David Cloninger

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Florida

South Carolina players leave the field after another close loss.
South Carolina players leave the field after another close loss. gmelendez@thestate.com

David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s loss to Florida.

FLORIDA 24, SOUTH CAROLINA 14

THE GOOD

EKG

After three-and-a-half quarters of the worst football since USC-Tennessee 2015, the Gamecocks strung together two fluid drives around some great defensive stops and made it a game. They still lost, but it was a sign that this team is not giving up, which it certainly appeared it had done for those first three-and-a-half quarters.

SEAN-O-MATIC

At one point, Sean Kelly nearly had as many punting yards as Florida did offensive yards. He boomed a 69-yarder on a rugby kick. I smell a second straight SEC Media Days appearance for a USC kicker.

I’M NO SUPERMAN

Perry Orth, again playing so over his talent that it’s like he’s standing on the shoulders of the guy standing on his shoulders, was rung up on an excessive celebration call after his touchdown reception. He gave the ball maybe a three-quarter spin. Walls trembled. The NCAA sportsmanship constitution began losing pages. Cam Newton said, “Damn, bro, that was just unnecessary!”

Being the guy he is, Orth blamed himself, swore it would never happen again and wished us all a nice day.

If I’m him, with this season a wash anyway, I’d run that play the next game. Then when I scored, I’d pull two bags out of my pants and say, “How you want it, ref? Paper or plastic?”

THE BAD

END OF AN ERA

The Gamecocks will have a losing season for the first time since 2003. To put that in perspective, this program had to play a century of football before it even won a bowl game, and that was only 20 years ago.

It was a fine run.

THE BACK-SIDE THROW

Hard for Orth to complete passes when defenders are trying to see how much grass they can lodge in his nameplate. The defensive line has deservedly had its critics this year but the offensive line isn’t much better. Florida’s defensive front is very, very good, but man … there were times when the Gators rushed four on five and still got to Orth.

When you can’t run and can’t buy time to throw, kind of limits the chances for points, ya know?

NO-ZO SHOW

Lorenzo Nunez is a talent on the football field and I’ve said for the last two weeks that getting the ball in his hands is a big key to winning. I still haven’t been proven right or wrong because he’s not been on the field, which is his fault.

Even on this team, players have to perform the duties they’re assigned if they want to play. Nunez boogered up a play last week and took a seat, so with the knowledge of that hanging over him, he was put in for a reverse early this week, took the handoff and forgot to hand off to Pharoh Cooper. Nunez went down for a loss and lost his chance to compete for the afternoon.

The Gamecocks have enough problems without their best players taking themselves out of the contest.

IS THAT A RABBIT OVER THERE?

The uniform tweaks – all-black, new helmet design – remind me of the U.S. government. They’ll invent something to draw your attention so you ignore the more pressing problems.

IF YOU’RE CAPABLE …

The offense can score quick points and the defense can consistently make stops. That’s been proven. So why isn’t it happening when it still has a chance to win the game?

The Gamecocks had no points, three first downs and 44 yards in the first three quarters. The defense had given up 17 points, 18 first downs and 306 yards in the same amount of time.

Fourth quarter, USC had 14 points on 157 yards with 10 first downs. The defense allowed seven points on 98 yards with two first downs. I haven’t seen that kind of difference since I compared my car insurance costs when I was 16 to now, after approximately 73 speeding tickets.

It can happen. So why isn’t it happening from the beginning?

THE UGLY

I MEAN … REALLY?

It’s getting to the point of supernatural. We know what the problems are. We usually know what the opposing offense is going to do. We know that USC’s defense doesn’t have much raw talent, so anything it gets is going to be because it was schemed that way.

And still – still – Jon Hoke’s crew can’t get it done.

Let’s take it one piece at a time:

* Florida was going to run. USC was geared to stop the run. If it stops the run on first and second down, better have a plan for third down. A good plan would be to pressure the quarterback, since a secondary can’t cover receivers forever.

The Gamecocks showed blitz on their first two series. Then they quit. They couldn’t touch Treon Harris on third down, allowing him to pick them apart. This is one of the worst offensive lines in the conference, starting a sophomore with a bad ankle, a freshman, a redshirt sophomore, a redshirt senior and a senior who transferred from the football powerhouse of Fordham. Yet USC couldn’t get past it. At what point do you just jailbreak blitz, sell out and say, “We get beat downfield, we get beat downfield?”

At no point, because what I’ve heard since preseason is, “We want to avoid the big play.”

* Obviously USC doesn’t have a Jon Bullard or the guys around him, but that Florida can rush four on five and get a sack while USC can rush five on four and allow Harris to clean his toenails before he throws is a sad coda to a defensive line that, if not dominant, was stocked with elite players for a lot of years. I realize that it’s unfair to ask any of USC’s current personnel to be Jadeveon Clowney, but there’s not one Melvin Ingram or Eric Norwood or Kelcy Quarles among them? Not one guy who can actually shed a block? The secondary has its problems but geez, you can’t cover a guy forever. Eventually, there has to be some kind of pressure on the QB. The Gamecocks have become the Stat-Padder for any opposing quarterback.

* This wouldn’t have teeth biting through tongues if it was just what it was. No, the Gamecocks have to make it even more difficult by getting their act together late and making it a ballgame with some big stops. Then they do something inexplicable – like taking a productive player off the field in a big situation (Kelsey Griffin, UF’s game-clinching drive). Or not blitzing when it worked early. I haven’t seen this many bad decisions or lack of playmakers since Wally Burnham, and when you bring up that guy’s name around here, you’re reaching for the Maalox.

As the offense once again proved, this team can move the ball, can be in the game with a chance to win. Defense is a big part of that.

If it can do it, why not do it all the time?

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