“Don’t Panic”: Taking Football Advice from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

We waited, we wished, and we received what we asked for— just not the version of the product we thought we’d get…

It reminds me of when I was a ten-year-old kid and wanted a skateboard for Christmas. I showed my parents the exact model I liked, and even helped them find a store that had it in stock. I’ll never forget how much I craved that board. It was a Planet of the Apes inspired Birdhouse board that featured a cartoon monkey version of Tony Hawk (silly, I know, but boy did I think it was cool back then).

The fact that Tony Hawk, (he was a big reason many skaters in the late 90’s/ early 2000’s got into the hobby) was featured on this board had me more than willing to abandon all other gifts for the chance to just get this one. On Christmas morning, I ran to the tree, and there, hardly disguised at all, was the skateboard-shaped gift I had been dreaming about. I tore into it and felt my heart drop with a thud. Instead of the Tony Hawk board I thought was under the wrapping paper, I found an off-brand skateboard with no design on it, no grip-tape (that’s the sand paper-like stuff that helps skater’s feet stick to the top of the board) and plastic wheels that wouldn’t even roll.

For many of us, the lead up to Saturday’s game felt a lot like opening the wrong version of the present you expected. To my parent’s credit, we were dirt poor and they did everything they could to make Christmas awesome for us every year– and I eventually learned so much about gratitude, hard work, and sacrifice as a result of not always getting what I wanted (I am forever grateful for them and all that they did to teach me these life lessons). In the case of football though, this metaphor of a disappointing Christmas morning still rings pretty true. For months we thought we’d get one thing, only to see our hopes dashed at the last minute. It was tough for a lot of us to stomach and disappointment is really the only word to describe it.

You are probably like me– two days removed from the game and still trying to make sense of it all. For countless months our patience wore thin, as our anticipation of the upcoming season nearly destroyed the lining of our stomachs from anxious excitement for what this team could do, should do, would do. We knew what was coming– an offense that could take on team’s like Tennessee by scoring at will. We were amped up and ready to stop waiting and just kick the damn season off already.

2 months ago, I think many of us would have done potentially criminal things just to skip the dog days of summer and arrive at the doorstep of college football. But now, here we are, we made it, and just one game in, there’s some of us who want to press the fast-forward button and skip this season entirely.

I’ve seen it all as a lifelong Gamecock fan. I’ve seen seasons that come together after a terrible start, and I’ve seen seasons that fall apart after huge program-changing-wins. When it comes to Gamecock football, literally anything can happen— so, as of right now, I am taking the advice I received from one of my favorite childhood books, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I am not going to panic. But although my panic button has not yet been pressed, my “I’m VERY concerned” button is fully engaged right now, and I think for good reason. I’m now in the cautious crowd that has pitched their tent in the “let’s see what happens in the next 2 to 3 weeks before we make judgments” camp. I’m not saying that is the right move for everyone— hell, I’ll never tell anyone to not be angry or upset about things; you as a season ticket holder, Gamecock Club supporter, and donor have the right to want to see improvements. I don’t think a single fan would say they predicted us to play for a National Championship, so it is not like the expectations are unreasonable at all. We just want to see progress, especially considering who we have back at QB.

But, despite the monumental kick in the teeth that Saturday was to us, currently, I just don’t see the sky falling, and I think there’s some good football to be played still.

Dealing with the frustration

While I think everyone should be frustrated with what transpired Saturday, I do ask that we never target individual students (no reason to tag them in Tweets unless you are praising them). I work in higher education, and teach these students. Maybe that changes the way I look at things and causes my perspective to be different than most, but to me, it’s awfully weird to see grown-ups with children of their own, insulting students online. There’s just no place for that. Criticize the outcome of the game, and even the position group as a whole for underperforming, but don’t attack individual kids.

Maybe it is an unpopular viewpoint, but I see them as students first, and athletes second. You can argue that they are athletes first (especially with the NIL market), and students somewhere much lower on the list, but having met, talked to, and worked with the guys on this team off-the-field, I can objectively say that these kids are much more than just athletes. This team is full of incredible human beings who are striving to be great men and make positive waves for the Carolina community. Take Kai Kroeger for example. Would anyone argue against his ability, his dedication, and his winner-mentality? Not at all, but on top of that, did you know that he’s an excellent student for the History Department, a great role model for kids, and a person who has continued to give back to his community? And Kai, as awesome as he is, is just one student of many who are doing a lot more than you’d expect.

