If there was any chance that Lorenzo Ward could save his job after the debacle at Auburn, that chance should now be out the window after the Gamecocks twice blew 14-point leads in the fourth quarter en route to an overtime loss to Tennessee. It's one thing for the defense to give up massive yards to Auburn, a team that after all moved the ball at will against Ole Miss's vaunted defense in Oxford last night. It's another entirely to give up 645 yards and nearly seven yards per play to Tennessee, a team that has struggled all year on offense. Josh Dobbs may have provided some answers for UT's offense, but let's not kid ourselves; this remains a struggling Tennessee offense that was running a vanilla gameplan last night. Still, they looked like Oregon against our defense. This defense has not been remotely successful against any team it's played this year other than Furman, and it even gave up a lot of rushing yards in that game.
There's no excuse for a successful SEC program fielding a defense this thoroughly awful. This program has access to too much prep talent to be in this situation, and while the Gamecocks have had some hard luck with early departures and academic casualties, there are enough guys on the roster right now who were supposed to be good coming out of high school for us to have an at least average defense. The utter failure of this defense to ever play anything resembling a good game indicates poor scheme, poor player development, and poor strength and conditioning. Ward and most of the defensive coaching staff must go.
While the defense gets the vast majority of the blame in a game in which the Gamecocks lost despite running up over 600 yards of offense themselves and scoring 42 points, Spurrier has to be replaying his late-game strategy in his head this afternoon, too. When thinking of all the screwups Carolina made in this game, it's impossible not to think back to the 3rd-and-four play after the Gamecocks recovered the onsides kick as one of the biggest. Carolina was moving the ball well on the ground with Brandon Wilds. Conventional wisdom says give the ball to Wilds again. If he gets the first down, great, if he gets two or three yards, go for it on fourth with a high-percentage opportunity to pick up the remaining yardage. Instead, Spurrier called for what appeared to be a run-pass option for Thompson. Not only is this a riskier play in general, but it was also putting the game in the hands of a QB who has been anything but dependable in crunch time. It was a hard decision to stomach, particularly after Spurrier rued not running the ball more late in the game against Kentucky a few weeks ago. Predictably, Thompson was sacked, taking Carolina out of position to go for it on fourth down. The Gamecocks punted the ball away and allowed Tennessee to score a game-tying touchdown.
At this point, I'll be surprised if Carolina rallies and figures out how to make a bowl game. The Gamecocks will likely beat South Alabama, and I suspect they'll have chances to beat both Florida and Clemson, but there's no longer any reason to hope that our defense will get any better, nor is there any reason to believe that our offensive coaches or quarterback will make big plays in the waning moments of a game to take a victory. I'll keep pulling for the Gamecocks, though, and will hope against hope that Carolina figures out a solution to what ails.