I’m going to be honest and say after watching the first half, I didn’t think I was even going to be writing this article.
The score was 38-7 at halftime, and everything that could have went wrong did.
You can say the Tennessee perhaps let its foot off the gas a bit in the second act (I won’t), but we saw a different team come out of the tunnel to start the second half.
The Gamecock squad that I expected to show up — especially the defense — eventually did, but it was too little, too late.
A boneheaded HB pass play call on second and goal at the two yard line resulting in a pick combined with a Luke Doty fumbled snap on the next drive basically sealed USC’s fate.
To be fair, I did not necessarily hate the call, but you dig into your bag of tricks on third or fourth down, not the second play from that close. Also, Burch shouldn’t have thrown the ball in the first place, but that’s another discussion.
Anyway, the offense didn’t really impress me in either half and the defense really only gave me hope in the second half. Sadly, I don’t give out half of a game ball, so you know where that’s going...
More good was the penalty problem looked like it got addressed. More bad was the offensive line looked terrible. How a team can rack up 10 tackles for loss just baffles me. Simply embarrassing.
Offensive Game Ball(s): Kevin Harris and Juju McDowell
The run was what worked against Tennessee, and I didn’t want to pick one guy over the other here because I believe the run as a unit was what led to some success.
Harris had his time to shine and so did Juju. To reference some Talladega Nights, Juju was the “shake” to Harris’ “bake.”
Although Harris, understandably, was the one finishing the drives as he finished with two touchdowns on the day, Juju was often the one that got the Gamecocks into that position.
On the should-have-been touchdown drive, a 22-yard run by Juju got South Carolina to around midfield. On the second touchdown drive, a trio of Juju runs also got the Gamecocks past midfield.
Harris may have had the better day statistically, but I couldn’t ignore what Juju did because he continued to bring the electricity to the offense that the coaches love.
If it weren’t for these guys, it is very possible the score differential could have been much worse.
They helped mask the struggles Luke Doty had on Saturday as he was missing routine screen passes, dump-offs and struggling to complete the big time throws.
He may have eye-popping success on the ground, but that’s only half of what it takes to be a good quarterback, and that’s, frankly, the less important part.
Defensive Game Ball: N/A
Football is a game played over two halves, and despite playing much better in the second one, that does not make me forgive the 45 points total given up, including 28 in the first quarter.
They were once again giving up the big play, the run defense looked equally as ineffective as past weeks if not worse and Hendon Hooker — a guy who is usually run first, pass second — was having a day through the air, racking up 225 yards and three touchdowns.
The Gamecock defense was supposed to be the team’s saving grace and the thing they leaned on when the offense holds them back, but this was its worst group performance since the Georgia game.
I’m not in panic mode for this unit or anything, but it was certainly not a quality performance we were given last Saturday.
Honorable Mentions: Kai Kroeger and Payton Mangrum
It’s sad for me to say this, but Kroeger really threw the best ball for the Gamecocks in this game on that fourth down conversion midway through the third quarter.
It was also good for the longest touchdown pass of the year for USC.
What’s sadder is that the guy on the other end of the play, Payton Mangrum, led the team in receiving yards because of that successful trick play.
For a guy who hasn’t gotten his name called much this year, I hope Mangrum enjoys his few seconds of fame!