A View from the Cheap Seats

In a few days we’ll renew our rivalry with South Carolina after a nine year hiatus, which is a real shame because it’s a fun rivalry that should be played annually. It would never be the Red River Rivalry or the Cocktail Party, but it’s a mutually-beneficial opportunity to capitalize on a spirited and profitable regional rivalry beyond each program’s natural rival.

The last time we played South Carolina I’d just started my second sophomore year and Mike O’Cain’s time had just flat run out. Toki Mcray or Jatavis Sanders would be the future, backing up the venerable fan-favorite, senior Jamie Barnette. Torry was a Ram, leaving high school teammates Chris Coleman and Ryan Hamrick, and some redshirt freshman from Belmont named Koren Robinson at receiver; Ray Robinson and Rashon Spikes were both back. Corey Smith, Brian Jamison, Edrick Smith, Levar Fisher, Clayton White, Lloyd Harrison, Tony Scott, Adrian Wilson, and Brian Williams were all back on defense.

Wow, 1999 was a long time ago. Except for that horribly misguided attempt to mock Georgia with those red helmets and silver pants (itself an offense worthy of firing O’Cain), there was ample reason for optimism that we would build on the 1998 campaign and contend for a second straight bowl.

And in Austin that first week, we certainly proffered the idea that our victories over Florida state and Syracuse the previous season were indeed indicative of a changing of the guard atop the ACC, long dominated solely by the Seminoles since their arrival in 1992. That opening game, JB & Co. held off reining Big XII Freshman of the Year (and eventual 1999 Big XII Offensive Player of the Year) Major Applewhite and his Longhorns, 23-20, in a game dominated entirely by State’s special teams, namely Torry’s little brother. Terrence emerged that night as a star, blocking two punts, one returned by Eric Leak for a touchdown and one for a safety (we blocked three punts total).

The following week was our home opener, against South Carolina, on Lake Carter-Finley: The Hurricane Dennis game. So what if it was officially a tropical storm or that it saturated the state to such a degree that it proved a large part of the reason that a few weeks later Floyd was so utterly destructive down east? No one who attended that game will ever forget that rain-soaked, windy Saturday night.

It had been one of those perfect tailgating days right up until a couple hours before game time, when Dennis made his unceremonious arrival. That was an 8pm game, and by the time we all corralled into the stadium, those that had worn them soon found their raincoats entirely unavailing and cumbersome. I missed a lot of that game from the student section, my view obstructed by the wall of water rushing off the brim of my favorite old cap – remember the old baseball hat, fitted and solid red, with only a thin white S, back before our marketing geniuses got a hold of it?

At some point during that game, for the briefest of moments, the rain relented. Then, just as suddenly, in one of those eerily surreal moments that you can never really adequately describe, the crowd’s roar resonated, starting at the old field house and flowing like the Wave, section by section, both sides of the stadium, as a wall of rain surged deliberately from one end zone towards the other – at the twenty…the ten…the five…touchdown! – finally engulfing us idiots that were actually at that game instead of dry at home, watching it on ESPN. Maybe it rained ten inches, maybe only three, during that game, but neither seems a particularly ridiculous estimate by anyone who was there.

Meanwhile, there was a game being played. It was Lou Holtz’s debut at South Carolina and we also retired Torry’s jersey at halftime. There were a total of 12 fumbles (seven lost) and a paltry 328 total yards, combined. State managed a total of 18 yards on three-of-seven passing and 78 yards on 38 carries; astonishingly enough, South Carolina had 232 total yards but failed to put up any points as, luckily, just like in Austin the week before, special teams play made the difference. A field goal and a blocked punt in the end zone accounted for all the game’s scoring, as State escaped with a 10-0 victory to improve to 2-0. The test that night wasn’t necessarily Holtz’s Gamecocks, but rather the implacable Dennis.

Ironically enough, the following week we beat William & Mary to improve to 3-0 heading to Tallahassee for the follow-up to the statement we’d made the previous season. After that start, by all indications most of us felt that Mike O’Cain should have had us in contention for the Peach Bowl, or at least another MicronPC bowl.

