If you wanted the Gamecocks to come out swinging with nothing to lose Saturday night in Death Valley, you got what you wanted.
South Carolina’s opening approach was about aggression, throwing deep, and mixing things up. And in the end, aggression without execution or winning 1-on-1 doesn’t yield much.
Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley threw deep on his first attempt. He threw on six of the team’s first seven plays. There was a shovel pass to a tight end and a deep lob to a player who faked blocking a screen and went deep.
There was even a fake punt from South Carolina’s own 30.
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“We wanted to take our shots,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “We’re 6-5 coming into this game. We want to take our shots, put them on the ropes. But it just didn’t work that way tonight.”
For all that, the Gamecocks had two plays longer than six yards in the first half.
Perhaps one could argue the execution should have been better, and that’s fair. Perhaps one could say the moment seemed to have USC off-balance. This too might be fair. Bentley certainly looked every bit a freshman in his second road start against a top flight defense (most don’t look good doing that).
But at the end of the day, Clemson has all the pieces to make a little scheme go a long way.
When your defensive line has Dexter Lawrence collapsing plays and Carlos Watkins making a mess of pass protections, an overload blitz becomes considerably more effective. When Cordrea Tankersley and players like him patrol your secondary, any plan – press, off coverage, man or zone – works much better.
If you’ve got quarterback Deshaun Watson throwing to an array of good weapons, more opens up.
The Gamecocks, for the moment, are short on those pieces, and where they potentially have the talent, they lack the seasoning or support structure. A roster with holes makes it easier for inexperienced talent to step in. A roster with pieces everywhere has enough support to let players specialize.
The Gamecocks came to Clemson with an approach of swinging big early. Those swings missed, the plays didn’t come together. That can happen, and South Carolina got the reminder that letting it ride is only part of the deal.