Week 3: Kentucky

The Gamecocks have their first home game of the season Sunday morning against a challenging Kentucky squad. Here's some thoughts:

  • Kentucky brings a 3-game win streak into the game, which is a travesty. Mark Stoops has done a great job in 4+ years as head coach, drastically improving recruiting and tying for 2nd in the SEC East last season. If the Gamecocks want to be better than mediocre, however, they need to get back to beating Kentucky year in, year out.
  • The atmosphere at Williams-Brice should be the best it has been in years. The game is officially a sell-out, and fans are looking forward to finally seeing a good product on the field. There's also been several enhancements to the atmosphere which should step things up a notch. Muschamp has declared the game a blackout, and although I would normally say we shouldn't be making such a big deal about Kentucky, you have to consider the win streak mentioned above. I'm not sure Kentucky is prepared for environment they're going to witness inside the stadium.
  • Kentucky will be without their best player on defense as LB Jordan Jones is out with a shoulder injury. This is a big loss and should open things up for Hayden Hurst and the running game.
  • The Wildcats haven't looked super sharp in their first two games against lesser competition. The defense has been fairly solid, but the offense seems to have been mostly pedestrian so far.
  • The Wildcats have been able to run the ball all they wanted the last few games against the Gamecocks, but this year they're without Boom Williams and Jo Jo Kemp, and the offensive line has been suspect. Benny Snell is a good back, however, and I still think they'll have some success and get some yards, but I expect the Gamecocks' excellent red-zone defense to continue to keep teams out of the end zone.
  • The Gamecocks opened as 5-point favorites, with the odds quickly climbing to as much as 7.5 points. The line currently sits at 5.5. This is the first game SC has been favored in so far this year.
  • If South Carolina wins, they'll likely enter the Top 25 for the first time since their loss to Missouri on September 27, 2014.

Unlike past years, I think the Gamecocks have the edge in talent in almost every position. They've also demonstrated that their preparation has been second to none. I expect the Gamecocks to make it to 3 - 0.

Prediction: USC 31 - Kentucky 24

You can see last year's game against the Wildcats below.

USC 31 - Missouri 13: Thoughts on Win #2

Better Than Expected So Far

The Gamecocks picked up their 2nd win of the season against a dangerous conference opponent. Here's some thoughts:

  • Given that Missouri had 815 yards of offense and 72 points in Game 1, count me among the many that thought this could end up as a shootout. The fact that the Gamecocks held the Tigers to only 13 points demonstrated a really good performance by the defense. This was the lowest point total for Mizzou since they played at LSU last year in Game 5.
  • The Gamecocks again showed up prepared to play in all phases of the game. So far this season South Carolina appears to be one of the best coached teams in all of college football.
  • Bentley missed a few throws early that would have been big plays or TDs, but settled-in for a pretty solid game. The story is that he gets a little too excited pre-game and has trouble controlling that energy. It's something to keep an eye on going forward.
  • This was the Gamecocks' first true road win since opening the 2016 season by beating Vanderbilt, and only their 2nd win in their last 12 road games.
  • Deebo is now 2 for 2 on the year in returning kicks for TDs. He has amazingly returned 3 kicks for TDs in his last 15 attempts, which have occurred over the past 5 games. He is now tied for 42nd in FBS history (since record keeping began in '76), the South Carolina career leader, and tied for the South Carolina season record in kickoff return TDs.
  • This was arguably the worst officiated I think I have ever seen. The refs robbed Ty'Son Williams of a touchdown, gave Missouri a 1st Down when they were clearly short on a 4th Down run, and just generally looked confused the entire game. That crew is going to cause controversy before the end of the season. 

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

After every win I give a dozen chicken wings out to the players most responsible for the victory.

Deebo Samuel

Deebo of course had his kickoff return TD, and a superb 25-yard TD run to notch his 5th TD in the first 6 quarters of the season.

Hayden Hurst

Garnet Thor led the team in receiving with 3 catches for 69 yards. One of his receptions was a 39-yarder for a TD. He also participated in the ultra-rare TE Jet Sweep where he trucked the Missouri safety on the goal line for his first career rushing TD.

Jamyest Williams

Had his first career interception during a series of plays in the 2nd Quarter that shifted momentum and gave the Gamecocks a permanent lead. Also punched a sure TD out of the Missouri receiver's hands.

Javon Charleston

Made a great play on the punt early in the 4th Quarter, throwing the guy blocking him into the returner and forcing a fumble.

Javon Kinlaw

Got his hands on two passes, one of which resulted in an interception, and blocked a field attempt. Great showing in his first major action, even though he only had 14 snaps on defense.

Ty'Son Williams

In his first major action in garnet & black, led the team in rushing with 14 carries for 78 yards. His long run of 32 yards was a thing of beauty, but poor officiating robbed him of a TD.

Bryson Allen-Williams

Had an interception of a Javon Kinlaw tipped pass in the 4th Quarter to seal the win. Was also active all game in the pass rush and had a TFL.

That's it for Week 2. Watch the full game below.

Big Game Biscuits & Gravy

Over the past 10 years the list of unavailable cuisine in Tokyo has steadily diminished. Previously non-existent Mexican food is now plentiful, as is pulled-pork BBQ. One thing I still haven't been able to find, however, is biscuits & gravy. Several weeks ago I was traveling through California, and at a diner in Santa Barbara I was able to find a very good version of this dish. I figured that if some southern Californian could make biscuits & gravy this good, I certainly could as well, regardless of my geographic location.

The main challenge in accomplishing this, however, is finding Jimmy Dean-style breakfast sausage. After a great deal of searching, I came to the conclusion that it simply doesn't exist, likely not even in this hemisphere. I was going to have to do this the hard way.....

Ground pork and various spices.

It was actually I lot easier than I expected. I found a spice list online somewhere and mixed all of it up with some ground pork.

Sausage ready to go.

It certainly smelled like Jimmy Dean.

Browning the 'sausage.'

Especially once I got it cooking.

Authentic sausage gravy.

After adding flour, and then stirring in some milk and a ton of black pepper, I had some real-deal southern sausage gravy.

Real biscuits & gravy, in Tokyo.

I bought some biscuits at the local branch of New York's Clinton Street Bakery, and I was good to go. I was actually very surprised at how well it turned out. Now I'm ready for some Sunday morning Gamecock football.

Week 2: Missouri

After starting the season off with a big non-conference win, the Gamecocks are heading to the other Columbia to try to get their 2nd true road win of the Muschamp era. If they pull off the win, USC will have their first 2-0 start since 2012. They'll also get to keep the Mayor's Cup, which somebody may eventually care about if these teams continue to play annually for another 25 years or so. Here's some thoughts:

  • This is the first conference game of the 2017 season, and the only one occurring this week. The winner gets to be #1 in the SEC for at least one week.
  • Missouri opened as 4.5-point favorites for reasons no one can figure out, but the line moved down to 2.5 in the first few hours. Interestingly, the line has moved back towards Missouri in the past few days and currently sits at 3.
  • Based on only one game worth of evidence, it doesn't appear that the 2017 version of Missouri is any different from the 2016 version. That team scored 29.3 points / game against FBS non-conference opponents, but only 22.6 against SEC opponents. On defense, they gave up only 24.5 points / game against FBS non-conference opponents, but SEC teams scored 35 points / game. That team also lost to Middle Tennessee.
  • Missouri's offense is super fast paced, with the center usually snapping the ball with more than 20 seconds on the play clock. What this means is that they're not spending any time reading the defense pre-snap, and likely only have a single key read for each play. I believe this is one of the reasons Missouri struggles against better teams, as more sophisticated defenses are able to make them pay for this simplicity. I expect the Gamecocks to force some mistakes and win the turnover battle decisively in this game.
  • Missouri gave up 6.65 yards / play and 43 points to Missouri State last week. 72% of Missouri State's yard came through the air. South Carolina gave up 5.09 yard / play and 28 points to N.C. State last week.
  • Defensive Tackle Terry Beckner Jr. is the best player on defense for the Tigers, but apart from him they should be thoroughly outclassed by South Carolina's talent on offense.
  • Missouri's skill players on offense are good, especially J'Mon Moore and a very underrated Damarea Crockett, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. Drew Lock has the talent to put up video game numbers in this offense. The Gamecock secondary will be tested early and often by these guys, and will have to tackle as well as they did last week for South Carolina to win.
  • Expect to see the Gamecocks running the ball a lot more this week. One reason is they'll want to control to clock to rest the defense, and another is that Missouri will not be able to stop it. I'd expect a very balanced attack, roughly 50/50 run/pass, from the SC offense. I'm also predicting two 100-yard rushers.
  • Side note: Missouri QB Drew Lock's cousin plays volleyball for the Gamecocks.

If South Carolina plays as clean of a game as they did last week, and makes some improvements on defense, the Gamecocks should come back to the real Columbia with a win. Go Cocks, and for this week only, War Damn Eagle.

Prediction: USC 45 - Missouri 31 (the lady of the house is in India this week, but she predicts USC 34 - Missouri 28)

See last year's win over the Tigers below.

USC 35 - N.C. State 28: Thoughts on Win #1

Off to the Fastest Start Possible 

As I struggled to wake up at 3:30AM last Sunday to get the game up and running, I was wondering if I was going to be able to find the strength to stay alert given my advancing years. A little after 4AM N.C. State kicked the ball off, and a few seconds after that I was waking the neighbors up. Deebo returning the opening kick 97 yards for a TD is literally the the best way possible to open the season. There is absolutely no better outcome, and it was a metaphorical bucket of ice water to my sleep deprived senses. The Gamecocks had shown up ready to play.

All summer the talk around the program was about how hard everyone was working and how the team was looking improved. That this was true and not just regular talking-season fluff was evident in this game. The Gamecocks were improved in every facet of the game. These coaches can really coach, every single one of them.

Here's some random comments / thoughts about the game:

  • I don't think I've ever seen the Gamecocks look this sharp out of the gate to open a season. We've won 17 out of the last 18 season openers, but typically look very sluggish doing it. Think about last year's 13-10 win over Vanderbilt, or the clash of titans that was the 7-3 punt fest that was the win over N.C. State in 2009. Credit Jeff Dillman for getting these guys in shape. The players have obviously bought-in to want Muschamp and staff are trying to build with this program.
  • Tackling was so much better. I didn't get a count of missed tackles, but it must have been less than half of the average from last year.
  • This was the first win away from Williams-Brice Stadium that the Gamecocks have managed since beating Vanderbilt in Nashville in the opener last year.
  • I believe Deebo's opening kick return TD was the first time this has happened in 124 season openers. Theoretically the Gamecocks would have received the opening kick in only about 62 of these, but this is still an incredibly unlikely occurence. According to The State, Deebo is now tied with King Dixon ('56-'58) for the South Carolina career record. His return TD was only the 4th to occur since the 1997 season, with Matthew Thomas getting one at UVA in 2002 and Rashad Fenton getting one at LSU in 2015. I doubt we will see Deebo break the school record, because no team will kick to him going forward.
  • Given Deebo's TD return, the Wolfpack basically had the first possession on offense in each of the halves. This fact combined with the flow of the game resulted in N.C. State have 13 full offensive possessions compared to South Carolina's 11 (excluding kneel downs at the end of each half). Based on average yards per possession, this would account for roughly 78 additional yards of offense for the Wolfpack.
  • If you adjust out the lost yards from the kneel downs at the end of each half, the Gamecocks' offense went for 5.21 yards / play. The Wolfpack offense had 5.09 yards / play.
  • South Carolina had 11 TFLs including 4 sacks. I would not have believed this number if I had heard it before the game, even though I was expecting improvement. Their 2016 totals over 13 games were 70 TFLs and 21 sacks. They are on pace to more than double those numbers after one game.
  • I also wouldn't have believed that we would hold the N.C. State defensive line to zero sacks for the game. The two they had were from secondary players when they blitzed more players than could be picked up. I was absolutely blown away by the play of the offensive line is this game.
  • The Gamecocks are going to create a ton of turnovers this year. On almost every tackle a South Carolina defender was trying to rip the ball out. This netted them two key fumbles, but the ball hit the ground at least twice more that I recall. In those instances the ball came loose just fractions of a second too late, but those will turn into more fumbles as the season progresses.
  • Since this wasn't a conference game the N.C. State coaches were not required to stop using their communications gear while the Gamecocks' units weren't operational in the 1st half. Kudos to them for being good sports and playing fair.
  • This was a huge win for Gamecocks against a quality non-conference opponent. Lose this one and 6 wins for the year would look to be a challenge. Given the struggles Tennessee and especially Florida had in the first weekend, 8+ wins and competing for the SEC East championship look increasingly possible.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

After every win this season I'll hand out a dozen teriyaki chicken wings to the players most responsible for the victory. Given the solid team performance I'm spreading the dozen around a bit this week.

Deebo Samuel

Without a doubt Deebo was the best player on the field. We looked at his return TD earlier, but he also had 5 reception for 85 yards and 2 TDs, one of which was the Sportcenter Top10 one-handed catch. He also broke up a certain interception on the first series.

Jake Bentley

Was 17 of 29 for 215 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. His QB rating for the game was 148.1. He also scrambled for two key first downs. He wasn't quite as accurate with his passes as he was at the end of last year, and had some bad throws early in the game.

Malik Young

Left Tackle was without a doubt the position of most concern heading into the game. Matched-up mostly against All-American DE Bradley Chubb or future draft-pick Kentavius Street all game, Malik Young manged to almost completely eliminate their impact on the game.

Hayden Hurst

Wasn't active in the passing game as he was asked to stay in and help contain N.C. State's elite defensive line. Showed he has become a total package Tight End in the process. Check out this block he laid down on the cornerback during Rico Dowdle's TD run:

Rico Dowdle

Had the TD run shown above and a 34-yard TD reception where he showed great concentration to reel in the catch. Strength coach Jeff Dillman has this dude looking absolutely ripped this year.

Taylor Stallworth

Had 8 total tackles including a TFL. Was incredibly disruptive in the run game, and played over 60 snaps.

Keir Thomas

Played at DT and DE. Had 5 tackles, 2 TFL including 1 sack and 1 QB hurry.

Dante Sawyer

Sawyer had his best game in garnet and black, racking up 7 tackles with 1.5 TFLs including a sack, 2 QB hurries and 2 forced fumbles. The fumbles ended up being the difference in the game, as SC scored 14 points off of those.

T.J. Brunson

Currently tied for 7th in the FBS for Total Tackles. Had 16 tackles on the day with 1.5 TFL. I honestly can't remember the last time a Gamecock defender had this many tackles in a game.

D.J. Smith

Struggled early in the game but showed resilience and made plays when it counted to seal the win for the Gamecocks. Tackled Jaylen Samuels inches short of the sticks on 4th down in N.C. State's penultimate possession. Knocked two balls down in the end zone in the Wolfpack's final drive, on 1st & Goal and 4th & Goal.

D.J. Wonnum

This guy was arguably the best player on defense in the game. Had 8 tackles with 3 TFL including 1 sack. Lined-up standing and with his hand in the dirt and played 90 snaps.

This was a great start to season for the Gamecocks. Watch the entire game again below:

Special thanks to my kiwi buddy for getting the chicken wing graphic up and running.

Big Win BBQ

After the Gamecocks get a big win the only real choice for lunch is the local BBQ spot, Smokehouse. Ten years ago BBQ was almost non-existent in this part of the world, but about five years back southern food became a somewhat trendy. This has increased both my quality of life and my waistline.

Pulled-Pork Sandwich with potato salad.

Also, on some days you can find local Deebo Samuel fans enjoying some ribs:

Ribs and Pulled Pork Combo Platter with coleslaw and cornbread.

 

Week 1: North Carolina State

I really like playing these North Carolina Schools. Given the proximity and the ACC history with some of the teams, these games just mean more than other non-conference games. I also like that the Gamecocks are 9-0 against teams from North Carolina this millennium. The last time South Carolina lost to a North Carolina school was 1999, when the Gamecocks faced N.C. State in Raleigh during a tropical storm to open both the season and Lou Holtz's tenure as head coach. These games also mean a lot in terms of recruiting. South Carolina is the closest SEC program to most of the high school players in North Carolina, and moreover is generally the closest 'football' school. USC in pursuing some potential key pieces for next year's defense from the state, namely Dax Hollifield and Rick Sandidge, and beating a home-state school in Charlotte can't hurt the cause.

The Wolfpack has been hyped up all off-season. Cole Cubelic even has them picked as CFP participant. They return 18 starters and these guys gave Clemson and Florida State all they wanted last year. They also lost to an eventual 3-win East Carolina team and to Boston College. Their DL is completely legit, as they could possibly have 5 guys drafted off of that unit next April, but their secondary is not very impressive and will be missing their best player. The Wolfpack had the 8th best rushing defense last year, but were something like 93rd in passing defense. N.C. State seems to prioritize size on defense, as they are big at almost every position.

On offense, they're overall fairly average, although they do have All-American H-back / All-purpose stud Jaylen Samuels. They've moved speedster Nyheim Hines to RB from WR, and Ryan Finley is solid and experienced at QB. I took a look at his 2016 stats a few days ago. I also think their OL is better than people give them credit for. They use a lot of pre-snap motion as opposed to pace to challenge the defense.

I think this is a tough match-up on the lines of scrimmage for the Gamecocks, with the Wolfpack having the definite edge there. I think the SC OL will be better this season, but I'm not counting on it until I see it. Overall I think the Gamcocks are much more athletic at the skill positions, particularly the SC WRs/TEs vs the N.C. State secondary. We're going to struggle to run the ball effectively, but I think we can be very successful with short passes early. I also think South Carolina has better coaching and that the defense will show more improvement than expected. The x-factor is Skai Moore, who I project to have a big game and help the Gamecocks win the turnover battle.

Prediction: USC 24 - N.C. State 20 (the lady of the house has USC 27 - N.C. State 24)

You can see the last match-up with N.C. State below, but I don't recommend it....

Quarterbacks of the 2017 Schedule

Here's the final part of an unintended 3-part series on QB stats. Previously I looked at 1st-year Gamecock quarterbacks of the past 25 years and then 1st-year rival quarterbacks of the past decade. I figured I would close out this detailed look at QB stats by examining the 2016 performance of every quarterback South Carolina will likely face during the upcoming season. So, 'why all these statistics on quarterbacks' you ask? Well, the reasons are varied. The position is obviously the most important in the game, and as such generates a lot of stats with which to play around. Defensive line would be fun to look at, but there's just not that much information about those guys readily available. Most importantly, however, is the fact that I pretty much make spreadsheets for a living, and can therefore easily disguise putting this stuff together as actual work while at the office. Nobody over here even knows what a quarterback is. So, without further ado I present the 2016 stats for Jake Bentley and the most likely QBs the Gamecocks will face this season:

As you'd expect, there's a wide range of experience here. Some guys guys are returning from a season (or more) of solid performance, while there's a lot of teams that will likely end up playing 1st-year players in the position. Some comments:

  • Only 7 of the QBs listed played full seasons of football last year. Of these Missouri's Drew Lock is the most experienced, having played in 24 games in the SEC.
  • 4 QBs attempted less than 89 passes last year: Brandon Goodson, J'Mar Smith, Quinten Dormady, and Kelly Bryant.
  • As indicated in the footnote of the table, there is some uncertainty as to whether 4 of the QBs listed will end up being their team's starting QB for the duration of the season. Hubenak, Dormady, Del Rio, and Bryant could be unseated by talented newcomers. Some of these new guys could end up being really good, but at this moment they are complete unknowns.
  • If you extend Jake Bentley's stats by 6 games, his full-season numbers would be most similar to those of Ryan Finley, the QB for N.C. State. Of course it's unlikely that a true Freshman that joined the team in August would have been able to contribute at such a high level, but it's interesting to make such an assumption for the sake of comparison.

Here's some of the data organized in a bubble chart:

Adjusted Yards / Attempt vs Completion %. Bubble size is relative to Yards / Game.

Some distinct groups are evident here:

  • The Eason-Shurmur-Del Rio trio had completion percentage near 55% and low efficiency.
  • Lock and Johnson completed a similar % of passes, but had much more success on the their completions.
  • The other group includes Hubenak, Allen, and Finley, all with completion percentage around 60% and similar efficiency to Lock-Johnson.
  • Bentley has good efficiency and the best completion % among the significant contributors.

I'd expect the upperclassmen returning starters such as Finley, Allen, and Johnson, along with an experienced underclassman like Lock to have stats for the 2017 season that are relatively consistent with their 2016 numbers. Less experienced underclassmen like Bentley and Eason, however, should show an overall improvement in performance this year. As to which of the two will end up having better seasons, I'd put my money on Bentley, as the word on the Athen's street is that Eason has become a big fan of the nightlife this summer. With improvement Jake Bentley has the opportunity to be the best quarterback on the field in any of the 12 regular season games this season.

Jake Bentley vs 1st-Year Rival Quarterbacks of the Past Decade

A few days ago I took a look at 1st-year South Carolina quarterbacks over the past 25 seasons, with the main focus being to see how Jake Bentley's 2016 stats stack up against those of the Gamecock field generals of yesteryear. I thought it would be interesting to expand that look to include quarterbacks of USC's main rivals as well. I define 'rivals' as Clemson and the traditional 'Big 3' in the SEC East: Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. As before, I'm only looking at the first year of significant experience, with that being defined as a minimum of 100 attempts. Also, the view isn't exactly one decade, as I added a year so I could get Matt Stafford in there. Take a look at the data in the table below:

It's difficult to see any kind of pattern given the large amount of numbers to sort through. Here's some comments though:

  • Out of the 27 QBs listed, only 10 had their first significant season while classified as a Freshman. The only True Freshmen to see significant time were Bentley, Matt Stafford, Deshaun Watson, Jacob Eason, Treon Harris, Tyler Bray, and Joshua Dobbs.
  • Jake Bentley's QBR of 140.0 was the 10th best out of all QBs. It was 4th best among the True Freshmen.
  • Of the four rival teams, Clemson has the best average performance by QBs in their first year. Bentley's stats are better than the average for any of the four teams over the past 10-11 years.
  • Tim Tebow's stats are easily the best of the bunch. He won the Heisman Trophy that year, and was the first Sophomore to ever do so.

Given the amount of data here, I thought I'd try to organize it with some bubble charts. Let's see if we can get a clearer picture with those. I'll put some comments beneath each chart.

Completion % vs Pass Ratio (Pass Attempts / All Touches). Bubble size is relative to TD / INT ratio.

  • This chart clearly show three distinct groups: the dual-threat guys who pass less than 70% of the time, the statues who throw well over 90%, and the 'standard' QBs in between. Keep in mind that sacks count as rushes, so all of the bubbles would shift to the right to varying degrees if adjusted for that.
  • Bentley has the best Completion % among the standard QBs, up there with Will Grier and Cullen Harper.
  • I find it interesting that the 'statues' all had about the same level of success on their throws, with the five guys here only connecting on about 55% of their throw. Perhaps this illustrates a higher propensity to throw the ball away rather than tuck and run when nobody is open, as a result of a lack of athleticism?
  • Bentley's TD / INT ratio is just above the average for the group.

Adjusted Yards / Attempt vs Completion %. Bubble size is relative to Yards / Game.

  • If you're not familiar with the Adjusted Yards / Attempt stat, just know that Adjusted Yards are Passing Yards plus 20 yards for each TD and -45 yards for each interception.
  • Looking at this one, you can see that Bentley both connected on a lot of attempts, and was fairly explosive on his completions, as his Adjusted Yards / Attempt was 0.7 yards / attempt above average for this group.
  • In terms of Yards / Game Bentley is again above average here, in this case by about 14%.
  • Will Grier's stats are very comparable to Bentley's here. His first season was of course cut short after he tested positive for PEDs.

TDs / Attempt vs Interceptions / Attempt. Bubble size is relative to QBR.

  • Here's a different look comparing TDs and Interceptions, with this one putting both in terms of % of completions. The higher and more to the left on this chart, the better.
  • Tennessee seems to have a knack for having guys hover right around the 1:1 line, which would bisect the chart diagonally from the bottom corner to the upper right.
  • Bentley is right there in the group with Driskel and Eason, with him having the better QBR.
  • Man, did Matt Stafford and Josh Dobbs throw a lot of picks, or what? Each were good for at least one per game.

I'm not sure how many strong conclusions can be made by looking at this data, if any. There's some great QBs on this list, along with some not-so-great ones. Some of the great QBs were terrible early in their careers (Stafford, Dobbs), while others started really hot and stayed there (Tebow, Watson). I think the only thing that can be said with certainty is that Jake Bentley was an above average 1st-year QB with stats comparable to a lot guys who went on to have outstanding college careers.

1st-Year South Carolina Quarterbacks in the SEC Era

Jake Bentley took off the red shirt and put on the garnet shirt halfway through the season last year. The timing fortunately coincided with the return of Deebo Samuel and Rico Dowdle from injury, and the three helped lead a dramatic turnaround in the Gamecocks offense. Prior to Jake Bentley getting behind center the Gamecocks averaged 14 points per game; afterwards they averaged 26.6. Some of that may be accounted for by facing weaker defenses overall in the 2nd half of the season, but there was obviously something good happening that allowed SC to nearly double offensive scoring. After a few games a lot of comparisons were being made to the only other true Freshman to see significant time as starting QB for the Gamecocks, Steve Taneyhill. Taneyhill's first season was 25 years prior, which also happened to be USC's inaugural season in the SEC. I thought it would be interesting to look at every Gamecock starting QB's first year of significant contribution since 1992 and see how Bentley stacks up.

In the table below you can see a list of every major starting quarterback for the Gamecocks since 1992 and the stats of their first season of significant action. I've defined significant action as a minimum of 100 passing attempts for the purposes of this analysis. Note that a majority (8 out of 13) of the QBs listed had some degree of playing experience prior to their first year of significant contribution.

