bryan edwards

South Carolina's Bryan Edwards is unable to hold on to the ball on a crucial play against Texas A&M last year. Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

COLUMBIA — How’s that expression go? “The highs are never as high as the lows are low?”

So it is that making highlight-reel catches and scoring touchdowns never stand out as much to Bryan Edwards as the times he didn’t get it done.

“Dropping passes always makes you work harder and makes you re-evaluate what you do,” South Carolina’s senior wide receiver said at SEC Media Days.

Everyone’s seen the Conway native’s ability to turn nothing into something, and as he’s on pace to pass luminaries Alshon Jeffery, Sterling Sharpe, Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley in career categories, it’s clear Edwards hasn’t been chopped liver during his USC tenure. Bryan Edwards can flat-out play football.

But he remembers himself pounding the turf in frustration at Kentucky. And on all-fives (hands, knees and helmeted head) as he couldn’t get his hands around a touchdown at Florida.

Those are the ones that stick.

“How many drops we have tonight? Six, seven?,” coach Will Muschamp moaned after USC’s fifth straight loss to Kentucky last year. “Big plays, too. Can’t catch it for them. They got to catch the ball. That’s what they’re on scholarship for.”

It’s not all Edwards. The Gamecocks dropped 29 passes last year, with Rico Dowdle, Shi Smith, Kiel Pollard, and others sharing the yoke.

Many of the drops were in an already decided win, or in cases where they didn’t haunt.

Many weren’t.

It’s never as mathematical as it looks until after the fact. When USC blew a 31-14 third-quarter lead and lost 35-31 to Florida in Gainesville last season, it was because the defense couldn’t tackle. The Gators ran the same draw for what seemed like 47 straight times and the Gamecocks still couldn’t stop it.

Yet Edwards let a touchdown pass slip right through his mitts in the third quarter. A defender reached an arm between Edwards’ hands, but the ball was high-pointed, right there, in the cradle of Edwards’ palms.

He couldn’t snag it. USC settled for a field goal and led 24-14. 

But when the Gamecocks lost by four, those four extra points Edwards’ touchdown would have meant …

See how that can get just a wee bit aggravating? 

“The inconsistencies catching the football … let’s go back and look at them,” Muschamp said. “There’s some touchdowns left out there, there’s some momentum-changing plays.”

Such as:

• Dowdle let a screen pass from Jake Bentley clang off his gloves against Georgia, and the ball went the worst place it could have — toward the Bulldogs’ secondary, in-bounds. Deandre Baker gobbled it on the run and never slowed down as he hit the end zone.

It was a 10-point game at halftime, helped by that pick-six, and Georgia scored on its first three possessions in the second half to put the game away. But the second-guess is always more believable than the likely — Dowdle catches that ball, that’s at least one less touchdown Georgia scores.

• Edwards lost another one against Kentucky, a tough over-the-shoulder haul but one he had in his hands and didn’t secure to his chest. The Gamecocks trailed 24-10 at the time (the eventual final score) and that would have been a first down inside the Wildcats’ 30.

USC dropped six passes that day.

• Edwards couldn’t bring one in at the Texas A&M 10-yard line while down 3-0 in the second quarter. He catches it, that’s a touchdown. Smith, who played his whole freshman year without dropping a pass, let a first-down heave get away while trailing 19-16 in the fourth.

The Gamecocks punted on that possession and lost 26-23.

• Trailing 14-0 to Virginia in the second quarter of the Belk Bowl, Chavis Dawkins lost one off his hands. With how badly the Gamecocks played that day, it probably didn’t matter.

But Donell Stanley got flagged for holding on the next play, which led to a half-ending sack. If Dawkins catches that ball, Stanley doesn’t hold on third down, USC’s not facing third-and-long, Bentley doesn’t haven’t to throw deep to get Parker White in range for a field goal try, USC doesn’t get sacked on fourth-and-1 …

“What-if” is always a popular game in sports, especially at a school that has never had consistent football success (“What if USC had just beat Navy in ’84?”).

In 2018, those drops were game-changers. The passes didn’t stick but the memories do leading into this season.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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