September 25, 2009
No one who's watched either of South Carolina's Thursday night wins could confuse the 'Cocks for any kind of offensive juggernaut; they can't run with any kind of consistency and struggle with routine pass protection, route-running, holding on to the ball and sometimes communication. Sill, if you combine the defensively-driven triumphs over N.C. State and Ole Miss with the wild shootout in the last-second loss at Georgia, they're not exactly struggling to put together decent possessions -- of their 35 full offensive possessions in those three games, in fact, fully half have ended in opponents' territory, usually well into opponents' territory.
No, getting it there isn't the issue. The issue is finishing:
When I say "issue," remember of course that it's reference to a 3-1 team that just knocked off a top-five visitor to even its conference record and is "one play," as we heard repeatedly at the end of last night's game, from being 4-0 and the upstart darling of the early season. But the primary reason that isn't the case -- the reason the 'Cocks lost a game they had no business losing at Georgia -- is because they can't execute in the red zone, even with a moderately athletic quarterback and four jump ball-ready receiving targets standing at least 6'3" in the regular rotation. On 13 trips inside the opponents' 25 in those three games (excluding possessions that began there), Carolina has converted one touchdown -- and that was in the loss! Their other three offensive touchdowns in those games have come after being set up by turnovers at the N.C. State 14, the Georgia 23 and the Ole Miss 25 (as shown on the chart), respectively. USC took over after a fumble at the UGA one-yard-line with a chance to go up 21-7 in the first quarter, and still only came away with three.
This is no way to live, and Ole Miss nearly made Carolina pay for their inability to punch it in last night the same way Georgia did -- the Gamecocks dominated the game, but were still in position to lose after giving up a single big play for a touchdown early in the fourth, cutting the lead to 16-10 and giving the dangerous Rebel offense two more opportunities with plenty of time to insert the dagger. The defense didn't let that happen, but if this team has any ambitions to actually compete in the division, it can't keep relying on the D to set it up and bail it out while the offense is settling for the kick.