Some quick, barely researched, not fully formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 24-17 loss to Texas A&M.
Gigged. The Gamecocks had a chance to rebuild some good will Saturday night that had been lost over the last two weeks with a bad loss to Kentucky and a last second win over Louisiana Tech. After a shaky first quarter on offense in College Station, USC took control of the game behind the arm of Jake Bentley and a swarming defense. A touchdown pass from Bentley to OrTre Smith put the Gamecocks up 17-10 with 9:24 left in the third quarter, and the defense immediately held Texas A&M to a three-and-out on their next possession. Things were looking very good for South Carolina on the road in one of the most hostile SEC environments.
They didn’t look good for long.
The Gamecocks went three-and-out on their next four possessions, losing an astounding 30 yards of field position combined. Texas A&M unleashed the hounds on defense and found some rhythm on offense, and once they tied the score at 17 there wasn’t a lot of hope on our side that we could score again or stop them from scoring. What was a golden opportunity to tell the college football world “hey, we might be pretty good after all” turned into another in a long line of “almosts” for USC in conference road games.
Dominos. The standard arguments apply – it’s Kurt Roper, it’s the offensive line, it’s Will Muschamp, it’s our lack of a run game, it’s a lack of creativity in the offensive game plan (also Roper), it’s the lack of depth on both lines of scrimmage. The truth is, it’s quite possibly all of these things combined, and until we get at least one of them fixed we’ll never know the biggest culprit.
What happens is one thing goes wrong and the dominos start to fall. Saturday night our offense was not able to stay on the field long enough because for the most part we failed to establish a consistent run game. Once the defense was out there for enough plays they obviously ran out of gas and couldn’t stop the Aggies. Once we were put in must-passing situations our offensive line couldn’t hold up to the TAMU pass rush and Jake got killed.
Roper has had a season and a half and a bevy of skill players to help prove his ability to move this offense and score points. So far he hasn’t done that. At the same time, up 17-7 if we hadn’t run the ball on first and second down with a back that was gaining six yards per carry people would’ve screamed “RUN THE DANG BALL”. Instead, they’re yelling because we didn’t keep the foot on the gas and bury the opponent.
Kurt Roper has made himself an easy target based on the lack of production of our offense, but on Saturday night I think he was mostly victimized by our thin offensive line. Whatever it is, he needs to get it fixed or the cries for his head will only get louder.
Additionally, as @HJhughes79 puts it:
The USC Three-and-Outs. In addition to the four straight three-and-outs in the second half, the Gamecocks started the game with four straight possessions without a first down as well. The only reason we had four plays on one of those first half drives was because we recovered a fumble and missed a field goal. That means six of our fourteen possessions resulted in no first downs and we were off the field in an average of 1:37. That will wear a defense out.
T-bone’s Food for Thought. No coach has won an SEC title in the modern era who didn’t win at least nine games in his second season. I think it’s safe to say we aren’t going to win nine games. It’s also safe to say Kirby Smart at Georgia is.
On the other hand, we are 3-2, which is after five games is probably exactly where we are supposed to be.
Rocked. Jake Bentley is a hell of a football player, and we’re lucky to have him. He has a lot to learn and tons of room to grow, but it’s hard to imagine what our team would be without him. That said, if he keeps taking shots like he took on our next to last offensive play of the game and is allowed to keep playing we won’t have him around for long.
I don’t care the situation, somebody – a Gamecock coach or player, a referee, anybody – has to see a guy staggering back to the huddle like that and stop the game. It’s not worth a serious brain injury to let a kid keep playing in that instance.
The Smith Brothers. It’s hard not to be excited about Shi and OrTre Smith. They accounted for both South Carolina’s touchdowns on Saturday night and will be centerpieces of this offense for the next four years. Now, how to get them the ball…
Winnables. Switching to optimist mode, South Carolina has winnable games coming up against Arkansas, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Honestly the only two games left on the schedule that appear to be completely unwinnable are Georgia and Clemson. The key to the entire season might be getting Cory Helms and Zack Bailey back on the OL. If we can get them healthy and playing up to their potential 7-5 is not out of the realm of possibility. If not, well, basketball season is right around the corner.
Go Cocks, beat the Hogs.