Q&A: Talks with the Cocks | Razorback Expats

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Q&A: Talks with the Cocks

Posted By on Sat, Nov 3, 2007 at 2:58 PM

Now that the Hogs' Sun Belt conference schedule is over and we're back to the *real* season again, we were excited to resume our ongoing series of Q&A's with our fellow SEC bloggers. This week's installment finds us matching wits with cocknfire from the excellent South Carolina blog, Garnet and Black Attack. He was kind enough to educate us on all matters USC (East coast version), from Lou Holtz to the best local barbeque. Read on for all the juicy details...

(Also, be sure to wander on over to cocknfire's neck of the online woods and check out our side of the story.)

1. Describe the overall strengths and weaknesses of the South Carolina team.

Strengths: Cory Boyd, which is our answer to Mike Hart in the running back/leader we don't really deserve category, and Mike Davis leading the ground attack. Passing defense is also a strength, as well as the whole D's ability to produce some new playmaker almost every week since Jasper Brinkley went down. I would have said Ryan Succop, but he's kind of in the doghouse right now. Obviously coaching is up there.

Weaknesses: The quarterback issues lead the way. Running defense is a real weakness, though the team has at least limited the damage in major games outside of LSU. Everything on special teams not related to Succop's consistency. And the team really doesn't have a second threat among the WRs after Kenny McKinley, though the TEs show up every once in a while.

2. Quarterback controversies never seem to be far away when Steve Spurrier is coaching a team. Give us your take on the Blake Mitchell-Chris Smelley situation. Who is the fan favorite?

Which week are you talking about?

If you had asked fans before the Vanderbilt game, they would have chosen Smelley hands-down. Most Gamecock fans were tired of Blake's routine -- near-excellence, followed by disastrously bad decisions, followed by near-redemption. Everyone who saw the Tennessee game and marveled at how Blake seemed to from "on" in regulation to "off" in overtime was really just experiencing the last three years of our lives in three hours.

Simply put, Mitchell seems to have an inability to make good decisions for more than three or four quarters in a row, and that has always kept him from making the transition from "above-average" to "good" or "great." Smelley has the potential to be better than Blake, at least in that respect, over the long run.

But right now, I have to agree with Spurrier: Blake gives the team the best chance to win. I'd still like to see Smelley get some significant playing time, though, because I think he's likely to win the starting job over SAVIOR OF THE PROGRAM Stephen Garcia next year, and I think the experience would do him some good.

3. The Gamecocks are three seasons into the Steve Spurrier era. What is your opinion of his performance as coach so far and do you think he is in Columbia for the long haul?

Earlier this year, I picked South Carolina second in the East -- which isn't unlikely. I said the minimum it would take for me to consider the season a success was 8 wins and a decent bowl game -- which is certainly achievable. But after getting our division title hopes up this year, and losing them in part because of the Vanderbilt game, there's still a little bit of a bitter taste.

That said, I think Spurrier's done a solid job so far. With the decay that was left behind by the Holtz Administration (see below), he went 7-4 the first year before losing the bowl game, then went 7-5 the next year before winning the bowl game. If South Carolina gets eight or nine wins in the regular season this year, after beating Georgia for the first time, I think you have to see it as a sign of progress.

Is he here for the long haul? I think so. He probably had to turn down Miami and almost certainly had to turn down Alabama last year to stay around this year. And if you read between the lines, he's constantly saying things like, "Hopefully, one day our quarterbacks..." or "Maybe some day we won't..." and things like that. He said he came to South Carolina for the challenge of doing things that have never been done -- and he's already done some of them. I can't believe a guy that competitive would leave with unfinished business.

4. On a slightly non-football note, how were Spurrier's comments about the state flag received by the fans?

I live in Atlanta and wasn't actually in Columbia when it happened. I had also let my first blog (Cock & Fire) go untended for a couple of months before returning. But from what I can recall, there were a few who got worked up but a lot who didn't care. Except for the diehards, most people in South Carolina on both sides are sick of hearing about the flag. I don't think Spurrier changed too many minds about the issue or him.

5. Fill us in on the teams South Carolina fans hate the most. Obviously, Clemson is first and foremost, and I'm guessing you'd say Georgia is your biggest rival in the SEC. What other programs/coaches spike the blood pressure of a Gamecocks fan?

