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.