Here's some observations:

  • Bentley has the best Completion % of any of the 13 QBs on the list, narrowly edging Connor Shaw by connecting on 65.8% of his passes.
  • He was 2nd in Passing Yards / Game behind Blake Mitchell, trailing by 12.6 yards, but only trails Mitchell by 2.9 yards in terms of Total Yards / Game.
  • Jake is tied for 3rd with Chris Smelley in terms of Totals TDs / Game. Blake Mitchell is 2nd and Connor Shaw is way ahead of everybody.
  • In terms of QBR Bentley is 3rd best at 140.0, behind Shaw and then Thompson. Compared to the other guys those three are in a league of their own, with Blake Mitchell fairly far back at 4th with 132.4 (got dinged for a throwing a lot of picks).
  • Anyone else surprised at how well Perry Orth stacks up in comparison with the others? He's firmly in the middle of the pack (8th out of 13 in QBR). His stats are right there in between Steve Taneyhill and Anthony Wright. He was a bit older than those two when he got his first major action, but he was also a walk-on and didn't have anywhere close to the same physical tools available.

So, just looking at the general stats shows that Bentley is indeed one of the best 1st-year QBs the Gamecocks have had in the past 25 years, all the more impressive considering he was only a true freshman. Moreover, some guys with more access to time and data than me have taken a look at some advanced stats, and those show that Bentley is the best returning SEC quarterback on long throws and under pressure. The hype appears to be real, and the future bright for the Gamecocks' offense.

Recruiting: 2002 - 2017

You can't discuss the slide in South Carolina football success since 2013 without discussing recruiting. The main narratives about why Gamecock football collapsed have centered around Steve Spurrier being too old and too lazy to be an asset in recruiting, along with the coaching staff being uninterested in putting in the required work to recruit at a high level, resulting a precipitous drop-off in talent on the field. I want to take a look at some data to see if we can prove this to be true.

Team Recruiting Rankings

One of the key barometers in measuring how well a team is recruiting in the Internet Age is the yearly team recruiting rankings published by services such as Scout or Rivals. Now, recruiting rankings don't necessarily equal success on the field, but they are a very good indicator, really. There is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation that is prevalent in recruiting rankings, however, in that that the perception of a prospect is in many cases affected by the perceived 'eliteness' of the programs that have offered. So a 3-star prospect becomes a high 4-star guy after receiving an offer from Alabama, because Nick Saban has been consistently successful for so long that he can have get anyone he wants, and why would he want anything but the best, right? Year after year Alabama has the #1 recruiting class so they have the #1 team so they have the #1 recruiting class.....ad infinitum. The fact is recruiting rankings aren't perfect, but they're a better evaluation tool than no recruiting rankings. I've taken the yearly team recruiting rankings from Rivals from 2002 (earliest year available) for all SEC East division teams and Clemson, since these are these are the seven teams South Carolina plays every year. Let's take a look:

Rivals team recruiting ranking from the years 2002 to 2017 for all SEC East teams as well as Clemson.

In case that's difficult to read, I've also put this data in a handy table:

The first thing that jumps out at me is that this group of teams has been recruiting a lot better over the past five years compared to the 11 years prior. This is mainly due to SEC East bottom-dwellers Vanderbilt and Kentucky picking up the pace. Here's some other observations:

  • South Carolina has only had two classes in the past 16 years outside the Top 25, with the worst ranking coming in Lou Holtz's final season and the 2nd worst being after the coaching transition in 2016.
  • The Gamecocks have been very consistent in recruiting since 2002, being the 3rd most consistent team over the past 16 years, and the 2nd most consistent team over the past 5 years.
  • South Carolina generally recruits above average amongst this group of teams, consistently out-recruiting Missouri, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, while falling short of Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee.
  • South Carolina has recruited slightly better than Clemson over the full 16-year period, but Clemson has seen dramatic improvement over the past 5 years.
  • As mentioned in one of the linked articles above and evident in the data here, South Carolina was a highly over-achieving team from 2011-2013, with two Top 10 finishes and one Top 5 finish over that period.
  • Dabo appears to have certainly done more than Butch Jones with his piece of what are remarkably similar hauls over the past 5 years. I guess this highlights the inherent inequality of outcomes with differing brands of doofuses. ALL IN > BRICK BY BRICK???
  • How consistently awesome has Georgia recruited over the past 16 years? Maybe the fans did have a legitimate gripe about Mark Richt.

Based on the data here, South Carolina shouldn't have seen a drop-off in the win column after the 2013 season. The four classes preceding the opening game disaster against Texas A&M in 2014 were ranked 18th, 19th, 16th, and 16th, for an average ranking of just over 17th for that 4-year period. The four classes preceding the 2011 season ranked an average of 19th. It's obvious, therefore, that team recruiting rankings don't tell the entire story here. They don't show the out-weighted impact a single player can have on a team, player development, whether a player left the team, or whether the right players were recruited to execute a particular scheme (or a scheme adequately adjusted to fit personnel). I'll discuss this more later. For now, I want to take a look at talent in the state of South Carolina.

South Carolina Talent

Given the limited national recognition a school like USC has, it has to focus on recruiting it's state well. The result of a recruiting strategy heavily dependent on local talent, however, is that when there is a dip in the level of talent available at the local high schools, the college football team suffers down the road. South Carolina is a small state. On a per capita-basis it certainly holds it's on in terms of producing NFL talent, but there's just simply not that many of these guys around, and, as we'll see, some years have less talent available than others. Let's take a look at the Rivals250 players from the state of South Carolina since 2006:

Rivals250 players from the state of South Carolina between 2006-20015 and the location of the schools that received their letter of intent.

In the past 12 years, there has never been more than 10 Rivals250 players from South Carolina in a given year. USC has certainly been able to get their fair share of these guys, but look at what began happening in 2011. From 2006-2010 there was an average of 8.8 Rivals250 players a year. After that, we're looking at an average of less than 3.2. South Carolina still gets their share of these guys, but there just isn't any of them to get. Let's take it a step further and look at the amount of 'elite' talent available. Here's the Rivals100 players from South Carolina:

Rivals100 players from the state of South Carolina between 2006-20015 and the location of the schools that received their letter of intent.

The trend here is even more stark: after 2011, elite talent just disappeared. South Carolina has dominated acquisition of homegrown elite talent the past 12 years, and has gotten half of the Rivals100 players available in SC from 2012 onwards, but that's only 2 dudes. You'll notice that the Gamecocks' most successful 3 years of football ever immediately followed peak availability in the state of elite talent. Let's now take a closer look at who these elite players were.