Instead, in retrospect he proved to be a lame duck in 1999, with no real chance for redemption. We completely derailed starting that next weekend, getting demolished in Tallahassee. A week later in Winston we got served up the finest example of a woodshed beating by any Wake Forest team that I recall in my 29 years (I’ve blacked out most of our games against them since then). The rest of the season was distinctly Mike O’Cain: sneak one out against Clemson, a thrashing at the hands of Virginia, a nail-biter in Durham, the traditional thumping in Atlanta, the expected offensive “barrage” rebound game in College Park to keep hope alive.

But after that, on a damp, chilly November Thursday night in Charlotte, Chris Coleman came up just short, and then the weekend before Thanksgiving, mercifully, after nine consecutive quarters without a touchdown, our season – and Mike O’Cain’s tenure – was finally laid to rest.

Almost a decade later, pundits don’t seem to be giving us much of a shot in Columbia, and perhaps they’re right. But based on what we’ve seen from what’s returning, South Carolina can neither run nor pass, while, hey, at least we can run (sometimes).

If we’re looking forward to 2008 with uncertainty, then South Carolina is an absolute conundrum. In mid-October last season, the Gamecocks stood at 6-1, with a victory over arguably the nation’s best team at season’s end, Georgia, and a noble effort against the eventual national champions in Baton Rouge. They were already bowl eligible and, having the edge over Georgia, it turns out they were caught looking ahead – past Tennessee and Florida – towards their first-ever SEC East title and a possible BCS bid. However, their season was over at Thanksgiving after they dropped their last five games and finished at 6-6, absent the bowl picture.

Spurrier is unquestionably an offensive genius, but it remains undetermined whether or not he has the tools in Columbia to improve an offense that ranked 77th overall in 2007 and 101st in rushing. The offensive backfield is a huge question mark, but there is at least slight reason for optimism with leading receiver Kenny McKinley returning. This might prove an interesting matchup against Mike Archer’s defense, which returns only four starters from the ACC’s 11th-ranked unit, none of which are linebackers.

If Evans goes (Lord, grant me the strength), it’s quite possible – likely – he’ll set a school record for interceptions in a single game, as South Carolina returns all four starters from the fourth-ranked defensive backfield in 2007, and a total of 10 defensive starters. Expect pressure and a variety of blitzes, and lots of them. You might also want to practice saying (and believing), “That interception was as good as a punt.”

If Wilson starts…well, I’ve lived through enough post-Philip years to not even speculate. Although, I expect we’ll be able to run against them, as we’re strongest at runningback, while Ellis Johnson’s D-Line is the weakest unit of his defense.

If nothing else, this could prove a showcase game for two teams with a lot of question marks, and O’Brien is poised to field a much-improved State team in 2008, which may or may not result in more victories. September, particularly, won’t be an easy month – South Carolina, Clemson, East Carolina, and South Florida – but a win in Columbia Thursday night, on ESPN, sure would be a nice start.

About LRM

Charter member of the Lunatic Fringe and a fan, loyal to a fault.

'08 Football Flashback NCS Football

26 Responses to A View from the Cheap Seats

  1. BJD95 08/21/2008 at 3:00 PM #

    I was at that game, wearing swimming trunks and flip flops. Yes, it did make the deluge of rain more bearable.

    Holtz had a great line in the post-game about it being hard to prepare for the game conditions, because his boys weren’t quick enough to practice in the lightning.

  2. whitefang 08/21/2008 at 3:03 PM #

    Thanks for the re-cap of the last SC game. Has it been that long? I was fortunate enough to NOT be at that game, but watching it down in South Carolina at our hunting club with some Gamecock fans. I remember thinking, how the hell did we win that game? I remember thinking we got a lot of luck in that one.
    Can we get the same kind of luck next week? That would be a great kick-off to the season against one of the teams I love to hate. Too many ‘Cock friends.
    Both schools should try to make this a regular series. At least every couple of years

  3. choppack1 08/21/2008 at 3:03 PM #

    Nice post LRM.

    That 1999 season was a strange one. We were actually 6-4 going into the Charlotte game vs. UNC-Ch.

    Had we won that game, I suspect we would have rolled ECU the next weekend.

    We all know how that all ended. I’ll always think that the beginning of the end for MOC was the UNC game the year before. We had made a 17 point 2nd half comeback that was very similar to what had happened to us vs. ECU severaly years earlier.

