This Gamecocks Blog had a idea a few weeks back. A Gamecock Bloggers Roundtable. Luckily, everyone that was asked said yes to the idea so this is the first of what is envisioned as many because as you know there is lots to talk about when you think of Gamecocks Sports.
Gamecocks’ roundtable consists of Gamecock Man over at SB Nation’s Garnet And Black Attack, the Post and Courier’s Spur of the Moment blog written by Travis Haney, Brandon at Team Speed Kills, Wes Mitchell of Gamecock Anthem and yours truly – Flounder of Leftover Hot Dog.
We’ll do these once a month and rotate amongst us. So enjoy the 3 questions I threw out to the group to answer…..
Q: This past Spring, some was written about South Carolina using a no huddle offense. How much do you expect to see of this new offensive scheme this coming fall season and what potential impact will it have?
Travis Haney, Post and Courier — I’ve always felt like the no-huddle thing is sort of overrated, at least in South Carolina’s case. The Gamecocks need to show they can run the basic things well before they go to what I consider a more technical level, like the no-huddle. They’ll break it out some, I’m sure. But, unless I’m off, I don’t think it’ll hold great, great value for this team. I think a reasonable goal for the Gamecocks this year would be limiting the number of times a game the entire offense has heads craned, looking toward the sideline for what to do. Seriously, how many times has that happened in the past couple of seasons? The no-huddle will only be truly effective, in tiring and confusing the opposing defense, if the basic tenets of an offense — ya know, running the ball and blocking — are going well. So, I’d start there and work my way out, if I were the Gamecocks.
Wes Mitchell, Gamecock Anthem — In my opinion, we will see the no-huddle offense mixed in to South Carolina’s approach on offense, but it won’t be something the Gamecocks utilize all the time. I expect Spurrier’s offense to be very multiple with many moving parts as it always has been. Spurrier likes to have options and this will just be one of his many options. As he said at SEC Media Days, the offense will incorporate many different philosophies and Spurrier will go with what seems to be working at the time. Not only will having the no-huddle at their disposal allow them to dictate the pace of the game at times, but the players on offense will also be more comfortable when they have to go to the no-huddle at the end of halves and games — South Carolina has struggled to get everyone on the same page in those situations in the past.
Brandon, Team Speed Kills — After hearing for years about how the Gamecocks are going to add this or that wrinkle to the offense and then seeing it used rarely, I’ll believe it when I see it. While I don’t think Steve Spurrier’s offense is necessarily doomed to failure without innovation, I do think it’s going to be hard to succeed doing the same thing he’s done at the college level for almost 25 years; he has to innovate to win at South Carolina. At the same time, I get the sense sometimes that Spurrier likes the idea of innovating but still likes to call what he’s comfortable with when it’s time to plan and call a game. The fallout is, I think, a little unclear. On one level, a no-huddle offense could help along the line and in some other places by giving the opponent’s defense less time to adjust and maybe tiring them a bit. But too much of it could hurt the defense by giving them less time to rest — and with the Gamecocks having less depth than the teams ahead of them in the pecking order, that has the potential to cause problems.
Gamecock Man, Garnet And Black Attack — I’m not sure. The idea was presented more as a possibility than a certainty during the spring, and I haven’t heard about it yet this August, so it may have gotten lost in the mix. Steve Spurrier, though, seemed to suggest that we would probably at least see a bit of it, even if the change wouldn’t constitute a complete change in philosophy:
Don’t expect to see the Gamecocks switch to a complete fast-paced format next season; Coach Steve Spurrier says there will be times for the old-fashioned huddle.
“I’m not a big believer in all the time no huddle,” said Spurrier. “I believe at times you have to look at the guy in the eye and tell him the play, but we’ll do a lot of it no question.”
