I consulted with some of my know-it-all -- I mean all-knowing -- Gamecock friends and asked them to grade Carolina's performance after the first three games. While no one was terribly disappointed about the 2-1 record, in terms of overall performance the consensus was a C+.
Let's review. The big news of the season opener against North Carolina was the one-hour 44-minute rain delay. The score was a respectable 27-10 against a rebuilding ACC program.
As some noted, however, take away three big plays – a 65-yard touchdown from Connor Shaw to Shaq Roland on the third play of the game; a 29-yard TD throw from Dylan Thompson to walk-on wide receiver Kane Whitehurst; and a 75-yard burst for a score by Mike Davis – and it very well could have been a different story.
Statistically, the offensive numbers were great – 406 yards total offense, an average of 6.9-yards per play – but in what has become a disturbing trend, the offense only scored seven points in the second half, none in the fourth quarter.
Maybe as some suggest, the play calling was a little conservative in the second half, but you would like to believe the offense would have been able to take advantage of a worn-down North Carolina defense in the second half.
The defense allowed UNC's fast-paced attack to run 79 plays and gain 293 of total offense. While the D only gave up 10 points, a warning sign of what was to come was a 10-play, 70-yard drive by the Tar Heels to open the second quarter.
It was the opening game, which almost always is a little ragged, with mistakes by young players a given. I think the rain delay sapped the energy of both teams. It was a win, but there was no domination by the Gamecocks on either side of the ball.
Georgia was ranked No. 5 and Carolina No. 7 in the preseason, but even with their unfortunate loss to Clemson, with the home-field advantage, the Dawgs were and should have been the favorite.
The disappointment in the 41-30 defeat was basically a no-show performance from USC's defense. UGA quarterback Aaron Murray had a field day with 309 yards and four touchdowns passing, with no turnovers, a key component in Carolina's three-straight wins over the senior quarterback. The defense couldn't contain Murray, and they didn't come close to stopping running back Todd Gurley, who rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
Once again, the numbers offensively were good, with 454 yards of total offense, a 7.4-yard per-play average, but two plays hurt Carolina's chances.
A beautiful seven-play drive that began with 1:38 left before halftime and featured Shaw either running or throwing on every snap, ended with a 30-yard Nick Jones TD pass that tied the game at 24.
The first nail came after USC's defense forced the Bulldogs into a three-and-out to open the third quarter, and the offense began a drive that could have given the Gamecocks their first lead since the opening series of the game. But Shaw fumbled at the UGA 25.
Georgia answered with a field goal and a TD to make 31-24. Davis then made an outstanding 75-yard run on the last play of the third quarter that set up his 3-yard touchdown. Elliot Fry missed the extra point, but the Cocks were back in the game at 34-30.
The second nail came on Georgia's next series when the defense completely missed a coverage, and WR Justin Scott-Wesley raced 85 yards untouched to seal the game for the Dawgs.
Once again, the Gamecock offense was ineffective in the second half with only seven points in the final two periods.
If there was ever a tale of two halves, it was the South Carolina-Vanderbilt game. In one of the most nearly perfect quarter and a half of football I have ever witnessed, the Gamecocks scored on their first four possessions and raced to a 28-0 lead over the Commodores. It appeared the rout was on.
But someone forgot to tell the Vandy players the game was over. A poor decision by Dylan Thompson led to a 69-yard interception return and 1-yard Commodore TD. A 54-yard field goal on the last play of the second quarter put VU back into the game at 28-10 at intermission.
Once again the Gamecocks appeared ready to put the game in their pocket with a 10-play, 75-yard TD drive to open the third quarter that stretched the lead to 35-10. But once again it would their only points of a second half.
After a USC punt, Vandy put together a 10-play, 49-yard drive to make it 35-17, and when Shon Carson fumbled the ensuing kickoff, it took just eight seconds for the Doers to score and suddenly at 35-25 we had a game.
Only a smart play by senior cornerback Jimmy Legree prevented it from REALLY being a nail biter.
A fumbled punt by T.J. Gurley put Vandy back in business at the USC 37, and six plays later the Commodores had a third-and-goal at the 5. Legree read the slant pattern and intercepted the ball at the 1-yard line.
The offense engineered a 17-play no-scoring drive that left Vanderbilt with just 55 seconds on the clock, and the victory was finally sealed.
Now, what does this recap mean for the Gamecocks moving forward? It means they have a lot of work to do before meeting Central Florida next Saturday.
The offense has scored only 20 points in the second half of three games. That simply will not fly with the opponents that remain on the schedule, especially SEC teams who thrive on wearing teams down for three quarters and putting them away in the fourth.
I don't have the answers, but obviously there has to be more focus and concentration and a better second half game plan if the offense is going to hold up its end of the bargain. The offense overall has been very good, but it's a 60-minute game.
The defense needs to continue to work at being on the same page. It was obvious against Georgia that communication was a big issue. It looked better against Vanderbilt, but there was at least one visor-throwing incident by the Head Ball Coach over a defensive miscue.
I'm concerned that Jadeveon Clowney is struggling with a foot injury that will require surgery after the season and a sprained neck that is limiting Kelcy Quarles. Those two are the most important cogs on a defensive line that has yet to show the potential predicted for them in the preseason.
And then there is special teams that has been anything but special thus far. The coaches must find the players that can secure the football and be smarter about their decisions on fielding punts and running back kickoffs.
Coaches always talk about winning the three phases of the game – offense, defense, special teams. To this point the offense hasn't been able to show it can be productive in the second half, the defense has to move closer to becoming a dominant force and special teams, well, they have to find ways to be more special.
None of the guys I talked to believe anything other than this will be a good season for the Gamecocks. They just wonder if it can be the great one we all believed it could be more the first kickoff?
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!
GLENN SNYDER BIO
A native of Union, he graduated from Union High School in 1964 where he was a three-sport letterman for the Yellow Jackets.
When he was 13, he came to Columbia with two super Gamecock fans. They took him to the stadium and introduced him to coach Marvin Bass. When he saw the Horseshoe, he knew immediately where he was going to school, that he would live in Columbia for the rest of his life, and his dream was to be a sportswriter.
A journalism/media arts major (1964-1969), his first job after school was with the South Carolina Farm Bureau, where he was the Assistant Director of Communications. He managed Carolina Printing Co. for several years, where he met Dexter Hudson, which led to a 30-year career with Spurs & Feathers as senior writer and columnist, which ended this past June.
He and his wife, Mary, have two children, Kevin (41) and Jennifer (34).
Contact Glenn at firstname.lastname@example.org