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.
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: