Dog days. On October 12, 2019, the South Carolina football team went into Athens and pulled off one of more improbable upsets over Georgia in the history of our rivalry, 20-17. At that moment in time there was a feeling of, “hey, maybe Muschamp has figured this thing out”. Indeed he did not have it figured out, as the fortunes of both schools have gone in drastically different directions since that day.
South Carolina would win three more games under Will Muschamp against 13 losses until he was fired at the end of the 2020 season. Included in those 13 losses was a glorified scrimmage against Georgia last year that illustrated just how far USC had fallen behind the Bulldogs. The talent disparity was borderline embarrassing and the lack of effort from USC signaled the end of a bleak era.
Going into last night’s game USC was a 32-point underdog, which I think (but never confirmed) was the largest point spread the Gamecocks have faced since joining the SEC in 1992. Throughout the game the talent gap was on full display, as Georgia’s defensive line pushed us around, and their offense easily converted third downs and got behind our defensive backs for long scores multiple times.
But despite the 27-point loss, there was something different about last night. There was hope. Not the kind of hope that kills you, but the kind of hope that breeds more hope. The Gamecocks fought hard against what is most likely the best team in the country at the moment, and while we didn’t land nearly enough punches, we were able to land a few.
Are we anywhere close to the level of Georgia right now? No, not really. But we’re closer than we were a year ago in both attitude and talent. This is a year for Shane Beamer to build momentum and gain ground on not just Georgia, but all of the teams ahead of us.
Last night was a glimpse of just how far we have to go.
Cool hand. Zeb Noland has done an admirable job and has been a good story for us the first two weeks of the season. But after having his hand stepped on in the first series last night, we were able to get our first look at Luke Doty in 2021.
Doty is still a little raw, but it was quite obvious to these untrained eyes that he has a skill set that no one else on our roster can match. He obviously can move around inside and outside the pocket, which adds another dimension to our offense. I was also impressed by his arm strength, which is something I don’t recall from his limited action last year.
Regardless, it’s obvious he is our QB1 and will be for the foreseeable future. I’m looking forward to watching him break out over the next few weeks.
Unmarked Vann Again. Josh Vann continued to cement himself as our number one receiving threat with three catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. He had another acrobatic 40-ish yard catch called back when the replay officials said the ball touched the ground, which it clearly DID NOT…maybe.
BROOKSIE. Jalen Brooks made what might turn out to be the catch of the year. Brooks has potential to be a solid number two receiver, but he has to start making the easy catches along with the hard ones.
Boneheaded. On one of Vann’s catches he immediately jumped up and mugged over the Georgia defender, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Now look, you can get mad at the stupid rule, and you can get mad at the stupid SEC official for throwing the stupid flag. But eventually our guys have to realize they’re putting the team in a hole with these types of antics, and we’re not nearly good enough to be able to absorb those types of penalties. Shane Beamer expressed frustration with it as well after the game, saying he’s had to talk to the team about it after each game this year. Clean it up fellas.
Boneheaded Part II. With about half a minute left in the second quarter USC stopped Georgia on third down just on our side of the field. Not wanting to concede the half, Shane Beamer called a timeout. I liked it! Who knows what could happen – bad snap, blocked kick, long punt return – give it a shot I say!
What happened next is Georgia punter Jake Camarda pinned the Gamecocks down at the one-yard line with 32 seconds left in the half. The choice to me was clear – run a QB sneak once, let the clock run out and we get the ball to start the second half down by two scores and feeling pretty good.
Instead, we ran play action against a defensive line that had been destroying us all half. Doty dropped NINE YARDS DEEP in the end zone, and was swarmed and sacked for a safety. We then kicked to Georgia, who hit a couple of long passes and added a field goal as the half expired. Five crucial points that took the air out of a team that was still in the game, only two scores down.
I know it’s taboo to criticize Shane so early after he’s done so much so well, but this was a boneheaded decision. What exactly were we going to accomplish from 99 yards away in 32 seconds? Against THAT defense? Some of the arguments I heard in favor were:
- “We need to be aggressive, unlike Muschamp!” – Muschamp lacked aggressiveness when we had the ball in plus territory with 30 seconds and three timeouts left. This was not the same. The situation matters. Also, for the second week in a row, quit bringing up Muschamp.
- “The o-line was playing so poorly the QB sneak was just as much of a risk.” – Please, please stop.
- “We weren’t going to win anyway, take a shot!” – I’m certain our coaches were not thinking this, even if some of the more pessimistic fans were.
Look, this is of course forgivable, but it’s about risk/reward. Beamer took the blame for it after the game, and hopefully it will be a lesson learned. I like being aggressive, but again, the situation matters.
What’s next. The Kentucky Wildcats come to Williams-Brice next Saturday in a game I think our fan base is all of the sudden pretty confident about. UK struggled mightily against UT-Chattanooga yesterday, but they were impressive at times in their first two games, including a win over Missouri.
We’re still young, and a win over the Wildcats would go a long way confidence-wise. But this will be a tough, tough game, as it pretty much is every year. My gut tells me this entire year will be filled with inconsistent play, some really good, some really bad.
Which will we see next week? Heck if I know, check back for Snap Judgments next Sunday…