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ESPN: New-look South Carolina offense has chance to get big step ahead

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

‘Don’t be surprised’

ESPN’s Alex Scarborough likes what he saw from the South Carolina Gamecocks offense under first-year coordinator Bryan McClendon this spring.

“Don’t be surprised if the Gamecocks’ offense takes a big step forward this season,” Scarborough wrote. “Quarterback Jake Bentley having a year under his belt will help, as will the return of receiver Deebo Samuel, but more important there will be a new look to the unit with an emphasis on playing with greater pace.”

The Gamecocks return all seven wide receivers who caught passes last season, but have to replace All-SEC tight end Hayden Hurst, who was picked No. 25 overall by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2018 NFL Draft.

What a week

This past week was eventful for the Gamecocks’ recruiting classes for 2018 and 2019.

Four-star prospect and 2019 wide receiver/tight end Traevon Kenion committed to the Gamecocks on April 29, while Texas A&M graduate transfer cornerback Nick Harvey picked South Carolina on May 2.

“Harvey, of course, will join the Gamecocks secondary for the 2018 season,” SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan writes. “His playing career at South Carolina will be over when members of the Class of 2019 enroll for class next January.”

With Kenion’s pledge, South Carolina’s 2019 class is rated No. 13 in 247Sports’ football recruiting composite team rankings.

‘USC was really good’

Four-star defensive end and 2020 prospect Jacolbe Cowan gets good vibes from the Gamecocks.

“USC was really good,” Cowan said of his visit to Columbia in January. “They always show a lot of love. Never had a problem with USC, as far as a visit. I always feel welcome. They tell me, each time I come down, I’m always welcome.”

247Sports rates the Providence Day School (Charlotte, N.C.) standout as the No. 37 overall prospect for 2020. In addition to South Carolina, Cowan has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia and more.

Take the over

Brad Crawford of 247Sports picked the Gamecocks as one his best bets for projected win totals for 2018. Online sportsbook BetDSI put South Carolina’s over-under win total for 2018 at seven.

“With even odds, 10 starters back on offense and no clear-cut No. 2 in the East behind Georgia, this is a smart play,” Crawford writes. “The number was 5.5 for South Carolina during the 2017 preseason and Will Muschamp backhanded Vegas with eight wins before taking out Michigan in the Outback Bowl for No. 9. There’s no element of surprise in 2018 for a team with momentum hoping to take advantage of coaching changes at Tennessee and Florida, but seven wins still feels low.”

South Carolina won nine games for the seventh time in program history in 2017. The Gamecocks open the season on Sept. 1 against Coastal Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium.

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Offer out

The Gamecocks offered 2021 prospect and Parish Episcopal School (Dallas) quarterback Preston Stone on Thursday, according to Ben Breiner of The State.

“In his first high school season, Stone threw for 2,937 yards, completing 59.3 percent of his passes, with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions,” Breiner writes. “He also ran for 216 yards and 12 scores on a team that didn’t have much running game to speak of.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound rising sophomore also lists offers from Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Texas A&M and more.

Making the cut

Five-star small forward and 2019 prospect Wendell Moore announced South Carolina as one of his top-5 schools on Friday, The Big Spur’s John Whittle reports.

 The Concord, N.C., native is rated as the No. 24 overall prospect for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite.

What an honor

Former South Carolina standout and Detroit Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner tied a record when he made his big-league debut on Sunday.

In three seasons at South Carolina (2012-14), Greiner hit .278 with 36 doubles, 18 home runs and 120 RBI.

He was picked by the Tigers in the third round of the 2014 MLB Draft.

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The post ESPN: New-look South Carolina offense has chance to get big step ahead appeared first on SEC Country.

Daniel Sweeney – SEC Country

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Ranking South Carolina’s draft-eligible players; 4-star WR ‘looking forward’ to Gamecocks’ new-look offense

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Catching on

The South Carolina Gamecocks boast two of the top wide receiver prospects eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft, according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.

“Deebo Samuel, a redshirt senior, checks in as the No. 4-ranked wide receiver on Miller’s list,” wrote SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan. “Bryan Edwards, who has started every game as a freshman and sophomore, is No. 9. Neither is listed among the top 25 overall prospects.”

In 2016, his most prolific season, Samuel caught 59 passes for 784 yards and 1 touchdown, with 6 rushing scores.

In two seasons, Edwards is already No. 13 all time in catches at South Carolina with 108, to go with 1,383 yards and 9 touchdowns. The Conway, S.C., native needs 10 more grabs to enter the top 10.

Under new management

Four-star WR and 2020 prospect Porter Rooks is “looking forward to seeing” what the Gamecocks offense looks like in 2018.

“Mainly, just their new offensive scheme and how they’re going to do things with their new offensive coordinator,” Rooks said of South Carolina coach Will Muschamp’s pitch.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound receiver is rated as the No. 26 overall prospect for 2020, per 247Sports.

‘I like the atmosphere’

Four-star defensive end and 2019 prospect Joseph Anderson feels good about South Carolina, both on and off the field.

“I like the atmosphere,” the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native told SportsTalkSC’s Phil Kornblut. “I like their educational standpoint on things. They want you to get a degree and graduate, and that’s what I want to do — get a degree and graduate. They just want you to succeed.”

