In Columbia at Williams-Brice Stadium, the 2009 Gamecocks went 6-1. Those victories included Carolina's signature wins against the Mississippi Rebels and Clemson Tigers, and the lone loss was to the then number-one Florida Gators in a game Carolina could have very well won if another play or two had gone our way. Only the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores, where Carolina struggled mightily to defeat a woeful VU squad, could be considered a bad home performance.
Away from home, Carolina fared much, much worse. The Gamecocks opened the season with a road victory, but it would be hard to call that a great performance: it was a 7-3 victory against an N.C. State Wolfpack team that failed to finish over .500 in the ACC. I thought that was a solid victory at the time, as the offense played better than the score indicated, the defense was great, and the 'Pack were projected to have a good year. History hasn't smiled upon the performance, though, as State ended up being mediocre. The Gamecocks' other road games ended up featuring more of the same, but with a different result in the W-L column: Carolina wouldn't win another game away from home. Not all of the performances were terrible. We played one of our best offensive games of the season in Athens, but by a strange stroke of fate also played our worst game defensively that night. In Tuscaloosa, our offense performed woefully, but all in all we gave the Alabama Crimson Tide a bit more of a game than a lot of people thought we would. The rest of the non-home games, though, were absolute travesties in terms of our performance. In Knoxville, we looked like the 2008 Gamecocks when we dug ourselves into a huge hole with several turnovers. In Fayetteville...actually, I don't even want to remember the craptastic performance we put in in the second half against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The crowning moment of our away-from-home woes would then come in the Papa John's.com Bowl, where we would put on a clinic in offensive ineptitude against a Connecticut Huskies team that tended to give up about 400 ypg.
That bowl performance summed up the difference between our play at home and away from home. After putting in solid offensive performances at home against incredible Florida and very respectable Clemson defenses, we were completely unable to move the ball against a porous UConn D. This kind of inconsistency led to a 6-1 home record and a 1-5 road record. I don't have the stats in front of me, but that has to be close to the biggest differential between home and away-from-home records. You could only do slightly worse.
Needless to say, Carolina will need to do much better on the road if it wishes to eclipse last year's 7-6 record. It shouldn't be too hard to at least do a little better. This year's road slate is a little more manageable than last year's, when we were underdogs in each game except the bowl. Nothing will come easy, but this year we will likely be favored against Kentucky and Vandy and may be against Clemson. However, that Clemson game, along with the Auburn game, will likely be more or less toss-ups, and whether we win one or both of those games or burn out in them may be the difference between whether or not we get over the hump this year. Moreover, if we do have a big year this season, the game at Florida may very well determine the East. Gainesville is a place that hasn't been kind to us; last time we were there, we looked like a high-school team, and the time before, despite a respectable performance, featured one of the most disappointing finishes in a long tradition of heartbreaking Gamecocks finishes
If we do get to the point where we're capable of playing with the Gators for the East Title, it's going to come down to the end again. Will we be able to finish on the road? That's a question that could go a long way to determining how this season ends.