Tales From The Cockpit: Off and Running

The phrase “a win is a win” may be one that most of us use when fending off the negativity spread by rival fans…but this win was much more than just a win.

South Carolina’s 13-10 victory over Vanderbilt wasn’t the kind of win over the Commodores that we may have grown accustomed to in the Spurrier era of Gamecocks football, but nobody should have expected it to be.  This is the Muschamp Era and unlike the folks in Gainesville, we aren’t looking for pretty at this point in our history.

We’re looking for wins.

Starting the 2016 season with a road win, in conference, is an amazing accomplishment for this squad.  Coming off of the horrible 2015 campaign and adding so many new and inexperienced players, a win of any kind was paramount to there being any hope for this season.  This is especially true considering that the Gamecocks were the underdog coming into this game against what was being touted as a much improved Vanderbilt team (until USC won of course).

The first half was a bit of a headache for us fans.

The offense was non-existent in the opening half with both Perry Orth and Brandon Mclwain having little to no success under center…the only drive with any promise in the first half ended with a McIlwain fumble.  Couple that with Deebo Samuel’s fumbled punt and some boneheaded defensive penalties and the Gamecocks were staring at a 10-0 deficit heading into the locker room.

Not good, but then again it could have been worse.

Something I’ve said over and over since the day Will Muschamp signed on to be the new head coach at USC came true on Thursday night.  This defense was much improved against two good (not great, but good) running backs. Most importantly, they remembered how to tackle…the right way.

No more arm tackles.

This was, in my opinion, the best defensive performance the Gamecocks have put forth since 2013.  I’m not the only one to say that either.  The defense was swarming to the ball, completing tackles and successfully covering the Vanderbilt receivers in man-to-man coverage.

That made this fan very happy.  Not as happy as I was in the second half though.  A half again dominated by the South Carolina defense, but what really changed the game was former walk-on Perry Orth.

All of a sudden the offense figured it all out, at least enough to swing the momentum Carolina’s way.  It started in the 3rd quarter with a 10-play 47-yard drive that resulted in a 48-yard Elliott Fry field goal and the Gamecocks’ first points of the 2016 season.

Orth seemed to finally settle in and begin to trust his offensive line and playmakers.  With redshirt Freshman A.J. Turner starting to find space, the passing game opened up for the Gamecocks and a new playmaker was born.

True Freshman Bryan Edwards turned this game around offensively for the Gamecocks.

After a first half chock full of dropped passes, Edwards started pulling down some great catches and helping Carolina move down field.  That in combination with Turner’s open lanes and Deebo Samuel erasing his first half turnover with a wonderfully run jet sweep brought the Gamecocks back from the brink of a devastating start to 2016, to a gutsy win to build on.

Then, out came the real hero of the game.  Elliott Fry.

A questionable call on 3rd down left Orth in no-mans land behind a collapsing offensive line and getting dropped for a loss just outside of the “field goal range” graphic on ESPN…but the legend that is Elliott Fry cares not for ESPN graphics.

A career-long 55-yarder for the lead with just 35-seconds left in the game.

This kid is quite literally the man.  He has ice-water in his veins and he smacks down rival fan twitter trolls on a daily basis.  If anybody epitomizes the phrase “We Cocky,” it’s Fry.

Vandy still had 35-seconds on the clock after a touchback, but the Gamecock defense continued to dominate the line of scrimmage and finished off Vanderbilt.

Coach Boom is 1-0 in one of the most Muschampian games you will every see….and yes, a win is a win, but this one was so much sweeter for Gamecocks fans.

Now for some positives and negatives.

Positives:

  • Defense- swarming, tackling and holding Vandy to just 242 yards and 10-points.
  • Running Game- I think a combination of Turner and Williams as the season progresses will be very successful and very helpful to the passing game.
  • Playmakers- Turner, Edwards, Samuel and yes McIlwain…just gotta hold onto the ball kid.
  • Kicking Game- Was this even in question?  In Fry we trust!

Negatives:

  • Defensive Penalties- Got better in second half, but penalties were a killer and helped lead to the 10-point halftime deficit.
  • Turnovers- Again, none in second half, but against better teams a 10-point lead turns into a 24-point lead very quickly.  Must protect the ball and win the turnover battle.
  • Passing Game- Non-existent until late in the 3rd quarter.  Have to be balanced in the running and passing game to extend drives and keep the defense fresh.  When we get into the really difficult part of the schedule a tired defense will lead to ugly losses.

There are a lot of things that the Gamecocks will need to work on going forward, but there was also a lot to be excited about.  Not only for the rest of 2016, but also into the future of this program.  I think Muschamp has a lot more to work with than any of us thought.

So again, I leave you with one request…be cautiously optimistic and remember, in Muschamp we trust!

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33). 

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