Anderson is rated as the No. 210 overall prospect for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite. He was a high school teammate of Gamecocks freshman tackle Maxwell Iyama.

Across the stage

Set to graduate on May 12, South Carolina tight end K.C. Crosby is looking forward to balancing a lighter class schedule with football this fall, according to John Del Bianco of The Big Spur.

“It’s going to be great,” the redshirt senior said. “I don’t have too much to worry about, being that I have to take maybe six to nine hours of classes. It’ll just be more fun and a lot better to just focus on football.”

Crosby was lost for the second half of 2017 after suffering a fractured fibula against Arkansas on Oct. 6. In 2016, he caught 23 passes for 217 yards and 4 touchdowns.

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Early arrival

Following his official visit with South Carolina’s men’s basketball team, 4-star center D.J. Burns announced on Sunday that he was reclassifying from the Class of 2019 to the Class of 2018.

“I’m already finished with all of my high school classes that I would need to graduate,” Burns said. “Instead of going to Winthrop or York Tech to do classes and still be in high school doing basically nothing, I’d rather just go ahead and get started and do summer workouts, if I can and just go ahead and get acclimated to where I’m going to be for my college experience.”

Prior to the move, Burns was ranked as the No. 79 overall prospect for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

In addition to South Carolina, he lists offers from Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Virginia and more.

Switching sides

Clemson graduate transfer guard Nelly Perry committed to the South Carolina women’s basketball team on Monday, Greg Hadley of The State reports.

“Perry led Clemson in points and assists per game her junior season, but her senior campaign was derailed before it even began because of a shoulder injury,” Hadley wrote. “At the time, the plan was for her to return for a fifth season in 2018-2019, but this offseason, Clemson fired coach Audra Smith.”

Perry averaged 12.7 points, 2.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game during the 2016-17 season.

Trophy case

South Carolina’s women’s basketball team celebrated 10 years of coach Dawn Staley with a tweet on Monday listing her accomplishments. Heads up, it’s a long list.

In addition to her many accolades in Columbia, Staley was named coach of the USA women’s basketball national team in March 2017.

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Daniel Sweeney – SEC Country

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Ole Miss OC Phil Longo discusses Air Raid offense, why Shea Patterson is a ‘perfect fit’

OXFORD, Miss. — Just like his boss, Hugh Freeze, new Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s journey to the SEC began in the high school ranks. His ascension to college football’s most competitive level, however, marks an indirect return to the birth-grounds of his schematic philosophy.

This goes back to the late 90’s, when Mike Leach ran Kentucky’s offense under Hal Mumme, himself a former Texas high school coach who became an architect of the Air Raid. Longo, then just a head coach at Parsippany Hills High School (Troy, N.J.), drove down to Lexington and attended one of Leach’s coaching clinics.

The trip opened Longo’s eyes, to say the least, and so started a long-running relationship between the two men.

Longo spent the next two decades gradually climbing the coaching ladder, jumping to colleges like D-III William Patterson, Slippery Rock, Minnesota-Duluth and Southern Illinois. Eventually he garnered national attention while presiding over the absurdly prolific offense at Sam Houston State, an FCS program that led the country in total yards per game last season, and parlayed that success into his first ever D-I coaching job.

Longo spent this spring retooling an Ole Miss offense that loses starting quarterback Chad Kelly and leading receiver Evan Engram, along with experienced wideouts Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow. In their absence, the Rebels will rely on what they hope is a new cast of stars — 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson, young receivers like Van Jefferson and D.K. Metcalf, and now-eligible running back Jordan Wilkins.

“The lights started coming on last week,” Longo said one day before the Rebel’s spring game. “I think things are starting to get into a rhythm this week.”

With so many fun toys in this Air Raid guru’s new offensive toolbox, it’s easy to imagine Ole Miss continuing to boast a potent passing attack this fall. Longo’s mentor Leach clearly believes his protege will enjoy success in the SEC.

“This is a great time to be in the SEC, everybody’s got the same offense: run right, run left, play action. And they tease themselves and say we threw it four more times a game this year than we did last year.”

In anticipation of all that, SEC Country spoke with Longo about his background, his system and his hopes for 2017. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Q&A: Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo

SEC Country: It’s been a long climb for you to reach this point. How have your first few months in the SEC been?

Phil Longo: “It’s been good. I think everybody makes a bigger deal of that than I do. I certainly don’t downplay it. I’m excited about coaching against the best defenses in the nation and I’m excited about the talent we have here and the program that is Ole Miss. Those are all positives. I’ve always enjoyed football. Football is football. X’s and O’x is X’s and O’x. It’s been fun getting to know a high-character group of guys here.”

SECC: Is it funny knowing you can trace the roots of your Air Raid background to the SEC?

PL: “Mike (Leach) could’ve been anywhere and I’d have made the clinic and had a chance to meet him. He was in the SEC, at Kentucky. I’d never thought about that. We actually talk and chat about when he coached here. I’m going to fly out and see him next week. It’s exciting to be able to implement what we do and compete against the best.”

SECC: You’re going up to Washington State?

PL: “Yeah, I’ll be heading to Pullman next week, go see Mike and watch some of the things they’re doing.”

