The streak is broken, and it feels so good.
For the first time in six years, I was able to wake up after the Kentucky game with full confidence that things were going to be okay.
Maybe we lose the rest of the games, but hell, at least we didn’t continue the most embarrassing streak in college football.
Also, we snapped the six game losing streak to Power 5 teams at the same time, proving that this very well could be the season of positive change.
With two streaks down and three more to go (losses to ranked teams, five losses to Texas A&M and five losses to Clemson), now is time to celebrate and enjoy a huge win, especially with a bye-week coming up.
To help you celebrate and appreciate just how great our guys played, here’s the good and the bad of Saturday’s 24-7 win over Kentucky.
Finally, a run game!
In preparation for this matchup, I wrote about how important having a dominant run game would be.
It had been quite perplexing to consider Dowdle and Feaster’s YPC averages compared to how few carries they took against Missouri.
I was convinced that a more focused rushing attack could help alleviate the offensive woes, and Saturday helped to prove that to be the case.
The Gamecocks committed to the run and the pay-off was near historic. For the first time since 2014, the Gamecocks had 2 backs go for over 100 yards a piece (Dowdle with 102, Feaster with 107).
The increase in carries (15 each) didn’t hurt their YPC averages either, in fact, both season averages went up, leaving Dowdle at 6.6 yards per carry, and Feaster with 5.8 on the year.
On top of great yardage, the 2 backs helped the offense in the stat that matters most, touchdowns. Dowdle scored once, while Feaster scored twice.
If the Gamecocks commit to running the ball, not only will pressure be taken off of Hilinski, but the entire season could be turned around.
Dowdle and Feaster are legit threats with the ball in their hands, and when the coaching staff expresses this type of confidence in them, it appears that the sky’s the limit moving forward.
The defense that we’ve been waiting to see
This is what we’ve been waiting for.
Flashy offenses are fun to watch, but there’s just something about watching a defense that is having fun out there while they dominate an SEC opponent, that gets your blood pumping.
On Saturday, Carolina turned out its most complete defensive performance of the year, and had it not been for a late garbage-time touchdown, they would have shut Kentucky out completely.
The defense held the Wildcats to only 212 offensive yards, with a large chunk of that coming in the final drive.
So, what exactly made the defense so dominant in Saturday’s game?
Well, it started at the point of attack.
Carolina’s defensive line is turning into a candidate for “best in the nation”. Their size, speed, and talent across the front has disrupted every QB that they’ve faced so far, and it is proving to be a real strength for the team.
Javon Kinlaw is far and away the most productive player on the line. He’s the type of guy that is likely to be a top ten draft pick if he continues this level of play. He currently sits at 4 sacks on the year, which is tied for first in the SEC.
Just behind him on that list is Aaron Sterling, and DJ Wonnum, both with 3.
If the line can continue to have the type of success that they have had, they give the defense the ability to compete with any team on the schedule.
But, the great defensive day did not stop with just the line. The linebackers, and secondary also performed well, showing their best performances respectively.
Tackles were made in space, passes were broken up, and true freshman Jammie Robinson looked like a star in the making.
For once in as long as I can remember, I am legitimately excited about the defensive side of the ball.
If the progress made this week sticks and the corner has truly been turned, then this staff has done something remarkable.
This is a night and day difference from the defense that we saw early on this year.
Hlinski solid in primetime
He didn’t look like a Heisman contender this week, but he also didn’t look like he did against Missouri, and fans will happily accept that.
He was consistent, composed, and smart with the ball in Saturday’s game against Kentucky.
He completed 55.6% of his passes, going 15-27 for 140 yards. And although he had no touchdowns to his credit, he kept the ball safe and had no turnovers.
To date, this is his biggest win as a Gamecock.
Breaking a five game losing streak to an SEC opponent is no small feat. This should help propel his confidence moving forward.
If Hilinski can continue to develop, better stat lines will come.
However, with a road game like Georgia on the horizon, going into a bye week with that confidence should serve him well.
There wasn’t much to dislike.
Carolina had a gritty performance and fans should be very proud of these guys all around.
Even so, there is still one stat that needs to change.
Offense inconsistency led to nine punts
Even though the Gamecocks came away with a dominant 24-7 victory, the offensive side of the ball floundered enough that Charlton had to punt nine times.
We are really thankful to have a weapon like Joseph Charlton on our team. In my opinion, he’s the best punter in the country, and he, without a doubt will be playing in the NFL one day.
But just because I’m a huge fan of the guy doesn’t mean that I want to see him kick it nine times in a game that we should be fully in control of.
This may not have come back to bite us against Kentucky, but nine punts against a team like Georgia will be a death sentence.
The Gamecocks need to get things together over the bye-week, and be prepared to score every opportunity that they get. Struggling to convert on 3rd down could kill any chances of an upset.
Luckily, the answer could have revealed itself Saturday.
The run game is good enough to move the sticks, and at certain points in time, simply feeding the beasts could have kept drives alive.
Maybe Georgia shuts Dowdle and Feaster down, but you have to give them the opportunity to prove themselves first.
If they struggle against Georgia’s front, then trust the gunslinger.
Either way, moving the chains, and scoring consistently has to be a priority.
We love you Charlton, but we hope that you can take the Georgia game off and rest that leg for your NFL career.
There’s life back in the program.
Who knows if it will be sustained, but I’m certainly hoping that the improvements seen Saturday is the new norm.
Even if UGA does as many expect, and win, a competitive performance on both sides of the ball can keep the momentum going.
But, if the unthinkable were to happen, and the Gamecocks were to pull off the upset… well, the entire trajectory of the season would change dramatically.