It is a difficult week to write about the Gamecocks.
There’s not a lot that can be said that hasn’t already been said ad nauseam. The inconsistency that has plagued this team is mind-numbing to the point that most fans feel as if the wheels are fully coming off the whole thing.
Saturday’s loss to Missouri was more evidence that perhaps the only consistent thing about this team is its inconsistency.
Losing to Missouri, on the road, with a true freshman quarterback is something that we can handle. It makes sense.
The issue here is that the Gamecocks lost by three scores to a team that appeared to be on the same level as them.
The Alabama loss was palatable, only because we looked competitive against a far superior team.
Yet, when we collapsed and looked completely inept against an opponent that is supposed to be our true peer, that is a devastating blow that is hard to justify.
The rest of the season doesn’t look optimistic, and there’s no real promise that a solution will come soon, much less at all.
We still are here to support our student athletes at all costs, but at a certain point, strategy, preparation, and coaching, must be held accountable for the program to make progress.
We all are hurting this week, the players included.
However, even though we probably don’t care to look back at a truly forgettable weekend in Missouri, here’s a breakdown of Saturday’s 34-14 loss in CoMo.
There’s not a lot of good to point to.
Nearly all facets of the game were sub-par, but the one positive of the matchup was the one thing that surprised me most…
The defense showed improvement
After getting pushed around against UNC and Alabama, the Carolina defense looked formidable, especially early against Missouri.
Early on in the game, it appeared as if we’d see more of the same.
However, in perhaps the best defensive stand of the year, the big guys on the line made a statement.
As Mizzou had the ball at the goal line in its second possession of the first quarter, most fans probably held their breath, half expecting that a touchdown was inevitable.
However, the guys in garnet pushed Kelly Bryant and company back, and even held tough on 4th down with a big time sack from Kingsley Engabare.
That series of plays showed real promise, as the Gamecocks displayed the ability to get timely stops, make the play on a mobile passer and protect their end zone.
Several other times in the game, they came through with more pressure on Bryant, and fought hard to give the Gamecocks a chance to win this game.
Another major improvement on the defensive side of the ball came in forced turnovers.
One forced fumble (caused by Sterling, and picked up by Kinlaw) and a near-pick-six from DJ Wonnum kept the momentum alive.
The way that the season is looking, turnovers may be deciding factors in future games. The proven ability to force them is a good sign moving forward.
Eventually though, after a tough battle and great effort, some crucial stops were missed, which when paired with the 14 points given up by our offense, turned this into a game that the defense could not save.
While many aspects of this contest should be criticized, the defense should not be. They improved a tremendous amount, and looked surprisingly elite at times.
If the offense would have helped, even just a bit, the game could have swung in Carolina’s favor.
Give credit where credit is due, the boys looked good.
For what went wrong, I could simply write “everything else” and that would pretty much cover it.
But, for the sake of the article, I’ll try to cover the biggest issue of the game…
The offense looked lost
Before this game, I said that Hilinski would more than likely show some serious freshman mistakes.
I will admit that I never saw this type of performance coming from a young man who is much better than he showed Saturday.
I still firmly believe that he is the future, and that with him at the helm, the Gamecocks have its best chance to achieve success.
However, in this one game— a game that was slated as a “must-win”— Hilinski delivered what I assume will be the worst performance of his career.
I say that because I believe that he will snap back to form, learning from what went wrong, and making adjustments that will only make him more dangerous.
Still though, the loss hurt the team severely, and it, by in large, destroyed all chances of making it to the post season.
So, what exactly went wrong for Hilinski and the offense?
Well, to be blunt, just about everything.
The sharp accuracy that was celebrated in the Alabama game was MIA. His throws were off target, mistimed, and poorly executed. His decision making was mind-bogglingly poor, and whatever confidence he had in past games, seemed to completely evade him in this one.
Because of his lack of execution, the receivers—playmakers like Edwards, Smith, and Markway—weren’t really able to get things going.
Outside of the one touchdown pass to Edwards on the slant, those guys became rather ineffective, which had to be frustrating for everyone involved.
Logic would assume that with a struggling freshman QB on the road, the staff might lean on two senior running backs (both of which have great YPC totals). For whatever reason, the run game never materialized.
Maybe that is due to RPO looks, maybe it was a credit to Mizzou’s defense, maybe it was a number of other reasons.
However, it appeared that Dowdle and Feaster were not even given the chance to help Hilinski’s confidence in this game, and that is disappointing.
Coaching mistakes were a huge part of this failure on the road, but I’ll save those for a future write up.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of things to be concerned about if you are a Gamecock fan, but Ryan Hilinski is not one of them.
The kid will be back to himself. I even expect him to have a big game this week against Kentucky, but even if he does, some issues with play calling, execution, lack of preparation, and inconsistency as a whole, may be what keeps Carolina from getting the much needed win.
With nearly everything to lose, and not a lot to gain, this is not a fun position to be in.
For the record, I believe that this team has not shown its true potential, and I don’t even want to begin to guess as to why that is the case.
Could they turn it all around, and upset a team, and then secure wins against Kentucky, Tennessee, Vandy, and App State?
But for that to happen, all facets of the game must be better than what we saw Saturday, and as always, that starts with coaching.