SECC: Obviously, Leach has heavily influenced how you run an offense. How does your specific version of the Air Raid compare to others who run it?

PL: “At some point I feel like it’s important to have an emphasis on the run game. I don’t particularly care if we throw or run it 70 times to win a game… As long as it’s what the defense is giving us, I’m all for it. From a pass game standpoint, it is all Air Raid. From an offensive philosophy standpoint, it’s all that philosophy — chasing space. I think the run game is what makes it a little different. The tempo, a smaller play list, are some things that’re the most similar. Mike is the purest. He’s going to run it the same way, and they’re going to be really good at it. Kliff Kingsbury on the other hand is a great creativity guy. He thinks outside the box. He’s able to scheme up some wrinkles that are touchdown plays each week. And I think he’s one of the best at doing that. I probably fall somewhere in between the two of them in terms of approach.”

SECC: Why does Patterson fit your system so well?

PL: “It’s a skill player-driven system. We create space both horizontally and vertically. Shea is a great space football player. He’s mobile. He can make any throw on the field. He can run the ball and he can extend plays in the pass game with his legs. To put an athletic guy that can think and throw in this system, it’s a perfect fit.”

SECC: Has it been an adjustment for the receivers, since more is expected of them as far as reading and reacting to different defensive coverages?

PL: “The one misconception is we don’t put more on the receivers. We put less on the receivers. We’ve taken the workload that we’ve given a quarterback, which is a seven-step process, and now all he does is he gets the signal, he IDs the coverage or the front depending on what we’re doing, and then he runs the play. That’s it. That’s all I want to do. What we do with the receivers is we have really given them a lot of freedom. We teach them how to chase space within the concept that we’re running. They’ll maneuver some routes based on where the coverage is so that the quarterback, all he has to do is go through his progressions, find the open guy and throw the football. We don’t have to read defenders, we don’t have to check coverage. We don’t have to ID the Mike, move the running back in the right spot.

“We’re allowing the receivers some freedom. Like the post (route) that we draw in the playbook has a certain angle to it. Out on the field, he might run it flatter or he might run it deeper based on where a defender is. So that’s why we don’t have a playbook. It’s very hard. I don’t want guys looking at a picture that, if we run that play 10 times, it won’t look like the picture 8 of them. I want them to run it the way we teach it.”

SECC: So you’re trying to maximize their ability to play instinctively, essentially.

PL: “You have said it better than most. This entire thing is based on maximizing their instincts. We want to get them to where they’re playing instinctively and they don’t have to think. I don’t want them thinking. As soon as it becomes instinctive, it goes from a play we’re putting in to a play we’re going to run. And that play goes onto the play list. We actually grade players on how instinctive they are, from 1 to 4. One being completely instinctive they can do the stuff in their sleep, and so on down the list. And I’m constantly reevaluating our players, and asking our position coaches to do the same, so that we have an idea as to how far they’re progressing. Because we don’t want to put a guy on the field that’s not a 1.”

SECC: Watching the offense practice earlier this week, it seems like the whole team was moving quickly. Given the bowl ban and other NCAA distractions, how do you think they’ve handled going about their business this spring?

PL: “I think it’s a pretty mature group. The attitude is control what you can control, and that’s winning football games. We have focused on putting the offense in on the field. The priority and focus on being good people, character people, being involved in the community, the character development that goes on here — none of that has changed. It’s continued. I’m just impressed that they’ve continued to focus on that. Those are really the only two things we verbalize around here.”

READ MORE: Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson poised to rally new-look Rebels in 2017

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Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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Figuring out Alabama’s post-spring depth chart on offense starts at quarterback

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was another productive spring for the University of Alabama football team, which had to replace nine starters on defense, four on offense, every specialist on special teams except the long-snappers, while having six new faces on the coaching staff.

That’s a lot, even if the Crimson Tide are the reigning national champions.

Some injuries made it tough to establish cohesion on offense, especially on A-Day, but Alabama is still expected to have a potent offense when the 2018 regular season gets under way.

Here’s a look at the projected depth chart for the offense as of the end of spring:

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jalen Hurts

Backups: Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones

Tagovailoa’s hand fracture sidelined him for much of the spring, but Hurts missed out an opportunity to bounce back from the National Championship Game with his mediocre showing on A-Day. He was 19 of 37 for 195 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

Moreover, the first-team offense didn’t score a touchdown and tallied just two explosive plays. The only one in the passing game was a 59-yard completion on an underthrown ball into double coverage.

Leading the second-team offense, Jones was 23 of 35 for 289 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception to be named co-MVP of the scrimmage.

Look for the quarterback competition to go through fall camp and into the regular season, and don’t be surprised if both Hurts and Tagovailoa take their fair share of snaps for Alabama in the fall.

Running backs

Starter: Damien Harris

Backups: Najee Harris, Joshua Jacobs, Brian Robinson, Ronnie Clark

Arriving over the summer: Jerome Ford

Nothing this spring was changing Damien Harris’ status atop the depth chart as he’s just the sixth running back in Alabama history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He had just nine touches, 5 carries and 4 receptions, on A-Day as there was no reason to get him banged up.

Najee Harris took 14 handoffs in the final spring scrimmage and appears in line to be the Crimson Tide’s next every-down running back. Jacobs and Robinson can do that as well, but figure to be used as third-down and short-yardage backs, respectively, as well.

Wide receivers

Starters: Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III

Backups: Tyrell Shavers, Derek Kief, Chadarius Townsend, Xavian Marks

Arriving over the summer: Jaylen Waddle, Xavier Williams

Jeudy missed the end of spring after suffering a knee injury that required a scope. With Shavers (toe) also out it left the unit a little shorthanded, ending the crash course Smith was getting at cornerback to help out in an emergency capacity.

Smith ended up leading his side in receiving during A-Day with 5 catches for 87 yards, while Marks and Townsend both had long touchdown receptions.

Ideally, Alabama wants to go three wide at the X, Z and H spots, and it’ll barely have enough to do so if no one gets hurt. A walk-on who made 3 catches and might get some playing time in the fall is Mac Hereford. He made his Crimson Tide debut last season against Mercer.

Tight ends

Starter: Hale Hentges

Backups: Irv Smith Jr., Miller Forristall, Major Tennison, Kedrick James

Arriving over the summer: Michael Parker

Alabama may have more depth at the tight end position than anywhere else, as Hentges and Smith were regular fixtures last season and Forristall is coming back from an ACL injury.

Hentges has 43 games of experience, Smith 23 and Forristall 18.

The question with this group isn’t who’s going to play, because they all will, but how involved will they be in the passing game? Alabama’s tight ends combined for 24 receptions in 2017, and they’re capable of more.

Alabama football-Crimson Tide football-Ross Pierschbacher
Nick Saban watches the Alabama offense work well behind center Ross Pierschbacher on A-Day. (UA Athletics/courtesy)

Offensive line

Starters: Jonah Williams, Lester Cotton Sr., Ross Pierschbacher, Matt Womack/Alex Leatherwood/Jedrick Wills Jr.

Backups: Richie Petitbon, Deonte Brown, Chris Owens, Kendall Randolph, Scott Lashley, Dallas Warmack, Elliot Baker, Joshua Casher, Brandon Kennedy, Hunter Brannon

Arriving over the summer: Emil Ekiyor, Tommy Brown

Even though Alabama returns four starters, Williams is the only one in the same spot as last year, left tackle. Cotton went from right guard to left guard, and Pierschbacher from left guard to center.

With Womack sidelined by a foot injury, coaches inserted sophomores Wills and Leatherwood on the right side. The guess here is that the three will be competing for the two spots in the fall.

Among the reserves, versatility has been the key, as just about everyone has learned more than one position. Casher got some first-team action at left guard during the first week of spring, but on A-Day the side featuring the second-team offense had Petitbon, Brown, Kennedy, Warmack and Lashley.

The post Figuring out Alabama’s post-spring depth chart on offense starts at quarterback appeared first on SEC Country.

Christopher Walsh – SEC Country

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South Carolina’s offense after spring practice; Gamecocks’ QB targets for 2019

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Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Post spring

What does the South Carolina Gamecocks offense look like after spring practice? SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan breaks down the depth chart on that side of ball.

The quarterback, wide receiver and running back positions are set, but the Gamecocks are looking to fill a major hole at tight end.

“Replacing Hayden Hurst won’t be easy, but there are plenty of options, though some aren’t exactly of the same mold,” McGranahan wrote. “KC Crosby and Kiel Pollard, for now, look like the best two options, at least as pass catchers. But those two are H-back options. Call it a gut feeling, but here’s to thinking Crosby returns to his 2016 form, when he caught 4 touchdown passes among his 23 receptions.”

South Carolina holds its final spring practice on Thursday.

Future under center

With 4-star QB and 2019 prospect Garrett Shrader committing to Mississippi State on Tuesday, the Gamecocks are turning elsewhere for the future of the quarterback position.

South Carolina has two primary targets at the position: 4-star prospect Ryan Hilinski and 3-star recruit Taulia Tagovailoa, younger brother of Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. The Gamecocks have offered at least three other 2019 signal callers: 4-star prospects Sam Howell and Taisun Phommachanh and 3-star recruit Jacob Conover.

Hilinski, like Shrader, was on campus last weekend for the Gamecocks’ Garnet and Black spring game. He’s rated as the No. 308 overall prospect for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

Earn it

South Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford felt he owed interior offensive lineman Donell Stanley a shot at center.

The move appears to have paid off as the redshirt junior lined up at the position in the spring game.

“At the end of the day, it’s important to him and I’m glad he’s on our team,” Wolford said of Stanley. “He’s got a bright future. For his career he’s got to [be able] to play guard and center, if he has aspirations of wanting to play in the National Football League.”

The former 4-star prospect has appeared in 25 games, including 13 starts, for the Gamecocks.

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Peach State prospects

South Carolina welcomed a number of 2019 prospects from Georgia to Columbia on Saturday for the Gamecocks’ spring game, including five 4-star recruits:

  • Georgia’s No. 9 ranked player Jaylen McCollough, safety (Powder Springs)
  • No. 16 Keiondre Jones, guard (Hogansville)
  • No. 27 Warren McClendon, tackle (Brunswick)
  • No. 28 Curtis Fann, defensive end (Twin City)
  • No. 34 Kalen Deloach, linebacker (Savannah)

The Gamecocks’ 2019 class, rated No. 8 overall in the 247Sports composite team rankings, includes just one commit from Georgia: 4-star weak-side defensive end and Atlanta native Rodricus Fitten.

