South Carolina solved its sack problem. After its 30-17 loss to Texas A&M, it now has a grounding problem.
It’s the perfect representation of the Gamecocks this season, swapping one issue for another with little tangible change.
A week after getting sacked six times against Missouri, quarterback Spencer Rattler seemed determined to stay upright, to reduce the Gamecocks’ negative plays. Heck, this week offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains implored his quarterback to throw the ball away more.
And he threw it away plenty, hurling rainbows over to the sideline just before one of Texas A&M’s five-star defensive linemen flattened him. Only problem: He hadn’t escaped the tackle box. The balls floated out of bounds with no Gamecock within a mile and, in a second, Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher was 20 yards on the field yelling at the refs to call grounding.
In what seems like an impossible feat, Rattler was called for intentional grounding three times Saturday … in the first half. Teams will go seasons without racking up three grounding flags and the Gamecocks did it in 30 minutes. Who said South Carolina wasn’t overachieving this year?
The Gamecocks, now on a four-game losing skid, have done a good job this season of giving fans early hope. Think about this: In USC’s six losses this season, the team held a first-half lead in five of them.
Against North Carolina and Georgia and Tennessee and Florida and now Texas A&M.
After one quarter, South Carolina had a touchdown lead. And it wasn’t necessarily because of Rattler or receiver Xavier Legette (who played after being deemed questionable most of the week) or even freshman Nyck Harbor, who had a career day, catching six passes for 59 yards.
No, the Gamecocks had a lead because of its defense. (Yes, really!) In a game that featured one defense littered with four- and five-star defensive linemen making who knows how much in NIL, it was South Carolina’s much-ostracized defense that were the disrupters.
The Gamecocks’ defense, struggling to force any pressure this season, notched three sacks in the first quarter. And it wasn’t like defensive coordinator Clayton White was sending the house every play. His guys were finally playing with the energy and tenacity that he’s craved. And, boy, it looked good.
But, of course, it was fleeting. Fisher and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino began getting the ball out of quarterback Max Johnson’s hand quicker. Get the ball to all those Top-100 recruits in space and trust good things will happen.
Great things happened.
Reuben Owens ran 14 yards untouched into the end zone.
The Aggies went 48 yards in 120 plays, eating up almost half a quarter.
Speedster Ainias Smith exploited the USC coverage, caught a pass then darted through the Gamecocks’ secondary like a rabbit dodging traffic.
That first-half lead? Gone.
The chances of a bowl game? Slim.
The hope? Waning.
With each week, the chances of a South Carolina “turnaround” diminish. The Gamecocks are still young on defense. They still have a struggling offensive line. And they still have injury issues. Actually more injury issues after OL Trai Jones and TE Trey Knox left the game on Saturday.
For a while, especially after a solid showing against No. 1 Georgia, it seemed the Gamecocks possibly had the depth and talent to overcome the injuries. But just as sacks turn to grounding penalties, one recovery somehow leads to another injury.
South Carolina 2023 schedule
Oct. 7: Open week
Oct. 28 – Texas A&M 30, South Carolina 17
Nov. 4 – Jacksonville State, noon (ESPNU)
Nov. 11 – vs Vanderbilt – TBA
Nov. 18 – vs Kentucky – TBA
Nov. 25 – vs Clemson – TBA