South Carolina’s regular season recap: Tennessee loss crushed championship dreams

NCAA Football: Coastal Carolina at South Carolina

SDS recaps every team’s 2013 regular season:

South Carolina Gamecocks

Final Record:10-2 overall, 6-2 SEC

The job Steve Spurrier has done at South Carolina is underrated. He’s taken a team that just wanted to compete in the SEC to a different level, competing for championships. Ho hum: it’s just another 10-win regular season – the third in a row – for the Gamecocks’ program that’s continually on the rise.

Related: Final SEC regular season standings

This was supposed to be the year of the Gamecocks. After all, they had the SEC East’s most favorable schedule of the big three favorites, but a Tennessee letdown crushed the Gamecocks’ championship hopes, a Volunteer program that didn’t even make a bowl game. That loss will haunt Spurrier for quite a while. Ultimately, there was a chance the Gamecocks backed into Atlanta with the head-to-head win over Missouri, but the Tigers won two straight against Ole Miss and Texas A&M to punch their ticket.

Connor Shaw quietly turned in another great season. In fact, it was a brilliant season for the SEC’s most underrated player. Shaw threw for 2,135 yards, 21 TDs and only one INT. He also added 511 rushing yards and five touchdowns. His 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback in Columbia, Missouri, will be forever remembered. A banged-up and sick Shaw entered the game late in the third quarter for a struggling offense, and he led the team to a double overtime win, Missouri’s only regular-season loss.

Related: Get to know your Capital One Bowl opponent Wisconsin 

We knew about Shaw entering the season, but RB Mike Davis blew into one of the biggest breakout players in college football. Davis carried 194 times for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He showed flashes in 2012, but he took his game to a whole other level being the primary back on the roster. Shon Carson added 256 yards and one touchdown, while primary backup Brandon Wilds struggled to stay healthy again and rushed for just 205 yards and three touchdowns.

Bruce Ellington led the team in receiving yards again, and he caught 43 passes for 635 yards and six touchdowns, followed by Damiere Byrd’s 33-catch, 575-yard, four-touchdown campaign. Like Mike Davis, Shaq Roland had a bit of a breakout season, too, as he caught 19 passes for 343 yards and five touchdowns. The trio returns in 2014. I thought TEs Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams would play bigger roles and become bigger weapons. Both combined for 27 catches for 405 yards and one touchdown.

Related: Damiere Byrd to miss the bowl game

Carolina’s offensive line was solid, and they’re young and impressive overall. They finished eighth in the SEC, giving up 22 sacks total and 1.83 sacks per game.

The offense was impressive, but the defense overachieved. DC Lorenzo Ward had to replace production from his top four tacklers at linebacker, DE Devin Taylor and defensive back DJ Swearinger. And he did it. The Gamecocks’ defense finished second in scoring defense and second in stopping the run, while replacing key components at every level. That’s impressive.

Jadeveon Clowney had another strong season and totaled 35 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and three sacks. While the sack numbers are what we expected, he still had the biggest affect on the game. Offensive coordinators schemed against Clowney, often getting the ball out quicker and running plays away from Clowney.

But the biggest emerging star this season and one player who really made himself some money was DT Kelcy Quarles. He led the team with 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Those are Clowney-type numbers. Chaz Sutton added 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, and all three will have to be replaced in 2014.

Linebackers Skai Moore, Kaiwan Lewis and Sharrod Golightly, among others, really stepped up to the plate as young standouts. All three return a combined 140 tackles next season. Moore is going to be a superstar.

Outside of Quarles’ huge impact, none was bigger than CB Victor Hampton. Hampton looked like an NFL corner, and he recorded 45 tackles, four for loss, nine pass breakups and three INTs. Jimmy Legree also played well at corner, recording three INTs and four breakups. Brison Williams and Chaz Elder held down the two safety spots, and they played well.

Here’s a look at the team stats:

Category (SEC rank)
Scoring Offense 34.1 PPG (7th)
Rushing Offense 205.25 YPG (5th)
Passing Offense 248.3 YPG (6th)
Total Offense 453.3 YPG (7th)
Scoring Defense 20 PPG (2nd)
Rushing Defense 142.25 YPG (2nd)
Passing Defense 202.8 YPG (4th)
Total Defense 345 YPG (3rd)

 One that got away: Carolina’s season didn’t hinge upon beating Georgia like everyone thought during the preseason. It hinged on losing to 5-7 Tennessee 23-21. It was similar to the 2011 loss to Auburn 16-13. It seems the Gamecocks lose one game they shouldn’t. South Carolina trailed 17-7 at halftime, and they answered back in the third quarter with two straight touchdowns, taking the 21-17 lead. However, Tennessee kicker Michael Palardy hit two field goals in the fourth, including the game winner as time expired to wreck the Gamecocks’ championship hopes.

Offensive Stud: Connor Shaw continually impressed me every single game throughout the season. He battled through injuries, and he continually made timely plays to lift the Gamecocks. His 21 touchdowns to one INT is so impressive, but yet, he won’t get much recognition outside the state for his incredible efforts. Steve Spurrier said Shaw is the best Carolina quarterback in history, and there is no arguing that. He’s one of the most underrated SEC players in history, improving to 17-0 at home with the win over Clemson.

Defensive Stud: Although Clowney gets most of the ink and dominates conversation, Kelcy Quarles was this year’s Clowney. He put up monster numbers for a defensive tackle, which included 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Those are crazy numbers, and his NFL upside is huge, assuming he does declare for the draft.

What’s Next: South Carolina can complete their third 11-win season against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Aside from closing out the careers of Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney and others, several big-time players are returning who have a whole lot of experience. I do think 2013 was Steve Spurrier’s best chance to win a championship at Carolina, but next year’s team could be one of his best. This program is on cruise control with Spurrier at the helm, and it’s remarkable what they have accomplished in such short time.

Photo Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY

COMMENTS

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  • I understand that traveling to Auburn will probably make for the toughest game on the schedule, but hosting UGA and Mizzou should help keep those two manageable. What else about 2014 makes you think they wouldn’t have as good a chance as any other year to play for an SEC title and more?

  • Hmm…

    I thought Tennessee was trailing 17-7 @ halftime… As much as I loathe Spurrier, I hope their loss to the Vols was more of a sign of what’s to come at Tennessee and less of the Gamecocks’ annual ‘Clemson-mode’ performance.