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FIVE POINTS: The Disaster Edition

1. An upset is an upset is an upset. Nothing I say below should be indicated as taking away from what Vanderbilt did: They won the football game. You can say "What if..." You can say "But this..." You can throw in "But that..."

The only thing that matters is the score: Vanderbilt 17, South Carolina 6.

You can also go too far the other way.

"I'm not shocked at losing to Vandy. They're a good team. They were obviously a lot better than us today. ... This should not be a shock to our team. This should not be a shock. Hopefully it will straighten them out. They sure did lose to a great team."

A great team? No. A good team? Doubtful. An average team, a team that's finally one you have to pay attention to in the SEC? Yes.

I can only hope that Spurrier was putting on a show for the pollsters. His team was the "good team" on the field -- their homefield, no less -- Saturday. Maybe not a great team, but a good team. And they lost to an average or (maybe) above-average team.

So give Vanderbilt credit for the upset. But don't cheapen yourself by saying the Commodores are world-beaters.

2. This one's on the offense. Don't, don't, don'tdon'tdon't blame this one on the defense. In the first quarter, they surrendered drives of 20, 9, 24, 4 and 43 yards and ended up down 17-0. After giving up exactly 100 yards, they had put the team in a three-possession hole.

The offense (and, to a lesser extent, special teams) were largely reponsible for a terrible disadvantage in field position. Vanderbilt started out on its own 40, the South Carolina 24, the South Carolina 24, the South Carolina 43 and the South Carolina 43. The defense hurt a bit with the first drive, but the offense's complete inability to move the ball in the first quarter, and its willingness to give Vanderbilt the ball on turnovers, continually put the defense on a short field.

At one almost laughable point, the Gamecocks managed to recover a kickoff muffed by Chris Culliver. "Please take the ball," Culliver said to the Commodores. "No, we couldn't," Vanderbilt responded. "I insist," Cory Boyd said, politely coughing up the ball on the following play.

South Carolina did, barely, outgain Vanderbilt (282-269), though that can be attributed as much to the defense holding the Commodores down after the first quarter than to any great execution on the other side of the ball. But the Gamecocks surrendered four turnovers, three of them interceptions. The best way to lose to an underdog is to give them the ball.

South Carolina did that Saturday.

Yep, Chris, you guys screwed up.

3. The quarterback play was ... ahem ... uneven. Sure, you could look at one half of the line on the Gamecocks' signal-callers and say, eh, not awful. They went 23-of-43 for 256 yards. But the other half of the line is terrible: No TDs, 3 INTs. What do you make of that?

"Neither of us could get it going," Captain Obvious Smelley said. "Coach Spurrier was trying to get one of us to spark the offense and band together. We had a good week of practice. We have to get ready now, refocus and get ready for UT.

The two alternated in an inexact manner. Smelley played nine series and Mitchell six. Mitchell was due to play the first series that began in the second quarter but ended up entering late in the first quarter.

Smelley said neither he nor Mitchell were able to find a rhythm but did not place the blame for that on the rotation. Mitchell echoed that.

"You've just got to be ready to go when he (Spurrier) calls me to go," Mitchell said. "It's not like he's rotating you every play; he's giving you series to play, and you've just got to be ready and do your best to put things together."

Spurrier has shied away from naming a starting quarterback for the Tennessee game. Good. Open the competition up again in practice. Pull the redshirt off Garcia at this point, if the NCAA will allow you to do that -- see if I care. But if this offense doesn't find a way to at least score touchdowns -- a responsibility that ultimately lies with the quarterback -- then it's time for the American Values Bowl in Population-50,000, Mississippi.

4. The offensive line falls apart. We were waiting for the game when the offensive line was an unmitigated disaster. Saturday was that game, and then some.

Vandy confounded the Gamecocks with its zone blitz, tying a school record with seven sacks -- the most USC has allowed in three seasons under Steve Spurrier. USC linemen combined for five false-start penalties.

"Amazingly, the eighth game of the season we had five false starts of the offensive linemen," Spurrier said. "It sort of looked like one of the first games all year. We just didn't get ready to play for some reason." ...

Smelley said the Gamecocks had the right blocking schemes called for the Vandy blitzes, but failed to execute up front.

Chris, you're still being punished, but thanks for the info.

Well, you're thinking, how much of a problem can a few false starts be?

The first false-start call, against right tackle Justin Sorensen, happened on third-and-6 on USC's third series. It was immediately followed by a sack.

The next false start, by center Web Brown, came on the next series. That made a third-and-3 a third-and-8, USC punted, and Vanderbilt started a touchdown drive from the USC 48. ...

Five of the sacks came on first or second down, all but one setting the offense back far enough that it could not convert. In the second quarter, South Carolina drove to the Vanderbilt 18, only to give up a sack on first down and end up settling for a field goal.

USC's other field goal came after a false-start penalty helped snuff out a red-zone chance. The Gamecocks had second-and-10 at the Vandy 17, were penalized and two plays later had to trot out kicker Ryan Succop.

Yeah, they hurt a bit.

5. Races and rankings. South Carolina is No. 15 in the AP poll and No. 17 in the USA TODAY rankings. While BCS rankings come out after this writing, and while the computers have been kinder all season, it's unlikely the Gamecocks will be favorably positioned to get an at-large BCS berth. That makes the SEC East race all the more important.

And, improbably, this team still controls its own destiny in the SEC East. With Kentucky and Tennessee both falling yesterday, everyone in the East race, such as it is, now has two losses. Of the five teams with two defeats, only two -- South Carolina and Florida -- have either defeated or will still face everyone else with a pair of losses.

Deserving our not, the Gamecocks are still alive.

"We have a lot of goals that are still out there, but we have to play a lot better," Spurrier said.

Receiver Kenny McKinley believes the Gamecocks have to run the table to make it to Atlanta on Dec. 1.

"If we lose another one, we're through," he said.

McKinley is, in all likelihood, right. South Carolina can technically lose to Arkansas and still win the crown if they defeat Tennessee and Florida while Georgia and Kentucky both lose one more time. All of those things are possible; Kentucky plays Tennessee and Georgia plays Kentucky and Florida.

But that's a lot of "ifs," more than should be comfortable for a would-be contender. And it would allow everyone to say -- probably justifiably -- that the Gamecocks only lost because the division was weak this year.

So the solution for now is to win out, at least in the SEC. The team that beat Georgia and Kentucky and went up 21-3 on North Carolina can do that. But if the Gamecocks play like they did Saturday, winning the next three games will be impossible.

GRADE: F. No excuse. No excuse. If there was a "G," they'd get that.

[NOTE: If you give this team any grade better than a "D," more power to you for your optimism. But you really should consider seeing a medical professional.]


Grade the Gamecocks.

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