    We got the ball back w/ a minute and change on our 30 yard line. We had moved the ball at will in the 2nd half…The stage was set for one of those special moments. We went long on the 1st play and it didn’t work out. Then we ran the clock out. We, of course, would lose in OT.

    What made that game so frustrating was that MOC had saved his job 2 years earlier and looked like he had turned things around w/ a gutys gamble @ Syracuse, by going for 2 in OT (when an extra point would have tied the game.)

    MOC was the typical NC State coach we’ve “enjoyed” the last 10-12 years. Good enough to provide some special memories, but incapable of winning those key games or leading his team to achieve its total potential.

    LRM Note: That 1998 game in Charlotte was frustrating on so many levels, but primary was the fact the in the first half, O’Cain’s strategy was to not throw to the nation’s best WR; as soon as Torry started getting the ball in the second half, he was unstoppable and the comeback was impressive, albeit just not enough.

  4. dbo2874 08/21/2008 at 3:23 PM #

    the USC of the ACC versus the NC State of the SEC……

  5. packalum44 08/21/2008 at 3:45 PM #

    i am not delusional…well, only a little…but i’m not sold on USC. I think our team can win this game…this post is just a great example of how underdogs still win…sports are largely chance…remember that SC has question marks and lost to Vanderbilt last year (they had injuries but we did too! we got better as the year progressed minus MD)

    We will be better this year. We also have an under-rated pass defense…don’t know stats but secondary was our strongest unit last year…expect more picks this year

    also, I believe SC is breaking in a new Defensive co-ordinator…plus we get our most talented player back, A Hill…we will run the ball and control the clock. don’t under-estimate his presence in the run game…he can smash linebackers

    Would be a great win….30% chance

  6. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 08/21/2008 at 3:46 PM #

    The good ol’ days of the O’Cain era. State beat Texas in 1999 on national TV.

    LRM Note: Typical for his teams. Destroy FSU 24-7 and Syracuse 38-17, but sandwiched between those wins was a dreadul loss in Waco. Beat Texas in Austin and then lose in Winston. Had he even once beaten Carolina, some of those could have been forgivable.

  7. roandaddy 08/21/2008 at 3:52 PM #

    First.. Lou was MAD after that game that State sat on the ball and basically let USC make mistakes to win it. Remember the blocked punt?

    Here is a quick USC scouting report-
    OL has been the biggest weakness for Spurrier while at USC. This year should be his best line yet, not a world beater, but decent. HOWEVER, he once again has QB issues. This time a rarely used QB is now starting. Smart kid, but green. RB is a senior who has been there many times before. Often has to share time, but this is his year. He has been banged up this fall, so will be intereting to see what happens. WR- McKinley is rewriting the record books, however the #2 option is yet to show up, so watch double teams. TE- Two quality pass catching TEs and expect some 2 TE sets.

    Defense- the strength of the team. DL is big and two deep. LB led by Brinley who will be a 1st rounder. DBs are all returners and two will probably go pro after the season.
    Kicker– breaking in a new punter, but FG kicker as a good one.

    History for these teams is always a close game. (see basketball last year w/State a 1 pt victory) My expectation is a close, but not very pretty game.

  8. Ismael 08/21/2008 at 4:07 PM #

    I was at the SC game the last time we played them in William Brice back in 1991. Little tidbit i never knew, they were an Indedpendent and joined the SEC in 1992, probably explains why we stopped playing because if you look in the history, we played them almost every year thru the 80’s.

    awesome site, not sure if anyone here knows about it..

    But i was at the 1991 game. I had been at the Clemson game the weekend before in Death Valley, we were 6-0, on the verge of actually doing something, and Clemson killed us.

    The most memorable thing from the game, other than absolutely destroying SC, was one of our safeties, forgot who, i think #2, picked up a SC running back while one of those moving the pile type plays was going on, and he body slammed him…i mean, Hulk Hogan/Ric Flair/Rowdy Roddy Piper – body-slammed him. Where is THAT defense??

  9. choppack1 08/21/2008 at 4:36 PM #

    Ismael – I have to disagree w/ you about that game. The most memorable thing was when Todd Ellis was injured. There’s a long sordid story about that, but suffice it to say, he had it coming.