Things just look different when you see these guys around campus and realize all of the stuff that they are going through and trying to handle at such a young age. They make time for charity events, they give back to fans and children in our community, they workout and practice their asses off in that Columbia heat, then they have to rush to make it to class, get their homework done, and deal with the normal pressures of college-life like exams, group projects, and finding parking on campus, all the while their mistakes and failures are blasted on national TV and they are ridiculed by their own fans. Yes, it’s a give and take. They get amazing benefits— and when times are good, they live like kings. But at a certain human level, no matter what the benefits are, no 18 to 21-year-old deserves to be viciously attacked by “fans” for mistakes on the field during a game.

Instead, focus your energy on the coaching staff for either: 1. Putting players on the field who were not ready for the moment 2. Not preparing them for the moment 3. Having a poor game plan that did not minimize the team’s obvious weaknesses 4. Not developing these weaknesses across the off-season. While all or none of these things might be legitimate, at least the grown-ups in the room– who are making more money than I would know what to do with– have agreed, by the nature of their job, to receive every bit of criticism that comes their way. Student athletes agree to perform for us, and they give their all; they also set themselves up for certain levels of criticism, but when we skip constructive critique and instead publicly insult them, it is just a really weird look coming from fans that claim to be supportive of these kids.

Note: I am a Beamer guy. I want to support the staff, but believe that all the way around, both sides of the ball struggled massively and have HUGE weaknesses that NEED to be addressed immediately. Being as honest as I can, White’s unit should be better. There’s no excuse for the poor tackling, bad coverage, and lack of awareness on the field. The pass rush (or lack thereof) is possibly the biggest concern defensively. The DB’s showed promise, and I believe can and will adjust. The Linebackers looked incredible, and are the strength on that side of the ball. Blanton and Williams are going to be stars this year, and I could not be happier about that. But, the line is in trouble, and considering the offensive issues, a defense that cannot create pressure or get off the field on 3rd-down makes life very unfair for Spencer Rattler, who will likely be playing from behind most games. It’s pretty sad that the only pressure the defense is creating is on their own offense to score every possession.

So far, I’ve seen some positives with Loggains and some negatives. He called some great plays, and some really questionable- borderline bone-headed ones. i think he will settle in as well, but my biggest complaint is that he didn’t adjust like I thought he could have, and it remains to be seen if that’s just because he’s new to collegiate play-calling, or if he simply lacks the instinct to positively make in-game tweaks to win. Either way, a one game sample is not enough to prove anything— I don’t care who you are. So, let’s try our best to withhold judgment on the hire until we see what happens over the next 3 games. I say 3 games, because obviously Furman will not show us a lot due to the talent-gap. Likewise, UGA will be an uphill battle where again, the talent-gap is an issue, just the other way. But if Loggains can grow during those two matchups (a cupcake and a giant), a game like Mississippi State can be a coming out party for him and this offense— or so we hope.

Does this first game change your perspective on the season?

It does. But not because I’m giving up. It shows me that there are growing pains when you bring in a new OC. Whether Loggains turns out to be the answer in the long run or not, we (me specifically) were probably foolish to believe he wouldn’t have some natural issues to work through. I’m one of those who assumed the offense would be dialed-in from day one based on the things I heard from coaches, players and the staff. Maybe the “pre-season talk” did the team a disservice, creating expectations that were not quite reality, but I am guilty for buying in fully without any reservation, even though a rational mind would say there’s no reason to trust it would be perfect from Game One. That’s on me.

With that being said, I personally think that the offense will improve. We have playmakers and a QB that might be the best in the nation (if given time to throw). If Juice gets healthy, him paired with Legette, (and Harbor given opportunities to stretch the field) can give Rattler the chance to rack up some serious yards this season, putting them in striking distance to win just about every game they play. The big issue though is the only thing that I believe can hinder Rattler: his protection.

This is the one thing that immediately makes me rethink my initial prediction of 9 wins. Our overall success in games will need to come in one of 2 ways: either Rattler must have time to sling the ball every play, or the running game has to be raised from the dead. Both of those start with the O-Line, and so far they have proven nothing. The point here is that the season may come down to how they play. If they figure it out in a hurry, we could make a run for the East. If they continue to struggle, we may only be looking at a couple wins this season.

Defensively, I did see some adjustments, and that gives some hope for that side of the ball moving forward. As I said before, the lack of pass rushing takes us out of most games. This is where White proves his worth or not— simple as that.

