Sapakoff: 5 keys to Gamecocks getting back into SEC Championship chase
COLUMBIA — Some South Carolina Gamecock fans are hiding their car flags in the trunk. A group of unaffiliated pundits have decided Jadeveon Clowney is terrific only against Clemson and Vincent Smith.
True, Saturday’s 41-30 loss at No. 9 Georgia leaves the Gamecocks a game and a half back in the SEC East one step into the conference schedule. When Clowney sneezes, lightning bolts don’t shoot out of his nose.
But haven’t these naysayers seen Mike Davis emerge as potentially the best running back South Carolina has had since George Rogers?
Don’t they know the Gamecocks have two quarterbacks better than everyone at Southern Cal, Texas and Florida combined?
Don’t buy those Music City Bowl tickets just yet.
Technically, No. 13 South Carolina can still win 13 games. Squeezing into the SEC Championship Game isn’t as much of a stretch. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves when the goal is to get ahead of Georgia in the SEC East and get to Atlanta.
Five keys to the locks on the Georgia Dome front door:
1. Pressure renovation
What a Gamecock luxury these last few seasons to be able to rush just four players. But South Carolina’s back seven on defense just don’t cover or bump receivers well enough anymore to pressure quarterbacks without some blitzing.
“We only rushed four a lot (at Georgia) and we were all discombobulated in our coverages,” head coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday, “so we need to make sure we get where we’re supposed to be and this, that and the other. I think we can still get pressure with Jadeveon and maybe some of the other guys.”
But, Spurrier said, “we have to coach better.”
Which usually leads to less discombobulation.
2. Geaux Tigers
South Carolina’s most logical SEC East formula is winning out while Georgia loses twice. The Bulldogs’ toughest games: LSU (and much-improved former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger) on Sept. 28; Florida in Jacksonville on Nov. 2; at Auburn on Nov. 16.
Commence the scoreboard watching.
“We’re rooting for LSU and Florida and somebody else to trip those guys up,” South Carolina wide receiver Nick Jones said.
3. More Mike Davis
The 5-9, 215-pound sophomore running back is averaging 9.4 yards on 28 carries. Davis’ 75-yard touchdown run in the season opener against North Carolina was the Gamecocks’ longest since Bobby Wallace went 88 yards against Middle Tennessee in 2006. His 75-yard run at Georgia was South Carolina’s longest non-scoring run since Spencer Clark dashed 77 yards against Clemson in 1977.
Davis said Tuesday he welcomes an increased workload. So give him the ball.
4. Embrace the chase
Jones scored two touchdowns in Athens, and admitted he was furious right after the game.
“I felt like this season can be the one for us,” he said. “It still can be the one for us. But I really wanted to go undefeated this year.”
Now South Carolina must play from behind, probably for months.
Chaser is an unfamiliar role for these players this early. But with a bye week following the Vanderbilt game, there is time to get hungrier.
5. Play faster
Spurrier sometimes pokes fun at up-tempo offenses but took a shot at his own sluggish attack Tuesday. He isn’t satisfied with the 59 and 61 plays South Carolina ran against North Carolina and Georgia, respectively (North Carolina ran 79 plays, Georgia ran 76). Spurrier wants more snaps and more points, which keeps an evolving defense out of trouble.
If the Gamecocks play faster long enough, they will catch Georgia. Or get better trying.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff