South Carolina's noteworthy offensive production lost in disappointing season
Don’t blame Dylan Thompson for South Carolina’s fall from stardom.
Ranked ninth in the preseason, the Gamecocks suffered their worst campaign in seven years thanks to a surprisingly lackluster effort defensively which dismissed the fifth-year senior quarterback’s record passing total.
Thompson’s final 9-6 career record falls short in comparison to predecessors Connor Shaw and Stephen Garcia, but his impact outside of the white lines as an ideal teammate and university ambassador marks his impact on the program.
“It has been fun playing with Dylan on and off the field,” Gamecocks receiver Pharoh Cooper said after South Carolina’s season-ending loss to Clemson. “Dylan is a great guy, very Christian, good quarterback, good role mode. I appreciate everything Dylan does, and I’m sure everybody on the team does.”
With a 249-yard effort at Clemson on Nov. 29, Thompson broke Todd Ellis’ 27-year-old, single-season passing record with 3,280 total yards through the air. He did so two 300-yard games, a 400-yard outburst and four starts with three or more touchdown passes.
Three times the Gamecocks held double-digit leads in the fourth quarter before faltering.
Mind-boggling after each instance, it wasn’t something South Carolina was used to coming off three consecutive 11-win seasons that followed a 2010 Eastern Division title. During that stretch, the Gamecocks were 11-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
This season? Just 2-4.
South Carolina averaged 33.3 points and 450.8 yards per game, the second-most ever in the Steve Spurrier era, but a 6-6 finish puts the preseason division favorites in the Independence Bowl against Miami, another team that struggled in the late-game execution department.
The Gamecocks have won three straight bowl games and Thompson would like to end his football career in memorable fashion.
“We are excited to be able to play another game against a big-name school, get a chance to go out and end on a high note,” Thompson said on Sunday after the bowl announcement. “Obviously, Clemson didn’t go the way we wanted it to, the way a lot of people wanted it to go, but we’re excited.”
COOPER IMPRESSES IN SECOND SEASON
Without All-SEC first teamer Pharoh Cooper this season, would the Gamecocks have reached the six-win total?
The sophomore has developed into the playmaker Spurrier envisioned when he was moved from defense to offense after arriving on campus in 2013 as a star two-way player from Havelock, N.C.
Cooper averaged 13.9 yards per offensive touch this season and even completed 5-of-8 passes for 78 yards and two scores out of the Wildcat. His 966 yards receiving is second in the SEC behind Heisman finalist Amari Cooper and 60 total catches is the most by a Gamecocks wideout since Alshon Jeffery’s monster 88-catch campaign in 2010.
Against Tennessee, Cooper set a new single-game record for receiving yards in a game (233).
TONS OF QUESTIONS IN 2015
Don’t expect instant explosion out of next year’s offense.
It could get worse before it gets better, at least early.
Expected to lose Mike Davis to the NFL Draft along with pass-catchers Rory Anderson, Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd who have exhausted their eligibility, several new faces will emerge as weapons in 2015 including David Williams who should split carries with Brandon Wilds as the Gamecocks’ primary running backs.
The primary mystery is at quarterback, a position of need for the first time in several seasons in Columbia. Assuming redshirt sophomore Connor Mitch secures the job during the spring, he’ll enter the opener against North Carolina in Charlotte as a player with minimal game experience without a full understanding of the offense.
The former four-star out of Raleigh, N.C. will be pushed for snaps by Perry Orth and little-known redshirt freshman Michael Scarnecchia. Expected signee Lorenzo Nunez (Kennesaw, Ga.) is a probable redshirt.
Making things increasingly more difficult on offense is replacing multi-year productive starters A.J. Cann and Corey Robinson up front. Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott will have his hands full selecting the right rotation for a unit that underachieved this fall despite veteran leadership and a manageable schedule by SEC standards.