Elite Players

Below I've compiled a list of all the Rivals250 players from South Carolina and the schools that got their NLI from 2006 onwards:

Look at some of the names the Gamecocks were able to pull from the state of SC in the years leading up to the 2011 season:

  • Stephon Gilmore, Damario Jeffery, Alshon Jeffery, and DeVonte Holloman in 2009. There's two franchise NFL players in that group and a guy that was starting for the Cowboys before retiring due to a medical condition.
  • Marcus Lattimore, Victor Hampton, Kelcy Quarles, and A.J. Cann in 2010. Every one of these guys was a difference maker for the Gamecocks.
  • And then of course Jadeveon Clowney in 2011, along with Brandon Shell. Shell has started games for the Jets, and Clowney is Clowney. Let's roll the tape:

With that kind of talent on hand just from SC entering the 2011 season, it's hard to understand how we only won 11 games that year (although 2011 is the only year we have ever beaten every team in the SEC East). Apart from Lattimore and Clowney, all the guys I mentioned above were given a 4-star rating. In compiling the team recruiting rankings, 4-star recruits are generally treated equally (Rivals has different grades from 5.8 - 6.0, and most 4-stars are classified as 5.8), but some 4-stars are obviously more equal than others. The Gamecocks rode a wave of of locally available difference makers to three consecutive 11-win seasons and Top10 finishes, but couldn't sustain that success when the pool of South Carolina talent dried up.

Other Factors

I mentioned earlier that were factors related to talent on the field that aren't apparent from looking at team recruiting rankings. These primarily include players leaving early or never making it on campus to begin with, lack of development, and to a lesser extent scheme fit. With regards to players leaving early, nothing comes to mind more immediately than all the players we have recruited from the mid-Atlantic region who left after a short time on campus. G.A Mangus was fond of recruiting the region given his background as a coach in Delaware, and from 2011-2016 we typically brought in at least one player from region. The extensive list of these players is as follows:

  • 2011: Damiere Byrd, Sheldon Royster, Tanner McEvoy
  • 2012: Kaiwan Lewis, Brendan Nosovitch
  • 2013: Na'ty Rogers, David Williams
  • 2015: Jalen Christian
  • 2016: Brandon McIlwain

Out of those nine players, six were rated as 4-star recruits, and only one became a big contributor and finished his career in garnet and black (Byrd). Tanner McEvoy and Brendan Nosovitch were recruited to fit an offensive scheme Spurrier simply had no interest in running. Kaiwan Lews and David Williams were limited contributors that left as graduate transfers in search of more playing time. McIlwain was thrown into the fire too early given his stage of development and was unlucky to enter in the same class as a guy named Jake Bentley. Missing from time to time in recruiting is part of the game, but whiffing nearly 90% of the time on guys from a region outside your normal recruiting footprint hurts more than usual, as recruiting these guys takes up more time and financial resources. If I'm going to use a scholarship on a guy who won't end up contributing much, I'd rather that player be from South Pointe High School than South Philly.

I use the 'Great Mid-Atlantic Experiment' just as an example, but there are many other reasons why recruiting classes can often not live up to expectations. Sometimes guys just don't end up putting it all together for whatever reason, whether that be from injuries (Connor Mitch, Brock Stadnik, Larenz Bryant), or something else (Shaq Roland, Dexter Wideman). Other times guys that could have helped solidify the pass rush in the post-Clowney era can't qualify academically (Jhaustin Thomas - twice, Devante Covington, Kendal Vickers). This stuff happens all the time in recruiting, and, in the case of the Gamecocks the past 5 years, sometimes it happens all at once.

Conclusions

Here's a summary of what we've seen:

  • There was no drop in team recruiting rankings leading up to the collapse in on-field success beginning in 2014.
  • South Carolina high schools produced a glut of talent for several years through 2012 and then ....... didn't. From 2006-2010 there was an average of 8.8 Rivals250 players per year, and only 3.2 afterwards.
  • The local availability of elite talent peaked from 2009-2011, with almost all of these guys ending up producing at All-Conference / -America type levels.
  • A combination of poor recruiting strategy, limited player development, and plain bad luck contributed to recruiting classes failing to live up to expectations from 2012 onwards.

Will Muschamp and company appear to have put together a class with very few misses in 2016 through superior evaluations and work ethic, and the 2017 class has the looks of a sneaky good group that fills a lot of future needs. Talent in South Carolina high schools also appears to be on the upswing. Hopefully the current staff can avoid recent mistakes and fully take advantage of that.

Week 13: Clemson

Here we are at the end of the season again. I must say that I'm feeling better at this point of the year than I was last year after witnessing the loss to the Citadel in person, but I'm still not nearly as enthused as I was 3 years ago preparing to witness the Gamecocks' 5th win in a row over the team up north. Overall I'm thrilled with the direction the program is heading under Muschamp, but it's beyond obvious that this team has a long way to go to competing with Top 25 teams and getting 10+ wins a season.

The Gamecocks will have to play a perfect game to beat Clemson this year. While SC has a lot of young talent performing at a high level, but Clemson has some of the best talent in the country at the offensive skill positions and the best d-line the Gamecocks have faced all year. Despite that, I can't understand the point spread of 25.5. The Gamecocks haven't won or lost a game by more than 2 TDs all year. They have a surprisingly good defense that is in the top 10 in turnovers if I'm not mistaken, and have been great in the red-zone this year. Clemson on the other hand is turning the ball over a lot, with Deshaun Watson having thrown 13 picks (good enough for 2nd in the country). A lot of those turnovers have occurred in the red-zone. I'm expecting the Gamecocks to win the turnover battle, but I think they'll need to do so by 3 or more to keep this game competitive. Clemson hasn't played well at home and has everything to lose, while the Gamecocks haven't played well away and have nothing to lose. Clemson could certainly come out playing tight and struggle against an aggressive Gamecock team, but the talent and depth for Clemson will let them pull away from a close game late.

Prediction: USC 17 - Clemson 31

USC 44 - Western Carolina 31: Thoughts on Win #6

Defense Optional

The offense had it's best game of the season while the defense had it's worst, but at the end of the day the Gamecocks became bowl eligible with their 6th win. The 422 rushing yards were the most the Gamecocks have had in over 25 years, which can't hurt the confidence of the o-line heading into the final game of the regular season. Special teams remain horrible, and the defense gave up 24 points to a bad FCS team. I'm hoping that this is a better result than blowing Western Carolina out would have been, as it will at least prevent overconfidence and give the coaches some coaching material this week.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Deebo Samuel - 4 Wings

Scored 3 TDs, 2 rushing and 1 on an awesome 100-yard kick return. Deebo is finally healthy and showing that he is an elite player in the SEC.

