I have to pull out a Yogi Berra for this one: “It was like Deja Vu all over again.” Once again the Gamecocks had an opponent on the ropes, and once again mistakes and lack-luster defensive play in the second half had them holding on at the end.
Coach Steve Spurrier put USC's 35-28 squeaker over Kentucky in prospective when he declared, “We win,” as he walked into the interview room. “That's who we are. You might as well write it down, that's who we are – we win.”
In an offensive performance you couldn't script any better, the Gamecocks, directed by Connor Shaw, scored on their first three possessions against the Wildcats, and dare I say it, at 21-0 looked like they were ready to rout an undermanned team.
The defense had looked aggressive and ready to play on UK's first two possessions, but an indication of what was to come came on the Wildcats third series when they went 75 yards (aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty) in 14 plays to cut the lead to 21-7.
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Elliott Fry added a field goal with 12 seconds to go, and the Gamecocks led 24-7 at the half and looked completely in control. Unfortunately they had to play two more quarters.
The defense turned back the Cats on the opening series for the third quarter, and Fry converted again, this time from 41 yards, and at 27-7, this game was over, right? As Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friend.” There was a fourth quarter to be played.
Kentucky had another 75-yard drive and cut the margin to 27-14 at the 13:43 mark, before what seems now like the inevitable special teams mistake. Bruce Ellington fumbled the ensuing kickoff and 1:41 seconds later, it was 27-21.
After Ellington fumbled the kickoff and was downed on the 11, once again the Carolina offense responded with a beautiful 89-yard drive. After a successful two-point conversion, it was 35-21, and now it was over, right?
The Wildcats went 81 yards in eight plays, without USC's defense putting up much of a fight, and it was 35-28 with 4:03 remaining in the game. Fortunately, Shamier Jeffery made a great catch on the on-sides kick attempt, and Shaw and company were able to run out the clock.
I have taken you through this description of the game to point out just how similar the events followed the pattern of the North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Central Florida games. I would like to say I have the answers as to why the Gamecocks can't put two halves together, but I'm as befuddled as the coaches, and hopefully, the players are.
I probably should amend that question to “why can't the defense put two halves together?” Led by an ever-improving offensive line, Shaw was again outstanding. He was 17-of-20 passing for 262 yards and a touchdown and added 50 yards rushing and a touchdown run.
Mike Davis was again very solid with 106 yards rushing on 21 carries (5.0 ypc), and it was exciting to see freshman Pharoh Cooper take a few snaps out of the wildcat formation, one a 23-yard scamper that set up Carolina's last score.
In my humble opinion, the defense still has issues with being on the same page. There are players who insist on trying to make the big play instead of the smart one. I can guarantee you this, there will be changes made in the secondary this week in practice.
People looking in from the outside might wonder why anyone would complain about being 4-1 on the season. I guess it goes back to expectations for this team before the year started. I think all of us as fans are convinced the defense hasn't come close to playing up to its potential.
I don't think it's a good sign that Jadeveon Clowney decided, literally moments before the game, to sit out. Now, I have no problem with him missing the game if he was too hurt to play, but he certainly should have made that call earlier in the week. Shaw and a lot of others play hurt because it's part of the game
I can tell you I'm very concerned about this upcoming three-game road trip beginning with this Saturday's game at Arkansas. All I have to remind myself of is 2-8, USC's record in Fayetteville and Little Rock the past 10 seasons.
The Razorbacks are 3-3 (0-2 SEC) after they were handled 30-10 by Florida this past Saturday. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said after the game. “It's not a lot of fun. We had too many issues -- dropped balls, a pick-six, a couple missed tackles that resulted in an easy 14 points for them.” Does any of that sound familiar?
This game may very well come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes. There is still that “best game of the season” to be played by the Gamecocks. Let's hope it comes this Saturday.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!