Tales From The Cockpit: Bend But Don’t Break

It started with a bang.

The Gamecocks set the tone early in their home opener with an  80-yard A.J. Turner kickoff return and a horse collar tackle penalty to boot.  The 80,000+ in Williams-Brice were already at full volume when Freshman Brandon McIlwain took it in for the touchdown on the very first offensive play of the game.

The Gamecocks finally came to play in the first quarter…and boy did they.  McIlwain and company scored 17 unanswered in the first quarter and Willy B was swaying.

Then it seemed like the Gamecocks employed a bit of  a soccer tactic.  They “parked the bus” on the Pirates.  I guess in football terms we’ll go with “bend but don’t break.”

Coach Will Muschamp even alluded to this tactic in the post game press conference when he pointed out that the Gamecock defense only surrendered 3 explosive plays and ECU was only able to average 5.7 yards per down. Explaining that the plan from the start was to keep everything in front of them.

For an offense like the one the Pirates trotted onto the field, that’s actually saying a lot.

Sure the Gamecocks gave up 500+ yards to ECU and yes, they allowed Pirates’ wide-out Zay Jones 22 receptions (nearly a record).  Muschamp actually laughed that statistic off in the post game press conference.  When asked about the 22 reception performance, Coach Boom simply responded, “he had a bunch, huh?”

To me, Muschamp seemed much more relaxed than I ever remember him looking in any post-game press conference after a win or a loss with Florida.  He credited the Carolina fans for motivating his team, he credited his offensive line for protecting McIlwain and he even credited McIlwain for his clean sheet (more soccer references) in his first start.

Above all else, Muschamp seemed very pleased with his defense.  He even said their performance was “outstanding.”

Again, ECU’s 500+ yards aside, this defense held a very explosive offense to just 15 points and forced 3 very timely turnovers in the red zone.  If you don’t find that impressive then you probably didn’t watch much South Carolina football one season ago.

What makes me laugh is how, yet again, I was told all week about how great ECU was and how Carolina didn’t have a chance just to be told after the win that they were garbage and that it means nothing.  Here’s the thing though…it doesn’t matter what it means to you or me.  It matters what it means to this team and how it impacts them moving forward.

With another SEC road game in Lexington this weekend, the Gamecocks have an opportunity to match their 2015 win total and make a statement against a thinned out Kentucky football team.  This game is extremely important to the season, as not only does it continue to work towards my prediction of 6-6, but it can help to bolster the teams confidence as it comes home for a tough couple of weeks.

After Kentucky the Aggies and Bulldogs roll into Williams-Brice and a 3-1 football team with two conference wins on the road under its belt will play much differently than a .500 team that just lost to a depleted Wildcats team.

This Saturday’s game may be the biggest of the young season for Carolina and I am sticking with my original predictions (which have all been right) and giving the Gamecocks the win.  I’m even going to stick with my original score prediction of 38-14.

Kentucky’s defense is not very good (surrendered 40+ points in each game this year) and they will probably be without starting QB Drew Barker.  Yes, backup Stephen Johnson is a mobile quarterback (USC’s kryptonite) and yes he had a heck of a performance against New Mexico State last week in relief of Barker…but I’m not scared.  Muschamp is getting through to these defensive players and I fully expect that to continue in Lexington.

One last thing.

My Gator-fan friends mocked me when Kurt Roper signed on to be Muschamp’s offensive coordinator again.  I believe in Roper.  I like his passion (heard some of it from through the glass separating the press box from the coaches box on Saturday) and I think he and McIlwain are growing more and more comfortable with each other each week.  I really do believe that great things are on the horizon.

So get ready to party Gamecock Nation, our boys will be coming home 3-1.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

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

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