The hype train surrounding the South Carolina Gamecocks came to a screeching halt Saturday night. In a night where it seemed nothing went right on or off the field, fans and coaches left with more questions than answers. After starting 2-0 with both wins away from home, things looked good for coach Will Muschamp and company. It seemed that positive momentum was gathering for this rebuilding program. After losing to the Kentucky Wildcats for a fourth consecutive year, all that hype feels like a fading memory.
It is however only one game, and 2-1 is certainly not the worst start to a season a team could have. Unfortunately, nothing went right on Saturday, and the Gamecocks couldn’t help but feel a dark cloud hovering over them. Praise was being hurled at South Carolina after a good start to 2017. Now that praise has turned quickly to disappointment and frustration. This is not how things were supposed to go in the home opener. The hope now is that the Gamecocks bounce back from adversity better than they handled the raising of expectations.
Run Game MIA
The Gamecocks lack of running game so far this season has been glaring. They managed just 31 yards in the opener against N.C. State, but concern was brushed off. The Wolfpack have a very good front seven on defense, and the Gamecocks only ran 50 plays on offense. Against Missouri the following week, South Carolina again struggled early to get the ground game going. They managed to fair better in the 2nd half, and back-up tailback Ty’Son Williams finished with 78 yards on 14 attempts. He appeared in line to become more of a factor after getting zero carried in the opener. Instead, he again had zero carries versus Kentucky.
Shorter Than Short
South Carolina had only 54 yards on 20 carries in losing to the Wildcats. More frustrating than the numbers is their inability to convert on 3rd or 4th and short. They were stopped at midfield twice, and again inside the 2 yard line later in the game. In both instances, they turned the ball over on downs. Needing two yards or less and deciding to run from the shotgun is a faulty strategy at best. Being unsuccessful in four attempts in this situation just makes it cut even deeper.
There have been no reports of an injury, but it appears that something is wrong with Rico Dowdle. He finished last year strong, with multiple 100-yard games of the last half of the season. The sophomore has only 98 yards through three games, and he is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Dowdle does not seem to have the burst he had last year. He also isn’t finishing runs with the same purpose. It’s not all on him, though, as the offensive line has not provided many holes to run through. Getting beaten at the point of attack has become an all too familiar occurrence for Gamecock lineman the last few seasons.
Lack of Creativity
The South Carolina offense is in a rut. A lack of offensive firepower doomed Will Muschamp at Florida. The hype built up after two games suggested that those were problems of the past. The Gamecocks scored 30+ points in its first two wins. Deebo Samuel, who was injured late and his status is uncertain, was becoming a legitimate SEC star. The other young skill position talent was also coming along nicely. Much of that flamed out on Saturday. Deebo caught the first pass of the game and took it 68 yards for a touchdown. South Carolina then failed to produce points after back-to-back first quarter turnovers by Kentucky. Setting the stage for a dismal offensive performance.
At one point in the 2nd half, former Vanderbilt quarterback and SEC Network announcer, Jordan Rogers made a painful observation. He stated that Gamecocks were very fond of a particular passing play, having run it ten or more times during the game. That is not a good sign, especially in a game where, at that juncture, they had scored just six points. If a play is working and you use it a lot, then it’s not so bad. If you haven’t mustered any offense all game and you’re still running the same plays, there is a problem. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has stated before that he wants to take eight to ten shots downfield per game. It is hard to remember more than five such pass attempts total through three games.
Real Hype or Smoke and Mirrors
South Carolina was out gained in each of its two wins. Turnovers, big plays, and special teams helped overcome that. The specials teams were brilliant through two weeks. That collapsed back to reality this past Saturday. Four missed kicks in one ball game is almost an impressive amount of ineptitude. The misses cost the Gamecocks dearly. Were the first two games a facade? Was it all smoke and mirrors, and the Gamecocks lucked their way to wins despite not outplaying their opponents? If not, then was the Kentucky game just the ultimate case of bad timing? Maybe the Gamecocks just happened to play their worst football at a terrible time. With nine games left, only time can tell us these answers.
A lack of focus also plagued South Carolina in its home opener. They had a season-high seven penalties. This included four false starts by an already under performing offensive line. The inconsistency of the offense is tough to overcome. The Gamecocks simply cannot afford to hurt themselves with penalties.
Only a Quarter
The season is not lost, despite the doom and gloom still resonating in Columbia after such a frustrating performance. This particular loss stings, but there are still plenty of opportunities left in the season. The Gamecocks are only a quarter into their 12 game schedule. They have already been built up by the hype machine only to fall flat. Now it is time to see if they bounce back off the mat. They will need to show the kind of fight and focus it takes to get this program back to winning ways.