September 11, 2008
I'm anxious for a Stephen Garcia sighting Saturday, and I say that less because of any inside line into South Carolina's game plan than because I've been watching Steve Spurrier for a long time, and the Ball Coach is not a patient man. These days, however, he's sounding more like a desperate man:
Steve Spurrier's newest strategy for No. 2 Georgia? Two quarterbacks and a bunch of young receivers.
South Carolina's coach ended much of the mystery as to which of the quarterbacks would start against the Bulldogs (2-0). He said he would probably play both Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley.
"So we're trying to teach our guys to have somewhere to throw it and do a better job of having a throwaway play or place to get rid of it," he said. "That's something we're going to try and do better at."
I've watched Beecher and Smelley play through the first two weeks, and like a putrid riddle wrapped in a limp-armed enigma, there is no answer. There might be some danger in overstating the Gamecocks' offensive woes relative to Spurrier's first three seasons, as they were on cruel display in front of the entire country on Thursday nights, uncontested for national attention, and not hidden away in a noon Saturday time slot except for a few stray highlights and a box score, like last year's (even worse) loss to Vanderbilt. The Cock 'n Fire has been this bad before; we've just never seen it in such high-definition futility, where throwing the ball away is a point of emphasis.
In the same vein, the other force bearing down on Spurrier is the growing sense that, if Year Four is the regression it's shaping up to be, the long-awaited "next level" is looking more and more like the provence of another, younger coach. Who presumably does not share Spurrier's name. Aside from a fourth quarter "rally" after N.C. State had basically started loading the bus for 2009, it's been that hopeless through the first two weeks.
The Cocks' more immediate concern is the same as it's been for years: even more than at quarterback, Carolina has always fallen short in the trenches, not once in recent memory mounting any kind of consistency running the ball on offense, protecting the passer or stopping the run on defense; it's ranked near the bottom of the SEC in all three phases under Spurrier, and under Holtz before him (and if I had the numbers, I'd guess under Brad Scott before him). This was supposed to be remedied on defense by an expensive coordinator hire, improved recruiting on the line and the return of Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker after last year's knee injury, but there was Vanderbilt last Thursday, running at will in the second half with a who dat white guy who almost certainly didn't get a sniff from the Gamecocks or any other SEC team as a running back. Brinkley or not, it was much too close to last year's collapse over the last month, against a less talented team, no less, to suggest that Ellis Johnson's schemes were actually improving anything.
Which brings us to Knowshon Moreno, who will not have to defy physics to carry Georgia's offense to the two touchdowns that will presumably win this game. Normally, if a quarterback is getting headlines like, "Stafford leaves the big numbers to other quarterbacks," it's because he sucks too much to contemplate said stats. In Matt Stafford's case, though, there's no problem with throttling down and letting one of the best athletes in the country steal the show -- in fact, if Georgia had been more Moreno-centric at this time last time last year (Knowshon averaged 7.4 on just 14 carries in the loss to Carolina, where Stafford threw 45 passes in one of the lowest-rated games of his career), it might have come out of the USC game unscathed and wound up in a winner-take-all SEC Championship with LSU. Oh well.
If Spurrier had Stafford or Moreno, his life would be much easier; instead, he has Chris Smelley and Mike Davis. Carolina is typically feisty here on defense, but with Kenny McKinley still ailing, there are literally no positives for South Carolina's offense right now.
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Georgia 24, South Carolina 9
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Photo of Spurrier via US Presswire.