No doubt mullet fans everywhere will be disappointed in that bit of insight from Year2′s post about how this season’s SEC East race could boil down to South Carolina and Georgia. If so, here are his keys:
… A lot of what will determine the race is currently unknowable. Can Stephen Garcia keep his head screwed on straight? Can Aaron Murray raise the level of what is at the moment a thin and largely unproven receiving corps? How good will highly touted freshmen Isaiah Crowell and Jadeveon Clowney be? How big a leap will South Carolina’s offense make in Year 2 of the zone read offense that Shawn Elliott brought from Appalachian State? How good will Georgia’s defense be in Year 2 of the 3-4 scheme that Todd Grantham brought from the NFL?
All good questions. Still, Bill Connelly makes a strong case that things may not be as close as they seem. Or, maybe more specifically, that there’s one key above all in this year’s SEC East.
… When Stephen Garcia (3,059 yards, 8.8 per pass, 64% completion rate, 20 TD, 14 INT) was making good decisions, or at least avoiding terrible ones, this South Carolina offense was damn near magnificent.
South Carolina (Garcia Throwing Two INTs or More): 27.6 Adj. PPG (7 TD, 11 INT)
South Carolina (Garcia Throwing One INT or Fewer): 37.6 Adj. PPG (13 TD, 3 INT)
Mistakes begot more mistakes from Garcia in 2010, and while that’s common in a lot of players, it was magnified with this one. A fourth-quarter fumble against Auburn (the first time around) led to another fumble. An early interception against Florida State led to two more before half. It isn’t easy being a Spurrier quarterback — one mistake, and you could get yanked; but heading into his senior season after what I will just call an eventful offseason, Garcia will at some point need to show a level of maturity and funk avoidance that has eluded him to date. He will battle it out for the starting job with sophomore Conner Shaw (223 yards, 6.8 per pass, 70% completion rate, 1 TD, 2 INT), who took fewer chances (for better and worse) while getting his feet wet last fall.
When Garcia had his head on straight, he was able to get the ball to perhaps the best No. 1 receiver in the country, Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery was simply amazing; he was targeted with 36% of his team’s passes, easily the highest percentage among major conference receivers. Only one player in the major conference top ten (Auburn’s Darvin Adams) managed to match Jeffery’s 11.5-yards-per-target average, and in all, only Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon could perhaps surpass the season Jeffery had. He was really, really good. In games in which he had at least one 40+ yard reception, S.C.’s overall Adj. PPG was a stout 38.0. (Other games: 28.8 Adj. PPG.) He was every bit as important as Lattimore in 2010, and he will be so again in 2011.
I had this thought that Aaron Murray might be the most important single player in the conference this year (which is not the same thing as saying he’s the best, before you try to go there), but I think Bill’s got me convinced it’s Garcia. Sure, Georgia would face a significant drop off if Murray were to get injured, but the same can be said for the ‘Cocks prospects if Garcia gets hurt (unless you think the second, third, fourth and fifth chances he’s gotten are just a sign of Spurrier’s humanitarian side).
No, the difference here is that Garcia’s going to play and he’s not nearly as consistent as Murray was in Aaron’s freshman season. The issue for Georgia is whether Murray’s supporting cast can live up to their quarterback’s play. The issue for South Carolina is whether Garcia’s play is going to bring down his supporting cast.
If South Carolina gets Good Garcia for the whole season, that’s going to be a tough team to beat. If it’s more of the same though, we may be left praising the ‘Cocks for being the best five-loss team of the (half-) decade.