COLUMBIA — The officiating was horrendous. You don’t need me to tell you that after the no-calls took up the segment of Twitter not concerned with politics and #ThingsNotToBuyPreOwned.
Those no-calls gave Florida 14 points in an 11-point South Carolina loss Saturday. But nobody can say if the Gators wouldn’t have scored anyway or if USC would have done anything different if Florida hadn’t scored.
Officiating will be how this one’s remembered, just as the win, not how it was delivered, was remembered last week. Problem is USC’s offensive stagnation lurks, questionable play-calling floats and the defense had a few crucial slips after playing last week like it was Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” video on loop.
Takeaways from another one that could have been:
1. Save your breath
Will Muschamp will send tape and Ray Tanner can make calls, but complaining about the officiating won't make a difference. It won’t change the result and it almost assuredly won’t cause any suspensions, public reprimands or apologies.
Muschamp was mad, as he should have been, but he did what he had to do. He got in one good jab and shut up.
"Nothing I’m going to say will change anything," he said Sunday night, after confirming he spoke with SEC head of officiating Steve Shaw and commissioner Greg Sankey. "We all saw what happened. That’s in the conference office’s hands."
For those of you advising him to holler and keep hollering, I’ve never understood that. All that does is make his wallet easier to fold.
It’s harsh, but all Muschamp can do is swallow hard and kid-but-not-really to the next head referee. In Knoxville next week, sidle up to the guy and say, “You guys know you owe me a few, don’t you?”
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I do recognize USC’s place in the SEC as having no real rivalries, no real presence and being a younger member than most. That shouldn’t affect any calls on the field — but when I see a guy getting held for 35 yards all the way down the field, I do start to wonder.
2. A tradition unlike any other
It’s a small point.
USC doesn’t have many great traditions. It’s the result of not having much football greatness. I admit that having train cabooses tricked out into luxury boxes outside of the stadium is a unique touch, but it’s not like everybody gets to use them — those are claimed by zeroes, and lots of them, on checks to the athletic department.
Still, “2001” is nice. It’s a memorable song and a strong entrance through the smoke.
Loses a lot when the last note plays and there’s no team running out. Not that it affected anything but it does bring to mind questions about the team’s readiness.
3. Stick to what script?
It’s no secret that coaches like to plan their first 5-10 plays. That’s probably all you’ll get from a week of opponent prep until the defense begins to adjust.
The Gamecocks were doing great Saturday, even after losing Rico Dowdle after the first play (his knee was scanned Sunday afternoon but the results aren't in. An update is expected by Tuesday). The flea-flicker from Tavien Feaster to Ryan Hilinski for a 41-yard toss to Bryan Edwards was brilliantly planned and executed. And even without Dowdle, USC punched in the touchdown to finish an eight-play, 75-yard drive.
After that? With no Dowdle?
USC didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do and never performed any of it well enough to make a real difference.
After that first drive, the Gamecocks ran 36 plays for 80 yards. They didn’t start moving again until Florida led 38-20.
Lot of plays left out there, but I keep going back to the drive midway through the third quarter. Mon Denson gashed Florida’s middle for 25, 6, 14, none and 2 yards on consecutive plays, then Feaster came in for a 14-yard carry.
First-and-goal at the 6. The Gamecocks had run on every one of eight straight plays to get there.
Hilinski dropped back to pass. Sacked. USC ran twice more for a total of 2 yards. Kicked a field goal.
There’s an epidemic of coaches who decide not to call what should be obvious because “that’s what they expect us to do.”
They expect it because it works.
4. The Rookie
I should have saved all my texts after the Alabama game. Some of them were even from Clemson fans I know gushing to me, “Looks like they found themselves a quarterback.”
Hilinski deserved every congratulations after Alabama. USC lost, but he had arrived, and visions of another Connor Shaw were prevalent.
Since, he hasn’t been bad.
But he hasn’t been Alabama.
“We got to throw and catch the ball better. We have just not been consistent enough,” Muschamp said. “You can’t rely on the running game all the time.”
It’s not all Hilinski. USC dropped a few balls Saturday. The protection wasn’t great, even with Florida missing its two best pass-rushers.
Yet Hilinski missed on several deep posts. They didn’t much throw intermediate unless it was an emergency check-down.
Muschamp could have blamed Hilinski’s struggles on it being cold and rainy.
5. Coming back around again
It couldn’t be over-stated how well USC’s defense played last week. It tackled, it wrapped, it played tight coverage and it didn’t have stupid penalties.
They weren’t on the field nearly as much this week, but it seemed like it with the offense punting for most of the second and third quarters. As such, the mistakes began to mount.
On that 75-yard touchdown run that shouldn’t have counted, R.J. Roderick spun right around Dameon Pierce’s waist. Jaycee Horn had his first career interception removed after he facemasked the guy just before it. Jammie Robinson (who otherwise played marvelously) and Roderick stood and watched Jacob Copeland jump, catch, land and sprint past them for an inexcusable touchdown.
Kyle Trask stepped out of too many tackles to buy time and then throw to open receivers (whether they were sprung from illegal pick plays or not).
Don’t finish tackles, don’t finish wins.
Been on this beat longer than Brad Scott’s list of what foods complement Heinz ketchup. I figured the Gamecocks got their miracle last week and weren’t going to do it again.
I could give you a few words about how this is USC and back-to-back wins over top-10 teams isn’t what they do or how of course there would be some kind of outside influence (like, say, the referees) that would hover over the game. But they lost to a top-10 team.
Florida is better.
Then again, so is Georgia.
USC can still get six wins and thus a bowl game. It can get more than that considering how beatable Texas A&M looks and how one never knows what happens in a rivalry game.
Maybe it’s a good thing USC lost. The most USC and Muschamp situation ever would have been cemented if the Gamecocks had beaten No. 3 and No. 9 in back-to-back weeks and then lost to a Tennessee team he’s never lost to as a head coach.
No way USC overlooks the Volunteers now, and after them is Vanderbilt, which is still not good despite beating Missouri on Saturday. Then comes Appalachian State, which is quietly 6-0 and ranked in The AP Top 25.
Get those three, A&M is some non-Shreveport or Birmingham bowl insurance. Everything’s still there.
Worry about the Vols looking pretty good with Brian Maurer at quarterback … and Vandy beating a Missouri team that USC couldn’t … and that Appalachian has won its last 12 … and that USC has yet to beat the Aggies since A&M joined the SEC … later.