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Scott Davis: We Gave it a Shot!

GamecockCentral.com columnist Scott Davis, who has followed USC sports for more than 30 years, provides commentary from the perspective of a Gamecocks fan. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @scdonfire.

You know what’s kind of unfortunate?

That’s probably about as well as South Carolina can play in 2016.

I said it.

I said it. And I’m not ashamed of saying it, either.

The Gamecocks lost by 11 points, 24-13, at home in Williams-Brice Stadium to Texas A&M, and yet almost every Carolina fan I know came away from the game thinking: “Hey, those guys really gave it a shot out there!”

We gave it a shot. Progress?

I felt the same way. I was downright giddy about the effort South Carolina gave against the Aggies, eventually trying to convince myself to feel depressed that we’d lost the ballgame, but ultimately just deciding that I simply wasn’t particularly upset about it.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever been un-upset about a Gamecock loss. This might actually be a first. Either I’ve become infinitely more mature as an adult person, or this is just where we are right now.

So where do we go from here?

I don’t know. What I do know is that we’re a long way away from those back-to-back-to-back 11-2 seasons – seasons that were actually still happening as recently as 2013, as unbelievable as that may now seem.

Right now, the Gamecocks have to subsist on moral victories and hard-fought battles against teams with superior talent and more experienced players. At one point, it seemed like just about everyone wearing a South Carolina uniform on offense was a true freshman or redshirt freshman. I don’t care how talented you are – that’s not usually going to be a recipe for success in the SEC (Note to self: Pay residuals to the SEC Network for that banal analysis).

Defensively, the situation isn’t all that much better from a talent perspective. SEC Network analyst Matt Stinchcomb noted during a broadcast of the contest that the Gamecocks can’t really even run a dime look on defense because they simply don’t have enough capable secondary players to do so.

And let me tell you something: When I’m nodding in agreement with Stinchcomb, you know things have gotten bad.

Will Muschamp said before the season that his mandate was to win right now, and that no matter how shorthanded and outclassed the team was, moral victories wouldn’t be tolerated. I appreciated that statement. I don’t want my head coach to be fine with moral victories or close losses.

But you know what? After five weeks of watching this team, it’s become exceedingly clear to me (and to most sane human beings) that this group just simply doesn’t have a ton of SEC-worthy talent at the moment.

It’s a notion I resisted throughout the preseason. After all, hadn’t South Carolina racked up recruiting classes in the Top 25 or thereabouts for the last dozen years or so? Weren’t there more quality players on this roster than on the rosters of Mississippi State, Kentucky, Missouri and other rivals?

I thought so.

After analysts, pundits, writers, gamblers and everyone else in the universe who is not a South Carolina fan spent the entire spring and summer telling us just how untested and underwhelming this Gamecock roster was, I ranted in a few columns that USC had been undervalued.

You’re going to be shocked by this, but I actually can admit when I’m wrong.

Considering the youth, the inexperience, the razor-thin depth and the host of unfortunate injuries, this is a South Carolina team that is going to face a long uphill climb against every Southeastern Conference club they’ll face. That’s where we are.

So where do we go from here? Let’s find out.

I’m a fan of a 2-3 football team that will probably only be favored in one or two games for the rest of what is already a lost season. And I’m happy with my team and where it’s headed.

I’m just as shocked by that as you are.

The Artist Formerly Known as Pharoh Cooper Game Balls

Let’s honor the effort and tenacity of the Gamecock performance by tossing out a few Artists to the following worthy winners:

Defensive Resilience – I don’t care how many yards or points South Carolina ends up surrendering this season: They’re a galaxy or two better on defense than they were the last couple of seasons. Sure, it wasn’t fun to see Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight running wild or to watch the Gamecocks give up a few thousand third-and-longs. But at least this unit is physical, makes open-field tackles, doesn’t immediately wilt after big plays and actually seems to give a (bleep) about what it’s doing out there. They’re undermanned and overwhelmed, they have zero depth and their offense isn’t doing a single thing to help them. But they’re trying. They are trying. You have to see that.

Rico Dowdle – The Asheville product just seems to run with more authority than anyone on South Carolina’s offense right now. He looked vicious, angry and almost appeared to want to hurt opponents on Saturday – and those are all wonderful things. That dude did not want to be tackled. Combining his brutal style with the speed of A.J. Turner may give the Gamecocks something to look forward to in the running game.