Rico Dowdle - 3 Wings

2 TDs and 226-yards rushing on 21 carries. This guy will be awesome next year after a full year in the weight room.

Jake Bentley - 1 Wing

Hayden Hurst - 1 Wing

Became the single-season reception record holder for a tight-end.

A.J. Turner - 1 Wing

Had a good day running the ball and was just 3 yards short of 100.

D.J. Smith - 1 Wing

Recovered a fumble.

Taylor Stallworth - 1 Wing

Had two big time stops on the goal-line stand late in the first half.

Week 12: Western Carolina

This one should be pretty straightforward. The only thing standing between the Gamecocks and bowl eligibility is a 2-8 FCS team. It was exactly one year ago that the Gamecocks lost at home to the Citadel, though, so I'm sure the players, especially the seniors, realize that nothing is a given. Unlike last year's team, this year's unit has everything to play for and a core of young talent trying to prove something. I think the Gamecocks have a big game on offense and will get Perry Orth some snaps in the final quarters. SC should have a lot of success on the ground and punch their ticket to the postseason by halftime.

Prediction: USC 42 - Western Carolina 7

Week 11: Florida

Jake Bentley has been incredible so far in his first three games of action, but every snap he's taken has been within the friendly confines of Williams-Brice stadium. I'm sure he'll make some mistakes in his first road start, but I'd also rather have our QB situation right now than Florida's. Austin Appleby will start for Florida due to injury to Luke Del Rio, which may end up being an addition by subtraction for them. Their (excellent) defense is also missing key contributors this week, particularly at linebacker. South Carolina will need to run the ball successfully to win this game, and the key match-up is the Gamecock O-line vs the Florida D-line. The Florida unit is without a doubt the best unit we've faced this year. I think South Carolina struggles on offense, but makes just enough plays to squeak out a win in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: USC 17 - Florida 13

USC 31 - Missouri 21: Thoughts on Win #5

The Mayor's Cup back where it belongs

The one had the makings of a trap game. Coming off the big win over Tennessee the Gamecocks could have easily come in unprepared for the worst team in the SEC. Good thing the coaches made them realize that they're not too far ahead of the tigers in the SEC hierarchy. This was also a big win for the Gamecocks, despite Missouri's bottom-dweller status. With the win the Gamecocks will at least have 3 SEC wins in 2016, and are almost assured of becoming bowl eligible. The Gamecocks now haven't trailed in the last 12 quarters of football; recruits and talking heads are taking notice.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Jake Bentley - 2 Wings

Has been getting a lot of press and has deserved every bit of it. The  Gamecocks are likely only have 3 wins (maybe even 2....) without Jake Bentley taking snaps. Completed 79% of his pass attempts for 254 yards and 2 TDs. Getting better every week.

Deebo Samuel - 2 Wings

Deebo had one of the best games by a Gamecock receiver I think I've seen since Pharoh Cooper against Tennessee in 2014. This guy caught everything (almost, the one target that he dropped was on a screen play that would have been a sure TD). Had 9 receptions for 125 yards and rushed for a TD on a fly sweep. Almost every one of his receptions was a contested ball. Now that he's healthy Deebo is showing what had the coaches so excited in the off-season, catching at least 8 reception in each of the last 3 games.

Rico Dowdle - 2 Wings

Took control of the game in the 2nd half on his way to 149 yards and a score. Also had a highlight reel catch off the shoulder of a Mizzou linebacker for a TD. 

K.C. Crosby - 1 Wing

Caught 2 TD passes despite only being credited for 1. Has now caught a TD pass in 3 straight games.

Elliott Fry - 1 Wing

Marked his place in Gamecock football history by becoming the all-time leading scorer. Will be getting his name put up in Williams-Brice along with the other greats.

Taylor Stallworth - 1 Wing

Knocked down 2 passes in the 4th quarter to help keep Missouri from scoring late.

Steven Montac - 1 Wing

Has been Mr. Versatility this year, playing all over the secondary. Forced a fumble early in the game to set-up the Gamecocks' first score.

Chris Moody - 1 Wing

I'm really glad this guy came back to play this year. He's added crucial depth to a ridiculously thin secondary, which has been made even thinner recently by frequent ejections. Led the team in tackles with 11 and sealed the game with his pick in the end zone late in the 4th quarter.

Rashad Fenton - 1 Wing

Likely saved a score with his interception in the 3rd quarter. Also had a perfect defense of a screen pass in the 4th.

As always, you can re-watch the game below:

South Carolina, 2016 SEC East Champions???

After the Gamecocks' upset victory over Tennessee 2 weeks ago, it became apparent that there remained a narrow path open for the Gamecocks to win the SEC's Eastern division. For this to happen, 3 key results would be needed on November 5th:

  • South Carolina beats Missouri
  • Georgia wins @ Kentucky
  • Florida loses @ Arkansas

All of this stuff happened. So now only 4 more specific results need to occur over the next few weeks for the Gamecocks to make it to Atlanta. The following scenario produces 4 teams with 4-4 records in the SEC. By my reckoning only 2 teams have ever made it to the SECCG with more than 2 conference losses: LSU in 2001 (5-3) and South Carolina in 2010 (5-3). Given the unprecedented level of putridity in the SEC East, this could the year to break records.

The Contenders

Florida

Could have made a big move towards punching their ticket to Atlanta this past weekend, but instead choose to get blown out by a team near the bottom of the SEC West standings. For South Carolina to win the East, Florida would need to:

  • Lose to South Carolina this weekend, obviously (50%)
  • Lose @ LSU in 2 weeks (80%)

This would put Florida at 4-2 in the East, with losses to Tennessee and SC.

Kentucky

With only one conference game left this season Kentucky would have put themselves in great position to win the East with a 5-3 conference record with a win over Georgia last week. For South Carolina to win the East, Kentucky would need to:

  • Lose @ Tennessee this weekend (70%)

Kentucky would then be 3-3 in the East, with losses to Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Tennessee

These guys are currently 2-3 in the SEC with 3 games remaining. For South Carolina to win the East, Tennessee would need to:

  • Beat Kentucky this weekend (70%)
  • Lose to Missouri in 2 weeks (0.1%) or @ Vanderbilt in 3 weeks (30%)

This would give Tennessee no better than a 4-2 record in the East, with losses to South Carolina and Missouri / Vanderbilt.

South Carolina

With one game remaining in their conference schedule, the Gamecocks need to:

  • Beat the Gators (50%)

The Gamecocks would then have a 4-2 record in the East with losses against Kentucky and Georgia.

