Sunday, October 29, 2006

ORANGE CRUSH, ACT I -- Tennessee Wrap-Up


THE GOOD:
--Syvelle Newton still seems to be on track. At least one (and really two) of his interceptions came on a flukish play, and another came on a desparation pass in the fourth quarter. So the picks aren't a big deal.
--Fighting spirit. One of the complaints of the Lou Holtz era was that USC rarely rallied from behind and could never hold a lead against one of the big teams in the SEC East. USC had an ever-so brief lead once after being behind, and didn't give up despite being all but out of it with 90 seconds to go.
--Two defensive stands. The defense wasn't fail-safe last night (see below), but it came to life for two key holds late in the game -- one to hold Tennessee to a field goal, salvaging a two-possession game, and another to get the ball back for the Gamecocks after an unsuccessful on-sides kick, though a 90-yard drive didn't have enough time after the stop.


THE BAD:
--Giving back the lead. USC held a brief 17-14 lead after the third quarter, but the defense couldn't hold on. And the offense didn't score again until near the end of the game, when the Vols were mostly trying to keep them from scoring quickly.
--The return game. It looked bad last night, and the stats back it up: 40 yards on six punt and kick returns. Trite but true -- it's hard to get anything going on offense when you're constantly stuck with bad field position. (Game stats here.)
--The fourth quarter. This is where Tennesse has been strong all year, and where the Gamecocks needed a stop the most. But we gave up 17 points while scoring just seven. Eliminate one of the fourth-quarter TDs, and we're headed to overtime at home.


THE UGLY:
--Pass interference calls. Most of the time, USC was the beneficiary of bad calls or bad non-calls. But there was also a play where replays clearing showed the jersey nearly being ripped off Sidney Rice and no flag was thrown. In this aspect, it was a terrible game by the officiating crew.
--The tips and bounces. When a ball could bounce Tennessee's way, it did. When a Gamecock receiver could unintentionally give a Vols defender a hand by tipping a pass, he did. To upset a more talented and experienced opponent, you need luck. South Carolina had none.
--Losing control. Had we won this game, an admittedly long-shot bid for the SEC title (with wins against Arkansas and Florida) would have remained alive. Instead, a loss all but mathematically eliminates the Gamecocks. Granted, USC can still have a good season. But contention, as the Head Ball Coach has been warning us, is still a year or two off.

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