Sunday, January 3, 2010 Bowl Notes

For the second consecutive year in a row, Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks saved their worst for the bowl season, as South Carolina couldn’t muster any rhythm on offense in the team’s 20-7 loss to Connecticut.

* Mamma Mia…Stephen Garcia! The Gamecock signal caller’s stat line (16/38 129 yards, 0 Td/1 Int.) did him too much justice in that he actually played worse than his numbers indicate.

While the 6’2” signal caller was affected by the wind early on, he soon began throwing balls up for grabs in the face of pressure.

Garcia unsuccessfully lofted some high throws to 6’4” freshman Alshon Jeffery.

On one particular pass to Jeffery in the first quarter, 5’9 “ corner Robert McClain had him covered like a glove and almost came down with a pick.

Things went from bad to worse for the South Carolina passing attack, as Garcia wasn’t able to put any touch on his throws, which often floated high and wide.

The sophomore triggerman finally gets things turned around at the end of the second quarter when he puts a well thrown ball in front of Jason Barnes, which enables the tall wide out to make move on his defender.

The play advances SC’s offense for the first time in Connecticut’s territory.

But good times were short lived when Garcia failed to see McClain lurking behind Jeffrey, as the active cover man stepped in front of the intended target and almost scooped up an interception.

The wild passing continued in the second half, but the quarterback–to his credit–puts his head down and gained tough yardage inside on designed runs. Garcia actually wound up leading the Gamecocks in rushing with 56 yards on 15 carries.

Spurrier’s entire squad seemingly threw up the white flag during the final 15 minutes of the contest, as Jeffrey, tight end Weslye Saunders and wide receiver Moe Brown (pictured) all take turns in dropping easy passes. Garcia is fairly athletic and has a good arm, but his decision making leaves much to be desired.

* Steady Rocking All Night Long: Quarterback Zach Frazer made a number of accurate throws to help put the Huskies ahead, and then just simply let the running game do most of the heavy lifting.

The junior from Mechanicsburg, Pa. had the offense humming like a well-oiled machine in the first quarter when he put a well-placed ball in front of wide receiver Marcus Easley, who made a tough grab in tight coverage.

On the same drive, wide out Kashif Moore snatches a 37-yard strike out of mid-air with one hand in stride and breaks to the outside, leaving cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the dust.

The one flaw in Frazer’s performance was the way he sometimes panicked in the face of pressure and instinctively threw the ball away a little too soon, not giving himself a chance to scramble out of the pocket.

This is especially true in the second and third quarters when SC’s Eric Norwood breaks through the offensive line on a couple of occasions.

In other instances, however, Frazer did hang tough and find his hot reads when the pressure was on.

Overall, the quarterback played it safe for the most part, but showed good timing on his passes.

He seemed to have a lot of confidence in Easley who was on the receiving end of a low, hard throw with defenders surrounding him in the early going.

Frazer finished the game completing 9 of 21 pass attempts for 107 yards and the aforementioned score. The poor completion percentage was mostly the product of numerous throws that were made just to avoid sacks.

* Double Trouble at Running Back: The dynamic duo of Andre Dixon and the speedy Jordan Todman ran roughshod over SC’s vaunted defense with Dixon playing the role of the inside thumper. The 6’1” Dixon is a shifty runner with a surprising second gear in the open field.

He diligently followed his blocks and grinded out the necessary yardage. Like a well-trained boxer, Dixon leveled a steady dosage of body blows by gaining a number of first downs to keep the offense drives going.

In the second half, Dixon started picking up steam by running around his blockers and stampeding a tiring defense along the way. He showed good vision on his 10-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter by hitting his cut-back lane created by left tackle Mike Ryan.

In addition, the senior back also showcased his blocking skills in the game when he picks up oncoming defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye, enabling Frazer to complete his pass.

Dixon led his team with 126 yards on 33 carries.

The flashy Todman also played a key role in the victory by running inside, outside, lining up in the Wildcat and even throwing a pass on a halfback option play. His most impressive run was a spectacular 17-yard ramble, where he makes a host of defenders miss tackles in very tight quarters. The highly-skilled perimeter runner was very effective on sweeps and even made Norwood look foolish by going wide and eluding him.

* Easley Does It: The 6’2” Easley kept SC’s secondary on its heels in the first half due to his game-braking speed. The former walk-on also displayed remarkable run-after-catch skills with his desire to fight through tackles.

* Big Uglies Grind It Out: The physical Zach Hurd made his presence felt early in the running game, as he cleared the way for Dixon from his left guard position. Hurd also demonstrated good footwork through his blitz pickup of the much quicker Gilmore.

Ryan, the bulky left tackle, had an up-and-down showing in that he let the likes of Norwood and Ajiboye get around him a few times in pass rush situations, but he did most of his damage in the running game. The big man is at his best when he locks on to his opponent and steers him, as opposed to making blocks in space. His lack of agility makes him better suited to play guard.

