Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Step. Away. From the Edge.
For many, this past weekend's loss to Arkansas confirmed their worst fears: the slide that ended the last two seasons was happening again, before their eyes. Although it is the Gamecock's second loss in a row and third out of the last four, all is not lost, and we are not stumbling to the finish. At least, that remains to be seen. That's just the thing: those fans who view our team on a losing streak to end the year are necessarily assuming that we will lose to Florida and Clemson. Without those two losses, you can't really say the team is stumbling to the finish. Could we lose one or both of those games? Sure, will we? Maybe. To assume that those games are already lost, does a disservice to our players and coaches and sets us, as fans, up for a double disappointment. If we do lose those games, not only will the fans have tortured themselves about a skid that hasn't yet materialized, but the fans will feel all the worse if/when it does materialize.
Now, I'm not advocating that we all assume that everything is perfect, nor am I suggesting we be content with a 6-4 record 10 games into the season. I am saying that the sky is not falling. This team was expected to be somewhere between 6-6 and 8-4 depending on who you ask. Before the season Florida and Alabama were assumed losses. A split with Georgia and Ole Miss would be helpful for a good season, but not necessary. Florida Atlantic, South Carolina State, NC State and Kentucky were considered safe wins. With 2/3 of the schedule predicted, prognosticators had the Gamecocks at 5-3 or 4-4 depending on the Ole Miss/Georgia games. The four remaining games were: @ Tennessee, @ Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Clemson. (Vanderbilt couldn't be considered an automatic after the past two years.) The Gamecocks are 1-2 in those games. They won the home game and lost the road games, not uncommon in this conference. They are a little below where we hoped they'd be, but not far, and the good news is: there is still football left to play. I don't think many gamecock fans would consider it a bad season if we won one of the last two games and won our bowl. 8-5 sounds nice to me right now.
So, why did we not win these past two games? Two reasons are Arkansas and Tennessee. Neither is a bad team, neither is playing poorly now, and both play better at home. We don't have to deal with either of these teams again or anymore road games. A second reason is injuries, especially to the defense. Our defense is simply not as good without Chris Culliver and Cliff Matthews in the line-up. Chris will be back this week. Cliff will be back for Clemson. Another reason is the offense's inability to score in the redzone. The offense has moved the ball, but hasn't put the points on the board. This is a problem to be sure, but not a horrible one. Moving the ball and settling for field goals is very close to moving the ball and scoring touchdowns. We may not take that next step, but our offense is only that one step away from putting up big numbers.
I'll say again: step away from the edge; don't jump. You can assume that we will only finish 6-6, and you can lament that fact and feel miserable about the little bit of football season we have left. You could have done that all year. If you want to, fine, you can approach the rest of the season anyway you want to, but consider this: both Clemson and Florida are probably going to play in their conference's championship game. Those games will have a lot riding on them, and our opponents will be thinking about them and preparing for them. That combined with playing at home (where, as Flounder pointed out, we've won 7 in a row) might give the Gamecocks enough of a boost to pull of an upset or two.