There were all kinds of summer scenarios for how South Carolina’s 2015 season might go.
Fans scribbled them out on notebooks at home. Media members hashed them out again and again. Steve Spurrier himself may have gone over a few in his head on the golf course.
Only the most doomsday included a home loss to Kentucky in the second game of the season, but there it was Saturday night. Williams-Brice Stadium, the venue that carried an 18-game winning streak into the 2014 season, saw its residents lose their fourth conference home game in the last five chances.
The final score – Kentucky 26, South Carolina 22 – actually showed an impressive amount of pluck from the Gamecocks, but the reality of Sunday morning remains the same. The Gamecocks are 0-1 in the SEC, without starting quarterback Connor Mitch due to a separated shoulder and headed to play No. 10 Georgia on the road next week.
Mitch probably won’t return this season, head coach Steve Spurrier said after the game.
“Separated shoulder, that usually takes a year, but I’ll let the doctors make that call,” Spurrier said.
Junior Perry Orth, a former walk-on who threw for 179 yards in the second half against the Wildcats, will take over as the starter, Spurrier said. After the way Orth played Saturday, that’s not a frightening prospect for the Gamecocks.
Orth energized South Carolina’s offense and didn’t make a mistake until late in the fourth quarter, when he made a big one. While scrambling, he tried to loft a ball over Kentucky defensive back Chris Wentry to Deebo Samuel but instead threw the ball right to Wentry, whose interception derailed the Gamecocks comeback.
“I throw that ball four feet higher like I had planned to, probably a different outcome,” Orth said.
“He said he just couldn’t get enough on it,” Spurrier said. “I said, ‘It was first down.’ ”
The play fit nicely into the schizophrenic script the Gamecocks have written through two games this season. At times, they look awfully good. At times, they look awfully bad, and not even Spurrier seems to know where the truth lies in between those two extremes.
“Strange game…,” he said. “They scored more points than we did.”
The good: After giving up 15 first downs in the first half, South Carolina gave up just four in the second half; a team that could have packed it in at halftime fought back to within one score; the offense moved under Orth to the tune of 256 second-half yards.
The bad: Kentucky averaged 6.6 yards per play and gained 307 yards in the first half; upperclassmen Alan Knott and Isaiah Johnson each were flagged for thoughtless personal foul penalties that squashed the thin margin of error the Gamecocks had in the second half; the offense had to settle for three consecutive field goals after marching into the red zone to start the second half.
The season can go many ways from here. Respectability is going to require more of the good and a lot less of the bad.
“We have 10 more and hopefully the bowl game as well,” Orth said.
It’s going to take more than hope now, though.