David Cloninger

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Citadel

South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel can’t believe the Gamecocks lost to The Citadel.
South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel can’t believe the Gamecocks lost to The Citadel. gmelendez@thestate.com

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

THE CITADEL 23, SOUTH CAROLINA 22

(Yes, it really happened)

THE GOOD

CAROLE KING

Perry Orth made the earth move for most of the game. His numbers were strong (28-of-43 for 367 yards and a touchdown), and Herculean when considering he had no running game and his receivers had a couple of big drops. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I don’t blame Orth for anything going wrong. He never should have been in this situation, which is an indictment on the coaching staff and recruiting processes over the past four years. He is playing so far above his talent that it’s amazing, and it really is a nice story. It’d be nicer with more wins, but what did you want, a perfect day?

FOURTH AND FOREVER

The Gamecocks converted 2-of-4 fourth downs. True, if they’d been better on third, they wouldn’t have had to go for it on fourth, but what did you want, a perfect day?

RELL AND ROH

Since the Zo and Roh wasn’t working … Jerell Adams short and inside, Pharoh Cooper on the edges and stretching the field. Perhaps each should be revisited in a week.

Make that, “each should definitely be revisited in a week.”

DON’T THINK, JUST PLAY

The Gamecocks scored in the third quarter after Brandon Wilds had been stuffed on two straight plays inside the 4. What made it work the third time? Orth had to hurry, Wilds didn’t know where to line up and when he finally got the ball, he went in untouched.

Maybe “acting” confused is the key.

THE KICKING MEN

The season has been lousy. The special teams have not. Elliott Fry, Landon Ard, Sean Kelly and Drew Williams have been outstanding all season. After three seasons of having his acumen questioned, Joe Robinson has been the best coach on staff this season.

AT LEAST …

Nobody reading this has probably ever worn orange overalls. At least not voluntarily.

AS IF ^^THAT^^ WASN’T ENOUGH

And so it begins. It’s Rivalry Week. The time to recycle the old jokes and the old truths, and to know in your heart that there is just no way your team is going to lose this week. Obviously one team is holding most of the cards and one team has no matches of number or suit, but there is still that chance. It may be one in a million, but …

Just imagine the celebration if that one comes around about 3 p.m. on Saturday.

THE BAD

SELF-HARM

Personal fouls, including one on the opening kickoff and one where USC had finally forced a long third down. Too many key drops from wide receivers. It’s the 11th game of the season. These kinds of things should have been eliminated after the third.

RUN (GIVES YOU) FITS

Jon Hoke’s run fits were awful early, great mid-stream and missed one crucial assignment late. The early scores could have been handled if not for the late, which was a Tyler Renew untouched run up the gut that clinched the game. Renew wasn’t doing anything different than he had been all game – straight middle, good for 5 yards every time – and that he was not breathed on because a linebacker missed a spot was just one more log on the fire of USC’s 2015 defense.

I realize it’s hard to stop that offense. To not stop it with the game on the line reeks of lack of talent, lack of passion … lack of caring. And perhaps recruiting Ben Lippen or ex-stadium peanut vendors wouldn’t be a bad idea in the future.

HEAD-SCRATCHERS

Throwing the ball to a 328-pound tackle on the 8-yard-line for a two-point conversion and trusting him to get in the end zone? Seeing a back has had no success on any play, and calling a play (run up the gut) that has not had any success, and combining them for two downs on third-and-3 when a turnover on downs means the game? Calling a timeout before the ill-fated conversion, therefore removing one from later in the game when it really, really could have come in handy?

I realize that all coaching decisions fall under, “If they work, you’re a genius, and if not, you’re a dimwit,” but man, USC could have used better judgment there. If that was the two-pointer the Gamecocks drew up, I’m glad I didn’t see them score and go for two against Texas A&M.

DARK SKAIS

Skai Moore was benched for missing practice due to a funeral. It was because The Citadel’s offense required a defender to have several reps in practice. Moore checked in and immediately knew what he was doing, and I don’t believe he learned it from watching most of the first half.

I realize that comparing anything to the next opponent isn’t great … but when the No. 1 team in the nation who happens to be within 200 miles of here has a kicker that plays after he was busted with cocaine over the summer … perhaps disciplining a top player for a certainly not-illegal transgression wasn’t the best move. Especially when The Citadel scored on its first two possessions as Moore was on from the sideline.

I get standing on principles, but when the record’s 3-8 with a loss to an FCS school, I’m sure nobody would have called Shawn Elliott’s discipline into question if Moore had started.

WHY?

Kelsey Griffin and Abu Lamin were taken out when they had contributed to previous big stops. They were yanked and the Bulldogs scored. This is not Little League and everybody does not have to play equally.

WANT-TO

The Gamecocks rushed for 72 yards on 25 carries. Against The Citadel. Line or runner, those are astoundingly bad numbers. Yet all we’ve heard since the preseason is “they like to run-block.”

Might want to love it.

NOT SET

Never seen that before. Nobody specifically was called out by the referee. It appeared before the play that a receiver moved one foot, and the whistle did blow before the snap, which caused some guys to quit playing, opening Cooper up for the TD run. So there was a reason Cooper was so wide-open and it’s doubtful he would have scored with no whistle. Although he could have maybe gotten out of bounds and maybe gotten Fry in range …

Just one more jab to what’s been a 15-round body blow of a season.

ORION

One of life’s simplest pleasures is to lay on one’s back and look at the stars.

It’s really the only thing to do when something’s hit rock bottom.

THE UGLY

BLACK HOLE

You’ve heard, “It’s always darkest before the dawn?” Columbia is opaque right now.

Never did I think I’d see what happened Saturday. No matter what, USC would beat The Citadel and I’d proceed with the “belief may be the biggest thing the Gamecocks have in their corner against No. 1 Clemson, and that may be enough!” rhetoric. Oh, I know USC’s chances of beating the Striped Ones next week were about as good as me fitting my belly into a thimble, but it was at least a chance. I’ve seen a lot of chances become reality in a lifetime of watching sports.

Now …

How can anyone think that an upset is even remotely possible?

I saw quit on Saturday. I saw giving up. As much energy as Elliott has brought this team, it’s gone now. I can see worse than 63-17 next week, because what’s there left to fight for? Can’t get up to keep a Division I-AA team from beating you on your home field, how you gonna do it against the No. 1 team in the country?

Orth said the team is still together, that there’s a lot going on in the locker room that outsiders don’t know. That is true. It’s also true seniors were leaving the field before the alma mater Saturday, and while that’s picking nits, it’s also not a great thing to see.

I think Elliott has done as good a job as possible rallying this team from its former coach turning his back on it, but again – the talent didn’t magically morph into five-stars. Once the losses mounted, even Elliott admitted that whatever they had enthusiasm-wise was gone.

Now he has to get that back. Actual X’s and O’s planning should be easy – if it’s considered, it’s in the playbook. The Gamecocks have to throw everything they have at Clemson and hope they can stop a team that’s slowly turning the key on a locked-in playoff berth.

As for the other, I realize it’s tough to try to get 100 guys playing for one goal when some have already made plans for Christmas break. There are plenty of inspirational speeches to choose from, and for the record, I could hear Elliott speak for 30 seconds and I’d want to follow him into Hell. I know the man can at least get the players fired up.

It’s up to them how fired up they want to stay for 60 minutes Saturday. It’s one game, the final game for many of them. Last chance they’ll ever have to play football. They have a chance to save a rotten campaign with the biggest stand since Patton took on Rommel – “All my life I’ve wanted to lead a lot of men in a desperate battle.”

He said “men.” Not “quitters.” While they have every excuse in the book to quit – not like they haven’t seen that this season – they’re the ones who have to live with the result and they don’t have the lifetime record of the guy they watched quit midseason.

Line in the sand. Who crosses?

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