1. The second half was an unmitigated disaster. After a strong first half, the Gamecocks came out and had what should probably be remembered as their worst half of the year, certainly against BCS competition. Outgained 286-62. Trailing badly in the first down category, 14-2. Outscored 12-0. No third-down conversion on six attempts. Afterward, Steve Spurrier was spot on in saying who was to blame:
Spurrier took responsibility for the Gamecocks' "putrid" offense, saying he became too conservative with an 18-point lead.
"We got to where we were ahead 21-3 and our defense was playing well, so I'm calling that conservative run-run crap," Spurrier said. "But when we tried to throw, we couldn't hit anything, either."
To hammer home the point, here are the Gamecocks' plays in the second half:
(1st drive) Rush, rush, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, pass, punt
(2nd drive) Rush, rush, rush, punt
(3rd drive) Rush, rush, rush, punt
(4th drive) Sack, incomplete pass, sack, punt
(5th drive) Pass, rush, interception
(6th drive) Rush, rush, rush, punt
(7th drive) Rush, rush, screen, punt
Up 21-3, the Gamecocks decided to go to the run until they had to pass. And then, when Chris Smelley went 1-of-3 for 7 yards on the first series, they decided to abandon the air entirely until the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, a defense that had allowed just 112 yards in the first half, and had an impressive showing against the run, imploded in the second half.
2. The first half was much better. For all those problems, South Carolina was solid in the first two quarters. The Gamecocks piled up 220 yards en route to the 21-3 lead that caused the later conservative play-calling.
Smelley was also much better in the first half than in the second, going 14-of-19 for 136 yards and three TDs. (For comparison's sake, he ended the second half 3-of-7 for 36 yards and a pick.)
It looked, at the half, like South Carolina was going to blow the Tar Heels out of the water and waltz out of Chapel Hill with a big win to lend credibility to dreams of a big season. Instead, the players and the coaches made the fatal mistake of falling under their own spell, beginning to believe themselves that the the game was over at the half, and they played and coached like it in the second half.
That's fine against ACC competition, during a period of time where simply beating even an underdog foe is considered an accomplishment. But when it comes to playing Tennessee and Florida, that kind of mental miscue
could will spell disaster.
3. The receivers are still a muddle. Kenny McKinley had another so-so day, grabbing five catches for 64 yards and a score. There's no telling what could have happened had the playing calling been a bit more wide-open in the second half, but if wishes were horses than beggars would ride. At least that's what my Southern family members used to tell me. (Yes, we do have all kinds of weird sayings down here. Maybe that's where Lou Holtz gets them.)
That said, Jared Cook seems to be emerging as a legitimate No. 2 threat, catching three balls for 55 yards and a TD. Over the last three games, he's caught nine passes for 157 yards. Not great, but as close to a second receiver as South Carolina has right now. Besides, he's a tight end, so that's a pretty good deal of production to get out of that position.
You go into the game with the No. 2 you have.
The question remains whether another WR will step up before the end of the season to make the passing game a potent threat.
4. Another defensive hero. Eric Norwood had another good day -- five tackles, 2.5 for loss and one sack -- but so did Emanuel Cook. Cook led the team with 8.5 tackles, two for loss and his own sack. Oh, and two interceptions or something insignificant like that.
So far, losing J-Brink hasn't hurt the team that badly. But that will last only as long as someone else on the defense continues to step up. Two or three someones will need to step up against the remainder of the SEC; in addition to Florida and Tennessee, Arkansas and a surprisingly game Vanderbilt loom.
There was also a new twist for the defense when Kenny McKinley and Cook stepped in on defense. Good thing: They did just enough to knock down what would have been an almost-game-winning throw as time expired.
Not pretty, but it's a win.
Florida showed you could do this and win the SEC. But this team ain't that team or anything like it -- at least not yet.
5. Rankings and races. In the most important race of them all -- the one for the SEC East crown -- the game played in Chapel Hill meant nothing.
Other games, though, could end up changing the landscape.
Kentucky beat LSU to blast away any idea that the Wildcats would tumble out of the race after losing in Columbia. Their game against the Gators will be critical for them, Florida and South Carolina. If Kentucky wins out, South Carolina will have to do so, too. A defeat for Florida in Lexington would all but remove them from contention in the East. A Kentucky loss would give South Carolina a little more margin for error, particularly in the Arkansas game, which still worries me.
Tennessee, meanwhile, is still very much in this thing. Georgia needs to beat Florida -- and not screw up along the way -- to have a chance if all of the once-defeated teams fall along the way.
Right now, the Gamecocks and the Vols control their own destiny. That game, by the way, is Oct. 27.
As for the rankings, the one that matters came out this week. The initial BCS standings have the Gamecocks at No. 6, with a No. 8 spot in the USA TODAY poll, a No. 6 ranking in the Harris poll, and a No. 3 average in the computers. The AP Poll puts South Carolina at No. 6 as well.
Of course, you can ask Southern Cal, LSU, Florida, Wisconsin, Cal, Michigan and several other teams what life has been like in the Top 10 this year, in case you haven't been paying attention.
Nothing is guaranteed. Particularly if the Gamecocks play like they did in the second half Saturday.
GRADE: C-. Only the good first half saves this team from an F. The second half was pathetic beyond words. A team that assumes any game is in hand at the half isn't ready to win the SEC.