A long way to go. The three weeks before the Florida game were encouraging no matter how you look at it. Yes, we played three bad teams, but we beat three bad teams, which is something we haven’t seen much of since the end of 2014. After beating Miami in the Whatever it Was Called Bowl we went from a middle of the pack SEC team to arguably the worst team in the league, unable to beat teams that were proverbial “gimmes” for the better part of a decade. On top of that there was very little talent in the pipeline to give us hope that things were going to change any time soon.
Even midway through this season, before the debut of Jake Bentley, we had trouble moving the ball against bad defenses. But Bentley helped turn a 2-4 start into a 5-4 record heading into Florida, and the Gators appeared to be ripe for an upset. It seems a little foolish in retrospect, but the Gamecock Nation has never been accused of being particularly rational about their football program, for better or for worse. While it looked like our offense regressed, I think it’s explained more succinctly to say we just ran into a great defense.
Fact is the Gators exposed us for what we are – an average football team in a bad division. The good news is that’s an upgrade from what we were after the Georgia game – a bad football team in a bad division. Even with the somewhat lopsided loss yesterday, there is still reason for hope in the not-so-distant future. Guys like Bentley, Rico Dowdle, Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel will soon be joined by guys like OrTre Smith, Shi Smith, and Ty’Son Williams. On the defensive side we’ll add a spectacular playmaker in Jamyest Williams and a big impact safety in Hamsah Nasirildeen, along with more depth along the defensive line in MJ Webb and Javon Kinlaw.
Florida showed us we still have a long way to go, but we’ve covered quite a bit of ground since the beginning of September.
Jimmys and JOLes. One area where we need some serious help is along the offensive line. A lot of people think coaching is our problem, but my personal feeling is we need better players. Sean Elliott has done a fine job for us in his time at USC, and I think he’s been dealt a bad hand the last couple of years. Zack Bailey has drawn a lot of praise in recent weeks, and I think Cory Helms is a player. Other than that the group has been very inconsistent and at times downright bad.
Driven. Bentley continues to impress, even while getting his hat handed to him in Gainesville. He was consistently harassed by the Gators, getting hit and sacked drive after drive. All he did was hang in there and rally the Gamecocks to one late touchdown and come within an eyelash of a second that would’ve set USC up with an onside kick attempt.
His last throw was especially impressive. On fourth down under duress he threw an almost perfect pass off his back foot that was just off Hayden Hurst’s fingertips.
So for the folks who wondered how he would do against an elite defense, he did just fine, thank you. I think we’ll keep him.
DOH-fense. The up-and-down Gamecock defense had another down day yesterday. Credit them with forcing three more turnovers, but the run defense was porous and the pass defense was victimized by an efficient, NFL-style passing game that moved the Gators up and down the field almost at will. There was an obvious gap in team speed, and it really showed when Florida had the ball. Again, upgrades needed.
Elsewhere. Our neighbors lost their first regular season game in two years, and it was super fun to watch. Pitt’s offensive play calling made me envious (MORE UTAH PASS PLEASE) and their defense finally made a crucial play when necessary. But after the game, instead of tipping their hat to the Panthers, a lot of Clemson fans decided to go all X-Files.
A site called The Clemson Insider immediately after the game posted a story about how the head official was a South Carolina graduate and that this was somehow connected to their loss to a team that was a 21-point underdog. Not turnovers, not failed third and fourth downs, not a non-existent defense – but the officials.
Now let me say this, it’s ok to bitch and moan about the overall quality of officiating or some plays that didn’t go your way, that’s part of football. But when your team loses a game, please refrain from even intimating that the officials had something to do with it. Yes, they can impact a game, I’m still mad about Rod Gardner’s push-off. But I also recognize that there were about 100 things different – that we could control – that would’ve changed the outcome of that game.
In addition it’s an insult to a team like Pittsburgh and players like James Connor and Nathan Peterman who played the game of their lives to upset the number two team in the country. When you get beat, take it like a man and drop the loser mentality.