If you have 30 or more years invested, you are well aware that there is a lot of anguish that comes with being a South Carolina football fan. You also know that there have been so many times when the Gamecocks were poised to have -- if not a defining moment -- at least a memorable one, only to come up short.
Saturday in Knoxville was another one of those heartbreaking, gut-wrenching times.
In over 30 years, I can count on the fingers of less than one hand the times when I've sat down at my computer and stared blankly at the screen. Normally I have my columns written in my head, it's just a matter of typing the words. But the words to describe this latest disappointment are proving hard to find.
The offense made some plays at times, and other times they didn't. The defense played lights out at times, and at some key times they didn't. There is not much else you can say about it. The Gamecocks did not play well, and the Volunteers played inspired football, had a good game plan and came up with the big plays when they needed them.
Saturday was the weekend that comes every season in the Southeastern Conference -- not just for Carolina -- where teams headed in different directions meet. Look at the results: Vanderbilt beats Georgia, Ole Miss beats LSU, Auburn beats Texas A&M, Missouri beats Florida. It was definitely the day of the underdog.
A major key in these “upsets” was the performance of the quarterbacks. UGA's Aaron Murray was not able to get anything going against the Vandy defense, finishing the day with 104 yards passing and an interception. Georgia had won 10 in a row in Nashville. Injuries had the Bulldogs out of sync, and the Commodores took advantages of their weaknesses.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger was a respectable 19-33 for 274 yards and one TD that tied the game at 24-24, but he also had three interceptions. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace was 30-of-39 for 345 yards and no picks. Rebel kicker Andrew Ritter booted a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left (sound familiar) for the 27-24 upset in Oxford.
Mr. Football, Johnny Manziel, was all that with a 28-for-38, 454-yard, 4-TD passing performance, but he threw two interceptions. Auburn's Nick Marshall was a solid 11-of-23 for 236 yards and 2 TDs and led the Tigers on the 13-play, 75-yard drive for the 45-41 upset.
Certainly, 14th-ranked Missouri beating No. 22 Florida was not an upset, but the Gators were never going to be the same after losing their starting quarterback. Tyler Murphy was 15-for-29 for 92 yards with an interception, not the stats of a UF program known for throwing the ball around. Maty Mauk was average with an 18-for-36, 295 yard 1-TD day, but the Tigers had over 500 yards total offense on a highly-ranked Florida defense.
And look at Carolina's game. After a week-long conversation about how Connor Shaw wasn't getting the recognition he deserves, he had the worst day of his career: just 7-for-21 for 161 yards and one TD, and his first interception of the season. Justin Worley was by no means spectacular, with 19-for-34 for 179 yards and a TD, but he made the throw his team needed when he found Marquez North down the left sideline for a 39-yard pass (it was a spectacular catch), that set up the Vols winning field goal.
This one goes into the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” category. There is no disgrace in losing to a field goal on the last play off the game, but disappointment comes from the fact that the Gamecocks couldn't find the will or the way to pull this one out.
Even the massacre in the upstate isn't much consolation knowing that USC had the two losses by Georgia that we needed to be back into the picture for the East Division title. Now we must face an unbeaten Missouri team in the other Columbia that is clearly in the driver's seat to meet Alabama (isn't it a foregone conclusion) in the SEC Championship game.
This Saturday the Gamecocks will unquestionably be the underdog, maybe they will play with the intensity and confidence the underdogs played with this past Saturday.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!