Come on down

Fitten was another prospect in Columbia on Saturday, doing his best to try and bring fellow Georgia native Fann into the fold.

“He just talks to me, tells me to come there, that’s all,” Fann said with a laugh. “It isn’t really much of a pitch.”

The Emanuel Country Institute (Twin City, Ga.) standout is rated as the No. 261 overall prospect for 2019, according to the 247Sports composite. He boasts additional offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida and more.

Two ways

South Carolina is recruiting McCollough to play on both sides of the ball.

“When I talk to coach [Will] Muschamp, he said he wants me to play both ways, running back and defensive back, that stood out to me,” McCollough said. “Other than that, I feel South Carolina is on the come up and they’ll be one of the teams to mess with in the SEC.”

The 247Sports composite tabs the Powder Springs, Ga., native as the No. 76 overall prospect for 2019.

Ouch

Despite losing to North Carolina 11-3 on Tuesday night in Charlotte, South Carolina’s baseball team did leave the Queen City with at least one highlight.

First-year Gamecocks coach Mark Kingston showed incredible toughness and poise as he took a baseball to the chest during an interview on SEC Network.

South Carolina (17-12 overall, 4-5 SEC) heads to Lexington, Ky., on Friday for Game 1 of a three-game set against No. 9 Kentucky.

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Daniel Sweeney – SEC Country

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Kentucky analysis: Together, Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turbocharge Cats offense

Kentucky-UK basketball-Kentucky basketball-Ole Miss-winning streak-point guard-Shai Gilgeous Alexander-Quade Green-off the ball-John Calipari

LEXINGTON, Ky. — There are many reasons Kentucky basketball has performed a complete 180 in the span of a month, answering a four-game losing streak with four consecutive wins by double digits. Perhaps none is bigger than the emergence of the Wildcats’ two-headed point guard.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green are playing together more than ever — the former as UK’s primary point guard, the latter moving into an off-ball role — and both are thriving. During the winning streak, they’ve shot 50 percent from 3-point range, 89.3 percent from the free-throw line and averaged a combined 27.3 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds and just 3 turnovers.

Gilgeous-Alexander, who had 17, 10 and 7 in a rout of Ole Miss on Wednesday night, said opponents are forced to “pick their poison” between the two guards. The 6-foot Green is UK’s most reliable shooter (he’s made multiple 3-pointers in eight of 10 games since Jan. 27) and the 6-6 Gilgeous-Alexander has an uncanny ability to drive and score (or get fouled) almost at will.

If Green’s defender leaves him to help stop Gilgeous-Alexander’s penetration, “I’m right there to shoot,” Green said. “If they know I can shoot, that helps my teammates get to the lane because they try to deny me.”

RELATED: Confident Cat says UK ready to ‘spank’ Florida

It is a devastating Catch-22 that has turbocharged Kentucky’s once-bumbling offense in wins over Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and Ole Miss. The Wildcats (21-9, 10-7 SEC) have scored more than 80 points in all four games and won by an average of 16.

Of course, none of this works if Green fights the move off the ball. A former McDonald’s All-American who started the season as UK’s primary point guard — and played well — he has embraced that change and taken a demotion from the starting lineup in stride.

“I like it a lot,” Green said Wednesday night after delivering 18 points, 4 assists and 2 steals against the Rebels. “I played off the ball in high school, too, so I’m real used to it, real familiar with it.”

Back when Kentucky was slogging through that four-game losing streak, coach John Calipari called a team meeting and laid out in plain terms each player’s role moving forward. Green’s was most clearly defined.

“Quade, you are going to be away from the ball and you’re going to make plays and you’re going to make jump shots,” Calipari told him. “I don’t want you to go driving in on 6-9 guys unless the court is wide open and you have something easy. Short of that, shoot balls.”

Green responded by making 21 of 36 shots (58.3 percent) and 8 of 17 3s (47 percent) over the last four games. And because the ball is moving so much better now, others are following suit. Gilgeous-Alexander has hit 4 of 6 3s, the previously slumping Hamidou Diallo has made 5 of 6 from deep, and Wenyen Gabriel went from a 3-for-21 skid to hitting 4 of 9 3s the last three games.

It’s not all because Green moved off the ball and Calipari started playing him and Gilgeous-Alexander together more, but that sure helps.

“Me and him have that connection. Before, we didn’t,” said Green, who has drained a 3-pointer off a drive and kick by Gilgeous-Alexander in each of the last three games. “We were a little bit off. We didn’t really click at first, but now we are. I know his spots and he knows where I like it.”

RELATED: Rupp Arena attendance lowest in Calipari era

There are some Kentucky fans — and media — who’ve argued Green should be Kentucky’s primary point guard. To say nothing of Gilgeous-Alexander’s 25 assists in the last three games, Calipari has the simplest of explanations why Green isn’t.

“Size,” the coach said. “Size. His size. It’s a more open court for him [off the ball], he can see more. They have five guys back in there, it’s a little tougher for him to see the court … but away from the ball, killer. Absolute killer.”

That isn’t the only reason for the Wildcats’ sudden surge, but it sure is a significant one.

