I was ready to do a report card like I do every week (it will be back next week for the Texas A&M game), but decided not to. Instead, I’ve got a few observations I wanted to lay out to sort of piggyback off of what my colleagues here at GABA have already written here and here.
There’s a lot wrong with this football team. Yes, they weren’t going to win the SEC East in Will Muschamp’s first year at the helm, and if you believed that, you probably also believe that Jim McElwain shops at Belk and that Nick Saban actually gives 20-something year old women financial advice. But when I look at this team, a lot of the same issues we were complaining about are still evident. The offensive line is a mess. All respect is due to Shawn Elliott for taking over in the middle of the season when Steve Spurrier walked away, but he has to get that group prepared. When a below-average WAC team is able to put up 223 yards rushing and you respond by managing just 91, or when your young freshman quarterback has to rush throws or is sacked four times, a lot of that is on the front five. The pass rush is markedly better (four sacks last night - the first time since 2011 that they’ve registered four or more in back-to-back games), but that run defense needs some work. Once again, a relative unknown (this time it was Benny Snell, in his second career game, absolutely gashing the team on the ground in the 2nd half) took over the game for a South Carolina opponent. And the play calling? That’s been talked about already.
Still, for all that’s still wrong with this team, there’s some things that are going right. I mentioned the pass rush already - Darius English had the game of his life last night with three sacks. Mark King has lived up to his billing in the early going. Tackling has gotten somewhat better, although Snell presented major challenges in the 3rd and 4th quarter. Hayden Hurst has become a large part of this receiving corps and had another solid game last night. So there’s a lot of good, but this one is going to be a game that fans look back on and shake their heads at if (and only if) this team can win the games they’re supposed to win down the stretch (i.e. UMass, Western Carolina, maybe Mizzou - but I’m feeling less confident about that one).
Like DC3 said during our live postgame podcast last night, the good news is that the Gamecocks have nothing to lose against a superior opponent coming into town in Texas A&M (who will, at the absolute worst, be ranked 8th or 9th after beating Arkansas). The Aggies are better than the Gamecocks in all phases: they have a solid QB in Trevor Knight, a deep receiving corps, a defense led by a potential Top 5 pick in Myles Garrett, and an apparent star in the making in true freshman RB Trayveon Williams. As DC3 alluded to, there are so little expectations going into Saturday’s game that if Carolina were lose by 20-30 points, no one would bat an eye.
In short, enjoy the season for what it is. While the Gamecocks have significantly improved defensively and in other areas, they’re still woefully behind the eight-ball in others. I’m confident that they will pick up a few more wins down the stretch, but there’s so much work to be done talent-wise. Fortunately, in Muschamp, you have a coach that knows how to recruit and do it well, so things are hopefully bound to get better. Whether that’s next year or in 2018 remains to be seen, but if you’re a Gamecocks fan, trust the process and allow Muschamp the opportunity to get the players in here and make the (possible) necessary staff adjustments to put this program back on the right track.