Well, having bounced around conferences so much, we don't have a lot of historic rivals beyond Clemson and Georgia. But we really don't like Tennessee. We used to really dislike Florida, but some of us (like me) now kind of see them as the best alternative if South Carolina or one of the other underdogs can't win the East -- I guess it's the Spurrier effect. Oh, and we're not really on speaking terms with most of the Message-Board Bammers after the whole Spurrier-to-Alabama rumors. We're also kind of postseason rivals with Ohio State, at least in our own minds. Of the four bowl wins in South Carolina history, two came against the Buckeyes in the Outback Bowl, and the Gamecocks carry a 2-0 record against the Bucks.

6. Besides joining the SEC at the same time, our teams have at least one other thing in common: being coached by Lou Holtz. How do South Carolina fans remember the man and his era?

It's funny you should bring that up. I had a few spare minutes the other day and a copy of "Wins, Losses and Lessons" nearby, so I opened to the chapter on the South Carolina years and read it. And I saw the same thing I've seen since Holtz left: Excuses, omissions and exaggeration of his record.

Don't get me wrong: I was a Holtz booster for most of his time at the school. And any Gamecock fan who tells you he or she wasn't enthusiastic about Lou in the 2000  and 2001 seasons -- well, I want to see it in writing.

But it became clear later on that the game had passed Lou by. And when he left, the NCAA sanctions came crashing down, as they usually do when Holtz leaves a team. The program itself was also in shambles. Players were lazy about offseason workouts, and one of the first things Spurrier had to do was stop the players from going across the street to Church's for chicken whenever they wanted and institute a nutrition program. I'm not sure the players even knew how to spell "discipline."

I'm grateful for what Lou did while he was at South Carolina. But I'm not crazy about what he left behind.

As for the rest of fans, they're probably about as divided overall as I am individually. Some still think Holtz was a great coach.

7. What are the keys to a South Carolina victory on Saturday night and what's your prediction for the game?

The first key is to play four quarters. You might think that's coach-speech/ESPN B.S., and I'd usually agree with you, but it's different with this team. It's not that the Gamecocks can't jump out on top; they rode to a 21-3 lead against UNC before almost coughing it up in the 21-15 win. And it's not an endurance question; they rallied from a 21-0 deficit before losing 27-24 in overtime against the Vols.

Secondly, get Boyd and Davis consistenly involved. I'm talking at least 25-30 carries between them, and another five to 10 passes thrown their way. I don't care what the overall number of pass attempts is (unless it's something insane like 55), as long as Boyd and Davis get a chance to win the game.

Finally, force Casey Dick to win the game. Put eight or nine men in the box and force him to throw or at least limit the damage McFadden and Jones can do. I'm fine with them gaining 150-200 yards as long as there aren't any quick scores in there, because I'm not sure South Carolina can keep up if McFadden starts piling up points all by himself.

I'll go for a low-scoring game. South Carolina 17, Arkansas 10.

8. What's your forecast for the rest of the Gamecock's season?

I've said the same thing ever since the LSU game: This is a team that can win out. It's also a team that can lose out. It's just way too inconsistent to say for sure. I see South Carolina going 2-1 right now if everybody plays like they have the last few weeks -- barring, of course, the disaster against Vanderbilt.

9. You're made czar of college football for one day: Do you put South Carolina in the SEC or the ACC?

I was born and raised in Alabama and started off as an Auburn fan. It wasn't until I moved to South Carolina and then went to college there that I became a Gamecock -- so I've only been familiar with the team as part of the SEC, and always loved it being that way. If it were my choice, my team would remain in the best conference in the country.

There were some fans, back when the ACC was expanding, who wanted to return. So some older fans would probably make a different choice than I would.

10. Final question: Say we make it to Columbia the next time the Hogs visit. What barbecue spot is a must visit?

You know what? I didn't eat that much barbecue in Columbia, which was odd. Ate it everywhere else I lived in S.C., but not much in Columbia. Part of that was probably because the best place is supposedly Maurice Bessinger's restaurants. But then he started flying the enormous Confederate flag (in place of the U.S. flag), and the subject of his past segregationist campaign for governor and his racist tracts came up, so I got kind of turned off before I visited.

Wherever you go, though, it will probably be mustard-based. Each region of the state has its own favorite, and that's the Midlands variation.

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