Yes, the Cocks lost. Yes, they also lost in typical Gamecock fashion by not only losing but also tearing your heart into small pieces in the process. Do I feel like they played an awful game, though? No.
In my opinion, take away three (yes, only three) plays, and this game would have ended much differently. One of those plays is obviously the pick six because you should never give the opposing team free points. The other two are the back-to-back blown coverages in Tennessee’s last touchdown drive resulting in 65 yards being gained over two plays.
A close fourth place was Nick Muse’s drop with four minutes left in the game that made the Gamecocks have to settle for a field goal in a drive where the offense was moving.
I won’t lose any sleep over that special teams debacle because who knows if USC would have came through in the last minute and a half after all?
Anyway, I thought the Gamecocks were the better team out there tonight, and if it weren’t for a few mishaps, it would have shown that on the scoreboard as well.
On that note, here are a few guys I thought helped the cause last night.
Offensive Game Ball: Shi Smith
Giving Tennessee seven points with his drop turned pick six was unfortunate, but he WAS the offense, and that’s the point of this award.
Smith accounted for just south of half the yards that Collin Hill passed for tonight, bringing in 10 receptions for a healthy 140 yards and a touchdown.
He looked like Hill’s favorite target and the most likely option to replace the dominant force that was Bryan Edwards last season.
What Smith did was set the tone in the passing game, hauling in three passes just in the first drive.
He’s got to fix the drops, but I was happy with his play out there. This offense can definitely function with him as the focal point of the passing game.
Defensive Game Ball: Kingsley Enagbare
With Mukuamu getting sent out of the game early due to injury, I knew the secondary had the ability to get burned on occasion (it did).
Given that, this Gamecock defense had to pressure the quarterback in order to help the secondary out a little, and he was one of the only guys to get into the backfield multiple times.
Enagbare’s shining moment was when he introduced Jarrett Guarantano to the turf on 3rd and 6 of Tennessee’s opening drive, forcing fourth down and eventually a botched punt. That was supposed to be a game-changer, but nope. South Carolina failed to take advantage of that field position and punted on the next drive.
In total, Enagbare finished with 9 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.
Not a bad day for the defensive lineman. I’m happy he’s finally starting to make a name for himself in his third season with the team.
Honorable mentions: Collin Hill
Hill did take a few more sacks than I would have liked, and he didn’t have the best opening half, but he did play a hell of a game.
Passing for 290 yards and completing 64% of his passes in his debut for South Carolina, Hill definitely surpassed my expectations.
It seemed like he had a good control of the offense and didn’t waste the easy throws like Bentley and Hilinski would often do these last few seasons.
He’s undoubtedly this team’s quarterback for the year, and I think he will have the best statistical year at the quarterback position that USC has seen in a while.