The post Kentucky analysis: Together, Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turbocharge Cats offense appeared first on SEC Country.

Kyle Tucker – SEC Country

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Key stat: Under Nick Saban, Alabama’s offense has never lost turnover in national title game

Alabama football-Crimson Tide football-Jalen Hurts

ATLANTA — It’s one of those statistics that will cause an initial reaction of “No way,” but when you stop and think, it makes a lot of sense.

During the five national title games the University of Alabama football team has played under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have lost just 2 turnovers.

Both were against Texas in the 2009 title game, and both were by special teams, including an interception of a ball thrown by punter P.J. Fitzgerald.

That’s 342 offensive snaps while playing for the national title without having lost a turnover.

It’s also an area that might work to Alabama’s advantage against Georgina in the National Championship Game (Jan. 8, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Crimson Tide led all SEC teams in turnover margin this season at plus-13, while the Bulldogs were fourth at plus-5.

On the national level, Alabama is second in fewest turnovers lost with 9, just 1 behind LSU’s 8.

Turnovers lost

Team              Rank              Games            Fumbles lost Interceptions Total  

  • Alabama          2                      13                    7                      2                      9
  • Georgia           T19                  14                    7                      7                      14

Turnovers gained

  • Alabama          T40                  13                    5                      17                    22
  • Georgia           T59                  14                    8                      11                    19

Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has had just 1 pass intercepted, against Arkansas on Oct. 14. At the time, he had the second-longest streak of pass attempts without a pick in school history with 206. His current streak is up to 121.

It’s not just a point of emphasis since Saban arrived in Alabama in 2007, but a strong indicator of his success.

Overall, in the 124 games since the start of the 2009 season, Alabama has turned the ball over just 137 times, an average of 1.1 per game. It works out to an interception every 58.5 passing attempts and a fumble every 160.6 carries by the Crimson Tide’s top two running backs.

This season, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough have yet to lose a fumble, and neither lost one in 2016, either.

Prior to the botched handoff against Clemson on the first play of the second half, of Alabama’s 6 lost fumbles this season, 2 were on special teams (Henry Ruggs III and Xavian Marks). The others were by senior wide receiver Robert Foster at Texas A&M, junior running back Ronnie Clark vs. Mercer, Ruggs against Mercer and Hurts at Auburn.

“He is on us every day about ball security,” Harris said about his position coach Burton Burns. “That’s the No. 1 thing that you take pride in as a running back is having good ball security and taking care of the football.

“One thing they always tell us is, when you get the ball in your hands, you have the whole team in your hands. So you want to protect it at all cost.”

Incidentally, Hurts had 11 fumbles, with 5 lost, as a freshman last season, and 9 interceptions — all but 1 of which was against an SEC opponent. Yet he didn’t have any during the SEC Championship Game or the College Football Playoff.

Alabama playoff turnovers

Championship  Turnovers lost                              Outcome

  • 2009                Texas 5, Alabama 2                      Alabama 37-21
  • 2011                LSU 1, Alabama 0                          Alabama 21-0
  • 2012                Notre Dame 1, Alabama 0           Alabama 42-14
  • 2015                Clemson 1, Alabama 0                  Alabama 45-40
  • 2016                Clemson 2, Alabama 0                 Clemson 35-31

Semifinals      Turnovers lost                                   Outcome  

  • 2014                Alabama 3, Ohio State 2             Ohio State 42-35
  • 2015                Michigan State 2, Alabama 0     Alabama 38-0
  • 2016                Washington 3, Alabama 0          Alabama 24-7
  • 2017                Clemson 2, Alabama 1                 Alabama 24-6

Meanwhile, junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley has played in 43 games for Alabama, with 1 fumble that was recovered. The two players he gets compared to the most statistically, Amari Cooper and Julio Jones, touched the ball a combined 442 times without having a single fumble.

“I have to be fast off the ball and get into my route quickly, so I can get open so they don’t create turnovers,” Ridley said.

Alabama hasn’t had quite the same turnover success in four College Football Playoff semifinals, but did have a 2-1 edge against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. If junior defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne’s interception combined with his touchdown a few plays later wasn’t an emotional backbreaker to Clemson, the subsequent pick-6 by sophomore linebacker Mack Wilson was.

“Mack Wilson has filled in tremendously,” senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said about Shaun Dion Hamilton’s replacement. “I expect him to have another big game this upcoming game.”

The post Key stat: Under Nick Saban, Alabama’s offense has never lost turnover in national title game appeared first on SEC Country.

Christopher Walsh – SEC Country

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Will Muschamp talks South Carolina offense under Bryan McClendon; plus, Gamecocks RB likely out for Outback Bowl

South Carolina football-Bryan McClendon

Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Looking good

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is happy with what he’s seen from his team’s offense under the direction of interim offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon.

“I think the preparation has been really good,” Muschamp said. “… I’ve been very pleased with his command of our team, our staff, our players. Been very productive in our practices in Columbia and down here in Tampa.”

McClendon, the former co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach, assumed the role following co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper’s dismissal earlier this month.

The Gamecocks offense finished the regular season ranked No. 107 nationally in total yards (340.2 yards per game) and No. 98 in scoring (24.1 points per game).