Players of the Game

We cannot miss a chance to praise the players that played great the other night, just because of a loss. The L was not their faults, and they played their hearts out and gave the team every chance they could to win the game.

Offense: Rattler and Legette

Rattler was on target. His passing was crisp, clean, and he gave his receivers a chance at almost every ball. His stat line was God-like, even though he had no protection and was constantly on the move, being pressured, and getting hit left and right. He deserves more credit than he is getting for this performance. Had a few things went in his favor, or even if he had received JUST ONE crucial block during crunch time, this performance would be considered next-level and one of the best comeback wins we’ve ever seen. It just goes to show— Football is a team sport. One prolific player cannot win the game themselves if another part of team is miles behind.

Legette’s the new TOP DOG receiver for the Gamecocks. He looks like he’s poised for the breakout season we’ve wanted from him. He is showing shades of Bryan Edwards and dare I say — Alshon Jeffrey. If Juice comes back, they are one of the best 2-somes in the SEC. If Juice doesn’t get healthy, Legette is at least proving that this offense still has a game-changing player out there. I think that this could be a season where he earns some serious draft status.

Defense: Linebackers

Blanton was active all night long. He makes sure tackles, gets pressure when he’s tasked to do so, and even plays disciplined coverage. He has an unreal motor that pushes him toward the ball on every play. His strength, which we witnessed first hand at the GBS Golf Tournament, was on display all night long. Kudos to the young man who has become a great friend of ours. We expect BIG things this season and beyond for him.

Williams is legit. He and Blanton are one of the best duos I’ve seen at LB for the Gamecocks in a LOOOOOOONG time. Where Blanton seems to always know where the play is going, playing a chess match with the opponent, Williams is the shark in the water, and the ball carrier is the wounded seal. He smells blood and attacks on every play. He was such a bright spot for the team that I think if White devises rush packages for him, it would help alleviate the underwhelming D-Line play.

Special Teams: Mitch Jeter

Jeter is the Boy Wonder, the Hercules of kicking, and in case you didn’t know, the best golfer on the team. His FG kicking ability puts him up there with Fry and White, but he brings so much more than that to the table. The onside kick he recovered was truly a thing of beauty. Jeter deserved a score on that drive after he stole that possession— it is truly sad that the offense didn’t repay him for the hard work.

Coaching: Pete Lembo

There’s only one name that can go here. He has proven year after year that he’s the most dependable coach on USC’s staff. I keep arguing for him to get an expanded role, but maybe he just doesn’t want that— either way, he deserves the keys to the offense, the defense, and Beamer’s car. Take him away from this team, and Beamer’s hires are subject to some serious criticism, but with him there, a pass is given. He always has his guys playing at the highest level no matter the situation, and what is amazing to me is that many of the players who play other-worldly for him (special team’s coverage specifically) seem to play less-inspired in their other roles. That’s a sign of great coaching on the part of Lembo, but also a sign of less than stellar coaching elsewhere. Should Lembo take a more prominent role with the team? I think so.

What do we do now?

If you are like me, you are feeling a little fatigued from the ups and down of the game, and more than that, you might even feel a little misled by the staff, and justifiably, somewhat bitter about the conclusion of the opener. BUT the silver lining comes quickly— winning is only part of the story for us. A big reason we are so passionate about Gamecock Athletics is the relationships that are built within the community. I for one want to win every game, and struggle with the same sour grapes after a loss that you do, but I also understand that one of the best parts of football season is getting to be around my Gamecock buddies. Whether it is pre-game parties, tailgates, or post-game celebrations/ commiserations, the hanging with, and drinking great bourbon alongside so many of my friends make this time of year special.

So, stay hungry for the success, but also don’t let this loss rob you of having a good time with people you don’t get to see as often as you’d like. Yes, we cheer and support the team for the players, but we also do it for ourselves— as an extension of the passion we have for this school. Don’t let your joy get robbed from you just yet.

When I quoted Douglas Adams, I left out a part of the quote that makes even more sense for Gamecocks than most. The full quote from The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy goes, “Don’t Panic, and carry a towel.” So, leaning into the advice from Adams, let’s show up this weekend for the home opener, towel in hand, ready to enjoy our family and friends, and expecting the boys to pull it all together. If they do, great, you have more reason to enjoy your bourbon, if not, it will suck, but you still get to spend time drinking with people you care about, and that makes any loss bearable.

Go Cocks!

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