South Carolina football’s defensive players and coaches offered no excuses for the Gamecocks’ inability to stop Texas A&M late in the fourth quarter, just after the offense started to show signs of life and needed the ball to pull off the comeback.
“You gotta get a stop, gotta rise up, win your gap, tackle and dig your feet on the tackle and not let them get extra yards in the run,” coach Will Muschamp said.
Instead, the Aggies ground out a 26-23 win, punishing USC with a 5:45 touchdown drive late that effectively sealed the game.
“We kinda just bit ourselves in the foot, missed our opportunities. Just gotta capitalize on the opportunities,” linebacker Sherrod Greene said.
But by the time that drive came around, South Carolina’s defense had been on the field for roughly 35 minutes. By the end of the game, that number would climb to 41:29. Meanwhile, the USC offense was on the field for just 18:31 — the lowest total since the Gamecocks lost 33-7 to LSU in Oct. 2003, 15 years ago.
Texas A&M managed this dominance despite rushing for just 105 total yards, just more than half its season average, and going 3-for-13 on third down conversions.
Part of the huge imbalance in possession was because of A&M quarterback Kellen Mond, who kept finding open receivers to complete 25 passes. After several weeks in which South Carolina’s run defense was gashed, Texas A&M used its star back and the SEC’s leading rusher, junior Trayveon Williams, relatively lightly, and Muschamp admitted afterward that USC sometimes sold out to defend the rush.
“I just got a lot of respect for Williams, he’s a really good running back, he’s a really good player,” Muschamp said. “We felt like obviously with the way we’ve defended the run this year, that would be a point that they would like to take advantage of, so we needed to do some things to take away from that, create some one-on-ones on the outside.”
But part of the possession problem was South Carolina’s offense, which converted 2-of-9 third downs and whose average possession lasted just 1:41. As Muschamp himself said at several points in the preseason and this year, the downside of the Gamecocks’ tempo offense can be three-and-outs that take very little time off the clock.
“I think we wore down a little bit,” Muschamp said of the defense. “We gotta be able to stay on the field more offensively, be able to convert. Third down wise, it’s not where we need to be. ... We gotta rise up and make the play. It’s a team game.”
Still, USC’s defenders refused to give themselves a pass for not coming through late with the stop.
“I feel as though we gave it everything we have. But it doesn’t really matter ... however long the game is going on, we’re going to keep playing until it’s over,” junior defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw said.