2011 Gamecock Football Report Card

Now that it’s been almost a week since the bowl game (and I’ve had some time to catch up on the sleep grad school is stealing from me), I present to you Cocky Country’s grades for the 2011 Gamecock football team. They get a B+ overall, and could have gotten an A if the special teams weren’t so poor. All in all, though, this team was a) obviously the best in school history and b) a group of guys who have what it takes to be successful on – and off – the field. Without further ado, the grading breakdowns:

Offense: B

All things considered, the offense was much, much better than it could have been. There was too much inconsistency at times, and while some of that can be attributed to learning curves and young players, it was a problem even for some of the veteran players. Stephen Garcia did little to help while he was still in the garnet and black, but the blame for early season mistakes doesn’t lie solely with him. Connor Shaw was undoubtedly impressive, but he’s got to learn to get rid of the ball faster at times. He took an awful lot of sacks in some games, and it’s lucky that he didn’t suffer any injuries because of them.

The offense celebrates an Ace Sanders TD against Clemson.

The offensive line seemed to get itself together as the season went on, but the loss of Kyle Nunn did cause some trouble. Coach Shawn Elliott has definitely had a positive impact on his guys, though, and I expect the o-line to work out the kinks in spring and fall practice. While Nunn’s injury was significant, one guy’s , was even more so – Marcus Lattimore. After tearing his MCL and ACL, Lattimore missed the final  five games of the season. Many people wrote off the Cocks after that, but to the offense’s credit, they refused to give up.

Brandon Wilds, Kenny Miles, and a host of other guys stepped up and made plays when it counted. That indicates a bright future. The other biggest name on the offense – Alshon Jeffery – did not necessarily have the season that was expected of him, but but he definitely didn’t disappoint, and he made some big time plays when it really mattered. With some slight adjustments, new players, and the positive momentum from this season, the Gamecock offense has the potential to be seriously good in 2012.

Defense: A

Without the strength of the Cocks D, USC might not have had as successful a season as they did. With a few minor exceptions, the Carolina defense was a force to be reckoned with in 2011. From consensus All-American Melvin Ingram, to D.J. Swearinger, to Jadeveon Clowney, to Antonio Allen, and beyond, this unit was full of skill, talent, and determination.

The Carolina defense smothered Clemson. Lesson: watch what you tweet.

Despite allegedly being called “average” by Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, the Gamecock defense proved to be anything but. They’re currently ranked No. 3 in the country for overall offense, and are among the leaders in multiple more specific categories (i.e. interceptions, scoring defense, etc.)

Though they’ll lose some big name guys (Ingram, Allen, Stephon Gilmore), the defense should continue to be strong in 2012. Even though former coach Ellis Johnson has moved on, Lorenzo Ward seemed to do a more than fine job during the Capital One Bowl, and should be a quality replacement for Johnson. He also helps maintain consistency for the players, who are used to working with him.

Special Teams: D

USC’s special teams haven’t really been that special in recent seasons, and that was no different in 2011. The kicking was dreadful at times, with missed extra points and field goals, plus some truly pathetic punts. Gone are the days of Ryan Succop and Spencer Lanning, who were generally not disappointing. When Steve Spurrier was asked after the bowl game what the deal with the kicking game was, he pretty much said that he doesn’t get mad about it, because the the talent’s just not there.

Ace Sanders was the only one to return a punt for a TD - it came against ECU.

Yes, Jay Wooten and Joey Scribner-Howard could be a lot worse, and thankfully no games came down to a missed/bad kick. Still, though, South Carolina’s poor showing in the kicking department is reflected in the national rankings, where they’re 92nd overall in kickoffs, 90th in PATs, 85th in field goals, and 99th in punting. Ouch.

Returning kickoffs and punts wasn’t a strong suit of the 2011 special teams unit, either. They were 60th overall in kickoff returns, averaging just under 22 yards per return with no TDs. Punt returning was even worse, with a No. 68 national ranking and an average of under eight yards and just one touchdown. Ouch again. Special teams is definitely South Carolina’s biggest weakness, and if things don’t get corrected soon, mistakes could come back to haunt the Gamecocks.

Coaching: A

Steve Spurrier gets a Gatorade bath after the Capital One Bowl. (photo © Erik Campos, GoGamecocks)

Despite the vast number of other accomplishments in his career, the 2011 season has to rank right at the top for Steve Spurrier. He didn’t let the adversity, both injury-related and otherwise, derail his team, and thanks to that, the HBC became the first coach in Carolina’s history to lead a team to 11 wins.

Though I didn’t agree with some of his calls (most noticeably keeping Garcia in against Auburn), Spurrier has forgotten more about football than I could ever hope to know. His excitement and emotion were clear throughout the season, and especially after the wins over Florida and Nebraska. Spurrier has engineered a new standard for Carolina football, and we’re certainly lucky to have him on our sideline.

The entire South Carolina coaching staff deserves to be commended for a job well done, really. Though we’ll be without Johnson and former RBs coach Jay Graham next season, there will still be plenty of coaching capability in the garnet and black. They’ve got great players to work with, and if they can keep the team motivated and get them to fix the kinks that remain, the Gamecocks have a great shot at experiencing abundant success in 2012.

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