COLUMBIA — It’s not all Will Muschamp’s fault.
The South Carolina head coach didn’t miss a mess of tackles right after attempting halftime adjustments in a 41-17 loss to No. 3 Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.
“We’re going to do so many tackle drills next week,” Gamecocks linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “I can guarantee you that.”
You can’t completely blame the defense for a debacle more lopsided than any of South Carolina’s SEC losses over the previous two seasons. They weren’t on the field to gift Georgia with an 18-yard, middle-school punt that set up a field goal drive to end the second quarter.
“Critical error,” Muschamp said twice after the game.
Jake Bentley was a little better than his mediocre numbers indicate.
But South Carolina’s veteran quarterback didn’t drop five first-half passes.
Or come up with the garnet jersey/black pants color scheme.
No, it was all part of a full team and coaching staff effort that included 17 minutes that stand as one of the worst stretches of football for a ranked Gamecocks team. Georgia outscored No. 24 South Carolina 21-0 in the third quarter; Bentley threw an interception in the end zone early in the fourth.
Georgia is really good, recently seen taking Alabama into overtime at the College Football Playoff national championship game. But South Carolina worked with Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs to make Saturday look like a tribute to the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Williams-Brice, once full of 83,140 people, was less than half full before the fourth quarter began.
Solutions, hard to find Saturday, are all too obvious emerging from the wreckage of a botched opportunity:
• Re-open competition at every position.
• Get the coaching staff to crash-course study the art of halftime adjustments.
• Forget that sweet second half against Michigan at the Outback Bowl ever happened.
• Change uniforms.
• Realize that an SEC record better than the 5-3 of 2017 is still very possible because Georgia (2-0) is real good and the rest of the conference schedule is not.
Goal: Run the ball
Down 34-10 in the third quarter, the PA system blasted Black Sabbath’s heavy metal hit “Iron Man” as South Carolina took possession of the ball.
Alas, more heavy boots of lead.
The offensive line wanted to run the ball more. The head coach, in retrospect, agreed.
“We felt good about 46 snaps in the first half and that’s part of what we want,” Muschamp said after presiding over 20 carries for 54 yards for the game. “But we’ve got to make first downs as you continue to move forward in the game.”
Georgia rushed for 271 yards on 52 carries (and a bunch of those Gamecock tackle attempts).
Which doesn’t mean the passing game was as sizzling as the 93-degree weather.
Bentley in a season-opening rout of Coastal Carolina last week was sharp on short throws but missed on his two long pass attempts.
Only one pass went for more than 18 yards against Georgia, a garbage-time, 44-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Edwards.
So much for progress against the beast of the SEC East.
South Carolina last season went to Athens and lost, 24-10, to a team that wound up a play away from a national title. Sure, the spread was a bit deceptive as the Gamecocks never really threatened to win.
But while Georgia was favored by 10 points Saturday, it felt like one of the nation’s most watchable games of the week.
Forecast reports insist this was South Carolina’s best shot to beat Georgia and get into serious SEC East title position for a good while.
Bentley and Co. might wind up ranking among the four or five best skill-position groups in program history; new offensive coordinator (Bryan McClendon) and new quarterbacks coach (Dan Werner) made a quicker-tempo Gamecocks offense harder to scheme against; Georgia has four new starting linebackers.
A summer’s worth of anticipation.
All the build-up.
An Outback Bowl rally.
And South Carolina was down 14-0 before the game was four minutes old.
Beating an authentic heavyweight means playing well for most of a football game.
Instead, South Carolina let second-team running back Elijah Holyfield, son of heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield, average 8.4 yards per carry on nine attempts.
A Gamecocks victory might have been program-changing.
Such a bad loss will linger as haunting, at least until South Carolina wins — or at least plays well — against an elite foe.
After the game, Bentley stuck around the field long enough to reach into the stands and shake hands with some of the few fans still inside the stadium.
“I just wanted to tell the fans thank you for staying there,” Bentley said. “Win, lose or draw, they’re there.”
Next move: Win a lot, or lose to good teams with better production from players and coaches when given an entire offseason to prepare.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff