Why USC loss to Clemson shouldn’t take from strides made in Year 1 under Shane Beamer

·4 min read

Shane Beamer’s postgame press conferences have become appointment viewing.

He fought back tears after South Carolina’s bowl eligibility-clinching win over Auburn last week. His September spiel on the Georgia defense went viral. Even his son, Hunter, has appeared at times.

Saturday, it turned more somber than the extremes of weeks past.

Beamer’s tone was muted as he diagnosed what went wrong in South Carolina’s 30-0 loss to Clemson. There was frustration in his voice, with a general disappointment beneath the surface. The sellout crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium, in his view, deserved better.

“The electricity, the energy in that stadium was amazing and I appreciate what our fans did,” Beamer said. “We challenged them and they were awesome tonight. Sorry we didn’t play better for you.”

That Beamer was disappointed in the Gamecocks’ effort on Saturday was warranted. The result, though, shouldn’t let folks inside the building — or those hellbent for answers on the local message boards — forget how far South Carolina has come under its first-year head coach.

“Don’t let this determine the season,” defensive tackle Jabari Ellis said in describing Beamer’s postgame message. “We did a lot of good things this season. Obviously it hurts, but (this shouldn’t) overshadow or make up what the season was.”

South Carolina entered the year as a Southeastern Conference afterthought. Media members pegged USC for a second-to-last finish in the SEC East ahead of only Vanderbilt — a program that has turned losing into a masterclass over the last three seasons. Most preseason prognosticators slated the Gamecocks’ win total somewhere around three or four victories.

Sitting at 6-6 and with a 3-5 record in the SEC, South Carolina has overachieved to the nth degree.

The Gamecocks have assuredly been a maddening mix of exciting and unwatchable in 2021. Wins over East Carolina and Vanderbilt would force heart palpitations on even the healthiest of viewers. The win over Florida inspired confidence and helped expedite Dan Mullen’s exit in Gainesville. The upset of Auburn got South Carolina to the six-win bowl eligibility threshold for the first time since 2018.

Granted, it hasn’t been all sunny in central South Carolina this fall. The Gamecocks faced halftime deficits of at least 17 points in four different games this year. It was run off the field in losses to Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee.

Saturday, the frustrations of games past returned. South Carolina narrowly missed out on a season-low yardage output. Its running backs combined for 38 yards on 17 carries. Seven of the team’s 13 drives went less than 10 yards. Two even went for negative yardage.

Quarterbacks Jason Brown and Zeb Noland finished a combined 19 of 42 for 163 yards and two interceptions as South Carolina failed to throw for more than 200 yards for the fifth consecutive game.

“I don’t think they really did anything defensively to make it hard — we picked up pretty much everything (in pregame scouting),” Brown said. “There’s a few things we missed, but we just have to play better. Obviously, that starts with me.”

In a state that’s football crazy with a rivalry between two schools that two hours apart, games like the Tigers’ win in Columbia will always matter.

South Carolina now heads toward a seventh offseason in which they’ve lost the regular season meeting with Clemson. It certainly doesn’t help the Gamecocks have lost the last five of those games by an average of 31.8 points.

There are questions to be answered, too. Why did the offense regress to the ineptitude of games past? What, if anything, can USC do to mitigate opposing run games that have killed the Gamecocks of late? Are staff changes coming in the foreseeable future?

Beamer will be asked about those plenty in the coming weeks. Saturday though, ought to be a chance for reflection on the regular season that was.

Seated behind a computer screen in the bellows of Williams-Brice Stadium following Saturday’s loss, Beamer assured fans that South Carolina remains on the up and up despite its latest missed opportunity.

“I would just reiterate again, we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “And we’re only going to continue to get better as a football program.”

A win against Clemson would have been monumental. The loss, though, isn’t the end all be all.

The tone may have shifted to somber as the clock ticked toward midnight on Saturday, but the mood around South Carolina football should still remain upbeat.

A dejected Shane Beamer walks the sideline in the final minute of the Gamecocks’ loss to Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, November 27, 2021.
A dejected Shane Beamer walks the sideline in the final minute of the Gamecocks’ loss to Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, November 27, 2021.
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