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Palmetto Bowl Postmortem: Where does South Carolina go from here?

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Trying to take stock.

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

So, where does South Carolina go from here?

Well, to be literal about it, the Gamecocks have a yet-to-be-determined bowl destination next up on their calendar, a game that many fans have been telling the more despondent folks among us to focus their energy on instead. It’s understandable, if even good, advice: Absolutely no one thought Shane Beamer could get this team to the postseason in his first year; not after coming off an awful COVID-shortened season and with attrition depleting the Gamecocks’ roster to the extent it did. I do think it’s worth recognizing this achievement, and not allowing it to get lost in the aftermath of the Clemson game.

However, I’m also sympathetic to those fans who have the Clemson loss lodged firmly in their craw. After building momentum with big late-season wins over Florida and Auburn, and successfully packing the stadium for the most highly-anticipated Palmetto Bowl in years, a sellout crowd watched the Gamecocks be utterly uncompetitive. It’s not just that South Carolina lost — it’s that South Carolina didn’t appear to muster even a token effort, and looked completely unprepared from the opening whistle. The latter has been a point of frustration for most of this season, even in victories — how many times did SC dig itself a hole within mere minutes of kickoff? — and seems emblematic of the type of growing pains fans will have to endure with a first-year head coach.

Now, though, South Carolina is at a bit of a juncture. Silly Season is in full swing, with one of the wildest coaching carousels we’ve seen in years, and while I don’t think Oklahoma is a legitimate threat to steal Beamer away, he has his own decisions to make about his staff. Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield and offensive line coach Greg Adkins are under fire from fans, as the Gamecocks fielded one of the worst offenses in the country for the third year in a row and looked utterly helpless against Clemson (although, in fairness, the Tigers are still a top-15 unit defensively, for all their struggles on the offensive side of the ball). Three times this season, South Carolina posted absolutely woeful, inexcusable yardage totals in a quarter: five, six, 12. That isn’t just bad; it’s a level beyond.

On the other hand, some would argue that South Carolina’s general dearth of playmaking talent, coupled with injuries, is enough to make anyone look bad. It’s certainly true that it’s never ideal when a graduate assistant who had retired from the sport is pressed into emergency service, and when the heir apparent at quarterback ends up needing a season-ending surgery to boot. Then again, this offense is not completely bereft of talent, and had success running the ball last year with largely the same personnel along the line of scrimmage. Fans also need to look only across the other side of the ball — to Clayton White’s defense — to see what had been an underperforming, talent-starved unit play beyond its abilities and serve as a strength of the team.

At any rate, the future of Beamer’s offensive staff is still undecided. That could mean he’s standing pat; it could also mean he’s waiting for the bigger programs to settle their own staffing first in the interest of avoiding a late poaching, a la Mike Bobo and Auburn last year (which is what landed South Carolina in this predicament to begin with). Speaking of Auburn and Bobo, Tigers headman Bryan Harsin was quick to make a move with his own offense, parting ways with Bobo at the beginning of this week. Under Will Muschamp, South Carolina labored too many years too long with underperforming offensive coordinators, and there’s no telling how far back that cumulatively set the program (and it very clearly doomed Muschamp’s tenure here, if nothing else). Will Beamer show more willingness to make a move, both for his sake and the future of the program? It seems we’ll have to wait to find out.