Texas A&M runs South Carolina’s defense ragged all night in 52-28 opener

Where have you gone, Jadeveon Clowney?

The absence of the defensive end who ended up the NFL’s top pick last spring could not have been more obvious in South Carolina’s season opener Thursday.

The ninth-ranked Gamecocks hardly ever got to Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill and that led to a gruesome 52-28 loss at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Hill, replacing former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, completed 44 of 60 passes for 511 of the Aggies’ 680 total yards. Texas A&M had 12 scoring drives, seven of those covering 75 or more yards.

This loss ended an 18-game home winning streak for South Carolina, the longest in the country, but it was how the Gamecocks lost that so frustrated coach Steve Spurrier.

“We don’t have a pass-rusher right now,” said Spurrier, adding that his team was outcoached and outplayed in nearly every phase of the game.

The Gamecocks had a tremendous defensive line of late built around Clowney, now a Houston Texans rookie, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton. They knew the current group was young and the coaches tried compensating with scheme, alternating between a 4-3 formation and a 3-4.

Didn’t matter how the Gamecocks lined up this night.

“Did anybody like that 3-4 defense?” Spurrier asked. “But I don’t know if a 6-6 defense would have helped – play 12.

“We all-out blitzed one time and their quarterback scrambled right through two of us.”

This was South Carolina’s worst football loss since a 44-11 defeat at Florida in 2012. It dropped the Gamecocks into a 0-1 hole to start the SEC schedule. This was the first game televised live by the new SEC Network.

With tens of thousands of South Carolina fans already departed, the Aggies finished off the game with one more long drive. They mercifully ended it at South Carolina’s 2 as time expired.

Offensively the Gamecocks played a so-so game that just couldn’t match scoring drives. Star tailback Mike Davis missed the second half after aggravating sore ribs, but by then the running game wasn’t a viable option anyway.

Quarterback Dylan Thompson completed 20 of 40 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. However he was sacked three times and the Gamecocks converted only two of nine third downs.

“We’ve got to be efficient offensively and were weren’t enough,” Thompson said.

By halftime Hill had completed 27 of 35 passes for 299 yards as the Aggies led 31-14. Hill might not be as spectacular as Manziel, but he was patient and precise in picking out receivers. Ten Aggies caught first-half passes, none longer than 22 yards.

South Carolina got to Hill just once in the first half when Rock Hill’s Gordon G. Dixon sacked him for a 6-yard loss.

The Gamecocks helped Texas A&M along the way. For instance, a pass-interference penalty against freshman cornerback Al Harris Jr., in the end zone set up the Aggies for a 2-yard touchdown run by Tra Carson with about two minutes left in the first half.

South Carolina’s two first-half touchdowns were of the big-gulp variety: Thompson found Nick Jones down the middle for a 69-yard touchdown, then Damiere Byrd for a 46-yard score.

The Gamecocks will next host East Carolina on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. before an SEC East match-up with Georgia on Sept. 13.

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