Under this scenario Kentucky would be eliminated first as they have 3 losses within the division. Florida would then be eliminated as they would have 2 losses against the remaining 3 teams. South Carolina would then head to Atlanta by virtue of their head-to-head victory over Tennessee. Stranger things have happened. The key game in this scenario is Tennessee's match-up at Vanderbilt. This is one that Tennessee should win, but Vanderbilt is a tough out for everyone. Only one of their losses this year has been by more than 7 points (@ Georgia Tech). They gave Auburn all they wanted last weekend, and have a much better chance than Missouri at pulling off the upset.

Now, there is a question as to whether South Carolina going to Atlanta (to in all likelihood be absolutely dismantled by Alabama) is a desirable thing. The answer is a most definite yes. We haven't made it there enough to be choosy about when we go. At the beginning of each season every team sets goals, and at the top of every team's list is the goal of winning their division. Muschamp achieving one the top goals in his first year would be a major statement, much like Spurrier's team winning the East in 2010 was. Also, every team has a chance to win when they put the pads on, regardless of whether the opponent is Alabama or not. The Gamecocks making it to Atlanta this season is highly unlikely, but they can take care of what's in their control by beating Florida this week.

 

Week 10: Missouri

It's easy to get excited about a big win and then start overestimating a team's abilities. I do that just about every time the Gamecocks get a win and look decent enough doing it. I just hope this doesn't happen to the players this week. Given how bad Missouri has looked this year, it'd be easy to think they could coast to bowl eligibility after the dominance shown last week. I think the coaching staff will have the guys focused and ready to play, though, as Muschamp stated on his calling show that they had the best Thursday practice ever this week. What's at stake this week is readily apparent: win and it's nearly a given that we'll get a bowl game. Those 15 practices are crucial given the youth on the team.

The game plan should be as obvious as what's at stake: run the ball. Missouri is absolutely horrible against the run. On offense they try to snap the ball as quickly as they can, so if we can get stops and run the ball effectively, we will dominate the time of possession and wear the Missouri defense out. I think the Gamecocks will do it. Rico Dowdle and at least one other RB will have a big day, Bentley will make some throws when needed, and the defense will force more than two turnovers. The Gamecocks win this one by a lot.

Prediction: USC 35 - Missouri 17

See Missouri's last SEC win below:

USC 24 - Tennessee 21: Thoughts on Win #4

Long Live the King

I'll say it again: that was a lot of fun. One of the things I like to do during the off-season is re-watch some of the best games from the previous season(s). During those dark football-less days over the years I've probably watched the 2012 Georgia game and 2010 Alabama at least a dozen times each. Make it about two dozen for the 2013 Clemson game. 2014 only provided one game for repeated viewing, the 38-35 win over Georgia. There was absolutely nothing worth watching again from 2015, and as a result I had a hard time getting excited for this season. As I type this I'm watching last week's game for the 3rd time, so I think I'll have at least one go-to game this summer.

It's amazing how one game can completely change the narrative of a season. Before last Saturday South Carolina was years away from being competitive again, if ever, with a coach retread facing an impossible task. Just ask John Adams in Knoxville. Tennessee was a team returning to it's rightful glory, destined to recover from two tough losses against top-10 competition and win the East. After Saturday Will Muschamp and the Cocks were ascendant while Tennessee was in a tail-spin, their best player quitting the team and Butch Jones' seat getting warm. They entered the game ranked, and now they just smell that way. As you'd expect, I have no problem whatsoever with this turn of events.

This game wasn't as close as the score would suggest. At no point did Tennessee have a lead in the game, and needed a no-call for holding on a kick-off return for a TD to keep from losing by double-digits. The offense looked like a completely different unit. In his first SEC start Jake Bentley totally outperformed the star senior QB on the other sideline, and got major contributions from Deebo Samuel (sophomore), Rico Dowdle (true freshman), and Bryan Edwards (true freshman). The future looks bright on offense.

The most encouraging thing about the way the Gamecocks are playing is that they're getting better week by week, especially on defense. The defense has been terrible the past few years, turning the best offensive output in school history to a 7-6 season in 2014, and being the major driver of 3-9 last year. The final ranking among SEC defenses was 13th and 14th in those years, respectively. After 8 games, the Gamecocks currently rank 6th in the SEC in both Total Defense and Scoring Defense, and rank 46th/26th in FBS. They are one of only 6 teams that haven't given up more than 30 points in a game so far. SC is doing this with basically the same players (minus Skai Moore) they had last year. It's obvious that this staff can coach. The Gamecocks lost Antoine Wilder and Chris Lammons in the first quarter, and then D.J. Smith in 4th against Tennessee. They didn't even have enough defensive backs left to man a dime package late in the game and had to use T.J. Holloman as the 6th DB. They were still able to contain Tennessee in the final minutes and keep them from getting the winning score. The turnaround by the defense is one of the most impressive coaching performances I've ever witnessed.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Jake Bentley - 3 Wings

Not your ordinary high school senior. Getting a lot of hype after only two games and by beating Tennessee as a freshman is garnering some comparisons to Taneyhill. Will probably have some tough games ahead where his lack of experience hurts, but is currently on the path to becoming a legend.

Jamarcus King - 2 Wings

Had two devastating interceptions that were critical for the win and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. This guy is really coming on strong in the back-half of the season and making a strong case for a spot on some All-SEC teams.

Rico Dowdle - 2 Wings

Hit Darrin Kirkland Jr. with the 'two-piece' according to Mark Jones on his way to his first career 100-yard game. Scored the game's first TD and racked up 127 yards on 27 carries. This guy is going to need a nick-name. I've heard 'Uncle' Rico and Rico 'Suave.' I'm a bit partial to the latter, because I guess I have some fond memories of 3rd grade.

Jonathan Walton - 1 Wing

Had a total of 2 TFL with a huge sack for a  drive-killing loss.

Dante Sawyer - 1 Wing

Didn't light up the stat sheet but has been a beast on the line the last few games. Every time I notice this guy he's giving maximum effort and affecting the game.

Deebo Samuel - 1 Wing

83 yards on 8 receptions, most of which were contested. If this guy can stay healthy he has a chance to be a star in this conference.

Bryan Edwards - 1 Wing

Linked up with Bentley for a cool TD on an RPO. Also had a key reception late in the game to help salt the clock away.

K.C. Crosby - 1 Wing

Great 35-yard TD reception, and even better dance moves.

Bonus Wing

Oops, looks like the wing place messed up and delivered a baker's dozen. I'm going to give this one to Will Muschamp for his first big win in garnet and black. According to some national media he was able to become a good coach overnight. This got written this week, and this, and this too. I'm really happy for Coach Muschamp, who has taken a ton of heat this year just for existing in his current role, and is now well on his way to proving the talking heads wrong. Great job, Coach, and thanks for the win.

For your viewing pleasure, the full game can be seen below: