So far this season, the Gamecocks have been a letdown. After months of offseason hype and national title talks in Columbia, this South Carolina team has fluttered. They were embarrassed at home in week one, snapping the longest active home winning streak in the country. They escaped with a win against East Carolina, in a game they easily could have lost. The Georgia game, which Carolina won 35-32, seemed like a building block for the rest of the season. The Gamecocks were going to turn things around and salvage the year.
They went to Nashville to play Vanderbilt, expecting a tune up. They were down 14-0 early, and had to fight and claw all the way back to win in a shootout. The Gamecocks came into the Missouri game needing a big victory. With a 20-7 fourth quarter lead, things were looking up in Columbia. The offense wasn’t playing well, but the defense had finally stepped up. A brief SEC East Championship thought crept into my head.
Then Missouri came storming back and scored 14 unanswered points to win 21-20 in the fourth quarter.
That leaves us five games into the season still not knowing who the 2014 South Carolina Gamecocks are. Although head coach Steve Spurrier won’t admit it, this has to be his least favorite Gamecocks team in his 10-year tenure in Columbia. They have no identity on offense or defense, and the special teams are floundering as well, allowing two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the same game. They have already replaced their kickoff specialist. The only constant is the “Fish-Fry” tandem, Patrick Fish and Elliot Fry, on field goals and extra points.
There have been a few bright spots in the season so far. Pharoh Cooper has had a breakout year. He has become one of Dylan Thompson’s favorite receivers, behind Nick Jones, and one of the most productive offensive players on the team with nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Mike Davis has had a good year, but it has been a letdown from what fans were expecting. There were talks of Heisman Trophy potential when the season started, the first since George Rogers. He was going to be one of the best Gamecock running backs in history. Injuries have slowed him down, as well as rumors of a less than productive offseason. Davis still leads the team in rushing, with 368 yards (73.6 yards a game) on 80 carries (4.6 yards a carry) and three touchdowns. This is a far cry from his 614 yards (122.8 yards a game) through the first five games last season.
The loss of Connor Shaw sure didn’t help the Gamecocks, but Dylan Thompson has transitioned very well, with 1359 yards 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions so far. He has the ability to throw for 400+ yards, something Connor Shaw could not do. Although he’s not a runner, he can make plays with his legs when needed.
The defense took a huge hit with the losses of Chaz Sutton, Jimmy Legree, Kelcy Quarles, Jadeveon Clowney and Victor Hampton. Everyone expected a setback, but no one expected what has happened – a team that ranks 91st in team defense, which just isn’t good enough to compete in the SEC.
That leads me back to my original question: Who are the 2014 South Carolina Gamecocks? There is no clear answer through five weeks. Some thought they would be an air-raid offense, which would need 35+ points a game to win. That is, until the Missouri game. The defense played well, but it was the unproductive offense that slowed down the team.
If the Gamecocks want to find success the rest of the way, they need to find an identity. The offense has to click every week, because the defense will rarely hold teams under their average of 35 points per game.
*Section Photo credit to Streeter Lecka, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Jeff Blake, USA Today Sports