Morris: Never saw this defensive debacle coming

August 29, 2014 

South Carolina Gamecocks safety Brison Williams (12) sits on the sidelines as time winds down in the fourth quarter of their game against Texas A&M at Williams-Brice Stadium, Thursday, August 28, 2014.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

NEVER SAW THAT coming.

Who could have imagined that a quarterback in his first start would set the Texas A&M single-game passing record? And his name was not Johnny Manziel.

Who could have imagined that late in the third quarter, fans began to clear out of Williams-Brice Stadium? They had seen enough.

Who could have imagined that the ninth-ranked team in the nation would see its nation-long, 18-game home winning streak end with a 24-point loss, a performance so ghastly that its fans booed in the first half?

Who could have imagined a USC defense looking absolutely helpless as Texas A&M marched on long drive after long drive after long drive from its first possession to deep in the game? USC’s best defense was when Texas A&M, mercifully, took a knee at the end of the first half and ran out the clock in the second.

No one could have imagined the dreams of a standout season turning to nightmare on opening night. Yet, that is what the Gamecocks experienced Thursday, stunning an SEC Network audience and a sellout crowd with a stunningly poor showing.

The 52-28 loss was not representative of how thoroughly No. 21 Texas A&M dismantled USC. Steve Spurrier did not dispute that, saying time and again in his postgame meeting with the media that Texas A&M knew what it was doing. More important, he said USC did not.

“We got manhandled. We got clobbered tonight,” Spurrier said. “That’s all you can say. We’ve got some serious coaching to do before the next game to be a competitive team. I think you all would agree with that.”

He was not finished with that comment.

“We’ve got to regroup, regroup and come back,” he said. “It was a mismatch. Their talent against our guys tonight. Their coaching against our coaching. It was a mismatch. Give those guys credit.”

Most of that credit must go to Texas A&M’s offense, which entered the game not certain how it would replace former Heisman Trophy winner Manziel, who took his game to the NFL. Not until two weeks ago did Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin name sophomore Kenny Hill the starting quarterback.

Hill completed 44 of 60 passes for a school-record 511 yards and three touchdowns. He shattered Manziel’s single-game record and instantly became a Heisman Trophy candidate, going from unnoticed in the preseason to 20-to-1 odds to win the coveted trophy by Sportsbook.

Those odds were posted at halftime. By then, Hill had completed 27 of 35 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He proved adept at checking down to secondary receivers, throwing bullets into traffic and zipping the ball to open receivers on every conceivable pattern.

Texas A&M’s offense looked every bit like the Spurrier offenses of old, when he was running up those kind of numbers as Florida’s coach. In fact, Hill’s passing total was the most by an opponent at Williams-Brice Stadium since Spurrier’s Florida club threw for 414 yards in 1998.

Spurrier said the main culprit was a non-existent pass rush. Even when USC did apply pressure to Hill, he managed to impersonate Manziel by running for first downs.

Perhaps the most telling play of the defensive debacle came late in the third quarter with Texas A&M holding to a 38-21 lead. The Aggies faced a third-and-goal at the USC 2-yard line when they lined up in a power formation with two tight ends and two fullbacks.

Everyone in the ballpark knew what was coming and USC stacked most of its defense inside the box. Then Texas A&M’s offensive line pushed USC’s defensive front back into the end zone, and Tra Carson virtually walked in for the touchdown.

While the USC defense got pushed around to the tune of 680 Texas A&M yards on 99 plays, the Gamecocks offense was not exactly clicking. USC receivers got free in the Texas A&M secondary for touchdown strikes from Dylan Thompson covering 69 and 46 yards in the first half.

“Offensively, we didn’t do very well, either,” Spurrier said, “just hit some long passes.”

Thompson finished with a respectable 366 yards passing and four touchdowns. Aside from the two long strikes, most of the good plays came long after the game’s outcome had been determined.

It was one of those nights. Everything went Texas A&M’s way. Little went in USC’s favor. The nightmare finally came to an end in the irony of all ironies with a Spurrier-coached team facing an opponent that could have tacked on a late touchdown, just for fun.

Even Spurrier admitted that his counterpart on the Texas A&M sideline was kind to USC by not putting the ball into the end zone from the Gamecocks’ 6-yard line.

Never saw that coming.

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