Down and out

According to Muschamp, the Gamecocks will likely be without injured running back Rico Dowdle for the Outback Bowl against Michigan on Jan. 1.

In his meeting with the media on Thursday, the second-year South Carolina coach noted that the sophomore running back “probably won’t play.” The Asheville, N.C., native is still dealing with a fractured fibula suffered against Tennessee on Oct. 14.

Dowdle finished with 206 yards and 1 touchdown on 60 carries.

On the practice field

SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan was on hand for the Gamecocks’ Outback Bowl prep on Thursday, with some encouraging notes on the team’s leading rusher.

“A.J. Turner was back on the field with the rest of the running backs, but he again was off to the side during the stretching period,” McGranahan writes. “Linebacker Sherrod Greene worked with Turner and the Gamecocks staffer there, in place of Dowdle.”

With Dowdle likely out, Turner will shoulder most of the load against the Wolverines. The redshirt sophomore running back had 517 yards and 3 touchdowns on 92 carries, along with 18 catches for 117 yards this season.

Big bro’s advice

South Carolina’s D.J. Wonnum, who plays the hybrid linebacker/defensive end called a “Buck,” is trying not to put too much pressure on his younger brother, 4-star offensive tackle Dylan, through the home stretch of his recruitment.

“Just to enjoy it and don’t let it get to you,” D.J. said, via John Whittle of The Big Spur. “Enjoy the process, go look at the schools, but at the end of the day, I still want you here.”

The youngest Wonnum is rated as the No. 10 offensive tackle in the Class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite. His favorites are reportedly South Carolina, Auburn and LSU.

‘They play fast’

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was extremely complimentary of the South Carolina defense when previewing his team’s Outback Bowl opponent on Thursday.

“Long arms, tall, athletic players and they play athletic and they play fast. Next thing is, defensively, they really run to the football,” Harbaugh said. “They pursue to the football. Tough schemes, multiple schemes, play a 4-down front, a 3-down front. Linebackers in multiple gaps in their alignment. Defensive linemen standing up, moving around.”

Harbaugh and the Wolverines know a thing or two about defense — they ranked No. 3 in the country in total defense this season.

A pro bond

Harbaugh has a connection with South Carolina football beyond the Outback Bowl. As the San Francisco 49ers head coach, Harbaugh drafted former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

“He’s just a good, genuine down to earth person, a hard worker. He gave it everything he had to come back from that brutal knee injury. But he was always positive,” Harbaugh said, via Collyn Taylor of Gamecock Central. “He was always upbeat and found the good in things. He never complained. He had some real virtues and I know that he’ll be great after football.”

Though his injuries never allowed him to play at the professional level, Lattimore has excelled since leaving South Carolina. He’s now the head varsity coach at Heathwood Hall in Columbia.

QB showdown

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley and former signal-caller Stephen Garcia had a little friendly competition at the Gamecocks practice on Thursday.

@j_bentley19 vs @stephen_garcia5 👀

A post shared by Gamecock Football (@gamecockfb) on

Garcia assumed the starting quarterback role at the end of the 2008 season, holding the title until midway through 2010, when Connor Shaw took over.

As a redshirt junior, Garcia led the Gamecocks to their only SEC East Division crown. His 7,597 career passing yards are No. 3 all time at South Carolina.

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Daniel Sweeney – SEC Country

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Previewing the Vanderbilt offense; plus, how Jake Bentley spent his bye week

South Carolina football

Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Will Muschamp talks Vanderbilt

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to preview the Gamecocks’ upcoming game against Vanderbilt this Saturday.

Muschamp called the Commodores an “experienced, veteran” football team, led by two talented upperclassmen in their offensive backfield: running back Ralph Webb and quarterback Kyle Shurmur.

Webb “runs the ball extremely hard,” said Muschamp, while Vanderbilt’s junior quarterback “is playing extremely well this year.”

Shurmur has an impressive 14-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio while completing 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,331 yards through seven games.

Jake Bentley works on accuracy

South Carolina QB Jake Bentley spent part of the Gamecocks’ bye week cleaning up his footwork in an effort to improve his accuracy.

“A lot of times, we kind of saw through film, feet just getting out of whack for no reason,” Bentley said. “Just trying to move too much in the pocket, so we just worked on real subtle movements in the pocket and keeping my feet ready to throw and just delivering a good ball.”

The sophomore quarterback has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1,585 yards, 12 touchdowns and 4 interceptions this season.

Sadarius Hutcherson praises O-line depth

With offensive linemen Zack Bailey and Cory Helms returning to the lineup, redshirt freshman guard Sadarius Hutcherson has moved back to the second team.

Instead of sulking about losing his spot in the starting lineup, Hutcherson instead sees the silver lining, noting the “real good” amount of depth the unit’s developed.

“I feel like, since a lot of people got that experience and everything, I feel like it’s going to carry on for years now,” the 6-foot-4 guard told the media on Tuesday.

Dakereon Joyner has what it takes

According to Hale McGranahan of SEC Country, 4-star QB and South Carolina commit Dakereon Joyner “has the makeup and skill set to have a successful quarterback career” for the Gamecocks.

McGranahan also noted that there’s already quarterback in the Palmetto State Joyner reminds him of: Clemson’s Kelly Bryant.

