David Cloninger

South Carolina’s special teams surprisingly struggle

South Carolina Gamecocks place kicker Elliott Fry misses a field goal in the second half against Texas A&M at Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina Gamecocks place kicker Elliott Fry misses a field goal in the second half against Texas A&M at Williams-Brice Stadium. gmelendez@thestate.com

It’s South Carolina football, and no stranger to heart-wrenching losses. So the Gamecocks having a chance to knock off No. 9 Texas A&M Saturday and not doing it wasn’t surprising.

What was surprising was after the past two years of horrendous defense and misfiring offense, the team’s most consistent unit was the piece that let the game get away. Special teams, so sturdy and sometimes spectacular in 2014 and 2015, unwrapped the gift the Aggies were all set to leave for the Gamecocks.

“We’ve had some critical mistakes the last two weeks,” sighed Will Muschamp. “There’s an old saying, ‘You’re either coaching it or letting it happen.’ So obviously we got to do a better job coaching.”

Muschamp took the blame because that’s what coaches do. You don’t throw your players under the bus because that’s for outsiders.

The outsiders had plenty of room, and cause, Saturday.

Elliott Fry, hero at Vanderbilt by nailing a career-long field goal to deliver a season-opening win, missed two field goals. Just by numbers, that makes it a 24-19 game, but considering when the second one happened, USC has the ball down 21-13 with 6:48 to play.

Yet even then, the Gamecocks got a stop and Fry made his next attempt to get to 21-13, this time with 4:23 to go. USC forced another punt.

The only reason Jamarcus King was in the game was because of injury. Top returner Deebo Samuel hasn’t played since Week 2 and his backup, Rashad Fenton, hurt his ankle while catching (and fumbling) a previous punt Saturday.

King dropped the punt and A&M recovered. The Aggies were able to burn clock and kicked the clinching field goal.

“He didn’t mean to drop it. Kind of like a receiver drops a pass, he didn’t mean to,” Muschamp said. “It looked like he didn’t square the ball up based on what I saw, but I’ll watch the film before I make a comment.”

It was all set up to be special teams contributing to a win after Sean Kelly threw a beautiful pass on a fake punt to move the chains.

Until special teams let it get away. Like last week, when USC gave Kentucky a first down after running into the punter and wiped a Fenton touchdown when clipping a defender that had no chance to tackle Fenton.

“It’s a game of mistakes,” Orth said. “Everybody has their day. It can only get better from here.”

That’s the hope. But the Gamecocks had one dependable part of their team while the rest improved, and now have to fix that as well.

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