College Football Overtime (cont.)
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has had better weeks.
Last Tuesday, oft-troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia, who had recently lost his starting job, was dismissed from the team. Spurrier curiously attempted to deflect the news by choosing that of all days to publicly address a long-standing grievance with local columnist Ron Morris of The State over a story he wrote months earlier, which Spurrier claimed was "fabricated." In a clearly pre-scripted show, the coach walked out of his weekly news conference, claiming Morris "is a negative guy who tries to hurt our football program" and "I'm not going to talk when he's in here."
Never mind that Garcia -- and more so Spurrier's five-year coddling of the troubled quarterback -- created far more negativity for his program than anything a columnist could write. That news didn't come out until after the press conference.
But neither Garcia's dismissal nor the coach's media spat will have nearly the same impact as the devastating season-ending knee injury star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered Saturday while making a block against Mississippi State. The uber-talented sophomore had just reached 2,000 career yards earlier in the game and was averaging 129.8 yards on the season coming into Saturday. South Carolina eked out a 14-12 victory over the 3-4 Bulldogs when Alshon Jeffery leapt over two Mississippi State defenders in the end zone to catch a go-ahead touchdown with 3:50 remaining.
Without their one bedrock of consistency, it's hard to imagine the already erratic Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1 SEC) hanging on to win the SEC East. But there's really only one other feasible candidate, Georgia (5-2, 4-1), currently tied atop the division with South Carolina. The Bulldogs have no margin for error because the Gamecocks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, but they do play a more favorable schedule. Both teams face reeling Florida (4-3, 2-3), but South Carolina's other two games are on the road against Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) and No. 10 Arkansas (5-1, 1-1), while Mark Richt's team gets Auburn (5-2, 3-1) and Kentucky (2-4, 0-3) at home.
It took everything in its power for Georgia to survive Saturday at Vanderbilt, 33-28, after which defensive coordinator Todd Grantham nearly ignited a brawl with his buffoonish tantrum at Commodores head coach James Franklin. The Dawgs clearly aren't a juggernaut yet but they have won five straight.
After two years of mostly bad news, things appear to be looking up for Richt's program, whereas Spurrier's is bleeding bad news -- none of which is anyone is making up.
Late Saturday night, a Twitter follower asked me a vexing question: Who is the more explosive freshman, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas or Clemson's Sammy Watkins? Is there really a correct answer to that?
After watching from the Autzen Stadium press box as Thomas twice streaked into the end zone during Oregon's 41-27 win over Arizona State, I can tell you The Black Mamba is as fast as advertised. He's a major reason the Ducks could survive so seamlessly without LaMichael James, and, with all due respect to Kenjon Barner, Thomas will become the Ducks' primary weapon sooner than later.
But Watkins is already playing that role for Clemson, and doing so at an extraordinarily high level. In Saturday night's comeback win over Maryland, the freshman racked up a school-record 345 all-purpose yards. He caught two touchdowns in the third quarter as the Tigers began their rally from a 35-17 deficit, returned one kickoff 70 yards and, when it mattered most, returned another 89 yards for the go-ahead score with 7:24 remaining.
"I told him after [his] fumbled punt in the first quarter that he owed me one. He certainly responded," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "He did show he was human tonight, but to break C.J. Spiller's [single-game] all-purpose record in just [his] seventh game is incredible."
There are many reasons why Clemson is a surprising 7-0, including continued solid play from quarterback Tajh Boyd (26-of-38 for 270 yards, four touchdowns and an interception), but Watkins -- who's averaging 172.1 all-purpose yards -- is the biggest difference-maker. And he's only 18. He draws obvious comparisons to former Clemson star Spiller, but his instant impact is more reminiscent to that of another true freshman, Percy Harvin, on Florida's 2006 BCS title team.
Harvin and Spiller were the recent posters for "explosive" all-purpose threats. Thomas and Watkins are the next generation.
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