South Carolina’s season has brought on a swarm of questions from the fanbase and surrounding college football footprint. With three games remaining in the regular season, the story of this team is unfinished. Many of the plays on the field have had the same feel. The first nine games were not without opportunities. In spite of significant adversity, this team still has a chance to make this November memorable enough to overshadow the mistakes of September and October. Players must do a better job of finishing. When they make the plays in front of them, the Gamecocks look like a strong football team. However, the many plays they have missed have defined this season. The story of the Gamecocks’ football team in 2023 is incomplete, but if they want it to end well, the plays on the field should not be.
Coaches Put Players Into Position
The job of a college football coach is one of the most demanding in any field. The hours are long, the travel is frequent, and the turnover is rampant. Additionally, coaches are primarily evaluated by the performance of other people: the players. In the case of the Gamecocks’ 2023 team, coaches are under scrutiny. From a defensive standpoint, it is Clayton White’s third year as defensive coordinator at Carolina, and his resumé becomes more and more evident with each snap.
The sample size for what White has produced on the field continues to grow. His Gamecock defenses have given up over 28 points per game in his first two seasons and are on their way again, averaging just under 32 points per game in 2023. This season, however, feels different than the past two. White’s defensive scheme is not as effective as before. Certain types of offenses match up well against the scheme and teams have figured out the code. White attempted to change things up in recent weeks with different fronts and alignments. While that was effective briefly, the Gamecocks still gave up 30 and 28 points, respectively, in the last two weeks.
From an offensive look, Dowell Loggains’ offense has had success at home and struggled on the road. As a whole, they are averaging just under 27 points per game, which should be good enough to compete in every game. Some fans have begun to question Loggains’ creativity and play-calling. Given the injuries on offense, this offensive staff has performed at a high level over the course of the season. Pass catchers have improved and built more chemistry with Spencer Rattler. Mario Anderson developed into a well-rounded back at the SEC level and presents a threat as a runner and receiver.
The story of the Gamecocks in 2023 is incomplete without mentioning its best player and greatest struggle. Rattler’s poise and decision-making under Loggains have been phenomenal. He’s been accurate with the ball and made plays with his legs as well. As for the offensive line, with 11 different players injured throughout the course of the year, the inability to form familiarity and chemistry with one another shows on the field. However, they have shown signs of improvement on an individual level. Questioning the offense in year one under Loggains is grasping for straws to explain the 3-6 record.
Players in Position Should Make Plays
South Carolina maintained momentum and made enough defensive stops to keep the team in most games in 2021 and 2022. Turnovers were a major factor in swinging the momentum. Prior to last week’s four-turnover performance, the team had only six interceptions and one fumble recovery out of three forced. Comparatively speaking, the 2022 Gamecocks had 15 interceptions and recovered eight out of eight forced fumbles. In 2021, the team had 15 interceptions and grabbed nine of the 11 fumbles they forced.
If those numbers aren’t daunting enough on paper, the eye test tells the complete story of the Gamecocks in 2023. Missed tackles and failure to play the ball in the air are the two most apparent shortcomings of this team as a whole. In many cases, Gamecock defenders are right where they should be. For whatever reason, that no one seems to be able to pinpoint, they have failed to finish a large portion of those plays. On Saturday, against Jax State, Carolina defenders met opposing players in the backfield and made big plays routinely in the early going. Jacksonville State went three and out on their first three possessions. Then proceeded to score touchdowns on the following two possessions. What was the difference? Missed tackles and mental errors.
The Honest Truth
Coaches can be blamed for not putting players in the best positions at times. However, when coaches put players in the right place, and the players fail to execute, players must be held accountable as well. The defense has left opportunities for big plays incomplete a number of times over the course of the season. Failing to make the play often leads to opponents finding the end zone. Offensively, young receivers have dropped a few big passes and all of the players tasked with blocking in protection and run plays have failed on numerous occasions. The biggest difference in perception is that offensive players have made big plays enough to cover the missed opportunities while defensive players have not.
Shane Beamer often says that the media does not get to write the story of his team. Instead, the players and coaches themselves have the opportunity to write it. Right now, the story of the 2023 Gamecocks is incomplete. South Carolina will look to continue pressing towards writing a noteworthy ending against Vanderbilt, on Saturday at noon, in Columbia.