It only took two whole weeks, but the Gamecocks’ grotesque style of play finally caught up with them.
Against N.C. State and Missouri, South Carolina was outgained, ran fewer plays, and generally just didn’t have the football as much. But the Gamecocks were able to force key turnovers, cash in on great field position, and use a couple of special teams touchdowns to gain the necessary separation for a pair of solid victories. It was a recipe for success, but not an easily replicated or sustainable one.
Enter the Kentucky Wildcats, who employed the “Do just enough to not lose, with the occasional great play sprinkled in” tactic en route to their own relatively surprising win. The Cats forced some turnovers and scored only when they absolutely had to, and in the process served the Gamecocks a heaping helping of their own medicine. South Carolina outgained Kentucky and generated a couple turnovers of its own, but failed to capitalize on multiple opportunities and paid dearly for it. It was an ugly affair, and while neither team would’ve won a beauty pageant, Kentucky managed to win the game.
There are real and serious problems with this team. The total lack of a run game is chief among them, and an issue that appears maddeningly multifaceted. Is it the offensive line’s failure to execute? Is it the blatant misuse of personnel? (Calling your small speed back’s number for a do-or-die 4th and 1 is bad enough, but not giving a single carry to your leading rusher from the previous week is even worse.) Is it the seeming refusal to even call run plays at all? This, of course, is not even touching the other areas of concern that finally announced themselves in undeniable fashion — nightmarish place-kicking and miserable third-down defense were enough to doom the Gamecocks alone without working in concert.
That being said, if you had told South Carolina fans before the season that a 2-1 start was in the cards, most would have taken that. Most would have also assumed the loss had come to either a very hyped N.C. State squad or Missouri on the road, given this team’s struggles away from Williams-Brice last season. That the loss came instead to Kentucky is bitterly disappointing — it was the home opener, after all, and an unprecedented fourth consecutive defeat to the Wildcats. But how much does that change the reality of this team? Not much, I’d argue. The warts on this roster — and, yes, the coaching staff — were just papered over before being cruelly exposed.
In other words, as a famous philosopher once said: They are who we thought they were. This is a flawed and developing squad that is facing a much more difficult schedule than it did last season. It was — and still is — possible that South Carolina fields a better product with a worse record in 2017. The Kentucky loss, while hard to swallow for fans in particular, doesn’t really change the Gamecocks’ potential this year. It was always going to be a rollercoaster with some unexpected success and head-banging failures. More than anything else, the unfortunate loss of Deebo Samuel is what will affect this team’s ceiling.