I’ll be the first to admit it: Saturday could have gone a lot better.
I don’t think I was alone in hoping that, with our recent momentum and Florida’s injury bug to key players, we were going to go into the Swamp and steal one. I had a lot of optimism, but, clearly, things didn’t go as planned.
The defense, while only giving up 20 points thanks to some opportunistic turnovers, struggled with the Gators’ speed and didn’t tackle nearly as well as they had been so far this year.
Offensively, the line simply couldn’t handle Florida up front and, as a result, Jake Bentley finally looked like a true freshman for the first time and Rico Dowdle couldn’t get anything going. Receivers dropped passes, special teams struggled – it was just a tough afternoon where we lost a game that was possibly winnable had we played better.
And you know what? It’s going to be OK.
Go back with me to three, short months ago; somewhere just before September 1st, when Gamecock Nation’s biggest concern was not laying an egg against Vanderbilt. I remember having several conversations with fellow Gamecock fans in which we discussed what a successful 2016 campaign would look like to all of us.
While some were resigned to absurdly high expectations– you know, the, “I’ll never be satisfied with anything other than a National Championship,” kinds of people – most reasonable South Carolina fans seemed to agree that if we could A) Win the opener B) Win the games we should C) Clearly show improvement throughout the year and D) Make it to a bowl game, they would be ecstatic.
Thus far in 2016:
A) Win the opener. Check. (#Fry4Heisman)
B) Win the games we should. You could argue this, but the only one we really should have won this year that we didn’t was Kentucky, and we kind of redeemed that by beating Tennessee, don’t you think? Check.
C) Clearly show improvement throughout the year. Do you remember what we looked like from Weeks 1-5? Big check.
D) Make it to a bowl game. A win over Western Carolina away from a check.
Look, I’m very aware that we aren’t world-beaters right now. I am very aware we are a 5-5 team in a somewhat weak division. I’m very aware that we have no depth because our roster was left in shambles, and there are times, like yesterday in Gainesville, where that cripples us.
However, I’m also very aware that we’re starting a true freshman quarterback, a true freshman running back, a true freshman receiver and are one win away from a bowl game in our new staff’s first season at the helm – something I would have giddily accepted back in September. My goals for this season and my long term goals for the program are two totally different things. Will scrapping to six wins and a low-level bowl be OK in two years? Heck no. But if you aren’t happy with what you’ve gotten out of the 2016 season thus far as a Gamecock fan, you’re losing track of where we were back in September. This is 2016, not 2018, and sometimes young teams play like young teams. It happens.
All I’ve been trying to say for two weeks now is this: be excited. Clearly we aren’t a championship-caliber team yet and there are going to be times, like yesterday, where we run into teams that are just plain better than us.
And that’s OK.
Our excitement isn’t about 2016 itself as much as it is about what 2016 means for seasons to come. We’re putting ourselves in a position to excel in future years, which is why this early success (don’t let haters tell you this team reaching a bowl game isn’t a huge accomplishment) is pivotal in building the program going forward.
So yes, we lost to a team that had better talent and depth than we did on Saturday. Because of the strides we’ve made this year, teams won’t have that sort of advantage over us for much longer.
That’s why I’m excited. That’s why one road loss won’t change the way I feel about this team or this season.
2016 is just the first step. We can take that step this week against Western Carolina and head to the fake Death Valley playing with house money.
I’m still thrilled about the 2016 edition of Gamecock football and you should be too. Don’t let one loss steal your shine. This team is still way ahead of schedule.