After five years of enjoying this game, this one felt a lot like 2008 - the end of a crummy season with the game never really in doubt. Sure, Carolina was within two scores late with chances to get a defensive stop and put some pressure on Clemson, but the defense (once again) failed to carry the water for this team, and the Gamecock offense simply wasn't good enough to match the Tigers' 35 points, given Clemson's strong defense.
As such, the season ends at 6-6 with a bowl to come and a loss to the Tigers for the first time since that fateful 2008 game. It took the Gamecocks another season to really get going back then - can they make the necessary adjustments to get the program back in good shape this offseason like they did then?
|Advanced Box Score|
|Yds. per Play||8.20||4.52||Clemson|
|Rushing||41 plays||29 plays|
|Rush Success Rate||56.1%||37.9%||Clemson||43.4%|
|Passing||19 plays||46 plays|
|Pass Success Rate||42.1%||32.6%||Clemson||40.3%|
|1Q Success Rate||53.8%||52.6%||Clemson|
|2Q Success Rate||62.5%||26.7%||Clemson|
|3Q Success Rate||22.2%||20.8%||Clemson|
|4Q Success Rate||50.0%||41.2%||Clemson|
|Starting Field Position||Own 25||Own 34||Carolina||Own 29.8|
|*Standard downs - all 1st downs, 2nd and less than 8, 3rd/4th and less than 5|
|*Passing downs - all other downs|
|*Success is 50% of yards on 1st, 70% of yards on 2nd, and 100% on 3rd or 4th|
|*Scoring opps. - drives with one first down inside the opposing team's 40-yard line|
1. We had our chances. I was shocked to learn that we actually had one more scoring opportunity than Clemson did on Saturday. That's not because of a dominant offensive or defensive performance, but that's not really the point. Carolina frankly had its chances to beat Clemson on Saturday. As much as this game felt like a blowout - and as much as the Tigers really did out-play us for most of it - there's plenty of versions of this contest that end in a USC win. Weird to think about, but here we are.
Of course, when you only score 2.4 points per trip (less than a field goal a visit), you're not going to win a whole bunch of football games. Clemson's defense played well overall, but they played very well when it came time to stop the Gamecocks from finishing drives.
2. The defense gave Carolina a chance, but only just. 35 points really isn't a great defensive performance, but it was enough earlier this season to beat Georgia, and would've been enough to win an additional 2.5 games this year (beating Tennessee and Kentucky, and taking Auburn to overtime). But it's certainly not what you want to see when you realize that the strength of the other team is defense.
The Gamecocks never really stopped Clemson - not in the run, not in the pass, not on any particular down or in any particular quarter. The numbers here are slightly skewed because the jet sweeps (which operated functionally as run plays) count as pass plays, but that just goes to hammer the point home on run defense - even without those plays counting as rushes, we still conceded over six yards a carry.
The defense didn't completely destroy our opportunity to win on Saturday, but against a mediocre Clemson offense, it didn't do nearly enough.
3. Carolina dominated field position, and wasted it. On Saturday, we had a great performance in special teams which gave us a ton of hidden yards, almost enough to bring the game back into balance despite being thoroughly out-played on the other two sides of the ball. I'm still not on the Joe Robinson train, but you have to acknowledge that his units did do some things right this season after a catastrophic 2013 season. There are still additional strides that we need to see, but credit him and his players for the improvement.
The Gamecocks made a field goal and downed two punts inside the five yard-line on Saturday, skewing field position by an average of nine yards per drive. Multiply that over 13 possessions, and Carolina basically eliminated the advantages that Clemson ran up in yardage otherwise. That's how you get as badly beaten as Carolina was on Saturday and still end up with one more scoring opportunity than the other team. Special teams gave the Gamecocks a chance on Saturday that they didn't really deserve; they simply couldn't take it.
4. The offense sputtered throughout, though it never truly cratered. These aren't good offensive numbers. The 17 points we did accumulate were helped along in part by the field position the special teams set us up with, and there were a large number of three-and-outs that kept the pressure on the defense.
Still, these aren't bad numbers. There's not nearly enough explosiveness - especially considering there were 3-4 big plays that account for most of the yards we ran up - but there's just enough success to keep a few drives moving.
Simply put, a great Carolina offense lost to a great Clemson defense on Saturday, but they did enough to keep the team around. This game reminded me a lot of the Florida game, and that's a credit to those two defenses. It's very tough to move the ball successfully against a strong defense in their house. The Auburn game was the exception, not the rule.
5. We deserved this. South Carolina simply didn't construct a good enough team this season to go on the road and beat good teams like Auburn or Clemson (or even mediocre teams like Kentucky). There were some strengths and some good things to be found, but overall you can't play this type of football and expect to go beat strong teams on the road. It's frustrating, but when you're not the better team and you're not at home, you're unlikely to win.
The good news is that college football always has a million changes between last season and the next, and there are plenty of opportunities for the Gamecocks to improve. With that said (and we'll dig into this deeper on a later date), this season represents a huge missed opportunity for Carolina - Auburn, Florida and Clemson weren't elite, so all the road games were winnable, and getting Texas A&M from the West ended up being one of the best draws available.
Despite that, Carolina wasn't unlucky this year - they went 2-4 in close games, so maybe they deserved a 7-5 record instead of 6-6. But when you don't have an even decent defense, you're always fighting uphill. That came back to bite Carolina yet again on Saturday.