South Carolina season awards: Finding the silver lining of a 3-9 finish
Although South Carolina didn’t have a season worth celebrating, there were still a handful of individuals who put forth outstanding efforts.
After a season-opening victory against North Carolina, an injury to Connor Mitch began a carousel at quarterback that coincided with a 2-4 start. That fourth loss — which dropped the Gamecocks to 0-4 in SEC play — spurred Steve Spurrier to abruptly resign.
Interim coach Shawn Elliott led South Carolina to a victory over Vanderbilt in his debut but followed that with five consecutive losses. At 3-9, the Gamecocks finished with their worst record since 1999.
Here’s a look back at the individuals who played a major role for the Gamecocks in 2015.
Team MVP: WR Pharoh Cooper
Without question, Cooper was South Carolina’s most dangerous offensive weapon. And in a season in which lackluster offense was a constant theme, Cooper still managed to find a way to shine.
The junior wide receiver racked up 1,095 yards of total offense and found the end zone 10 times, the most of any non-quarterback on the team.
Cooper led the Gamecocks with 66 catches for 973 yards and eight touchdown receptions. He is declaring for the NFL draft and finishes his career in Columbia, S.C., with the eighth-most receiving yards and ninth-most receptions in school history.
Defensive MVP: LB Skai Moore
Moore was the heart of the South Carolina defense, which has been a trend throughout his collegiate career.
Moore led the team in tackles for the third time, finishing with 111 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, and a team-high four interceptions.
Best Freshman: QB Lorenzo Nunez
Nunez may have only started two games at quarterback, but the true freshman proved a spark that has the offense’s stock on the rise.
Nunez was the Gamecocks’ second-leading rusher with 375 yards and two touchdowns. He also finished second in passing with 376 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Those numbers would have been higher if Nunez could have remained healthy for the entire season.
Biggest Surprise: QB Perry Orth
In a season in which Mitch was expected to start and Nunez was going to be worked into the offense, Orth wound up with eight starts under center.
The redshirt junior and former walk-on certainly endured his fair share of highs and lows. But after being thrust into the starting position, Orth found a rhythm and had the Gamecocks offense playing some of its better football of the season.
Orth set a career high with three touchdown passes against Tennessee in a 27-24 loss, and he finished the season with a team-leading 1,929 passing yards along with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Best Play: Cooper’s 94-yard touchdown negated by penalty
South Carolina’s best play of the season didn’t even count.
Trailing The Citadel 23-22 with about 54 seconds remaining, Orth dropped back into his end zone on fourth down and found Cooper on a seam route about 25 yards down the field. Cooper raced past a pair of Citadel defenders down the left sideline for what looked like an unbelievable game-winning touchdown.
However, the officials called a false start penalty to end South Carolina’s chances of a comeback and seal what was unequivocally the most disheartening loss of the season. However, the fireworks Cooper provided on the play left us with quite the memory.
Overall Grade: D
There wasn’t much to celebrate in South Carolina this season unless you’re a Clemson fan. The Gamecocks notched only one SEC win, which was essentially forgotten about because it predated a five-game losing streak to end the season.
In a season marred by disappointment and the Head Ball Coach resigning, the Clemson loss was a fitting way to close out an era of Gamecocks football.
South Carolina finished the season ranked No. 100 in total offense and No. 96 in total defense. Just being competitive week in and week out was a moral victory for the team.