COLUMBIA — It wasn’t the SEC East race keeping Steve Spurrier awake late Saturday night.
South Carolina’s coach tossed and turned, unable to sleep, replaying his team’s two-point loss at Tennessee over and over in his head. How could there be such a letdown with so much on the line? What could he have done differently?
The questions stole his shuteye.
“Oh, every call that doesn’t work, you sort of go back and wish you’d called this one or that one,” Spurrier said. “… We did some things that really hurt us.”
Spurrier’s offense, an unstoppable force most of this season, morphed into a mistake-plagued shell of itself over 60 minutes inside Neyland Stadium. The Gamecocks scored 52 points, including seven touchdowns, the previous week at Arkansas. At Tennessee, the offense was held to its fewest points this season — by a touchdown.
“We didn’t play very well offensively at all,” Spurrier said. “Twenty-one points is all we could get. We had eight punts, which is the most we’ve had in a long time.”
The lowlights go on.
There were dropped passes, missed blocks, penalties and turnovers. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw threw his first interception of the season, snapping a career-long streak of 177 passes without a turnover. Shaw had 96 rushing yards, but only 161 passing yards. Almost half his passing yards came on one play, a 76-yard touchdown to Damiere Byrd in the second quarter.
The Gamecocks also lost a fumble. It came one play after sophomore running back Mike Davis had a 45-yard run to put them in Tennessee territory for the first time. Now, USC is 12th in the SEC in turnover margin, with two fewer takeaways than turnovers this season.
“I feel like South Carolina was just handing things to us that we wanted, and the mistakes they made, we took advantage of them,” Tennessee cornerback Justin Coleman said.
Tennessee sacked Shaw four times, the last coming from behind in the fourth quarter on a play that knocked him out of the game — and likely this week’s trip to Missouri — with a sprained knee. Spurrier admitted his offense missed starting guard Ronald Patrick, who was unable to play because of a sprained ankle. Patrick’s status this week is unknown.
But Spurrier thought something more may have led to his offense’s collapse.
“Maybe we had too much press,” said Spurrier, reverse pivoting after telling the media last week his offense — especially Shaw — didn’t get enough attention. “We thought we were too good, maybe. I don’t know. I thought Tennessee played strong up front. I thought their d-line played well, and their linebackers. We did pop a few, and of course Connor had that one long run, but we didn’t have many passing yards, that’s for sure.”
USC doesn’t have time to dwell on its missed opportunities, not with a trip to Missouri this weekend. During the preseason, the Tigers were picked to finish sixth in the SEC East. On Sunday, they were ranked fifth in the season’s first BCS standings.
Missouri is allowing 22.1 points per game, fourth fewest in the SEC. That’s not an ideal opponent to help rebound after having the worst offensive showing of the season.
“According to the media experts, ESPN and all those guys, nobody saw this team coming from where they are now,” Spurrier said. “They weren’t picked to do much that I know of by hardly anyone, but they have got an excellent team — offense, defense, special teams, the whole bit. They haven’t been winning by any fluky means.
“So, we’ll have our work cut out for us, going out there. The first time, I guess, most all of us have ever been to the university of Missouri. So it will be a new experience, but we’ll look forward to it and see if we can’t play a lot better than we did last week.”