Muschamp

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp wasn't too happy with the officiating on Saturday. Richard Shiro/AP

COLUMBIA — They were supposed to lose, and they were supposed to get blown out.

They did.

Alabama is miles better than South Carolina, and it showed. While the loss to North Carolina to open the season is still inexcusable, if most people looked at the first four games of the season and thought, “They’ll likely be 2-2 after that,” the Gamecocks are still in range.

Room for error is slimmer than Jimmy Buffett's chances at a Grammy, but the Gamecocks have known that since the UNC loss.

Takeaways from an expected drubbing:

Think about the future

Last week was never going to tell much, and neither was this week. That’s the curse of playing two straight games with overmatched opponents — Charleston Southern against USC and USC against Alabama.

This season always hinged on the next two weeks.

At Missouri is a tricky game to pick. The Tigers haven’t played much of anybody, but they lost to one of those nobodies.  

Losing next week is not good, but losing to Kentucky in two weeks (for the sixth straight year, something more unthinkable than country-fried steak without cream gravy) is the calculator to by-the-day buyout totals. Whatever the result the next two games, they go a long, long way to determining Will Muschamp’s future at USC.

Misplaced rage

Most of you are mad at the wrong thing.

Rico Dowdle’s knee could have been down. It could not have been.

Muschamp said he was told not to challenge it by the official, since it wouldn’t be overturned.

The next play was second-and-goal from the half-inch line. Line up a jumbo set and run it in. That should be the play on every short-yardage situation.

USC passed. Then fumbled the third-down snap. Then passed again.

Ryan Hilinski picked up a third-and-1 on a sneak on the first drive of the third quarter. Couldn’t have worked on the goal line to make it 24-17 before half?

Definitely be mad, but not at whether Muschamp should have reviewed something that, he said, he was told wouldn’t be overturned.

The play-calling? Yeah, that’s a problem.

Hit the siren

It’s not called the red zone because the play in it resembles an emergency. The Gamecocks just made it look that way.

Horrendous to end the half. Horrendous to start the next half, when first-and-goal at the 9 lost a yard and became a field goal.

The Gamecocks have all this talent at receiver, running back and tight end and don’t know how to use it when they get within the 20. They need to quit playing to catch by surprise (“They’ll never expect a fade to the deep corner for Josh Vann!”) and play what works.

“We know what we got to do,” center Donell Stanley said. “We can’t have plays that are negative and kill it.”

Run Dakereon Joyner with the football. Look at Kyle Markway and Nick Muse in the seams. Get Bryan Edwards or Shi Smith with their magnet hands in the short corner. If it’s second-and-half-inch at the goal line, bring in Zacch Pickens to tote the rock.

Act like you know what you’re doing.

Pop Warner

Of course Muschamp won’t admit it. He doesn’t want to say that the way they’ve been teaching these guys to tackle for going on four years now is completely ridiculous.

But one of his own guys said it.

Linebacker Ernest Jones (who missed the third of three missed tackles on Najee Harris’ fourth-down conversion for a touchdown): “The big play that Najee had, I feel like we were just trying to get the ball out. We just got to do the technique parts first, secure the tackles and then try to get the ball out.”

You learn how to tackle in pee-wee ball. I realize that when Muschamp arrived, he had ball hawks Dante Sawyer and Skai Moore in his defensive front seven, and both had a gift at knocking it loose.

They left, and the Gamecocks are suddenly not good at it. Trying to still be good at it makes about as much sense as a right-turn signal on a stock car.

B-E AGG! R-E-S-S-I-V-E!

The Gamecocks were aggressive with their offense. They played fast, they went for the throat, they ran some stuff that were it not Alabama on the other side, probably would have worked a lot better.

Yet there were a few calls that weren’t that should have been. Leading 7-3, Alabama couldn’t handle Javon Kinlaw and got Tua Tagovailoa sacked twice in three downs, leading to a punt.

Skyler DeLong shanked it 14 yards. USC was on the Tide 30-yard-line.

Muschamp is not Steve Spurrier. Never will be. That didn’t stop folks (like me) calling exactly what would happen if Spurrier was still around.

He would have gone deep. Muschamp’s offense came out with four wide receivers, and ran an inside draw to Tavien Feaster.

That drive should have scored on Parker White’s magnificent fake field goal. But it got called back. And burned a perfectly good trick play they could have saved for later. And telegraphed that USC might gamble on another fake kick later (they did, and it was snuffed).

Take that shot on first down, maybe it doesn’t work. Not many other deep passes did.

Maybe it does.

Not so fast

That flag on the fake kick was brutal. If Markway held, it was for maybe half a second, but he did have his arm extended, which will get called every time. Later, the Gamecocks illegally shifted, costing them a 66-yard punt which was downed at the 1-yard-line.

The Gamecocks were not going to win this game. Yet it’s one of the most frustrating things about Muschamp’s tenure — his teams tend to take themselves out before the opponent does. Whether it’s coming out too hyped or getting too nervous in the games they could really show some progress, they aren’t composed.

Look at Saturday. It’s a footnote, if that, but Will Tommie, a very reliable touchback kicker, booted the opening kickoff to the corner and it rolled out-of-bounds at the 3. Ten-yard penalty.

Not like Tagovailoa needed any extra time to score, but that gave him a head start. He scored in five plays.

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.

We're improving out commenting experience.

We’ve temporarily removed comments from articles while we work on a new and better commenting experience. In the meantime, subscribers are encouraged to join the conversation at our Post and Courier Subscribers group on Facebook.