COLUMBIA, S.C — South Carolina hung in with the No. 9 team in the nation Saturday night. But the Gamecocks could not do enough to remain unbeaten at home, instead dropping to 1-1 (2-3 overall) after a 24-13 loss to Texas A&M.
We handed out grades to each of the units, including coaching, after the loss:
South Carolina got its most explosive offensive play of the season on the first play of the game. But that was about it for positives through much of the first three quarters.
Tight end Hayden Hurst, for the second straight week, said the Gamecocks are close offensively. When they get healthy, it is believable. On some drives, it is very believable, even while the unit isn’t healthy. But then there is an eight-play sequence that looks like this: minus-1 run, plus-7 pass, minus-5 pass, minus-1 rush, minus-3 rush, minus-3 rush, incomplete pass and minus-6 sack.
There remains plenty to clean up, but quarterback Perry Orth came in and played well. Starting QB Brandon McIlwain did not play well in three quarters. That will make the next week interesting. Rico Dowdle also had a strong debut at running back. It was barely talked about, but Malik Young was decent in a start at right tackle.
The defense faced its biggest test to date and performed well. The first drive of the game was the worst it allowed. A 49-yard touchdown run from Trayveon Williams early in the third was a big blow, but it marked the lone big, explosive play allowed.
South Carolina forced two turnovers and held one of the nation’s best offenses 130 yards and 19 points below its season averages.
Coach Will Muschamp still was not satisfied, which provided a good idea of where the bar is in his mind for this defense. But the defense was impressive Saturday night and did enough to put the Gamecocks in position to beat the No. 9 team in the nation.
Special Teams (D)
The combination of the mediocre offense and strong defensive play would have been enough to win if not for the third phase.
The game was lost on special teams. Elliott Fry missed two field goals. Jamarcus King had the biggest miscue of all, bobbling a punt return with around 3 minutes to play. Texas A&M recovered and kicked a field goal to put the game out of reach.
Sean Kelly, however, had a marvelous pass on a fake punt in USC territory. That was the bright spot.
The aforementioned fake punt was a call that took some major guts. It was deep in South Carolina territory, but it was a great attempt to seize momentum.
There were boos at Williams-Brice directed at the offensive play-calling, at times. It was an understandable reaction to predictable calls. Texas A&M knew what was coming and it had no issue stopping South Carolina’s offense through three quarters — spare A.J. Turner’s long touchdown run.
It took too long for South Carolina to turn to Orth, as well. The offense clearly was stuck in neutral and needed a change. It was wise to turn to Orth. It just took too long.
It was a nice defensive performance that should lift that unit going forward. But the offense continues to be an issue. There are some questions to be answered. The tight ends are playing well. The running backs are settling in. But the quarterback position looks like it is back up for grabs.
The Gamecocks played well enough to beat Texas A&M, but they could not get over the final hump or make the big play they needed. Instead, they made mistakes that resulted in a loss.