* UCONN D Lays Down the Law:
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando drew up a solid game plan by throwing SC a changeup by blitzing his men more than usual.

On the Gamecocks’ first drive, strong safety Jerome Junior sqeezes through the center-guard gap and sacks Garcia.

Connecticut’s linemen also scrapped and battled throughout, such as sophomore tackle Kendall Reyes. Number 99 dug in low and used every once of his 286-pound frame to prevent a 4th-down and one conversion.

Reyes was a big reason why the Blue and White controlled the line of scrimmage, as seen on his first sack in which he beats guard T.J. Johnson to the inside with his raw brute strength. There’s was nothing fancy about it. He later collapsed the pocket in the fourth quarter for his second sack of the day.

Undersized end Jesse Joseph also chipped in by using good technique in standing up guard Garrett Chisolm, and stopping running back South Carolina's Brian Maddox dead in his tracks.

End Lindsey Witten was active, but didn’t have much success on stunt plays where he was pushed away more often than not. He did occasionally break free and penetrate thanks to his quickness and was even held on one of his moves to the outside that wasn’t called.

Witten started getting around his blocker to the outside with greater frequency in the second half. The senior has great energy, and can even drop back in coverage, but a dropped interception late in the game is probably something he’d like to forget.

Versatile linebacker Scott Lutrus was an absolute hammer. The omnipresent textbook tackler totaled eight tackles, one fumble recovery and one sack. Lutrus did an excellent job of separating helpless receivers from the football with his devastating hits. Jefferey must have been hearing footsteps when he dropped the ball even before the junior linebacker arrived to apply the hit.

On his fourth quarter sack, Lutrus runs by Maddox and closes in on Garcia without giving the quarterback any opportunity of sidestepping him.

McClain proved to be a heady cornerback that anticipates plays with the strength to lay out receivers. Free safety Robert Vaughn did a fine job of patrolling the deep middle and even steps in front of wide receiver Tori Gurley for a fourth quarter interception.

* USC O-Line Pummeled:
It was disastrous afternoon for left tackle Hutch Eckerson, who Connecticut defenders had no trouble beating to the edge. Eckerson was forced into committing a costly penalty in the third quarter, which led Spurrier to take him out of misery and bench him.

Guards T.J. Johnson and Chisolm were regularly overpowered by the opposing defensive tackles, although Johnson did bounce back in the second half by turning his man on a couple of plays in the running game.

Center Lemuel Jeanpierre was the best of the bunch with the way he consistently took good angles in his effort to create running lanes.

* Is There a Doctor in the House?
Gamecock receivers all suffered from a terrible case of the dropsies with the highly-touted Jefferey coming up very small in the humiliating loss. Not only did the freshman hear footsteps on a slant away and dropped the ball even before contact, but he also fumbled the ball on a big hit by McClain late in the game, which Witten almost recovers for the opposition.

King-sized tight end Saunders (6’5”, 280) showed good agility for a big man by reaching outside his frame to haul in a low throw, but also dropped the easiest of passes. Running back Maddox scores a two-yard garbage-time by stumbling into the end zone after a half-hearted attempt on the part of Junior to stop him.

* One Norwood Not Enough: Norwood was the one SC player to show heart and desire from start to finish.

The sparkling senior barreled down on Frazer all game long. On one play in the second quarter, Norwood employs his lightning-quick first step to gain inside position on the left tackle and forces a jumpy Frazer to immediately throw the ball away. He later makes a full-extension dive to hold Dixon to a short gain.

Norwood showed the motor and stamina to bring it all game long and keep Frazer on alert of his presence. The 6’1” outside linebacker should be an immediate impact player at the next level.

* Other SC Defenders: Ajiboye was extremely busy in the early stages of the game by beating his man off the ball versus the pass and finding the ball carrier against the run. He shows his strength in the second quarter by swooping into the offensive backfield and corralling Dixon to the ground.

Junior defensive end Cliff Matthews was also flying around early by beating the rest of his teammates to the quarterback on a sell-out blitz. The 6’5” junior flashed his superior hand skills in the third quarter to get off his block and crash in on a Dixon running play that went nowhere.

The freakish 6’8”, 281-pound Cliff Geathers puts his brute strength on display in the second quarter by pushing his man into Frazer’s passing lane and knocking down his throw. No one on Connecticut’s line had the power to neutralize the “Too Tall” Jones clone one-on-one, but Gearthers does make a bad decision in the third quarter by being charged with a late hit after beating his man off the edge. Geathers also needs to refine his footwork, as he tripped over himself untouched at one point.

Safety Antonio Allen is a good hitter with some range. He showed his toughness when he swoops in on a sweep play and holds Todman to no gain.

Photo Courtesy of SEC Sports Media