What went wrong for Gamecocks vs. Texas A&M?
1. The near-upset
A lot about South Carolina’s 26-23 loss to Texas A&M is somewhat remarkable. The USC offense was a disaster in the first half, but the defense did enough to hang in. The offense then caught fire, but the defense tired enough it couldn’t get off the field later. The Gamecocks were right with a team with more talent and a $75 million coach, and yet it feels like a chance missed.
2. The QB conundrum
Jake Bentley’s return from injury started very poorly. He was 6 for 17 before halftime. He threw a ghastly end zone interception to take points off the board for USC. Then despite getting booed, he threw for 177 yards and three scores after halftime.
3. The drops
Part of Jake Bentley’s struggles was a slew of big plays that slipped through the hands of wide receivers. That included a pair of first-half 45-plus yards drops from Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards and a gain that would have kept USC’s last chance to take the lead going. All told, there were at least 100 yards left on the field, potentially a lot more. Cornerback Rashad Fenton got his hands on a pass that could have prevented Texas A&M’s go-head score, but he couldn’t hold on.
4. The fumble and the pick
Bentley’s turnover was particularly egregious. It was on a fade route, a pass that’s supposed to go high and outside where only the receiver can get it. Instead it went inside, to a receiver with a four-inch height disadvantage. The other scoring chance USC gave away was a Bryan Edwards fumble after he returned a punt to the Texas A&M 41-yard line.
5. The freshmen
The Gamecocks started freshman Jaycee Horn, and safety R.J. Roderick got more work than usual, seeing time in the competitive portion of the game. Other freshmen to play were Josh Vann, Kingsley Enagbare, Dylan Wonnum, Rick Sandidge. Wonnum got some work at right tackle.
6. The secondary questions
Roderick going in came because South Carolina was again playing mix and match in the secondary. Keisean Nixon struggled enough to get benched for stretches. Jamyest Williams and Steven Montac both exited with minor injuries. By game’s end, Roderick and former walk-on receiver Javon Charleston were at the safety spots.
7. The slow second half
Texas A&M did a good job dragging the second half down to its tempo. USC only got the ball four times, the Aggies five, with one being running out the clock.
8. The captains
USC’s captains were Kyle Markway, Keir Thomas and K.C. Crosby and Michael Scarnecchia, who was sent back to the bench after starting vs. Missouri.
9. The flea-flicker
One play to get South Carolina back into the game was a well-timed flea-flicker. USC showed a heavy look before pulling it off. Chavis Dawkins out-jumped a defender for the 33-yard touchdown, his first catch of the year and first college touchdown. Dawkins had played for Jake Bentley’s father Bobby at Byrnes High School.
10. The punts
USC’s defense kept it in the game, and some of the credit goes to Joseph Charlton. He had five punts of 50-plus yards and three times pinned the Aggies inside their 20.
11. The crowd
Attendance for the day was 76,871, most of whom had to brave fair traffic.
12. The long layoff
South Carolina will now get a week off to regroup before facing a Tennessee team that suddenly looks more formidable after beating Auburn. In the past, USC has come out of byes relying on a few more young players, and Wonnum and Roderick’s ascent could be a sign of things to come. The Gamecocks should also get healthy, adding D.J. Wonnum back into the fold.