowing his limits on the field and getting the ball to his playmakers. He's moved his record to 21-4 in his career and will likely leave the school as the winningest quarterback in school history. He's certainly a different character than the previous starting quarterback, Stephen Garcia, and I think Steve Spurrier appreciates that.
This week, Mike Davis said he was the toughest player he's ever known. This seems to be something that you can just see in the way Shaw plays the game. He was great against Kentucky and will continue his assault on the USC record books for the rest of the season.
-- This Elliott Fry kid is pretty solid. So far, Fry is 5-of-5 on his field goals with a long of 41. He's not someone who will wow you with his leg strength, but so far as a true freshman, he's gotten the job done when called upon. It's awesome to see a true freshman earn this role in a few short weeks in fall camp but that's exactly what he's done. Now, he'll continue to be the man for the Gamecocks at kicker moving forward. He's been a nice surprise for the Gamecocks.
-- T.J. Holloman picked up his first career start at middle linebacker on Saturday and played well for the Gamecocks. He ended up with six tackles and was able to play within himself and not overpursue and put himself out of position. Holloman's strong play likely has earned him the starting nod for the time being. He'll be spelled by Kaiwan Lewis, who has potential in his own right, but Holloman may be one of those players that can jump start this South Carolina defense.
-- Another kicker that deserves some praise is Landon Ard. This young man struggled early in the season with kickoffs knocking a few out of bounds giving up valuable field position. However, he's since been very consistent and has kicked the ball out of the end zone several times over the last few games. With some of the special teams issues we've had, Ard continuing to keep opponents returns limited could be helpful down the line.
-- I liked what I saw out of Pharoh Cooper for the Gamecocks. He was in early and often for the Gamecocks and got a chance to showcase his stuff. The 23-yard run in the fourth quarter was very impressive and he just has this quick twitch move that could help pick up some more yards each time he touches the ball. The speed is there and it looks like he'll get the chance to showcase it in the future for South Carolina.
Spurrier mentioned that Cooper could get the chance to be the return man for South Carolina and that's probably a good idea. Ellington struggled with two fumbles against Kentucky, Vic Hampton seems to put himself in a careless position on each return. This is an area that has really killed the Gamecocks this season, considering what they had last year in Ace Sanders. The hope is Cooper could be the guy for South Carolina to right the ship and he may get that chance this weekend against Arkansas.
-- JT Surratt and Kelcy Quarles both played extremely well on Saturday. It was good to see especially with Clowney out of the game. Quarles added a sack and 2.0 tackles for loss while Surratt had 1.0 tackles for loss. Quarles looked like a big talent for the Gamecocks on Saturday. There's a reason he's mentioned as a potential NFL draft pick. Everything is right there for Quarles to prove he can play on the next level. Saturday may just have been that step for the talented junior.
-- Mike Davis is a stud. No need to say anything else that hasn't been said already. Another 100-yard game and two more touchdowns to bring his total to eight for the season. If he keeps it up, he could end up as the SEC's best this year. And that's pretty big praise considering what people think of Georgia's Todd Gurley.
On this play below, I was watching MIke Davis and he was motioning to the sideline to come out. He had just had two straight receptions for 26 yards and had two carries earlier in the drive for eight yards. Davis wasn't pulled and the coaches called his number anyway. He ended up with an easy, untouched 22-yard touchdown run. Credit the offensive line for the huge hole here.
-- I, for one, was glad to see the tight ends get involved a bit on Saturday night. Adams had two catches for 50 yards while Anderson had two catches for 18 yards. Not huge numbers but these guys are potential stars and just haven't been involved nearly enough for this offense. Adams had a nice, wide-open grab against UK that he turned into a 29-yard catch. These big bodied tight ends can do a little bit of everything. Coming into the season, they seemed to be the strength of the receiving corps, but the emergence of the wide receivers have certainly been a good thing for South Carolina. However, it wouldn't surprise me to see more of this moving forward.
-- I just really liked this play on Saturday night. It really put some life into the crowd when it happened.
This uncomfortable winning won't go away any time soon. I think I've just come to that realization. Gone are the days of a blowout win for the Gamecocks this season. They've built big leads over their last three opponents and all three changed the landscape of the game and nearly picked up an upset over the Gamecocks.
This isn't good considering what South Carolina has coming up.
What looked like a winnable three-game road stretch before the season doesn't look so easy now that Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri are all playing better than expected. Arkansas is up first and it appears that they may just pound the ball against the Gamecocks which is not a good thing. The Gamecocks have struggled on defense in this area and the Razorbacks are averaging over 215 yards thanks to tough true freshman Alex Collins. He's got 651 yards on the season with three touchdowns and is a great fit for new coach Bret Bielema.
If you want to know just what this South Carolina team can do, be sure to watch this weekend against Arkansas. A lot of questions can be answered by heading into a tough environment on the road. Shaw and the offense will likely do their part against Arkansas. It'll be a tough task but Shaw and Mike Davis have performed at an extremely high level. The real test is the defense. Can they shut down this potent run game of the Razorbacks? Will they answer the call? Can they finish a tough, road game if they have the lead in the fourth quarter?
All real, legit questions that we'll wait to see answered on Saturday. I mentioned above that it was uncomfortable winning that we've seen from the Gamecocks the last three games. An uncomfortable win may suck as a fan, but it contains a key word and that's "win."
We need to understand that a win is a win and however it happens, it still happens. This team has the chance to run the table the rest of the way and finish 11-1. That would be a huge accomplishment. Is it likely? I don't know. I thought so at the start of the season but I'll have a better feel on where we are as a football team after this weekend's game.
So, tune in Saturday at 12:21 on the SEC Network as South Carolina takes on Arkansas. You may see some new faces in different places on defense as Coach Spurrier alluded to over the weekend.
Whether those new changes help or hurt the Gamecocks, I guess we'll find out on Saturday.