South Carolina football: Rock bottom? Sure seems like it for Gamecocks' unacceptable D
Each time you thought it couldn’t get any worse on Saturday, the South Carolina defense, as if it were Swiss cheese, gave up another big play.
There was the 4th-and-8 in the 1st quarter, the 4th-and-10 in the 3rd quarter and, perhaps worst of all, a 4th-and-11 when the Gamecocks trailed by 10 points in the 4th. Those were glaring mistakes one could lay out as evidence if the South Carolina defense were put on trial. Ole Miss converted all of those 4th-down plays, were 4-for-4 in the game overall and were 11-for-17 on 3rd and 4th down, a 65 percent clip, en route to a 59-42 win.
To put it in the most glaring context, South Carolina entered the game with the best 4th-down defense in the SEC, having yielded just 2 of 8 attempts.
But as coach Will Muschamp pointed out after the game, the entire defensive mind-set shifts against Ole Miss, because “when they cross the 50, 3rd down is 2nd down.”
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Against the 2nd-best total offense in the SEC, this was not a surprise for a defense that went in having given up at least 481 yards in 3 straight games. South Carolina has now allowed at least 500 in the past 3, all losses.
To some, this latest loss brought back tough memories of the 2018 loss at Clemson, when the Tigers rang up 744 yards in a 56-35 decision.
Perhaps most troubling was what Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral said after the game in an interview on the SEC Network: “We knew exactly what they were running every play.”
After the game, Muschamp, whose job security appears to be as tenuous as ever, pointed out what many fans have known for a long time, but he didn’t offer much in the way of a solution.
“I certainly believe there’s a question about where we are defensively right now,” Muschamp said. “And I certainly think there should be. … They’re a really good offensive football team, and they’ve done this to a lot of people. It is concerning, there’s no doubt about that.”
Muschamp added that the Gamecocks wanted to play zone defense, Corral was especially accurate, and then the defenders got beat in man-to-man coverage.
“It’s tough when you can’t win man, and then you play zone coverage and he’s very accurate,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to tighten up some zones as far as those things are concerned. They have some really good skill players we had a hard time matching up with in man coverage, and we got beat in some man situations.”
The 2-5 Gamecocks are now thrust in a position where they need to win their final 3 games against Missouri, No. 12 Georgia and Kentucky to reach .500.
While the defense shouldered much of the blame, it wasn’t by itself.
After a week in which the coaching staff opened the starting quarterback competition, incumbent Collin Hill held on to the job and was largely serviceable, though he had a strong start, especially on the opening drive. He was 17-of-28 for 230 yards with a touchdown, but his 1 interception turned into a Rebels TD. Protection was under fire, and Hill missed open tight end Nick Muse as the Gamecocks needed a late 4th-down conversion to have a last-ditch shot.
The bottom line remains that outside of Kevin Harris, Shi Smith and Ernest Jones, there is little going right for the Garnet and Black.
“It’s a 14-point game with Texas A&M and we can’t get anything going offensively. It’s a team game, we’ve got to play better team football to complement each other,” Muschamp said. “We certainly did that in Baton Rouge and didn’t hold up our end defensively. We certainly didn’t tonight, because offensively we played extremely well. So we’ve got to play much better team football as far as those things are concerned.”