COLUMBIA, Mo. — Lose a game and there’s always another ahead. Winning can always be rediscovered.
What to do when you lose hope?
Will Muschamp looked the same way and spoke of the same things that he usually does after a loss. He talked about how South Carolina had a plan and it didn’t work in a 34-14 loss to Missouri. He discussed how the Gamecocks just couldn’t get anything going offensively. He mentioned how Missouri doesn’t play like Alabama, so it wasn’t as simple as thinking plays that were successful against Alabama would be successful against Missouri.
What he didn’t say, but he fully knows, is the season is rapidly slipping out of his grasp. It’s inconceivable to think a team full of guys he recruited, who are the most talented he's had at USC, is 1-3 and has lost six straight games to FBS competition.
There are winnable games left on the schedule. But with his job status now the hottest topic around USC football, will that overcome any hope of turning the season around?
7 takeaways from another bad defeat:
1. No backup
Muschamp was adamant that Ryan Hilinski was not hurt, because if he wasn’t cleared to play, he wouldn’t have played. Yet there was something off with the Gamecocks’ quarterback — whether it was a sore elbow that caused him to miss a day of practice or not, Hilinski was throwing everywhere but to his receivers.
With Hilinski unable to complete a pass, it was simple why Missouri dominated defensively. They figured USC would try to lean on the run and played the run since there was no threat of the passing game working. In that sense, there was nothing Muschamp nor offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon could do.
In another sense, Muschamp and McClendon obviously knew there was something going on with Hilinski and he wasn't the same passer who riddled Alabama last week. They should have had a backup plan if Hilinski’s elbow affected his game.
They wanted to utilize the run game and did run on four of their first five first downs. On the sixth, a 2-yard pass begat three straight runs. But the Tigers adjusted, controlled the line and shut it down.
“We felt like we had a good plan going in,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, we didn’t.”
RPOs are en vogue but being stubborn with just the run may have worked. Anything would have to have worked better than the 31 rushing yards the Gamecocks “earned” minus sack totals.
2. Breaking new ground
Maybe it’s just the USC-Missouri series or maybe it’s just a Muschamp offense. There’s always going to be something where the only explanation to what you just saw is to throw up your hands and credit it to voodoo.
Hilinski’s pass was swatted right back to him and he caught it, for perhaps half a second, and then batted it down to the ground. That’s a play quarterbacks make all the time.
Yet Missouri reviewed it, because they saw the catch and throw, which seemingly made it a fumble. Of course it became a fumble recovered for a touchdown.
It seems to me that if anybody catches that batted-away pass and doesn’t try to advance it, instead throwing it to the ground, it’s incomplete. Why was this different?
And that the touchdown was awarded on review, after a week of Muschamp being criticized for not reviewing what could have been a touchdown against Alabama (he said the officials told him not to bother, yet still didn’t call a timeout to set up the next play), was more salt in the wound.
3. Little help?
The defense played well and had a great plan enabling it to play well. Lost in all of the Kelly Bryant drama from last season was he won a lot of games but wasn’t a great downfield passer. The Gamecocks knew it and sat back in their zone, daring him to throw.
It worked. Bryant, a former Clemson QB, had nearly as lousy a first half throwing the ball as Hilinski did, but he got better as the game went on. Why?
The USC defense was on the field for 54 snaps just in the first half. They got tired. That happens when the offense goes three-and-out on successive drives and even when it scores, it’s on one-play drives.
4. Miller time
There’s usually a point of every game that I call Beer O’Clock. That’s the one where I suspect the great majority of USC fans say, “Welp, no need to keep watching this” and head to the fridge for a cold one (or another cold one, as the case may be).
I’ll protect his name because there’s no need publicizing it, but as the Gamecocks faced third-and-goal from the 3 in the third quarter, with a possibility to make it a 24-21 game, one of the pressbox patrons mumbled, “Back-breaking pick.”
Hilinski threw a pass that could have been intercepted by two Tigers. Only one was needed to run it 100 yards the other way and clinch the game.
Freshman mistake. Got to know that unless it’s wide-open, eat the ball and take the field goal.
It happened at USC way too much with Jake Bentley at quarterback, and nobody wanted to realize the dreadful thought that it may be happening with his replacement.
It’s a small point. The Gamecocks lost by 20, so three points wouldn’t have made a difference.
Parker White is a good, solid kicker with a great story. He’s made a lot of kicks but he doesn’t have the leg for 50-yarders. That’s not a knock on him, that’s just the truth.
Muschamp and special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler had to know White was 0-for-3 in attempts 50 or longer in his career. But trailing 7-0 in the first quarter and facing fourth-and-19, they called on him for a 50-yarder.
He missed it. Sure, on fourth-and-19, the only other real option is to arm-punt it and hope it’s not a returned interception.
But why ask a guy to do something he’s not capable of doing? Especially when USC had grabbed some brief momentum by recovering a fumble to set it up? That’s just a confidence-killer.
Bryan Edwards has every excuse in the world to leave this team (now that four games have been played), redshirt and go play somewhere where he can have a chance for a great senior season in terms of wins. He won’t, because he’s committed to USC, no matter what.
“I don’t really believe in the whole snowball thing,” he said after six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. “You lose, you win, you got to get over it and go to the next game.”
Kid played his tail off, as he always does. He’s not letting his frustrations overcome what he can do for the team. And he will go down as one of the most prolific receivers in school history.
I personally wish that would come with a few more wins. He deserves them.
You’re going to hear it throughout this week. I already mentioned it Sunday.
Kentucky on Saturday night is the biggest game in Muschamp’s tenure. I thought it before the season, and I know it now.
I don’t want to get into buyout terms or potential replacements because the only certainty is athletic director Ray Tanner is not going to make a move midseason, nor should he. Even if the Gamecocks lose to the Wildcats, at least mathematically, USC would still have a chance to turn it around. Plus, fire the guy midseason and just start counting the recruits who jump ship.
All of that will be discussed much later in the season, if it needs to. Nobody will be overjoyed with 2-3 after Kentucky, but there’s still time to get the Gamecocks to a bowl game. I said Florida is a team they could beat and that was before the Gators lost their starting QB. Get that one along with Kentucky and there’s still Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Appalachian State and a Texas A&M team that doesn’t look that strong.
Gamecocks lose to Kentucky, they’re 1-4 going into the bye week, and nobody in their right mind would pick USC to beat Georgia after the bye. That makes them 1-5 and two more losses (with Florida, Texas A&M and Clemson still on the schedule) knock them out of a bowl.
Got to win this one. The season, and Muschamp’s tenure, are teetering on it.