Black Jerseys – I’ve always been a fan. Hey, I’m an ‘80s kid. If Will Muschamp wanted to start wearing that black “Carolina” mesh cap that Joe Morrison wore in the day, I’d be all kinds of fine with that. I own that cap, FYI.

Chris Lammons – He seems like a different player this season. His third-quarter interception was a thing of beauty, and he seemed to be making plays for four full quarters.

Not Losing In as Excruciating Fashion as Georgia Did – Believe it or not, I actually gave this a Game Ball two years ago when the Dawgs lost a game to Georgia Tech that genuinely melted my face off, but somehow, this was worse. Despite scoring with ELEVEN M_______G SECONDS LEFT to take a three-point lead, UGA somehow found a way to give up a 50-plus-yard bomb as time expired to take the ugliest of L’s against Tennessee. Georgia’s 3-2 and like USC, is also breaking in a new coach who played for Georgia and specializes in defense, and they are favored against South Carolina and should be…and yet miraculously, they feel spectacularly more disappointing than we do at this point. I’ll take a ho-hum, non-descript 24-13 loss every day of the week as opposed to going through what they’ve gone through the last two weeks.

Gus Johnson – The FOX play-by-play announcer also received a Game Ball a couple of years ago, and is now officially the second repeat Game Ball winner along with “Not Losing in as Excruciating Fashion as Georgia Did.” Congratulations to him – it’s got to be a special moment in the Johnson household right now. Johnson’s a treasure. When TCU tossed a 70-plus-yard bomb against Oklahoma to pull within a touchdown, Johnson deliriously screamed “WOW!!!!!”, then let the moment play out with the fans cheering maniacally. Then he seemed overwhelmed by the moment and blurted, “You’re watching college football on F…O…X!!!!!!!” I got chills, then chills on top of chills. And I don’t care about Oklahoma or TCU. My wife was scrolling her iPad at the moment and even she couldn’t help but notice the excellence. “You should give him a Game Ball,” she said, without looking up from the screen. “I already did two years ago,” I said. “Give him another one,” she said. OK, I just did. Never let it be said that I don’t follow my wife’s orders.

Deflated Balls

Hamstring U – Some college programs send multiple DB’s to the NFL. Some send multiple running backs. Some send QB after QB. South Carolina somehow harvests hamstring injuries. Remember a few seasons ago when our best linebacker, Shaq Wilson, just couldn’t seem to get well from a hamstring pull no matter how long he hung out on the sidelines? The Curse of Shaq lives on in 2016, as the Gamecocks had an astonishing three starting wide receivers out with hamstring pulls that just can’t seem to get well.

Dreek Davis missed his second straight week with a hamstring, Bryan Edwards ended up being a game-time injury with a string, and God bless Deebo Samuel, but his hamstring’s been on the mend since the Declaration of Independence was signed (or somewhere around there). I’m not sure how you can count on Samuel to contribute at this point. This offense desperately needs playmakers, and when all three of your top receivers are chilling on the bench with ice-packs on the backs of their thighs, there’s just not much you can do to create positive yardage. Get well soon, fellas.

Three-and-outs – It’s frustrating, man. Especially when the defense is trying to hang tough, create turnovers and keep the team afloat. Good God Almighty, it’s frustrating. This offense doesn’t have anything resembling an answer right now and doesn’t look like it’s going to.

Pretending to Have a Quarterback Controversy – Please, folks. Stop. I know you want to act like you’re a major college football team right now, but it doesn’t really matter who plays quarterback for South Carolina at the moment – it’s probably not going to work out. Perry Orth? Brandon McIlwain? A 50-something-year-old Todd Ellis? Who cares? Behind this punchless offensive line, and with this few playmakers at receiver, injuries upon injuries, and inconsistency in the running game, I’m not sure this group scores points with a combination of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady at the helm. Whoever’s playing, just go with it and see what happens.

Oddly enough, I’m sort of looking forward to next week’s game. That’s the beauty of this sport. You can lose by 11 points and find ways to feel good about it. I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll keep telling myself that: I’m looking forward to it.

I’m looking forward to it.