    But I do remember the body slam you were talking about. #2 Would be “Snake” Vinson.

  10. BJD95 08/21/2008 at 4:43 PM #

    Snake was a certified badass. My favorite in a long line of great Wolfpack safeties.

  11. redfred2 08/21/2008 at 4:44 PM #

    Nice LRM, that brought back some blurry memmories!

    I don’t want to sound like a wet rag, but I still honestly believe that Daniel Evans can produce in Raleigh. It may not be anything spectacular for the most part, but if he is EVER afforded the occasional luxury of a good snap where he doesn’t confuse his own shoe laces with the laces on the ball, AND, if there was EVER such thing as a POCKET to work from, then I think he has the right mindset to methodically, and consistently, pick his way down the football field.

    Don’t get me wrong, if Wilson is better and can earn the spot away from Evans, then have at it, and the sooner the better. In the end though, starting Daniel Evans is probably the least of my worries. Though, starting Daniels Evans, or anyone else for that matter, with the same old LOW snap, and the same old OL, playing like the same old OL of last season, that’s enough to worry the hell out of anyone.

  12. BoKnowsNCS71 08/21/2008 at 4:54 PM #

    Time will tell. State has pulled some upsets and given some charity W’s to teams that didn’t deserve them. Let’s wait and see on this one.

  13. packville 08/21/2008 at 5:02 PM #

    Thanks for a great post, brought back some damp memories drinking watered down bourbon, not by choice. I live in SC and hope I can still talk about beating the Cocks the last time we played after Thursday. What a Chapelhell-like fan base, they suck

  14. Dogbreath 08/21/2008 at 5:21 PM #

    We should send in the punting unit on 3rd and long situations.

  15. Dr. BadgerPack 08/21/2008 at 5:23 PM #

    “We should send in the punting unit on 3rd and long situations.”

    …and perhaps if we taunt them, they might become so cross they make a mistake…

  16. Ismael 08/21/2008 at 5:48 PM #

    choppack1 – i totallyyyyyyy forgot about that dickhead quarterback. He was the one who the year before in Carter-Finley did the “blowing on the pistols” gesture to the state bench. First play of scrimmage was payback time at William-Brice; they laid his ass outttttt. You are right, that was an incredibly poignant/apropos moment in sports history actually.

  17. Noah 08/21/2008 at 6:35 PM #

    In 1999, my wife and I (she wasn’t my wife at the time) moved in together in an apartment off Lynn Road. We started out early and managed to get just about everything in by lunch. We had ordered a couch and I went to go pick it up.

    Carolina and UVa were playing at the time and I was listening to the game on the radio. I got the couch and got it in the U-Haul and started back to the apartment. UVa lined up for a game-winning FG in the last few seconds. Woody Durham started talking about how the weather was deteriorating rapidly and how the wind had really started picking up. The wind must’ve helped because the UVa kicker nailed it to win the game.

    We got the couch into the apartment and as we closed the U-Haul doors and I thanked everyone who had come to help, it started to pour.

    During the game, I was taking broken down boxes out to the dumpster and was walking through ankle-deep water. It rained so hard that you couldn’t see what was happening on the field at Carter-Finley. It was just a wall of shimmering grey and some movement behind it.

    USC had a running back named Derrick Watson, who was a big-time high school star. Watson kept trying to shake away from defenders and kept slipping in the muck. Every time we needed a big play from the defense, we seemed to get it. And most of the time, it seemed like the weather played a role.

  18. PackerInRussia 08/21/2008 at 9:37 PM #

    1999 was my freshman year. I was not a State fan when I enrolled (wasn’t against them; just indifferent; I grew up in MD and didn’t care about college sports in general). I figured the Texas win had some significance when our Chemistry prof. flashed it up on the screen before class and everyone cheered. I was really stupid. I decided to attend the SC game with a friend. There’s something about being put on the defensive that suddenly binds you to something. Standing in line waiting to get in the stadium I had to listen to Gamecock trash-talking for 20 minutes or however long it took to get in. I suddenly found myself talking trash back in defense of a team I didn’t know the first thing about and honestly didn’t care about until we arrived other than having an intrinsic duty to “pull for my school”. We didn’t last the whole game, but I became a State fan that night although it would be at least another year before I had a good hold on things. I made a last minute decision to attend the UNC game (it was also that game and the spiteful e-mails I got from my “friends” at UNC that made me an instant Carolina-hater) mainly with hopes of seeing a girl. That same girl was my reason for attending the homecoming game in a sparsely populated student section. We’re married now, so it all worked out. My how times have changed. Go Pack.

