Josh Kendall

Foundation not stable for Gamecocks

South Carolina quarterback Lorenzo Nunez leaps over Missouri’s Aarion Penton during the first half Saturday in Columbia, Mo.
South Carolina quarterback Lorenzo Nunez leaps over Missouri’s Aarion Penton during the first half Saturday in Columbia, Mo.

The last time South Carolina was this far down, it managed to climb out of the hole. There aren’t any lifelines in sight at the moment, though.

The Gamecocks dropped to 0-3 in the SEC for the first time since Steve Spurrier’s first season of 2005 with a 24-10 loss to Missouri on Saturday. Ninth-ranked LSU and Heisman Trophy candidate running back Leonard Fournette are on their way to Williams-Brice Stadium this week, and South Carolina doesn’t look ready for that challenge.

“We are good,” true freshman quarterback Lorenzo Nunez insisted after Saturday’s loss. “We are on our feet.”

In the sense that a punch drunk boxer is still standing? Yes, they are. In the sense that they’re steady with two feet planted firmly on a foundation on which they can build? No, they decidedly are not.

The 2005 Gamecocks started 0-3 in the conference with losses to Georgia, Alabama and Auburn. (Kentucky and Missouri, two of this year’s losses, are not Alabama and Auburn.) That team finished 5-3 in the league, rallying off five consecutive SEC wins, including historic victories at Tennessee and at home against Florida.

Those Gamecocks rallied behind the likes of Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley at wide receiver, Blake Mitchell at quarterback and Ko Simpson and Jonathan Joseph on defense. Pretty good building blocks.

Where does this team turn? It’s not clear after Saturday.

Nunez was dynamic at times, but threw three consecutive interceptions in the third quarter while making his second career start and first in the conference. He got no help from running backs who averaged 2.65 yards per carry. The defense showed improvement against the SEC’s worst offense but finally gave in and didn’t pitch in at all in the form of takeaways.

“How do we bounce back?” coach Steve Spurrier said. “Well, we’ll try to bounce back like we did after the Kentucky game, after the Georgia game. This is another loss. We will try to get ready for LSU the best way we know how.”

Spurrier declined, sharply, to say what he’d told his team after the game.

“What I say to the team is not for all of you to know. I’m not going to tell you,” he said. “There are some things a coach tells his team that he doesn’t tell the world.”

That’s certainly true and fair. What is there to say anyway?

The Gamecocks’ warts are no secret. They have two victories. One against a North Carolina team that contributed mightily to its own demise. One against a still winless UCF team that was beaten the week before by Furman.

LSU, Vanderbilt, No. 14 Texas A&M, Tennessee, No. 25 Florida and No. 12 Clemson remain on the schedule. Six wins and the bowl eligibility that comes with that milestone seem, in optimistic terms, uncertain.

“We really just have to keep moving,” linebacker Skai Moore said. “We have to keep together, can’t be pointing fingers at anyone. It’s a team effort. We win as a team, lose as a team. We just have to keep fighting as a team.”

“We can’t really do anything about this loss. It’s over with,” wide receiver Pharoh Cooper added. “We have to put it behind us and just get ready for LSU. That’s all we can do about it.”

These are the things players have to say. There is no other answer they can give. The actual answer, whatever it is, can’t be found behind a microphone. The actual answer, in fact, might not exist.

“We are fine right now,” Nunez said. “We are going to keep going and see what happens next week.”

What’s going to happen next week is not a comforting thought at the moment.