Saturday’s performance against the Gamecocks wasn’t flashy but it was steady and showed progress. The Bulldogs accomplished exactly what they were looking to accomplish – Get out of Columbia with a WIN!! Anytime the Dawgs can go 2-0 on the two Columbia trips that is a great success. As for Saturday, I believe the game was a sign of progress being made by the Dawgs.
First, the team showed up ready to play and punched the Gamecocks in the mouth from the opening snap of the game. Coming off a heartbreaking loss and with all of the uncertainty surrounding the schedule of the game it could have been very easy for the Dawgs to come out flat and let South Carolina get early momentum. Instead, the Dawgs marched down the field on a 7 play, 73-yard touchdown drive. Plain and simple, the Dawgs took care of business.
Second, the offensive line is playing a much more physical brand of football and their run blocking is improving each week. I believe we are truly starting to see Coach Pittman’s value as the improvements made by this offensive line from the Nichols State game to the game Sunday afternoon are tremendous when it comes to run blocking. Saturday was a dominating rushing effort by the Dawgs with Sony Michel leading the way with 21 carries for 131 yards, Chubb tallying 16 carries for 121 yards and Herrien adding 9 carries for 82 yards. The offensive line led the way with a tremendous push and often opening up holes getting the backs free to the second level.
Third, the young pups on the defensive line are much improved. While the Gamecocks don’t have a very stout rushing attack, the Dawgs were able to hold the Gamecocks to a total of 31 yards on 26 rushing attempts. Combine that with the Dawgs effort against the Volunteers last week where they held the Vols to 127 yards on 38 carries and Coach Tucker’s young defensive line is demonstrating tremendous progress. Guys like Tyler Clark, Michal Carter, Julian Rochester and David Marshall are adjusting very well to the physicality of the game in the SEC. This unit has the potential to be very special over the next couple seasons.
To put it simply, I think the Dawgs are making progress because they are slowly but surely becoming more physical at the point of attack. They are beginning to impose their will on inferior teams.
That said, there is still a tremendous amount for the Dawgs to work on and/or add to in the upcoming recruiting class. Jacob Eason needs to get more comfortable operating from under center. The Dawgs need to land more receivers who can create separation and more defensive backs who can play tight man coverage on opposing receivers. The last thing I am going to mention here, even though I have beaten it into the ground, the Dawgs must add pass rushers the Class of 2017. In my opinion, a major reason for the secondary’s struggles is the fact Dawgs simply cannot generate a consistent pass rush. That makes it very difficult for any secondary to perform at a high level.
Next Saturday against Vanderbilt is another opportunity for the team to continue to make progress and then an off week to get rested and healthy before the Dawgs biggest game of the season against the Florida Gators. If progress continues to be made over the next couple weeks the Dawgs will have every opportunity to take down the Gators in Jacksonville.