  19. choppack1 08/21/2008 at 10:17 PM #

    Yep Ismael – you got it.

    Isn’t hard for us to imagine the mental make-up of those Sheridan led teams? I was thinking about that today. Such a no-nonsense attitude and total dominance over the rival a few miles west.

  20. b 08/21/2008 at 10:37 PM #

    The most miserable I’ve ever been at a football game. I had one of those cheap $5 ponchos, which was hopelessly overmatched, and foolishly wore an old pair of Tims to the game. My feet were pruned up for days.

    I loved every minute of it.

  21. LRM 08/21/2008 at 10:40 PM #

    One thing I failed to mention was how the old bank became a giant slip n’ slide, intentional or not, for everyone on it.

    The best thing about it was you could take your turn and within minutes you were completely mud-free, it was raining that hard.

  22. Ismael 08/21/2008 at 11:37 PM #

    Choppack, it certainly is interesting. This intangible feeling ive had about TOB from day one is that he has that..well…intangible quality that he isn’t gonna take any crap and that comes through in his players. I would have never thought that probably unless I saw the transition from Sheridan, to MOC, to Amato (especially) and now back to TOB. Mental toughness, unwavering, whatever u wanna call it. This is why i think Notre Dame was so dominating for all those years because you went in the program and got convinced that you were a champion already

  23. DuPack 08/22/2008 at 5:27 AM #

    I got married and took a job in PA after Sheridan was hired. Even though the area of PA I lived in was less than 2hrs from UMd’s campus the ACC got no coverage. Penn State football eclipsed everything. I would like read a post that compares Sheridan with TOB. Maybe it is too early in TOB’s tenure, but with the circumstances that surrounded Sheridan and his unexpected departure, it seems that NC State football was left with some huge “what ifs.”

  24. choppack1 08/22/2008 at 8:15 AM #

    DuPack – that’s certainly true. I think Sheridan was a fantastic coach – but like others, he never was able to win that big game late in the year to clinch us an ACC championship. We were always in the hunt, but it never happened w/ him – in the “old” ACC. Of course, the ACC that he was in was probably on par w/ the ACC we’ve seen the last 2-3 years.

    We all know that if you play smart, fundamentally sound football, you’ll end up winning more games than you lose most seasons.

    His bugaboo was UVa. Like a certain coach in Winston Salem, his team ran into problems against athletic teams that didn’t shoot themselves in the foot. He did very well against Clemson – but there were 2 huges games at Clemson that could have catapulted us to the national spotlight where we came up woefully short.

    It’s a shame that we never got to see what Sheridan could have done here over a longer period of time.

  25. PackToTheFuture 08/22/2008 at 9:41 AM #

    “In a few days we’ll renew our rivalry with South Carolina after a nine year hiatus, which is a real shame because it’s a fun rivalry that should be played annually. It would never be the Red River Rivalry or the Cocktail Party, but it’s a mutually-beneficial opportunity to capitalize on a spirited and profitable regional rivalry beyond each program’s natural rival.”

    I like how you described this opportunity and I like how State fans aren’t being as overtly pretentious as Carolina fans were last year when they played USC. I was finishing up a graduate degree at UNC last year (don’t worry, I wore red to every NC State basketball and football game in Chapel Hill and also donned my red blazer to the MBA gala) and had to listen to the buzz around campus before the UNC/USC game. I can’t tell you how many times I threw up in my mouth. They had the coach of the century and this was the start of a new era. NC State wasn’t a good enough rival and they needed a power house rival like USC to take our place since their program was about to turn the corner. The UNC/USC game would become annual and be the new cocktail party better than GA/FL. Then they of course lost, went 4-8 for the season and gave Davis a raise. It goes without saying that our win over them was pure justice!

    LRM Note: I save my pretentiousness for ECU.

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