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October 21, 2013
South Carolina was one of seven top-15 teams to suffer an upset over the weekend. Here's a look at some good and bad takeaways from the 23-21 loss at Tennessee, plus a few unanswered questions the game raised.
Mike Davis. The sophomore tailback's 137 rushing yards Saturday at Tennessee gives him his sixth 100-yard performance in seven games. Davis continues to lead the SEC in rushing yards (831), touchdowns (10) and yards per game (125.57), and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Davis is a one-on-one nightmare in open space, showcasing the power to bulldoze smaller defenders and the agility to leave larger ones lunging at air. In a way, his 21-yard third-quarter touchdown run - and the sensation juke move that set it up - summed up his season; he's a human highlight reel when you can get him the ball with room to work.
Damiere Byrd. After Shaq Roland dropped Connor Shaw's second pass attempt of the first quarter, Byrd got the lion's share of the targets at the 'X' receiver position. Byrd performed well there Saturday, hauling in four passes for 121 yards, including a second-quarter 76-yard touchdown that put South Carolina on the scoreboard for the first time.
But most of Byrd's value came from his being the only player willing to catch a pass early on. With South Carolina's receivers struggling to hang on to anything, Byrd was the only wideout with a catch until South Carolina's final drive of the first half, when Mike Davis had an 11-yard first down grab.
Jadeveon Clowney. The junior defensive end had his best game of the season at Tennessee, logging five tackles - four of them solo - 2.5 tackles for losses and two quarterback hurries. It was the first time this season an opposing team guarded Clowney one-on-one, and the All-American made them pay several times - even against a future NFL tackle in Tennessee's Tiny Richardson.
Though the Volunteers ran most of their plays away from Clowney, he was able to blow up a few snaps and even logged a first-quarter bell-ringer of Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal that was comparable to The Hit.
Kelcy Quarles. Quarles came to play Saturday, logging four tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses and a sack. He did a great job swallowing up the middle of the field and was able to stuff a few run plays by himself. South Carolina will miss his impact if he is out for significant time with the knee sprain he suffered in Knoxville.
Stephen Orr Spurrier. Even one of the best in the business can make mistakes, and a six-time SEC champion was outcoached by Butch Jones Saturday. Too often it seemed that Spurrier put the Gamecocks - particularly the offense - in position to fail Saturday, and Tennessee reaped the benefits. Spurrier's complete abandonment of the I-formation and the power-running game, especially when South Carolina was a few first downs from icing the game, was baffling.
His decision to make Mike Davis a non-factor late in the game, limiting the SEC's best tailback to just three carries in the fourth quarter, was also puzzling. And the argument that South Carolina had to turn away from the run because Davis' final three carries went for just five total yards isn't justified, especially with the Gamecocks clinging by their fingernails to a 21-20 lead and desperately needing to run the clock out.
Though the rushing game had been far more successful than the passing game heading into the fourth quarter (Shaw had completed just seven of 18 passes for 161 yards), Spurrier had no qualms about taking the ball out of Davis' hands and putting it into Shaw's on crucial downs.
Lastly, while the thought of going for it on fourth-and-two from South Carolina's own 26-yard line was questionable, the worst thing Spurrier could have done in that situation was to handcuff himself by burning needless timeouts and eliminating the Gamecocks' chances of getting another possession should they need it.
Had the Gamecocks converted, they would have been one first down away from victory. And had they failed, they would have at least had the timeouts necessary for a comeback drive after Tennessee's go-ahead score. Spurrier's decisions have always been mind-boggling and daring to a degree, but seldom have they so directly led a team capable of winning to defeat.
Receivers. For a receiving corps that looked so deep against Arkansas, the Tennessee game represented a significant step backwards. Apart from Damiere Byrd, South Carolina's receiver's hauled in just four passes for 45 yards and dropped nearly that many. Ellington, Shaq Roland and Nick Jones all had drops in the first half, with Jones' drop nearly leading to an interception deep in South Carolina territory.
The receivers also failed to get open, didn't block well downfield and jogged around nonchalantly as Connor Shaw scrambled for his life for four quarters. A large portion of Shaw's rush attempts came not from being rattled or his own personal vendetta against Spurrier's pass calls, but rather from the receivers inability to get open enough for him to hazard a pass their way. It's a unit that needs to step up moving forward, especially if Shaw isn't healthy enough to bail them out with scrambles next week.
Special teams had another tough outing. A weekend at Arkansas where South Carolina seemed to exorcise its special teams demons was followed by a Saturday in Knoxville where the Gamecocks were haunted again by their miscues. Tyler Hull punted eight times for a 36.2-yard average Saturday, and two nifty punt returns by Pharoh Cooper - one of which could have put the Gamecocks in position to add a fourth-quarter score - were negated by penalties.
And Cooper - thought after last week to be the answer at kick and punt returner - made a few mental mistakes that set the Gamecocks backward in the battle of field position as well. In a game of inches, a matter of yards in special teams hurt the Gamecocks Saturday.
Couldn't catch a break. After seemingly everything went South Carolina's way in Fayetteville, Murphy's law was in full effect at Tennessee. Twice South Carolina players came out of the pile with apparent fumble recoveries, and Tennessee was given the ball back in both cases. Butch Jones' impeccably-timed timeout robbed backup tackle and third-string tight end Mason Zandi of his first career touchdown, and Kadetrix Marcus was ejected on Tennessee's second drive.
What exactly is "Nossy" doing? After redshirting last year, third-string quarterback Brendan Nosovitch appears willing to help the team any way he can, appearing on the punt return team as a blocker Saturday. Whether that's a position where he will continue to contribute remains uncertain, especially as he will likely be the second-string quarterback Saturday at Missouri if Shaw can't go.
What's going on in the SEC East? It's a mess. Missouri, of all teams, is ranked No. 5, is an undefeated 7-0, and has the clearest shot to make it to Atlanta, Ga., for the SEC Championship Game in their second season in the conference. The Tigers have toppled every challenge they've faced already this season, but have notable opponents ahead of them in No. 21 South Carolina, Ole Miss and No. 16 Texas A&M.
A South Carolina victory at Missouri next weekend could make things interesting, and a Missouri loss to Texas A&M in the last week of the season would make things as dicey as three-way ties can be.
Will these problems carry into the Missouri game? Fortunately for South Carolina, it's not likely. The Gamecocks have been a model of inconsistency this season, so projecting which of their strengths or weaknesses will carry over from one game to the next is a fool's errand. It's even probable the Gamecocks will look their usual selves by the time they take the field Saturday at Missouri, and it's possible that a mid-season wakeup call could be just what they needed after a four-game winning streak.
On Gamecock Central now!
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