There are two definitions of the word “ugly”: “unpleasant or repulsive, especially in appearance” and “involving or likely to involve violence or other unpleasantness.” Saturday in Charlotte was equally both. I stood there in state of confusion for a solid six seconds, hands half up in the air, mouth open, eyes squinting behind my RayBans, sweat dripping down the back of my neck, wondering… “Did he catch it?” Even the camera guy had been focused on the Gamecock receiver before realizing that the ball had been intercepted… again. The camera guy must have been in as much disbelief as I was in. What happened, Gamecocks? Our senior QB with 16-of-30 passes for 142 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions, and a lot of very disgruntled Carolina fans.
What Went Wrong?
I headed into game week, knowing that the game against the North Carolina Tarheels could go either way. What I did not expect was the complete dismantling of my hopes in the team as they looked like a JV football team whose football coach is also the U.S. History teacher. The play-calling was bad. The offense was bad. The defense was even worse. And the fourth quarter was soul-crushing.
It didn’t start that way, however. Both Carolinas were able to move the ball in their respective opening drives, but failed to deliver in the red zone, and had to settle for field goals. Clemson transfer, Tavien Feaster made the first touchdown of the Gamecock season with a 34-yard scoring run, making it a 10-3 ballgame in the first quarter.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) August 31, 2019
About eight minutes before the half, Gamecock kicker Parker White’s 39-yarder brought the score up to 13-3. UNC answered with a field goal of their own to increase the score 13-6. It was touch and go in the third. South Carolina‘s defense allowed the Tarheels into the red zone, but held them to another FG to make the score 13-9. An inspiring kick off return by Shi Smith on the Gamecocks’ possession set up a Kyle Markway touchdown, putting the Gamecocks up 20-9.
No Gas, All Brakes
Then it happened. It seemed as if the Gamecocks headed into the last quarter with no playbook and half of their defense. The lack of offensive play-calling combined with weak defensive plays allowed the Tarheels to take over. North Carolina’s Dyami Brown ended a 98-yard drive with an incredible one-handed catch in the end zone, which was then followed by a 2-point conversion to cut it to 20-17 with 14:27 left in regulation. And then the Gamecocks decided to punt. Why? WHY? And again, that lack of play-calling hurt. UNC finally took the lead with a 17-yard catch by Beau Coralles to make it 24-20 with 8:16 remaining.
Then comes the moment of disbelief for the camera guy and myself. With less that three minutes to go, Bentley fires a long pass downfield, straight into the hands of Myles Wolfork. But even after getting the ball back, Bentley threw another interception, again to Wolfork. Game.
As I stood there, pondering whether to cuss, cry, throw my popcorn on to the field, or just put my head down and sulk out of the Bank of America stadium, my phone started vibrating. I didn’t even have to look to know that the notifications were masses of texts asking what the hell happened, memes posted to Facebook, or tweets demanding the AD’s head on a stick right next to Muschamp’s.
First came the angry fans, those giving up on the season by listing their tickets for sale. Then those looking to fire the entire staff, from top to bottom, and starting a fresh search for an AD down to support staff. That was followed by a decommitment from Lovasea Carroll, a running back from Georgia who is ranked the nation’s No. 136 overall player and No. 8 running back. The news was not exactly surprising as more than just fans were giving up on South Carolina.
— Lovasea Carroll (@LovaseaC) September 1, 2019
In his Sunday night teleconference, Coach Muschamp said, “It’s not on one person,” nodding to Jake Bentley, “and I know everybody wants to blame one guy for it. But it’s not the case. He needs to play better at that position, but we need to play better around him. And we didn’t do it.” We didn’t do it. That last sentence seems to sum up the entire game on Saturday.
Well, don’t sell your tickets just yet. I said it in the third quarter: there’s still a lot of game left. And as someone also reminded me after the game: there’s still a lot of season left.
Let me just say, I personally did not want Will Muschamp as our head coach after the exit of Steve Spurrier. However, after seeing his recruiting skills, which I never doubted those, especially one day in particular when we had five #SpursUp, I was swayed to like him. The past three seasons with Muschamp as head coach have not been terrible. There is always room to improve, but there has been a short list of things to really complain about until now. Which brings me back to my original thought – I don’t want Will Muschamp as our head coach. But, I am not on the #FireMuschamp bandwagon just yet, Gamecock Nation, so pump the brakes just a little. There still might be some All Gas, No Brakes left in us yet.
Muschamp is right. This is not solely on Jake Bentley. I don’t think he lacks the skill in the pocket. I do think he lacks consistency, as he has proven over the past few seasons. His performance against North Carolina did not surprise me as Jake Bentley, South Carolina quarterback. What did surprise me is his performance as Jake Bentley, third season QB. He has been on the field too many times to look like a kid throwing a Nerf ball to his dad on Sunday afternoon after church. Let someone else take the helm. Maybe Muschamp needs to take a risk on freshman Ryan Hilinski, or redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner, to right the remainder of the season.
In fact, he will get the chance as it has been reported that Jake Bentley is in a boot and on crutches, and will be out for several weeks with a broken foot.
Breaking: Ryan Hilinski has been informed from the USC coaching staff that he will start this week at QB for the Gamecocks and moving forward, per source. One source told me Bentley is expected to be out at least 6 weeks with a broken foot but it could be longer. @wachfox
— Mike Uva (@Mike_Uva) September 2, 2019
New QB Era Begins
Moving forward from a season-opening loss, South Carolina hopes to take on Charleston Southern at Williams-Brice Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff next Saturday is set for noon. Hilinski will start. In addition, the program is watching the path of Hurricane Dorian, and we will continue to keep you updated on the game. But if a hurricane can’t stop us, like it didn’t in 2015, then there’s no way one awful game will stop us either. So we lost. And it was ugly. However, there are a lot of games, especially conference games, that are winnable. And if you ask any true Gamecock fan, they will tell you the same thing, “We’re here for the 12-0 seasons and the 0-12 seasons.”
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