Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Around the SEC: Garnet and Black Attack Interview

1. We've heard that this may be the season for the Gamecocks to challenge in the SEC East, and we know losing at home to Vanderbilt while ranked in the top 10 left a bitter taste in the mouth of everyone in garnet and black last year. Looking ahead to the rest of your season, how important is this game to South Carolina?

G&B: Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee have all learned over the past few years that Vanderbilt is no longer a team they can overlook. And considering Vandy’s surprisingly dominant performance last week, we certainly view this as a game where we’ll have to play well to win. With that in mind, it’s a very important game, b/c a loss would put us in a hole in the SEC and would almost certainly point to a disappointing season.

2. Are you happy with the starting quarterback and the quarterback situation in general? As a South Carolina fan, why has Spurrier, the great Quarterback coach, had such a difficult time finding a decent field general?

G&B: I’m happy with how Chris Smelley played late against NC State, but I’m still a little nervous about the upcoming game. Chris played well, but he did so in garbage time and has yet to prove that he can perform consistently under pressure. This game is a chance for him to prove that he can play well against a team that made him look bad a year ago. I am happy that Spurrier seems decided on Chris as the starter, as I think that Chris gives us a better chance to win than Tommy Beecher.

I think that the problems Spurrier has had with his quarterbacks owe to a number of factors. For one thing, it hasn’t all been the QBs’ fault. Spurrier’s system requires protection, and our offensive line play has mostly been abysmal for the past three years. When we have gotten good line play, such as late in 2006, we’ve fielded Spurrier-like offenses.

Another issue is lack of talent and development. Spurrier has often said that he thinks Syvelle Newton or Blake Mitchell could have been better QBs if he had begun working with them from the beginning. Both players began their careers under Lou Holtz, who ran a much different offense. The guys Spurrier recruited, like Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley, are either not that good (Beecher) or still young (Smelley). I think Smelley could be a good SEC quarterback as an upperclassman. We’ll have to wait and see, though.

3. Notwithstanding the slow start offensively, y'all have to feel pretty good about your defense after turning in a shutout against an ACC opponent last Thursday. We know the names Jasper Brinkley, Captain Munnerlyn, and Emanuel Cook. Who else should we have on the radar?

G&B: One name is Eric Norwood. Norwood played DE last year, but this year he’s playing LB. Norwood is an excellent run stopper up the middle and he’s also a great pass rusher. Expect to see us trying to get him to cause problems in the backfield. One concern is that he’s a little big for a LB, so I expect Bobby Johnson to try to take advantage of him by trying to get speedy Chris Nickson on the edges.
Another player to watch is safety Chris Culliver. Culliver had some growing pains against NC State; he blew some coverages but got lucky when State’s receivers dropped the passes. However, our coaches are hopefully talking to him about those issues. He’s played well in practice and, after he gets his fundamentals down, I expect him to be a good player for us.

4. What do you expect will be the Gamecocks' defensive scheme for dealing with a dual-threat QB like Nickson?

G&B: Ellis Johnson has toyed a bit with a 4-2-5 scheme that is specifically designed to deal with teams that like to use speedy backs as they spread the field. The scheme has a number of advantages in this regard. For one thing, it allows us to use our LBs for blitzes, as the extra defensive backs provide stable backup if someone gets into space. Expect to see some of this scheme on Thursdays.

5. I imagine Steve Spurrier will be looking to test Vandy's group of young and inexperienced linebackers. If you were Bobby Johnson, what weaknesses would you be looking to exploit in the South Carolina defense?

G&B: Like I said, I would try to get Nickson out on the edges to take advantage of Brinkley and Norwood’s lack of speed. These two linebackers are very talented, but they’re big for their positions and thus there are concerns that they are a step slow. However, like I also said, the run support provided by the extra defensive backs in the 4-2-5 should keep Nickson from breaking off any huge runs.

6. Matchup of the game: Kenny McKinley vs. D.J. Moore. Who wins?

G&B: Heh. My first impression is that it depends on how Chris Smelley plays. In all seriousness, though, I think Moore is capable of shutting down McKinley, and I expect us to look to other receiving options. I know that’s sort of a shoddy answer to the question, but that’s what I think.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pressure on Smelley will tell the tale. The blitzes VU used against Miami were pretty garden variety...I predict that you'll see more complicated delayed and zone-type blitzes this week. More pressure on Vandy's non-blitzing secondary guys to keep the ball inside and in front of them.

But hey, that's been the defensive scheme for three years.