One thing to note in favor of us using it is that we’re hearing a lot of news about players being in better shape, having slimmed up, and the like. One of the major tactical advantages of the no-huddle is that it allows you to run more plays at a faster pace, thus allowing you to take advantage of having well-conditioned players, if you indeed have them. If Coach Fitzgerald’s strength and conditioning program has been as successful as some are saying it has been, then that might be a good reason for Spurrier to think hard about implementing the no-huddle.
Flounder, Leftover Hot Dog — You will see it in play this season. I shy away from saying a lot or it is the new approach. I think it is safer to say this is a new wrinkle in the offense’s approach. It will allow some mixing up and keep the opposing defense on their toes.
The new OL Coach is also the run game coordinator and he brought this new thinking with him. I look forward to it as the USC offense has to put up some points in 2010 to go along with a stellar defense. This new “no huddle” thinking will certainly help.
Q: Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson has always had some good defenses over the years at South Carolina. What makes his scheme so good?
Travis Haney, Post & Courier — I was just having this conversation earlier in the week with another assistant about Ellis. His point was that, like offenses try to be diverse and creative, South Carolina’s defense tries to be varied. The Gamecocks, who supposedly run a 4-2-5 base, are really, in truth, a multiple defense. He said there’s a good amount of 3-4, even some 3-3-5, obviously some dime … all of that’s mixed in with the 4-2-5. Offenses constantly have to adjust at what the Gamecocks are throwing at them. Now, last year, a lot of what Johnson had to do with the scheme was forced, out of necessity. Depth was an issue – particularly when Rodney Paulk and Travian Robertson went down. You saw, in the middle of games, Johnson and his staff being able to adjust to the personnel. I really like Johnson’s ability to adjust on the fly. I was told a major reason for that is because of the agonizing amount of time Johnson spends breaking down film. He does what grad assistants do at 99 percent of schools, I was told. So, he knows what direction to zig if an opposing offense zags. Preparation is key for him. I could rattle on about this, but I’ll just say I’m writing my season preview story on the job Johnson has done here. It’ll run just before the season. The rise has been incredible. Think about it: Based on returning players and the talent of those players, there’s no reason why USC shouldn’t have the No. 1 defense in the league, IF everyone stays healthy.
Wes Mitchell, Gamecock Anthem — I’m not sure it’s the scheme that is so great but more so Ellis Johnson just being that good of a defensive coach. He has shown the ability to match his defensive scheme to his personnel on multiple occasions and shows an ability to get his best players on the field. The decision to move Eric Norwood to a weakside linebacker position tailored specifically to his talents and the decision to move to a three-safety set-up knowing two of his linebackers were massive, that he needed someone in the front seven who could cover, and that Chris Culliver was ready to play, proved to be an outstanding move prior to the 2008 season.
Johnson’s experience serves him well and he has a huge knowledge base to draw from when designing and implementing the game plan for the variety of offensive systems his defense faces every week.
Johnson is a teacher and student of the game at his core. Despite having an old-school approach to coaching, he still manages to relate to his players and they seem to enjoy playing for him and learning from him.
What makes the scheme so good? Ellis Johnson makes the scheme so good.
Brandon, Team Speed Kills — Eric Norwood and South Carolina’s developing reputation as something of a “DB U.” I’m not one of those people that believe that recruiting stars win championships, but personnel is important, and Ellis Johnson has had some great personnel at South Carolina. The defensive backfield has had a pretty solid cast pretty much every year, and Norwood was one of the few players in college football that actually deserves to be called a “game changer.” That’s not to say that the scheme itself has nothing to do with it — as Nick Saban has pointed out (http://www.tidesports.com/article/20091016/NEWS/910169973), it also allows the defense to adjust to a game in which offensive coordinators are more willing than ever to switch formations from one play to the next. We’ll see how it does sans Norwood.
Gamecock Man, GABattack — It hasn’t hurt that he’s had some talented players under him. He walked into a situation in 2008 in which we had multiple future NFL picks on the roster. In terms of scheme, I think his major success has been implementing an approach that takes advantage of the Gamecocks’ defensive speed. Carolina will never have the strongest front in the conference, as there are only a handful of elite tackles to go around and most of them end up at the glamour schools. But we have brought in some good ends, linebackers, and defensive backs, and Johnson has successfully instituted the 4-2-5 to get those guys around the field making plays. Even when we had Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley lining up at linebacker, we could rely on the spur position to provide extra speed not enjoyed by teams running a 4-3. One final thing that I think really sets Johnson apart is his ability to succeed with calculated gambles. The guy loves secondary blitzes, and he’s generally successful with them. Now if only we could actually recover the fumble if one of our cornerbacks forces Aaron Murray to cough it up this year…
Flounder, Leftover Hot Dog — His scheme has been so good because of the players. Having a strong secondary over the years has also certainly helped the defense be top-notch. His scheme is a mix between a 4-3 and 4-2-5. He has a strong DL that can get up field and around the corners. His LB core has the ability to put a hand down and rush the outside or drop back and assist the secondary. He uses what is called a Spur, which is like a hybrid Safety/Linebacker. This position can do many things in his scheme from being a pass rusher, to run stopper to coverage specialist. This is on top of a fantastic secondary over the years. Some, including me, refer to USC as “DB U.” Just look at the guys out of USC in the recent past – Andre Goodman, Ko Simpson, Captain Munnerlyn and Fred Bennett. That is just to name a few. Now look at this year’s crop – Stephon Gilmore, Chris Culliver, DeVonte Holloman, Akeem Auguste and DJ Swearinger. I know these names don’t mean a whole lot to the outside reader but these guys again are what makes the defense so good. They are lock down corners, run stoppers and very smart with above average speed. I really cannot stress enough the ability of Coach Ellis Johnson’s ability to find “his type” players to recruit. This year’s squad will be again one of, if not the best in the SEC. He has Cliff Matthews and Devin Taylor at DE. LBs Shaq Wilson and Rodney Paulk. At Spur, either DeMario Jeffery or Antonio Allen. That is just the first string as the second string is just as strong.
No worries on defense in 2010.
Q: Kickoff to another Gamecocks season is right around the corner. Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.
Travis Haney, Post & Courier — Success is progress. Yeah, that’s a bit generic. But it’s what has to happen. The Gamecocks were really close to that a year ago, after the Clemson win. Another victory in the bowl, getting the team to eight, would’ve provided success. Instead … well … you’ve heard Spurrier since then. So, with that in mind, I think eight wins provides progress. The Gamecocks have been there one time since Spurrier arrived, but that feels now like sort of a fluke. It didn’t lend itself to any sustained progress. I’m talking about something you can springboard to nine or 10 wins next season. If South Carolina gets to nine or 10 this season, which, ya know, is possible, it would be very good for the program. Duh. But, being realistic, making progress is what’s important. And it’s not just about wins and losses. Does Stephen Garcia get better? Does the defense live up to what it’s supposed to do? Does Marcus Lattimore fit in right away and excel? Is the offensive line — this is the most important part — better? You’ll know measurable progress when you see it. You’ll look back in December, and in January, and go … ‘Yeah, that team got better than it was in 2009.’
Disappointment is the status quo (or worse, although I don’t think that’s possible). That’s sorta kinda worked the past two or three seasons because there have been all these built-in excuses about injuries or being too young or, well, whatever. I suppose injuries could always become that excuse this year, but, outside that, there aren’t any. You’ve got the most experience and talent you’ve ever had. You’ve got, if you’re Spurrier, what you call the best coaching staff you’ve ever assembled. The schedule is tough, but, hell, it’s always tough. If you can’t win eight games here this year, with this team, you deserve ridicule and questioning. We’ll even give USC a free pass and say you can win the bowl as your eighth victory. Wouldn’t that be success if the team played well in the bowl game, as opposed to the past two debacles? Disappointment is being near the bottom of the league in sacks and rushing yards. Disappointment is a cold-weather bowl game. Disappointment is seven wins, plain and simple. I know Spurrier feels that way. I do, too. Everyone always wants to bring up the idea of Spurrier quitting … I don’t think that would happen unless the team won six games, or fewer than six games. And that really would be stunning to me.
