After taking down two top-10 squads in consecutive weeks, the Gamecocks could not extend that winning streak against ranked opponents to three.
South Carolina ended up on the wrong end of a very high-scoring, entertaining Gator Bowl, dropping the game to Notre Dame by the score of 45-38.
The final contest of the year may have ended in an L, but USC still managed to increase its win total by a game from seven to eight over the past year. So, at least we have evidence that the program is headed in the right direction.
That direction could be clarified once we know about the decisions to enter the 2023 NFL Draft or not for Spencer Rattler and Juice Wells, neither of whom had that statement game in the finale they were desperately hoping for.
Although the Cocks played well as a whole, it could be argued that the game was a lot closer than it should have been with South Carolina on the positive end of two pick sixes on top of punts or a turnover on downs on each of its final five drives.
Despite a hot start and a seven-point lead with 39 seconds to go in the third quarter, the Gamecocks failed to stick the landing.
Not the worse I have ever felt after a loss, but still not what the fans were hoping for.
On to (hopefully) bigger and better things next season, but for now, I’ll leave you all with the final edition of South Carolina report card.
Offensive Grade: B
Although this side of the ball had its moments, it only accounted for 17 of the team’s 38 total points with 14 coming from the interception returns for TDs and the final seven being due to the fake field goal.
What does that add up to? A good day, and a day that should be enough to give you a victory on most days with all the help they were given defensively and on special teams, but not a great one.
Spencer Rattler had a semi-successful day, completing 63% of his throws for 246 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a pick, but that did not hurt his day in the slightest in my mind due to it coming with four seconds remaining in the first half at field position the Cocks couldn’t have really worked with anyway.
It was more of an empty statistic.
The best thing to come from this game offensively was — and I’m not holding back anything here — one of the best catches I may have ever seen on a 42-yard Xavier Legette touchdown grab.
I had the decency of putting it below so all of you could have your jaws dropped for one last time.
The problem was, that was the highlight reel of the entire second half.
Every other drive resulted in a three-and-out or a turnover on downs.
After starting the game off strong with scores on three of the team’s first four possessions, South Carolina’s performance fell flat.
An offense that shows out for only one half, frankly, does not deserve to win a football game, and that is precisely what happened last Friday afternoon.
It does not help whatsoever that the team only rushed for a total of 65 yards as well with 27 of them coming from your quarterback.
In all, one half of quality football adds up to a B, in my opinion.
Defensive Grade: B
Just like the offense, there was some good, but there was probably more bad.
Staring with the good, there was a pick six.
A beautiful thing to see! pic.twitter.com/YngpoHiLS7— Gamecock Football (@GamecockFB) December 30, 2022
Anddddd another pick six.
PICK 6⃣!!!!— Gamecock Football (@GamecockFB) December 30, 2022
O'Donnell Fortune runs it back 100-YARDS to the endzone!
Andddddd another pick.
All of those were very fun to witness, but it felt like when the Cocks weren’t busy forcing a turnover, they were busy allowing a touchdown, which they did on four of the six remaining meaningful drives in the second half.
When USC wasn’t making the big play defensively, Notre Dame was making the bigger play, like that 75-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Buchner to Diggs, that 44-yard touchdown pass from Buchner to Lenzy and that 39-yard touchdown run by Diggs.
South Carolina simply could not stop the big play, and that is what ultimately did them in.
That and, once again, having a hard time stopping the run as the team went on to allow 264 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, which is simply unacceptable.
When Buchner was having the game he was having through the air (with the exception of those three picks), you need to commit to stopping one aspect of Notre Dame’s offense, and the Gamecocks could not slow down either option.
Special Teams: A
Every single week I am impressed how one team can make so many highlight reel-level plays... on special teams!
Like I’ve said in the past, I’m sure if other sites or publications do a “report card” type thing that I do, many of them wouldn’t even include special teams because how often does that unit leave a mark outside of Columbia, South Carolina?
This time, Kai Kroeger once again cashed when his name was called, throwing a 23-yard dime to Hunter Rodgers for a touchdown on a fake field goal.
The man proves time and time again that not only does he punt (very well, too!), but he also has an accurate arm on him.
I sure hope to see highlights like these in the future when he undoubtedly makes it to the NFL eventually.
As for his leg, he booted two inside the 20-yard line on his six opportunities, but the remaining four of his punts started from South Carolina’s own 30, 15, 21 and 25-yard lines, so getting more than two past that benchmark would have been very difficult.
Mitch Jeter also put a bow on his perfect field goal-kicking season, making his only opportunity from 45 yards out.
Even on days where the offense or defense makes me want to pull my hair out, this special teams never fails to put a smile on my face.
Overall Grade: B
This was a very “B” performance by the Cocks.
You can’t say any side of the ball played terribly, and you can’t say either side really had a day either (not counting special teams).
At the end of the day, there were many opt outs, and this was a shell of the team we saw all year.
Additionally, like I said going into this one, the game really only had meaning for Rattler and Wells.
Morale is real nice, but it wouldn’t last until August.
South Carolina played an average game in one that didn’t mean too much.
It’s on to the next season, and we will see very shortly whether it will be with or without Rattler and Wells.