If South Carolina ends this season 7-5, this game goes down as just a frustrating result in a season full of them. If they somehow finish 11-2 yet again, add this as another chapter in the South Carolina Gave Away A Golden Opportunity scrapbook, which has become far too full over the last few years.
|Advanced Box Score|
|Yds. per Play||4.28||4.28||Missouri|
|SD - Success||45.00%||50.00%||Carolina|
|PD - Success||11.11%||22.22%||Carolina|
|Rushing||31 plays||37 plays|
|Rush Success Rate||45.2%||48.6%||Carolina|
|Passing||36 plays||42 plays|
|Pass Success Rate||19.4%||33.3%||Carolina|
|1st Down Success||42.86%||48.39%||Carolina|
|1st Down Yds/Play||7.07||4.61||Missouri|
|2nd Down Success||20.00%||36.00%||Carolina|
|2nd Down Yds/Play||2.45||5.88||Carolina|
|3rd Down Success||12.50%||38.10%||Carolina|
|3rd Down Yds/Play||2.00||2.29||Carolina|
|4th Down Success||100.00%||0.00%||Missouri|
|4th Down Yds/Play||2.67||0.00||Missouri|
|1Q Success Rate||35.0%||43.8%||Carolina|
|2Q Success Rate||23.5%||41.7%||Carolina|
|3Q Success Rate||16.7%||47.6%||Carolina|
|4Q Success Rate||44.4%||27.8%||Missouri|
|Starting Field Position||Own 29||Own 29||DRAW|
|*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 trips - drives with one first down inside the opposing team's 40-yard line|
1. The defense did its job
Certainly, we knew Missouri had some issues, with offensive line injuries, a quarterback untested on the road, and overall an offense simply not up to rising to the same heights as the 2013 unit. That said, Vanderbilt has issues on offense, and that didn't stop them from putting together four scoring drives and only punting three times against the USC defense.
But after four games, the Carolina defense put on its best performance of the season by a mile. They weren't perfect - they failed to really crack down on the running game, for one thing - but they did a good job of putting Missouri in bad positions and then did a phenomenal job of slamming down the hammer.
2. No, seriously, look how well our defense played
On passing downs, the Gamecocks simply did not let Missouri breathe - an 11% success rate where they gained 3.2 yards per play. If that had come on 15 of their 67 plays, you'd call it a fluke. But Missouri spent 27 of their 67 plays in a passing down situation, which means Carolina did a pretty fine job of getting them into bad spots. And with a couple of exceptions, they then killed off those drives to get the ball back to the offense.
While many people look at this loss as a sign South Carolina may lose every game on its schedule but for Furman and South Alabama, it's worth noting that the defense has now proven it can stop a high-caliber opponent. We already know the offense can march the ball on strong defenses. Unfortunately, they don't do it every game, and particularly unfortunately, one of those games was Saturday.
3. The offense disappears
The problem with looking at the outstanding defensive numbers is that the numbers to the immediate right look damningly similar. South Carolina did a better job of staying on schedule with a 50 percent success rate, but once they fell behind the chains, they weren't able to get out of bad situations, posting just a 22 percent success rate on less than five yards a play in those situations.
The offense collectively shares the blame, but the real issue came from the passing game - despite a 21-of-37 performance, Dylan Thompson took four sacks, which makes that more like a 21-of-41 performance. That said, he spent most of the night hamstrung by dropped passes, some of which were difficult balls, others of which were easy catches that the receivers simply didn't make. The running game did a decent enough job of keeping the Gamecocks on schedule, but the passing game disappeared early and, aside from a few big plays, never showed up against a Missouri team that simply shouldn't have shut it down to the extent they did.
4. In games like this, you can lose because of one play
I didn't disagree with Steve Spurrier going for it on fourth down early in the game - in a game where Missouri seemed likely to march down the field most of the evening, we needed points as often as we could get them. The play didn't work - mostly because of execution - and that happens sometimes. It's a risk because you could lose.
Of course, there were over 100 other plays in the game, and they each impacted the outcome as well. Busta Anderson's failure to bring in a touchdown catch on a drive where we settled for three points comes immediately to mind, but there were at least a dozen other plays on both sides of the ball where we could've changed the outcome.
That said, the early drive played a big role in the one point that ultimately separated the two teams on the evening. That failure gave Missouri one extra scoring opportunity, and despite Carolina out-scoring the Tigers on a per-trip basis, that one extra chance was the difference. Well, most of the difference.
5. In games like this, you can lose because of one coaching decision
Steve Spurrier's been one of the best things to ever happen to football in Columbia. He recruits well, he coaches his players up, he hires a solid staff, the players stay out of trouble (mostly) off the field, and we win a lot of ballgames.
But he's got shortcomings as a coach, and they consistently come back to bite us. His indifference to special teams has been noted around here for years, though perhaps the Vanderbilt game finally shocked coach into prioritizing that area. He uses timeouts with no regard to the fact that those at times sit as our only opportunity to stop the clock, and our lack of timeouts on the final drive had us pushing the ball down the field far more aggressively than we would've with our full allotment.
But I've never seen him mess up something that's so simple, so obvious, they literally have a simple cheat sheet for coaches to use. I don't pretend that it is perfect (because it's not), but in a game with only two possessions left for each side, why are you hitting a number that puts you up 13 instead of 14 points? It's insane. It's ridiculous. Spurrier admitted as much, but still - his in-game management, and this includes the timeouts, remains farcical at times.
The players spend a lot of time working on getting better in the season and in the off-season. Fans pour their hearts into this program, as well as their dollars. It's a big operation, and it's hard, and Steve Spurrier's the man to lead it.
But if he continues to fail to work at getting better at simple things like this that can swing ballgames, fans have every right to be furious. These are simple decisions, and it's simple to put processes in place to make sure we always get them right. I'll never understand why Steve Spurrier didn't have them in place, and it dearly cost South Carolina on Saturday night.