Two Coaches: Continued

By Jerold Wells Jr.
Updated: September 21, 2005

MINNESOTA—Two coaches, two losses, and one feeling: hope.

The week after The University of South Carolina came very close to beating a good Georgia team on the road, they took a step back and confirmed to the nation that their ascension into the top tier of the SEC would have to wait at least another year. The team’s overall youth and inexperience showed through a listless offense, an uninspired defense and a frustrated Ballcoach.

The week after The Notre Dame Fighting Irish exposed the Michigan Wolverines as a team ranked a little too high in preseason polls, they faltered at home against Michigan State in a contest for the ages. For the second straight week the offense proved to be electric, scoring 40+ points, but a leaky defense mixed in with untimely turnovers proved to be the Irish undoing.

In the minds of many, Charlie Wies and Steve Spurrier are connected only by the relatively minor occurrence that they both claimed new jobs in the college ranks during the same year. Last week I pointed out the fact that Wies’ mission is to regain prominence and Spurrier’s is to gain it. If either to happen both teams must learn from the losses they sustained on Saturday and that idea, the evolution of the two teams by lessons learned, is the connecting bond these two coaches share.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish battled back from a three-touchdown deficit to force overtime before losing to a Michigan State team that seems to have their number. Upon review, a fumble on the goal line and a failed 4th down and 1, both in the second half, will be credited as major reasons why Notre Dame lost the contest. Consider this; a team with an offense as potent as Notre Dame’s must counter with a defense that matches its intensity and focus. The Irish offense has a swagger right now that rivals any other team in college football. They believe they can score on anyone and they are probably right.

On the flip side of the equation, the Irish defense must attain such a swagger. The Irish offense is not made up of lights-out athletic, surefire NFL prospects at every other position; rather it is made up of hardworking individuals who work as one to form a potent offensive machine. From the linemen to the receivers and backs Notre Dame’s offense plays together. Under former Coach Ty Willingham, the Fighting Irish defense played with as much passion and fervor as the offense does now under Coach Wies. It was a big-play, game changing defense and I don’t think the present squad is very far from being the same type of unit.

If the Notre Dame defense is to improve enough to allow the team to compete for a New Year’s Day Bowl game, change has to start with the defensive line. Much like Notre Dame’s offensive line sets the tone and embodies the attitude of the offense the defensive line must do the same. Consistent play from the line will enable the talented Irish linebackers to make plays at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield as well as allowing the secondary opportunities for big hits, pass breakups and interceptions downfield. A turnaround in the play of the defensive line will lead to a turnaround in the play of the entire defense. Stay tuned to see if they can make the change.

Change is a funny thing. It’s hard to commit to, difficult to experience, and perhaps hardest to follow through until it is fully accomplished. The University of South Carolina Gamecocks are experiencing change right now. The transformation from conference doormat to conference power will not occur easily or quickly. That being said, I have no qualms that change will ensue.

Saturday’s game against Alabama was a great example of growing pains. USC’s overall team youth coupled with the continuing eradication of an overachiever’s mentality has straddled the Cock with two losses early into their SEC schedule. If there is a certain strength that Steve Spurrier possess it is his very high sense of self worth. The former Heisman Trophy winner’s confidence in his offense as well as his ability to teach his offense has served him well in the college ranks before.

When speaking of an overachiever’s mentality, please understand that there is value in the “me against the world” mantra. To go into a place where some feel you don’t belong and beat a team that more talented is one of the most satisfying feelings in sports. With that said there comes a time when players must move past that emotion into a sense of entitlement. A feeling that they belong on the biggest stage that college football has to offer, playing the best teams in the country and that they should win those games. We are experiencing that metamorphosis. Once it is completed, a different kind of player will come to South Carolina.

The University of South Carolina lies in the cradle of football civilization. Good football players from Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and North and South Carolina are readily available to a team with promise and a winning culture. Ask any coach in America and they will tell you that there isn’t an offensive or defensive system that they can run successfully without the athletes to plug into said systems. Right now if the respective schools in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina are recruiting a young man, chances are SC doesn’t make his top two schools. That will soon change.

The Ol’ Ballcoach is changing the climate in Columbia, South Carolina. He’s teaching a different type of offense, but more importantly he’s teaching a different way of thinking. He’s bringing arrogance and a sense of entitlement to USC; the idea that they belong in the upper crust of the SEC with the Georgia’s, Tennessee’s, Florida’s and LSU’s. That change will take time and it will come with a couple more disappointing losses.

Most importantly, when the change is completed Steve “Superior” will reign again as the premier coach in the conference. Just remember you heard it here first.