The look of dejection on Shane Beamer’s face said it all.
Asked what went wrong for South Carolina’s offense in Saturday’s 16-10 home loss to Kentucky, the first-year head coach looked down, sighed and said simply, “I don’t know.”
Typically brimming with positive energy, Beamer couldn’t hide his disappointment as he rattled off statistic after statistic that pointed to the Gamecocks’ offensive ineffectiveness.
“There’s a lot,” Beamer said. “We ran the ball 26 times for 58 yards — not good enough. Luke (Doty) carried the ball some tonight and didn’t look great all the time running it. He’s continuing to get where he feels 100%. ... Each week’s different, and right now it ain’t good enough.
“Our defense played their butts off tonight and gave us every opportunity to win that game, and we didn’t get it done.”
Making his first start of the season and his third career start overall, the sophomore quarterback Doty never quite found his rhythm against the Wildcats, and the offense as a whole sputtered again and again in key moments.
The opportunities were plentiful. Defensive coordinator Clayton White engineered a shutdown defensive performance that resulted in two fumble recoveries and an interception, but the Gamecocks failed to capitalize on any of those three turnovers. On consecutive drives in the second quarter, USC downed punts on their 49-yard-line and 44-yard-line, yet they couldn’t score — or convert a first down — either time.
“Whenever we go out there, our mindset’s always to score,” Doty said. “So we did everything possible, we put everything out there, and we just came up short. I think that just goes back to obviously me going out there and doing my job and making those plays where they need to be made, but that’s just on the offense as a whole.”
After missing the first two games due to a preseason foot injury, Doty entered last week’s 40-13 loss at Georgia in relief of the injured Zeb Noland and had seemed to find a groove late in the contest, connecting with receiver Josh Vann for a late-game touchdown strike.
But Doty couldn’t carry that momentum into Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium, completing six of nine passes for 46 yards in the first half as the offense combined for just 80 yards. As has been the case for much of the young season, the offensive line also failed to consistently open running lanes.
The offense’s dysfunction manifested itself most clearly on third and fourth downs, where the Gamecocks couldn’t find any answers. USC converted just three of 12 third-down attempts in the contest and failed to convert all three of its fourth-down attempts.
On two of those fourth-down plays, Doty found an open receiver, but neither Jalen Brooks nor Dakereon Joyner could reel in the ball.
“I just gotta make that play,” Brooks said of his fourth-quarter drop on fourth down. “There’s no way around it.”
Both Doty and Beamer pointed to positive signs for the offense, too, with Beamer emphasizing that Doty is still a young player and still has room to learn. After consecutive losses in SEC play, the Gamecocks should have a favorable opportunity to get back on track against visiting Troy next weekend.
However, the frustration from Saturday’s missed opportunities overshadowed any thoughts of silver linings.
“I never flinch thinking about our defense, but I didn’t want to keep putting them out there and keep asking them to get stop after stop after stop,” Beamer said. “At some point we’ve got to convert a freaking fourth down or third down, and get a freaking first down and help our defense and score touchdowns.”