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South Carolina back in a familiar place

Hello darkness, my old friend.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the Missouri game, much ink was spilled — both here and elsewhere — about how the South Carolina Gamecocks were on the precipice of a huge opportunity. And that wasn’t hyperbole: USC had the chance to not only secure a wildly unexpected sixth win, but also to buck the trend of its recent and disappointing history of falling flat after big victories.

Well, by now, you know the rest. South Carolina went into the other Columbia for an absolutely winnable game against a Missouri team with as poor a run defense as you’ll ever find, and left without the Mayor’s Cup and with a baffling and exasperating 31-28 defeat that was only so close because of a too little, too late fourth quarter rally.

So, where do Shane Beamer and company go from here?

First of all, let’s state the uncomfortable obvious: The win over Florida, while still undeniably the highlight of this season, was an aberration. Whether it was because South Carolina just so happened to be firing on all cylinders that day, the Gators have fully given up on their coach, or some combination of the two, we can now safely say it was an outlier. That’s a bummer, to put it mildly.

Everything we saw against Missouri was everything we didn’t see against UF — but they were also trends that have been present all season long. The offensive line can’t block or get any push, and from there, the running backs have nowhere to go and the quarterback, whoever he is, is fleeing for his life the second the ball is snapped.

As I’ve written here previously, it’s very difficult to judge whether playcalling is the issue when the offense literally can’t even get the chance to operate, but at a certain point, that has to reflect back on the coaching, too. When it comes to the offensive line and running backs, the Gamecocks are working with largely the same personnel as they had last season, when those groups teamed up to dominate on the ground and earn Kevin Harris an SEC rushing title. Further complicating the shockingly poor performance of the line this year, the running back rotation makes little to no sense. With Harris and MarShawn Lloyd both coming back from offseason surgeries, ZaQuandre White has looked like the clear feature back who should be hogging carries for South Carolina. The staff, however, seems committed to cycling out the backs rather than riding the hot hand, the latter of which can be a pretty damn productive strategy; one needs only to look at Mizzou’s Tyler Badie and what he did this past weekend.

The Gamecocks have two more games against two more sets of Tigers this season, and therefore technically two more chances to get that elusive sixth win and achieve bowl eligibility. Sixteenth-ranked Auburn, whom South Carolina will see this weekend, just took a body blow of a loss from Mississippi State, and hated rival Clemson is currently a shell of the powerhouse it’s been for the better part of this decade. Both games are at home, too, which is always nice. But these are still both teams that South Carolina has struggled with mightily in the past, and teams that will have a decided talent advantage despite their recent struggles.

Again, there are two more chances for South Carolina to right the ship, prove that Florida wasn’t a fluke, and end the season on a high note. But if the Gamecocks can’t pull it off, does Beamer have what it takes to make a tough call and shake up the offensive staff after Year 1? As of right now, South Carolina’s current offensive “production,” such as it is, is untenable in Power Five football, to say nothing of SEC play. Regardless of what happens in the final two games, this offseason could hold the key for how Beamer’s tenure will ultimately be judged. A refusal to hire outside of his friends circle — and a stubbornness to move on from said hires when they clearly failed — doomed Will Muschamp’s South Carolina offense, and likely his chance to be a head coach on this level again. Hopefully Beamer will have the courage to take a different path.