The lightning rod that is Spencer Rattler stunned the crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the Gamecocks’ 48-7 loss to No. 1 Georgia in front of a national TV audience.

Rattler is the easy sacrificial lamb based on his horrible first-half interception and overall sluggish showing that helped fuel the Bulldogs to a commanding and dominating 24-0 halftime lead that basically sealed the game.

Will Rattler’s stock take a dive, and are the 1-2 Gamecocks doomed for another mediocre season?

There are several questions to answer.

Rattler did fire a 12-yard laser to Austin Scogner to start the game, but his highlights were few. He failed to convert a key fourth down, one that could have swung the momentum in his team’s favor.

Rattler finished the afternoon 13-of-25 passing for a meager 118 yards with 2 interceptions before he was pulled late in the second half for Luke Doty.

This was against a Georgia defense that was missing 5 starters. Ironically, the Bulldogs didn’t register a sack against Rattler, but they had 9 QB hurries and made Rattler’s afternoon miserable.

While Rattler played his part in the loss, you can look at South Carolina’s pass rush, pass coverage and run defense, too. Take a look at Georgia’s 547 yards of total offense –- 339 yards passing and 208 quiet yards rushing –- as the evidence.

The Gamecocks’ running game behind MarShawn Lloyd also never got on track.

The question then arises — has the bottom already fallen out of this season? Will the Gamecocks be able to turn the corner in the second half of the season and take another major step forward this season?

The Gamecocks had 3 turnovers, 5 penalties and converted just 4 of 13 third-down attempts. The latter has plagued them through their first 3 games. South Carolina’s pass rush again was nearly invisible with 0 sacks and just 3 quarterback hurries on Stetson Bennett, who managed to unleash a 16-for-23, 248-yard, 2-touchdown performance while not feeling 100 percent.

Aside from the stats, the Gamecocks lacked the persistence and resolution they showed in their first 2 games, specifically in their loss to No. 10 Arkansas.

Simply put, it was a trainwreck that short-circuited the electrified 78,000-plus crowd at Williams-Brice and sent most of them home early in the 3rd quarter, as well as those at home who switched to another channel.

Head coach Shane Beamer acknowledged the abysmal performance and sought to begin to re-energize his base.

“I want to apologize to our fans,” said Beamer in the postgame press conference. “We challenged them in the press conference during the week to show up and they did. … They were fantastic. Sorry we didn’t coach better and play better for them.”

Beamer is now faced with the challenge of rallying his troops this coming week, and his team should get back on track when it hosts 0-3 Charlotte on Saturday night.

South Carolina probably will look like a contender against Charlotte. Everyone will be back on the Rattler bandwagon again and receiver Antwone Wells –- 0 catches against Georgia –- will look like a playmaker again.

“That’s probably the best defense in the country, and we put ourselves in some bad situations,” said Rattler about Georgia. “They did a good job checking a lot of stuff against our looks, and they just played harder than us.”

Rattler knew it. His team got outhustled and outworked, and it’s time to put this loss behind them.

After Charlotte, the Gamecocks will be back in the line of fire again with No. 9 Kentucky and No. 24 Texas A&M looming.

In 3 weeks, we’ll have an answer to whether South Carolina is ready to take a step forward or one backward.