1. Everybody calm down. That includes me. One of the reason's I've waited until now (Monday evening) to post my thoughts is because any earlier attempts would have come out RARR!!!RARRRR!!!SMELLEY BAD!!!!RARR!!!! Take a step back. Think about this for a minute. Last year, we were all pissed about an 0-5 finish that put the Gamecocks at 6-6 and out of a bowl game after an unforgivable defensive collapse against The Team from the Upstate. This year, South Carolina finished 7-5, bound for a better bowl than the Gamecocks probably deserve (almost certainly the Outback, but maybe the Peach) and with some returning talent, even if we lose Jared Cook in addition to Kenny McKinley. (And I hate to say this, but keep an eye on Eric Norwood.) I'll have a lot more on a later date, but just to put things in perspective: This is the first time South Carolina has had four non-losing seasons since it entered the SEC. The last time was 1987-1990, when Joe Morrison and Sparky Woods went 8-4, 8-4, 6-4-1 and 6-5 as an independent. This has been a pretty good stretch by South Carolina standards.
2. Chris Smelley must never again start for South Carolina. It's that simple. This was "Bad Chris" at his worst, and comparing his performance to Blake Mitchell is an insult to Blake Mitchell. (And I say that as one of Blake's most consistent critics.) A fumbled quarterback sneak, overthrowing leaping receivers by two or three feet, almost getting intercepted when he tried to throw the ball away -- it was awful. Four interceptions and a 46.8 percent completion rate do not begin to tell of the horror that was watching Chris Smelley play quarterback. Brandon Cox would have been a marked improvement. Smelley's had some good games, but he also has a tendency to disappear or regress at the worst possible times: against Vanderbilt last year, against Kentucky this year and, then, this past weekend. Smelley's show against Ole Miss was just one of those illusions -- redshirt sophomores don't usually get better overnight. It's time to let it go and go with Stephen Garcia. (An aside: If "Tommy [Beecher] doesn't want to play," then his scholarship should be revoked. I'm not being mean about this. If you get an academic scholarship and you don't bother to show up to class, you fail and you lose your scholarship. Why should athletes be any different?)
3. Third down defense. All the nice things I've said about Ellis Johnson and the Gamecocks defense, and they follow up the 56-point waxing in the Swamp with a "performance" that included The Team from the Upstate converting eight of 14 third-down opportunities. In all, the Tigers gained 64 yards on third down, or about 4.6 yards per play. Worse yet, 56 of those third-down yards came in the second half -- when South Carolina most needed a stop to preserve clock and get the ball back. You can't blame the entire defensive effort for this game -- when your quarterback gets picked off four times, there's not much the defense can do to win it. But a few third-down stops might have changed momentum and the final score.
4. This is Spurrier. If there was a major criticism of Steve Spurrier's time in Gainesville, it's that he didn't do well against Florida State. Including bowl games, Spurrier went 5-8-1 against the Seminoles. Spurrier didn't make his name beating ACC rivals to make the fans happy; he made his name beating Georgia and Tennessee and winning SEC championships and a national title. True, those options weren't available to him, and the Team from the Upstate was the team South Carolina faced this weekend. But get used to the fact that beating the Tigers is not Spurrier's first goal, nor his second and probably not even his third. Personally, I want him focusing more on the SEC. That's not sour grapes; I hate losing to The Team from the Upstate. I'd still trade it any day for an SEC championship.
5. How would you like to have the Vanderbilt game back? Or the Georgia game? A special-teams blocker in a different place, a smarter play by Mike Davis ... But, no. We have to get past moral victories, get past a "this was an improvement," get past seeing the glass half-full when it's 60 percent empty. The Spurrier Era, in my mind, has been good for South Carolina, but not yet successful. This should have been an eight-win, maybe a nine-win, perhaps even a ten-win season. Again, don't misinterpret: This is a 7-5 team. You are whatever your record says you are. And until South Carolina starts winning more than seven games a year, it will always be a good team -- but a team that's just not good enough.
Sorry, there's nothing to redeem this game, and all the time in the world can't change that. It was an all-around collapse.