Shi Smith Alabama

South Carolina's Shi Smith (center) catches a touchdown pass while defended by Alabama's Jordan Battle (left) and Shyheim Carter during Alabama's 47-23 victory on Saturday in Columbia. Richard Shiro/AP

COLUMBIA — Say you’re among the many potential building blocks the South Carolina football staff thinks will make life easier at Williams-Brice Stadium and other places on future schedules.

Or, more particularly, the “bunch of recruits” head coach Will Muschamp hosted on Saturday. 

How about that Gamecocks’ 47-23 loss to No. 2 Alabama?

Here’s what anyone seriously considering signing on with Muschamp and Co. might make of a long Saturday afternoon, which might go a long way in determining how much SEC progress South Carolina makes over the next few seasons:

Competition gap

Significant, the difference between the Gamecocks (1-2) and one of the best two best programs in the country. It’s such that some South Carolina fans are celebrating beating a 25½-point betting spread.

Just as some of the same people were bragging about 510 passing yards after a 56-35 loss to the other best program in the country last season at Clemson.

'Moral victories' morale

But it’s a good sign that South Carolina players want no part of relative success.

“At the end of the day,” center Donell Stanley said, “we didn’t get the job done.”

Ryan Hilinski

Want to play with one of the best young quarterbacks in the country?

This Hilinski guy looks the part. The impeccably composed freshman in his second college game threw for 324 yards, finished strong and impressed veteran Gamecocks with his leadership skills.

A 31-yard laser touchdown pass to Shi Smith through double-coverage was artwork.

Muschamp counted three passes dropped. He liked the way Hilinski “hung in there” and took shots, including a late hit from Alabama’s Christian Barmore on a last-minute touchdown drive.

Fans

A big SEC stadium full of 81,954 people, most of them bouncing around to a “Sandstorm” beat, has to feel very cool even on a blazing hot day.

Creative planning

South Carolina coaches mixed in a fake field goal.

Joseph Charlton got off a booming 66-yard punt downed at the 1-yard line.

The Gamecocks kept Alabama backpedaling during a 77-yard drive over the last 4:06 of the first half.

They tried a fake punt.

That’s what you call an exciting brand of football.

Except that …

Execution of planning

… Even if the strategy is sound, the Gamecocks have a bad habit of blowing things up.

Parker White looked great on the fake field goal try. The former Wando High School kicker bolted 33 yards around the right side and into the end zone. But a holding penalty eliminated the glory.

Charlton’s best punt was dashed by an illegal motion penalty.

That final drive of the first half ended with a fumbled snap on third-and-goal from the 1 and an incomplete pass as time expired.

The fake punt came up short.

Blocking

A lot better than in a season-opening 24-20 loss to North Carolina in Charlotte.

South Carolina allowed only three sacks in 57 pass attempts and ran for 135 yards on 29 carries (4.7-yard average).

Tackling

If you’re a good high school tackler, you might be able to play right away here. Still too many whiffs Saturday.

Slight praise from Saban

Nick Saban, the great Alabama head coach, was taken by the Gamecocks’ ability to run 86 plays against the Tide’s defense, untested but widely considered excellent.

“We knew it was going to be a tough place to play out here,” he said. “We were going to have to play through the assault and keep on keeping on.”

NFL scouts

There were 19 on hand. If you want an opportunity to have the best watch you play against the best, this is a good place to go to college.

Rugged road

Losing isn’t fun and South Carolina will be underdogs in at least four more games on the schedule: at Georgia, Florida, at Texas A&M, Clemson.

Just the right attitude

This is what you want from your leaders going into the next two Saturdays, critical games at Missouri and against Kentucky.

“We’re going to be desperate,” Stanley said. “We’re going to be hungry. I still love this team. I’ve got all the confidence in us.”

The Muschamp message

Recruits are allowed in the locker room on campus visits, so Muschamp’s answer to a question about his postgame message to the team is fitting:

“We’ve got a good football team. We’re 1-2. We’re not where we want to be; we’re not where we thought we would be. But we have to continue to circle what we’re doing, pull together and get back to work (Sunday). And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to reload. We’ve got really good leadership on this team and that’s what this team will do.”

If that’s not enough to convince recruits to wear garnet or look elsewhere, South Carolina has nine or 10 more games to play this season.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

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