Sunday, October 22, 2006

AFTER GAME 7 -- Where South Carolina stands

First of all, a word on why after Game 7 is the best time to evaluate any team -- particularly South Carolina. The first few games will always include two matchups with teams that area ... um, er subpar. Exhibit A: Mississippi State. Exhibit B: Wofford. Exhibit C: Florida International.

Beating him isn't an accomplishment. It's a duty.

Second, it usually brings us right up to the Orange Crush: Tennessee, Florida and Clemson with a bit of Arkansas (and, this year, Middle Tennessee) sprinkled in. The easiest games are, for the most part, behind us, though Georgia and some others are tough games. The stretch run is before us.

So what can we take away from the first seven games? Here's five things:

1. Syvelle Newton is the man. As the fifth-rated team in the SEC in terms of passing efficiency, South Carolina doesn't exactly look like the Steve Spurrier teams of old. (All statistics taken from their secure and undisclosed location on the league Web site.) But dig a bit deeper, and you'll find that Syvelle Newton (159.5) is second only to JaMarcus Russell (174.6) in terms of efficiency. That puts him ahead of Chris Leak (!), Erik Ainge (!) and Brandon Cox (!). He also adds the rushing dimension that was absent from previous Spurrier QBs.

2. Score more. This has already been partially accomplished, but the offense's 22.7 points a game is ninth in the league, not something you'd expect from a Spurrier-coached team. Now, that includes the 15-point showing against MSU and the shutout against Georgia. But the points still need to come in.

3. Keep up the good scoring defense. Meantime, the defense has held opponents to an average of 14 points, fourth-best in the SEC. This one is a bit fuzzier. It includes rolling over offense lightweights MSU, Florida International and Vanderbilt, giving up some points to Kentucky and Wofford, holding high-octane Auburn to 24 points, and holding Georgia to 18 points. But who knows what the UGA game means? The only way to beat have any prayer of beating the Orange Crush is to keep the games from becoming a shootout.

4. More turnovers for them, fewer for us. While the ranking isn't that bad (tied for fifth in the SEC), the turnover margin for South Carolina is zero. It's a wash. That includes 13 turnovers in seven games -- an average of almost two a game against competition that doesn't measure up to what's coming. Giving the ball to Tennessee, Florida and Clemson will kill you. Not giving the offense a short field will make tough wins nearly impossible.

5. Flip the red zone numbers. In other words, execution, execution, execution. South Carolina is dead last in the SEC when it comes to red-zone scoring, with 59.3 percent of trips inside the 20 turning into scores. Meanwhile, opponents are cashing in 73.7 percent of their red-zone visits, good -- or not good -- for seventh in the SEC.

Wipe them out (in the red zone). All of them.

So what does this mean for my preseason prediction? The win against Tennessee -- gone. We can beat them, but we probably won't, and I certainly wouldn't bank on it.

The win against Arkansas -- in doubt. They rush for more than 200 yards a game -- the only team in the league doing that right now. Meanwhile, we're giving up 150 yards a game -- ninth in the SEC. Unless South Carolina toughens up against the run, trouble is brewing.

A win against Middle Tennessee will likely lock up bowl eligibility if the Gamecocks lose to Arkansas and Tennessee.

And a loss against Florida still looks likely.

We will beat Clemson. But don't ask me if I'm saying that because I genuinely believe we will beat them or because I would never say otherwise.

We will beat Clemson. He will win the World Series. Pigs will fly, monkeys will speak...


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