While I expected the Gamecocks to beat Missouri, I'm not shocked that we lost. Mizzou is a solid team, despite their setback against Indiana, and Carolina hardly looked like a worldbeater heading into the game.
The way Carolina lost, though, was shocking. If you had told me before the game that Carolina would hold Missouri to less than 300 yards and only 21 points in the contest, I would have told that you that Carolina would surely win, likely going away. All week, we heard that this is a game in which the struggling Gamecocks defense would be challenged by a talented offense that would present a matchup problem for Carolina. The defense rose admirably to that challenge, shutting down Maty Mauk and company for three quarters.
The offense, though, couldn't do its part. The Gamecocks moved the ball little better than Mizzou, despite having the talent to slice Mizzou up after the Tigers' defense was exposed by Indiana. What made this loss particularly difficult to endure was that with the defense getting stop after stop, it felt like eventually Carolina would put together a couple of long drives to ice the win in the second half. When Carolina finally scored its second touchdown to go up 20-7, I thought the game was over. Missouri scored quickly, though, and after Carolina gave the Tigers the ball right back with an abysmal three-and-out on a drive where you felt like Carolina should have been able to exert itself with the running game, the Tigers were able to come up with another score to win the game.
As Chickenhoops predicted prior to the game, red-zone production played a big role in the game. Outside of a first-quarter drive that ended in a missed 48-yard FG, Mizzou only had three sustained drives in the game. It made them count, though, by scoring touchdowns on each one. Carolina had four such drives, but two of those ended in a field goal attempts, one of which Carolina was forced to kick after having 1st-and-goal from the six after a long Nick Jones reception.
That drive was the one in which Rory Anderson dropped a wide-open touchdown pass, and that drop is indicative of what to me was the big takeaway offensively in this game, Carolina's worse-than-expected wide receiver and tight end play. Anderson's drop was only the most costly one in this game for Carolina, and the Gamecocks were also hurt by penalties committed by Shaq Roland and Jerrell Adams, two players whose performances this season have been deeply underwhelming. This isn't the first time these problems have hurt us this year. Given our seeming depth at the pass-catching positions, it's a real shame that Nick Jones and Pharoh Cooper are the only two players who can be relied upon to make plays when needed. I definitely wouldn't mind seeing the coaches giving some of the backups a chance to see if they can do better.
This weekend's game against Kentucky is going to be telling for this team. One of the team's goals, a spot in the playoffs, is almost certainly off the table, and the Gamecocks are going to need to not only right the ship but also to get a lot of help to win the SEC East. Given how the rest of the East has looked, this could easily be a year when a three-loss team wins the division, but still, the danger is now present for the team to lose hope, and the season could get ugly quickly if that happens. Kentucky isn't a good team, but it's much improved from a year ago, and the 'Cats could easily take Carolina in Lexington if the Gamecocks don't come to play. On the other hand, if Carolina can win this weekend, it gets a bye week and a gimme against Furman to regroup for the remainder of the season, when it would have the opportunity to play its way back into contention for the East or at least a nice bowl and an end-of-year ranking.
Other random thoughts:
--There were some bizarre coaching decisions by Spurrier in this one, such as going for it out of the shotgun on fourth-and-one on our side of the field early in the game, and not going for two on Carolina's touchdown late in the game.
--Just as the defense did its part, special teams did, too. Tyler Hull had a very good game punting the football, and the Gamecocks got some solid plays in the return game. Again, it was the perceived strength of the team, the offense, that let the team down.
--Dylan Thompson is getting his fair share of criticism today after misfiring a few balls and taking too many sacks, but I don't feel he's the problem. His stats would look much better if not for drops and penalties that put the offense in unfavorable situations. He needs to learn to get rid of the ball more quickly, but part of the problem with the sacks was that Carolina's offensive line couldn't handle Mizzou's rush, particularly in "pin your ears back" situations, which there were plenty of due to poor execution on first down.
--I hope we never see the direct snap to Mike Davis again. I like the wildcat with Pharoh, but there's enough of a threat to pass with Cooper taking the snap for the Gamecocks to catch the defense guessing. That's not so when Davis takes the snap, making the run easy to defend unless Carolina gets absolutely flawless blocking. This play didn't work when we tried it with Marcus Lattimore a few years back, and it didn't work last night, either. This was a costly blown play, too, as we could have salted the game away on that drive if we had gotten a couple of first downs. We should have lined up in the jumbo package with Dylan taking the snap and handed the ball off to Davis or Brandon Wilds.
--I was at the game, and the atmosphere was electric. The noise definitely affected Mauk and his line. I also loved what the students did during the Sandstorm after the Gamecocks fourth-quarter touchdown. Here's a video of it someone put up on Youtube: