The Gamecocks had problems in Athens, but offense wasn't one of them

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Being out of contention in the SEC East two weeks into the season is a bummer for players and fans alike, but let's not start placing blame where it doesn't belong.

The internet is eager to have someone to be angry at for South Carolina's disappointing 41-30 road loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, and when the internet wants blood, it will have it in barrels. While there may be some warranted criticism of the Gamecocks' showing in Athens, it's difficult to understand why anyone is pointing fingers at the offense. And yet Twitter and message boards are awash with fingers pointed in the directions of Connor Shaw, for his lack of big road wins, and Steve Spurrier, for his play-calling and his inability to realize that Connor Shaw is a bum who cannot win on the road.

Yes, the same play-calling that gained 7.44 yards per snap. Yes, the same quarterback who threw 16 completions on 25 attempts for 228 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran it 16 times for 75 yards.

You have likely already inferred from my tone how I feel about this subject, but just for the hell of it, let's take an objective look at the failings of the South Carolina offense on Saturday. With some exceptions and acknowledgement that there are degrees of success and failure, it is generally true that offensive possessions that do not end in scores are failures and those that end with points on the board are successes. By that measure, South Carolina succeeded on 5 out of its 9 possessions on Saturday and failed on the other 4.

The Four Possessions In Which South Carolina Did Not Score

3rd & 15 results in 3 yard Connor Shaw designed run. South Carolina punts. This three-and-out was undoubtedly South Carolina's worst offensive possession of the game, and it came at the worst possible time. Georgia had just scored a touchdown and then gotten the ball right back on a great onside kick call from Mark Richt, the success of which accentuated an already strong Mike Bobo gameplan. The cumulative effect Connor Shaw took a six yard sack on 2nd & 9 that he had a chance to throw away. But, even then, the Gamecocks would have been facing an unlikely 3rd & 9 conversion attempt deep in their own territory.

4th & 5 results in 9 yard Connor Shaw run and fumble. Georgia recovers at its own 25. With Connor Shaw's knee a split-second from making contact with the Sanford Stadium grass as he dove for a first down, Amarlo Herrera punched the ball out of Shaw's arms, causing a fumble that Shaw himself very nearly recovered. I just can't bring myself to call Connor a "bonehead" or "not a good road QB" because he tried to make a play on a vital 4th down conversion in which success or failure was defined by inches.

Incomplete pass on 3rd & 9 results in South Carolina's second punt of the day. Connor Shaw threw a perfectly timed out route to Bruce Ellington that, even though Bruce lost the ball in the sun, would have hit him right in the hands had he not thrown his arms up while making the universal sign for I'm pretty sure that there is an airborne object coming right at me but HEY WHAT IS THAT BIG YELLOW THING?

Connor Shaw's speed option pitch to Mike Davis on 4th & 1 snuffed out in the backfield. Georgia takes over on downs at its own 1 yard line. The Gamecocks had enjoyed success with this play throughout the game and even used it to score the previous touchdown. But the Ball Coach went to the well one too many times in a situation where lining up under center and having Shaw run it in ought to have done the trick.

Conclusion:

After looking at each of each of the Gamecocks' failed drives, just two drives ended because of objectively bad play calls or execution thereof (and maybe not even that many). I think an offense can be permitted that kind of a margin for error, don't you? The other two drives ended on tough breaks that have gone South Carolina's way more often then not in the past few seasons. When those breaks don't go your way, you occasionally stall out in enemy territory and lose games against equally talented foes. That's just football: a weird game with weird rules played with a weirdly shaped ball that bounces in unexpected directions and not always in the way that you want it to. And when that happens, it doesn't mean that you should fire your coach or bench your quarterback or cast Ben Affleck as Batman. You just regroup, correct the things that are within your control to correct, and hope the ball bounces your way the next time out.

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