“Much like Bryant did through his high school years, Joyner has progressed as a passer, improving from one season to the next,” McGranahan wrote. “That, to me, should make South Carolina fans even more excited about what [they] could be in store [for].”

4-star CB coming to Columbia Saturday

Four-star cornerback and Florida State commit Asante Samuel Jr. will be in Columbia this weekend for an official visit.

Samuel, the son of former NFL CB Asante Samuel, has been committed to the Seminoles since April. He’s rated as the No. 98 overall prospect in the Class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite.

Louisville commit set for visit

Three-star defensive end and Louisville commit Jarrett Jackson will take an official visit to South Carolina for the Florida game on Nov. 11.

“I know coach [Lance] Thompson is great at getting defensive linemen to the next level,” Jackson said. “Coach Muschamp is a great defensive coach and they’ve been successful in recent years.”

The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native is rated as the No. 40 strong-side defensive end in 2018 by 247Sports.

Midweek motivation

Need a boost to get through the second half of the workweek? Look no further than redshirt sophomore RB Mon Denson and his attitude toward perseverance on the practice field.

The hard work has already paid off. After RB Rico Dowdle went down with a leg injury in the first half of the Tennessee game, Denson was forced into action, carrying the ball 4 times for 14 yards. He’s now listed as the team’s third-string running back.

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Daniel Sweeney – SEC Country

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Inside the Numbers: Florida’s passing offense, youth and the Georgia game

florida gators-florida football-feleipe franks-run

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Welcome to the latest installment of Inside the Numbers, a weekly column that breaks down the stats and numbers you need to know about Florida Gators football heading into gameday.

The Gators are 3-3 heading into its game on Saturday against the undefeated and third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

Here’s a closer look at the matchup and some tendencies to watch out for:

Evaluating Florida’s passing offense

Feleipe Franks’ biggest strength as a quarterback is his arm strength. It was seen most notably on his 63-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland against Tennessee.

However, the deep ball has turned out to be one of his bigger weaknesses this year.

According to CFB Film Room, Franks has completed just 25 percent of his passes that went at least 20 yards in the air with an interception and the one touchdown pass.

And while Franks is completing more than 85 percent of his passes that travel less than 10 yards downfield through the air, 2 of his 3 interceptions have come in the short range.

While Franks ranks tied for 26th nationally in completion percentage (64.2 percent), he is tied for 48th in yards per attempt (7.5) and just 99th nationally in passing yards per game (133.3).

Young guns

Through six games, 75 of Florida’s 132 starts this season — or 56.8 percent — have been by underclassmen with a relatively even split. On offense, 10 underclassmen have tallied 39 starts, including 13 starts by four freshmen. The defense has had nine underclassmen record 36 total starts, including 12 starts by three freshmen.

Of the youngsters, freshmen Malik Davis and Marco Wilson stand out above the rest of the pack.

Davis’ 84.33 rushing yards per game ranks fourth nationally among freshmen and is 48th overall. If he keeps this pace, he will be the first Florida running back to finish in the top 50 nationally since Mike Gillislee in 2012.

With a team-leading 506 rushing yards to his name and five games left to play, Davis is likely to become the first freshman lead the Gators in rushing for an entire season since the great Fred Taylor did so in 1994. He also has a chance to become the first Gators running back since Emmitt Smith in 1987 to rush for 1,000 yards in his first year on campus.

Meanwhile, Wilson has established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC. He’s tied for second among freshmen and tied for seventh overall in the conference with 7 defended passes. According to CFB Film Room, Wilson has allowed just 4 catches and no touchdowns on 23 targets this season and is the only corner in the conference with at least 20 targets who has contested more than half of said targets.

A closer look at the Florida-Georgia series

  • The Gators are 43-49-2 all-time in the series, but have won three straight dating back to 2014.
  • In Florida’s last three wins over Georgia, the Gators held the Bulldogs to 231 total rushing yards and just 3.2 yards per carry.
  • The Gators are 3-11 all-time in the series when Florida is unranked and Georgia is ranked.

Five key Florida stats

  1. The Gators are averaging 200.4 rushing yards per game in SEC play, the sixth-best mark in the conference.
  2. Florida is one of five schools nationally that has a 100-percent red-zone conversion rate. However, the Gators are also tied for the fifth-fewest red-zone trips (15).
  3. Florida is holding opponents to a 29.89 percent third-down conversion rate, which ranks 16th nationally and third in the SEC.
  4. 10.5 percent of Florida’s plays on defense (41 of 392) have ended in a tackle for loss.
  5. The Gators are averaging 7.2 penalties per game, second-most in the SEC.

Three key Georgia stats

  1. Outside of a 20-19 win at Notre Dame, Georgia has won every game this season by at least 21 points. The Bulldogs have outscored their four SEC opponents thus far by a combined 125 points.
  2. Georgia ranks third nationally in total defense, giving up an average of just 252.6 yards per game. The Bulldogs have held three of its six FBS opponents (Notre Dame, Mississippi State and Missouri) to more than 150 yards below their average offensive output.
  3. Georgia seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are the only running back tandem from the same school ranked in the top-10 in the SEC in rushing yards per game. Chubb ranks third (98.29 yards/game), while Michel ranks eighth (82 yards/game).

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Jordan McPherson – SEC Country