It only took one game for South Carolina fans to remember what a crushing loss feels like.
In a game that was almost exactly what everyone expected, South Carolina fell just short of upsetting the Volunteers last Saturday.
Let’s dive into how the Gamecocks played and some things that could’ve happened differently.
How The Offense Played
379 Total Yards
Overall, the offense was pretty productive.
It wasn’t outstanding, it wasn’t bad, but the unit did its job and put up enough points to give us a chance to win.
Just like most other aspects of the game, it’s what we all expected. One part of the box score that was a nice change was the time of possession.
Last season, the Gamecocks were near the bottom of the FBS in time of possession. On Saturday, South Carolina won the TOP battle 34:50 to 25:10.
There are a few different reasons for that, but the obvious one is that Bobo’s offense has less tempo than McClendon’s from last season. Also, most drives were efficient enough to be extended longer than a lot of drives we saw last year.
Another reason for this, somewhat surprising, is that Tennessee came out using more up-tempo than I expected.
As far as individuals and position groups, quarterback Collin Hill was the most consistent player on the offense. He finished the game with 290 passing yards on 64% completion, with 1 TD and 1 INT.
The running game was good not great, and since South Carolina was playing from behind in the second half the offense became more pass happy. Gamecock running backs combined for 105 rushing yards on 26 carries, averaging out to 4 yards per rush.
There were some nice runs, but the low yardage is in part due to the offensive line’s inconsistency in the first half. It played much better in the second half, but in the first half there were not a lot of running lanes to get through on a consistent basis.
The offensive line was a bit of a disappointment overall, it allowed 4 sacks, nine tackles for loss and four QB hurries.
For comparison, Tennessee only allowed 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss and 1 QB hurry. The line of scrimmage was always viewed as a major key for this game, and Tennessee won that battle.
On the outside, Shi Smith had an outstanding day. He totaled 10 receptions for 140 yards and one touchdown.
Despite his incredible game, it leaves questions about the receiving corps behind him. Xavier Legette was the only other receiver with a reception.
It will be important for other options to step up as teams will now key in on Shi more often.
How The Defense Played
31 Points Allowed
394 Total Yards Allowed
The defense certainly did not live up to expectations on Saturday.
It is a unit that has the talent to be a Top 25 group nationally, but gave up 31 points to an offense that was one of the worst in the country in 2019.
The defensive line was controlled by the Tennessee offensive line for the majority of the game. The defense allowed just over five yards per carry to the pair of Tennessee running backs, a full yard more than what the Gamecocks RB’s could manage.
Tennessee’s 8.4 yards per pass attempt was also almost a full yard more than what South Carolina could do throwing the ball.
Another reason for concern was the Gamecocks limited ability to affect the quarterback. As mentioned earlier, South Carolina pass rushers only managed two sacks, five tackles for loss and one QB hurry. The best way to make an average quarterback look good is to give him time, and unfortunately that was the case on Saturday.
Both sacks came from Kinglsey Enagbare. The junior lineman had a huge day overall and is becoming a real force now that he has moved into a starting role. He also accounted for half of the team’s tackles for loss (2.5) and had the second most tackles with nine.
There were a couple other bright spots, one of them being Jaycee Horn. The star cornerback was only targeted one time and allowed no receptions.
Another silver lining was the Gamecocks ability to get off the field on third and fourth down. Tennessee was a measly 1-12 on third down, and 0-1 on fourth down.
That said, another concern was the inability to get takeaways.
South Carolina forced 0 turnovers on Saturday, which will need to improve if the Gamecocks want to have their best chance to win more games than people expect.
Whether it be the front seven forcing fumbles or the secondary making plays to get interceptions, the turnover margin is something the Gamecocks must put emphasis on and execute.
One of the best ways to make that happen is to attack the quarterback, so I would like to see Muschamp and T-Rob put out some more blitz packages for the next few games. The secondary should be trustable enough to allow for more aggressive defensive play-calling, and it could certainly pay off in a big way.
In the end, this game was very much what everyone seemed to expect. An evenly matched game where just a handful of breaks could’ve caused the game to swing the other way.
I said in my game preview that special teams could make or break this game for either team, and its safe to say that came true.
Tennessee was just slightly better than South Carolina on Saturday and it showed both in the box score and on the scoreboard.
Going forward, I still believe the Gamecocks have a solid team this year. This was obviously a very tough loss in a game that South Carolina needed to win, but the performance was not all that bad and there is certainly room for improvement as the season moves on.
South Carolina will hope to catch #3 Florida sleeping next week, in what would be a massive upset to get the season back on track.