An optimist could find something in the way South Carolina played defense Saturday against UMass.
The Gamecocks held the Minutemen’s abysmal offense to its third-lowest yards-per-play figure of the season, despite a few busted plays. They forced four turnovers. They were decent against the run.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, he is not this sort of optimist.
“We just didn’t play that well defensively,” Muschamp said. “A lot of stuff we have repped and gone over, so I was a little frustrated with our performance defensively.”
He admitted the turnovers and a big fourth-and-1 stuff were positives, but having prepared for a lot of what they saw from the Minutemen and not executing properly stuck in his craw.
He pointed out the last UMass touchdown, an 18-yard scoring pass to Adam Breneman on third and 17, was something the team had worked on more than a few times in practice.
That’s to say nothing of a blown coverage where a corner’s mistake led to a 74-yard scoring pass and allowing a tight end to come wide open 32 yards downfield late in the fourth quarter well behind the defense.
“We just didn’t do our assignments,” linebacker T.J. Holloman said. “We busted coverages. We just weren’t communicating like we were supposed to. When you don’t communicate, big plays happen.”
Outside the 74-yarder, they gave up six passes of 12 yards or longer and four runs of 12 or longer.
The group was also spotted a 20-point lead, partially because of the turnovers it forced, and it couldn’t close the door.
“I was not very pleased with our mental intensity defensively,” Muschamp said. “To me, in my opinion, you got up 27-7 and relaxed.”
After going up, they let UMass convert 6-of-12 third downs and 2-of-3 first downs.
South Carolina did hold the Minutemen to 142 rushing yards, the Gamecocks’ second-best performance of the season.
All this highlights the main takeaway point: South Carolina’s issues were mostly not the kind that manifest themselves in numbers or output (outside the points allowed and a few big plays). They’re the sort that happen with small and technical on-field moments, little things that irk fans somewhat, but leave coaches and players more mad because they know the simple whys behind what went wrong.
And the players didn’t leave Saturday clinging to the positives.
“We’re not a team that comes away, thinks, ‘We gave up 28 points, that’s OK,’ ” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “That’s not OK to us. Our target goal is 16 points a game, four turnovers every game. That’s just something that we want as a defense. That’s our standard.”