Alabama came, saw and conquered.
However, even though defeat was sound and all encompassing, the Gamecocks put up a good fight and proved that this team has potential.
The good news overall, is that the Gamecocks are not the same team that played against UNC.
However, sadly, they are also not the team that destroyed Charleston Southern (but we all knew that we wouldn’t score 70 again this season, right?).
Instead, what we have is a team with talent that is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with the giants of college football—which is good since they will face all of the giants in one season.
The real question still lingers though: is being competitive in losses this team’s ceiling?
Or, can the 2019 Gamecocks break the curse against ranked teams and turn this season into something much more than moral victories?
The Alabama game showed that there’s certainly possibilities for that higher ceiling, but also some true weaknesses that must be addressed for this team to compete in future match ups.
Only time will tell how good we can be, but for now here’s the good and the bad of Saturday’s game.
Ryan Hilinski is the real deal
Although the Gamecocks did not escape with the win, Hilinski proved that his performance against CSU was no fluke.
Against perhaps the best team in the land, he held his own, remained composed and looked far more confident than the typical true freshman.
The beauty of Hilinski is that he is showing this level of ability and composure after only two games.
With more experience, he will improve, and with each step of improvement, the Gamecock’s offense becomes more and more dangerous.
It also seems logical to assume that the huge leap in competition from Charleston Southern to Alabama will prepare Hilinski for any team in the future.
While Missouri, Kentucky, Florida, and Texas A&M are no slouches, it’s hard to believe that Hilinski will face more talent than he faced Saturday, until matchups against Georgia and Clemson.
By that time (especially the Clemson game), he will be more experienced, and if the defense finds a way to improve and helps him out a little, those games could be winnable.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In this moment, celebrate the fact that we finally have a consistent and talented gunslinger with more upside than anyone who has ever played the position at Carolina.
Muschamp coached aggressively
There can always be critiques of coaching, but one thing that can’t be said about Saturday’s strategy is that Muschamp was too conservative.
His willingness to coach aggressively gave Carolina a chance to win the game.
While most of those aggressive play calls failed (some due to execution and some due to poor officiating), it was refreshing to see the staff actually coach to win.
What will be interesting here is how Muschamp responds in the next few games where the talent level is closer to being even.
Does he revert back to the lackluster play calling of the UNC game, in an attempt to “not lose”? Or does he push the gas pedal and play to win each game?
My guess is that he sticks to the latter.
Not only does it seem that fans appreciate the aggressive coaching, but with the issues on defense, offensive output is crucial in every game.
If he reverts back to old ways for whatever reason, then we may see several painful repeats of the UNC game.
Kyle Markway is a legit threat at tight end
When Kiel Pollard stepped away from the game, there was a huge void left at the TE position. That void was speculated to be a source of weakness for a team that couldn’t afford for any weak spots.
That fear was amplified by the fact that transfer Nick Muse seemed as if he would be ineligible, another blow to a group that also lost Hinson due to transfer.
With so many questions about the position group, the future looked bleak until junior Kyle Markway made a name for himself against UNC.
He followed that initial success with more of the same against CSU, and then again against Bama, proving that he is a legit threat at tight end.
So far this season he has 11 catches, for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns.
One of those touchdowns came against Alabama, right after Hilinski took an unnecessary hit that was confirmed to be targeting.
Markway’s TD grab was not only situationally beneficial (helping the Gamecocks to finish strong), but it could also be key to Hilinski’s confidence going forward, as he was able to prive his toughness and end on a high note.
Overall, the TE position appears to be in good, reliable hands.
I will avoid the temptation here of writing a long spill on officiating, because if our one major area of weakness had been better, it likely wouldn’t have mattered.
So here comes the bad…
The defense is this team’s Achilles heel
Offensively there were mistakes.
But let’s be honest: the unit held things together better than most expected.
The real issue in the game came on the defensive side of the ball.
Before I assess this, I do want to be clear: Javon Kinlaw played one hell of a game.
He controlled his matchup, created pressure, and made the right plays when the opportunities were there. His sack of Tua had the entire stadium on their feet, proving that there’s more than one #3 on this team.
Several others had good games too (I liked Jaycee Horn’s competitive fire).
However, in large, the defense was gashed time and time again, effectively negating anything productive that the offense did.
The real issue seems to be two-fold.
First, players were out of position, essentially making it impossible for them to make the correct play.
This seems to go back to coaching, as players who are going against a team like Bama needs every advantage available. By being out of position, they are immediately at a disadvantage, and Tua made them pay for it.
Before Mizzou, the coaching staff must be sure that their guys are in the right positions, or Bryant will slant pass them to death all game long.
Secondly, missed tackles killed the team.
On nearly every level of the defense, players were missing tackles, wrapping up poorly, and simply being embarrassed (Najee Harris is a bad bad man). If fans have the right to be worried about anything, it is this.
To be frank, it is absolutely unrealistic to force optimistic expectations on Hilinski and the offense if the defense consistently misses tackles the way that they did Saturday.
I’m not sure what should or even could be done about it at this point.
However, it is obvious that the coaching staff needs to correct the issue if they hope to stay in any of the up-coming games.
With Hilinski’s confidence increasing every day and the amount of talent around him, this team can still achieve some pretty lofty goals.
However, if the defense remains the weakness that it has been so far this season, bowl eligibility very well could be out of reach.