Pharoh Cooper thought he had scored a potential game-winning touchdown yesterday as he scampered into the end zone with just seconds remaining against The Citadel.
One problem: there was a flag. Illegal shift.
Next play on fourth down: Brandon Wilds fails to convert on a dump pass by Perry Orth. Game over. The Citadel 23, South Carolina 22.
The entire sequence is even more gut-wrenching because it's the fourth straight game the Gamecocks have had a chance to win on a final drive, and the fourth time they've failed to do so. Yesterday, though, was pretty much 2015 South Carolina Gamecocks football in a nutshell. And no, if you're complaining about the call, that's not why the Gamecocks lost. The Gamecocks lost because they were completely out-coached throughout the game, failing to adjust to the Bulldogs' triple-option until later in the game when they were trailing. This shouldn't even have been close. But, true to form, Carolina failed to show up early - again - and paid the price - again.
Rock bottom? I don't think so. Rock bottom was 1998 and 1999, when the team went 1-10 and 0-11 and winless in conference play. That's a two-year record of 1-21 (0-16 in the SEC). Thankfully, Lou Holtz righted the ship in 2000 and, while the program didn't come close to matching what Notre Dame did while Holtz was in charge there, they pulled themselves up and became a much better team during his time in Columbia.
But you'd have to argue that this certainly feels like rock bottom. Especially if you're a younger fan.
Our own Sam McDowell, who was around or seven during those dreadful back-to-back seasons, tweeted yesterday that he was in the house for the Coastal Carolina-South Carolina game in 2013. The Chanticleers, then the #11 team in FCS, weren't even on the same planet as the Gamecocks in a 70-10 laugher. That season, in which the Gamecocks went 11-2 for the third straight season, was part of the program's golden age, when they were a force to be reckoned with and, despite never winning the SEC title, could have the case made for them that they were probably a recruit or two away from breaking through and giving themselves a shot at a national title.
Oh, how times have changed.
Instead of an SEC contender, the Gamecocks have devolved into a lost, broken program, a conference bottom-feeder that can't even beat teams from the lower division. They might not even be the best team in their own state. Think an FCS team ranked #25 was a struggle? Clemson, ranked #1 in the CFP standings and miles ahead of Carolina in every shape and form right now, enters Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday and will do so as a heavy favorite.
So while this isn't rock bottom for the South Carolina Gamecocks football program, it certainly feels like it. The good news: a new coaching staff is coming in next year. A fresh set of eyes will get a chance to fix what isn't right and get this program back in business.
The drop off has been swift. Hopefully, getting it back to where it was won't take as long, either.