Wes Mitchell, Gamecock Anthem — This one is very simple. Eight wins is the benchmark in my opinion. If the Gamecocks win seven regular season games, then they’re again one bowl loss away from being right where they’ve been the entire Spurrier era. Eight wins during the regular season and South Carolina sets itself up to go to a major bowl with a chance at nine wins for the first time since 2001. I’ve heard nine wins tossed around a lot by Carolina fans — nine regular season wins with a shot at the elusive 10th victory would certainly be a major accomplishment, but eight wins during the season with an improved offense and improving offensive line is a big step forward for Carolina, especially if it includes the Gamecocks’ second straight win over Clemson, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 1969-70.
Brandon, Team Speed Kills — Successful season has to be at least eight regular-season wins — at least — and a strong third-place showing in the SEC East. That’s if Georgia rebounds; if the Dawgs have another down year, than South Carolina has to establish itself as the biggest challenger to Florida while it has the chance. It’s time to find out if Spurrier is going to be the coaching that made South Carolina a perennial bowl team or an SEC contender. Another 7-5 campaign tells us that the best South Carolina can hope for is a trip to somewhere between Birmingham and Tampa in the postseason; Orlando or the BCS is out. That’s not to say that Spurrier should be fired at 7-5 — you don’t fire arguably the best coach in school history because he’s hit a ceiling — but it does say we should dial back expectations of what he can do in Columbia. Anything less than 7-5 has to be considered a disappointment. At least three of the nonconference games are at least probable wins (Southern Miss, though, worries me) and three of the conference games (Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee) ought to be wins. Not winning at least one of the others would be a disappointing season — with all the returning starters and all the change in the SEC East, this ought to be the best season in Spurrier’s tenure, not one of the worst.
Gamecock Man, GABattack — I think a successful season is winning eight or nine regular season games and finishing nationally ranked. I’d like to say that we should also win whatever bowl that were to get us into, but I think we need to see who the opponent is there to make any educated prognostications. I’m not the kind of person that believes we need to win 11 games and the SEC and play in a BCS Bowl to call 2010 a successful season. While I wouldn’t say that that kind of season is out of the realm of possibilities, I do think it’s a little presumptuous to believe that we have the talent in place right now to expect to beat Florida and Alabama. What I do think we should be able to expect to see is some level of improvement in the W-L column in a season in which we are fielding one of our most talented teams and are looking at a somewhat depleted SEC. If we can’t at least win eight regular-season games, finish with a winning record in the conference, and at least be in striking distance of the Eastern Division late in the season this year, we’re not making progress. That would be a disappointing season, and I think it would provide grounds to consider dismissing Spurrier. I’m not going to say that a disappointing season means we necessarily need to look for a new coach, as lots of things–like losing your top two QBs to injury or something like that–can happen over the course of a season and derail your chances. However, all things being equal, this season presents as good a chance as we’ve had in a long time at having a successful season, and we need to hold Spurrier to that standard.
Flounder, Leftover Hot Dog — A successful season is the Gamecocks enter the Florida game with the SEC East on the line. USC sitting at 5-2 in the conference and UF at 6-1. USC wins and finishes at 6-2 and get the SEC East conference crown. I really thing the potential for USC to win the SEC East is strong. If the SEC East crown is off the table then a minimum of 8 wins is a must.
A disappointing season is 6-6 with a loss to Clemson to boot.
So everyone there you have it. A drop of some insight from some keen Gamecocks Bloggers.
Thanks again to Gamecock Man over at SB Nation’s Garnet And Black Attack, Travis Haney over at the Post and Courier / Spur of the Moment blog , Brandon at Team Speed Kills and Wes Mitchell of Gamecock Anthem .