The first game is behind us, and boy are we glad to be able to say that.
It was a long week of licking our wounds and expressing our long over-due frustrations (if you don’t believe me, you didn’t catch the weekly call-in show).
But with that finally behind us, we prepare for a much needed tune-up game against Charleston Southern, and in rue Gamecock fashion, there’s more questions now than there was before the opener.
After one of the craziest weeks in program history, here’s our attempt to focus in on tomorrow’s game.
Here’s five things to look for in week two:
How well does Ryan Hilinksi do in his first start?
Muschamp confirms freshman Ryan Hilinski will get the start Saturday. Says that Dakereon Joyner will play some as well.— The Spurs Up Show (@TheSpursUpShow) September 3, 2019
In case you’ve been on another planet this week, I’ll recap the events that have transpired to ensure that you’re caught up.
First, we suffered yet another embarrassing loss in Charlotte, one that saw us give up an early lead, and then blow any opportunity to save the win by catching the turn-over bug.
Directly after the loss, Gamecock fans expressed their anger toward the coaching staff and the performance, something that honestly has been a long time coming.
Sunday afternoon news broke that senior QB, Jake Bentley, suffered a potential season ending injury to his foot.
While many wanted to see Bentley removed from the position, true Gamecock fans agree that this is not the way that they wanted to see it happen.
Even so, here we are and the biggest story of the week, will be the number one thing that fans will be watching for, the true freshman, Ryan Hilinski’s first start.
Fans have been patiently waiting for this moment since the day the highly touted 4-star prospect committed to the Gamecocks.
His passing ability, composure, and passion for Gamecocks has already made him a fan favorite, and with the season on the line (and potentially the job security of Will Muschamp), the California native will take the field to show what he is made of.
Expect the normal amount of freshman mistakes, but also expect a whole lot of upside when he’s under center.
Look also to see his comfort level when under pressure, while throwing the long ball, and when he’s forced to make decisions early.
It may be too early to tell, but I ‘m betting that Hilinski will come out of this game looking like a potential savior-in-the-making.
Does Feaster have a career day?
Although both backs looked sharp in the opener, Tavien Feaster had the better day (72 yds. 1 TD) and seemed to bring with him a new big-play threat that has been missing from Columbia since Mike Davis went to the NFL.
With a tough loss in the rearview and a freshman QB just getting his feet wet, all signs point to Feaster (as well as Dowdle) carrying a heavy load in Saturday’s game.
If given enough carries, expect Feaster to have a career day, scoring early and often.
Dowdle should get into the mix too, promoting that “two-headed monster” that some think could very well end up being one of the best in the country.
The question here though is whether or not Feaster gets the chance to play meaningful time, considering the opponent.
The talent gap between Carolina and CSU will be on display, and with the coaching hoping staff to get 2nd and 3rd string reps, Feaster’s day could be over earlier than many want.
If Hilinski struggles though, which could happen early, expect to see a heavy dose of Feaster and watch his stats sky-rocket toward a record setting pace.
Can the defense respond and shut down the run?
It is often said that the most significant jump in improvement for a team comes between games one and two.
For the Gamecock defense, let’s hope that is true.
In the opener, the defense looked anemic against the run. Missed tackles, bad form, and a lack of effort was displayed, hinting that maybe it was coaching missteps and not simply lack of production.
If, however, the defense does make the adjustments needed, 6-7 wins may still be on the table.
With an opponent like CSU, it will be hard to accurately judge the defensive improvements.
If the defense looks stellar and is able to effectively shut down the Buc’s offensive plan (especially the run), fans should take it with a grain of salt, until proven that it can be replicated against a quality opponent.
If, however, they were to show no signs of improvement, it would speak volumes of where the program is right now, and any excuses of “one bad game” can be dismissed completely.
Watch for the defense to try and set the tone early.
I expect to see more aggressive pressure looks, but I caution fellow Gamecock fans not to get too overexcited by sacks and tackles for loss.
Keep the talent gap here in perspective.
Instead, get excited if you see a more fundamentally sound team overall, because that will be the true sign of improvement.
Does the bland play-calling continue?
Before the season started, it was mentioned that Bryan McClendon’s full playbook would be on display.
What we saw Saturday looked as if the mythical full-playbook was nothing more than a bluff.
The offense lacked identity and looked stale.
Outside of a couple big plays (most notably the running game and Kyle Markway’s TD) the play-calling seemed painfully conservative, especially when the game was on the line.
Keep in mind that this lean toward conservatively safe play-calling was when a 4th year senior was running the system.
If fans expect the playbook to open up with the true freshman starting, they may be bitterly disappointed.
Expect to see the conservatism linger until Hilinski gets more comfortable (and maybe even long after that).
The game plan for this weekend will more than likely be a heavy dose of running the ball, with some short to intermediate passes to get the freshman comfortable.
Will there be a few long bombs dialed up?
I assume so, but even if Hilinski shows better touch out there, my bet is that he won’t be let loose completely.
Maybe I’m wrong. Actually, I hope that I’m wrong, because I’m sure I’m not the only one that wants to see number 3 sling it around out there.
Does the coaching staff improve the on-field product for fans?
Muschamp on fan outrage: "We’re pissed off too, our coaches and staff. We’re in a bunker mentality. I don’t read your articles and podcasts or whatever. End of the day, it’s about what we need to do to win. Rally to win these games. Help us win games. That would be my message."— The Spurs Up Show (@TheSpursUpShow) September 3, 2019
The season opener went about as poorly as it could have and fans have yet to fully recover from it.
Even though Will Muschamp echoed that sentiment, saying, “we’re pissed too,” fans want to see less talk from the podium and more productivity on the field.
This Saturday may very well be a glorified practice, but the Gamecock staff should treat it with a sobering dose of reality.
They cannot afford to look sloppy, especially against CSU and they cannot afford to lose the fan base any more than they already have.
If they want to change the narrative of the season and somehow move out from behind the proverbial 8-ball, the adjustments that have been made must show up on the field.
The product we see Saturday will be scrutinized heavily.
Mistakes will be blown out of proportion (and rightfully so), while successes will be minimized for the sake of remaining realistic.
It may not be completely fair, but that’s the nature of things, especially after the hole that this staff dug in the opener.
To climb out of that, and bring back a frustrated fan-base, the coaching staff needs to give the fans a product that can be believed in.
We will stay loyal to the Garnet & Black for a lifetime, but that does not mean that we must stay loyal to a coaching staff.
It is time to improve the product.
Fans will show up, but will the coaching staff have the team ready to show up?