South Carolina’s matchup against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks was a struggle on both sides of the ball. While the offense got a couple of offensive linemen back, they continued to have problems in protection at times. Dowell Loggains did not shy away from taking shots to score on explosive plays. When Spencer Rattler had time, that is exactly how this offense put points on the board. There were a few plays Carolina should have converted but failed. Luckily, the ability of Xavier Legette to get open consistently made the difference for this offense. The biggest difficulty came on defense for the Gamecocks from Columbia. Clayton White’s unit gave up explosives in the run game and bit on play fakes to allow deep throws over the top as well. In the end, the firepower on offense proved enough to win the shootout, but the Gamecocks still have several questions as they move to level two of their quest to go 4-0 in November.
Celebrate What’s Good
South Carolina’s offense was able to connect on several explosive plays. Rattler finished the game 27 of 38 for 399 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw one interception on what could have been another explosive pass in a one-on-one situation with Nyck Harbor. Legette made a statement once again that he is one of the top receivers in the nation. He finished the game with nine catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Legette possesses speed, size, and significant ball skills that allow him to be consistent in making plays downfield. Josh Simon also continued to make the most of his opportunities with Trey Knox sidelined with a hamstring injury. Simon is a legitimate receiving threat at the tight-end position. He not only presents a large target for Rattler but possesses the ability to make plays after the catch as well.
Turnovers finally returned for the South Carolina defense. While the defense had trouble getting stops, more on that later, they did manage to force four turnovers. With the offense turning two of those turnovers into ten points and a game-sealing pick-six by Stone Blanton gave the Gamecocks 17 points off turnovers. Although the Gamecocks’ defense has given up somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points per game in all three years of White’s tenure over the group, turnovers are the difference in 2023. Deficiencies on defense in 2021 and 2022 were often masked by frequent turnovers. Turnovers do more than get the ball back into the hands of the offense and stop the opposing offense from scoring. Turnovers are massive momentum swings, and momentum is powerful in college football. If the Gamecocks can continue to get takeaways, that will answer many questions for this team.
Baffled By The Bad
The Gamecocks’ defense looked abysmal, trying to stop the run at times on Saturday. To be fair, Jax State’s offense was averaging 217 yards per game on the ground coming into the matchup. They totaled 225 yards on the ground on Saturday. However, the glaring weakness was not wrong calls but missed tackles and players out of position. Jax State runners often had clear holes through the first two levels of defenders. By the time Carolina got a bead on the runner, there was only a safety standing between the ball and the end zone. To make matters worse, when the Gamecocks did get a hat on the ball, they had a hard time bringing ball carriers down. Jacksonville State made Carolina pay for missed tackles and matched the scoring for almost the entirety of the game.
The offensive line got a boost with the return of veteran Vershon Lee and promising sophomore Cason Henry from injury. Again, the strength of Jax State prevailed. They came into this game with 30 sacks on the season, which ranked fifth nationally. The Jax State defense got three more against Rattler. Much like the other eight games of the season, Rattler found himself running for his life frequently. When he had time, he carved the Jax State secondary to pieces. This begs the question of what could be if Rattler had time in the pocket consistently. Protecting Rattler would go a long way towards not getting into difficult third-down situations and lead to longer, more sustained drives.
The Remaining Questions
Shane Beamer chose to gamble a little against Jax State. Kai Kroeger threw an uncharacteristic incompletion on a fake punt deep pass to Legette. The Gamecocks went for it on fourth down twice and failed to convert both times. Special teams and aggressive play are trademarks of how Beamer has coached at South Carolina. The presence and effectiveness of making big plays and even scoring from a special teams standpoint have been called into question in 2023. The injuries across this team can be credited to the inconsistency on special teams. While it was not successful, it was encouraging to see Beamer continue to press his luck with a fake. The question remains to be answered whether or not the Gamecocks can get a coveted special teams score in year three of the Beamer Era.
Finally, the lack of productivity from the defense calls into question the Gamecocks’ ability to complete the undefeated November challenge. Carolina needs to win all four games over the final month of the season to reach bowl eligibility. With a struggling win in arguably the easiest of the four matchups, many fans will question if the Gamecocks have a shot to win the final three. It may have been a struggle for the Gamecocks on Saturday, but they can learn from a win. A loss would have taught the same lessons but would also bring about major program-altering questions. Fans should sit tight for next week’s noon matchup with Vanderbilt and avoid questioning every facet of this team.