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

South Carolina North Carolina football

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley had another awful day in a season-opening loss to North Carolina. Nell Redmond/AP

CHARLOTTE — Always good to take a step back before the wrapup.

Take into account the situation. The history. The multitude of plays that could and/or did influence the outcome.

So.

South Carolina was atrocious Saturday. There was no way the Gamecocks could or should have lost that game, and yet they did. An entire offseason’s worth of vows to be better, of a team with improved talent, depth and experience, was flushed down the toilet in the same stadium where USC flushed its last bowl game.

It’s a loss that has fans rightfully pointing fingers at the coaching staff, the supposed senior leaders and the administration. It’s a loss that casts doubt over the rest of this year and the entire program.

Trying to make sense of a befuddling and brutal defeat:

Make up your mind

Is this a passing team that can sometimes run well or a running team that can pass, but only if it has to? Four years into the Will Muschamp Era and there’s still no offensive identity, unless “Inconsistent” is the goal.

Throwing the ball a lot would seem to be the best option. The Gamecocks have a senior quarterback and experience throughout the pass-blocking and pass-catchers.

On Saturday, they kept trying to establish the run, and as it hasn’t for the past three years, it mostly didn’t work. Yet they were afraid to throw downfield.

The passing game has been there before. The running game hardly ever has been. As bad as it looked Saturday, it seems USC has a clear choice on what it should feature, never mind about trying to be “balanced.”

Trapped in his own mind

Where is the Jake Bentley who riddled Clemson last year? Was an epic performance in a three-touchdown loss the best it’s ever going to get?

If the Gamecocks can’t trust a QB with 32 career starts, there’s not many others who they can trust. He looked scared and uncomfortable, while North Carolina true freshman Sam Howell looked like he was the biggest and baddest dude on the playground.

I seriously doubt there will be any real competition this week in practice. But when other players start re-tweeting and liking social media missives about giving another QB a chance, that’s not good.

He gone

Deebo Samuel got drafted.

It seems everybody but USC’s offense understands that.

This offense has played two games without Samuel and both have been debacles. There’s no confidence or conviction in the passing game without him.

He isn’t coming back. Coaches have to draw up better plans, receivers have to execute better and the quarterback has to loosen up and quit trying to be perfect.

Shallow trenches

If it starts up front, USC may as well rotate on every play. The offensive line couldn’t pass-protect or open rushing lanes, and the defensive line couldn’t stop any of the Tar Heels’ several runners.

It was a preseason question, as the O-line was only breaking in one new starter but the other four either switched positions or started just one game last year. The defensive line, finally healthy, didn’t do any better than the second- and third-stringers that blamed their struggles on the first-stringers being hurt last year.

Fundamentals

Turns out, a tackle can be made by aiming for the legs and ankles.

That tactic seemed to elude the Gamecocks, who tried to tackle men head-on by the shoulder pads, and were often left pounding the turf in frustration. It would be easy to say it will improve except …

After a preseason of schemes and opponent prep, how do they stop everything and re-learn something they should have learned in grade school in less than a week?

6-6

With the difficulty of the schedule this year, everybody from the administration down would probably have been satisfied with a .500 record and a small bowl game. Not happy, mind you, but understanding.

They probably still will be, but one of those six wins being counted on was as an 11-point favorite against North Carolina. The Gamecocks beat Alabama in two weeks, well, OK, it’s not so bad.

Anybody taking bets on that?

Camelot has fallen

Missouri 2014. That started the countdown on Muschamp’s tenure at Florida.

The Gators lost 42-13 at home despite allowing 119 yards of offense. After the injury-marred 2013 season, that’s what stirred the change (which came, let’s see, oh, right — the day after Florida blew an overtime game to South Carolina).

UNC feels like Missouri. I didn’t use the term “hot seat” because I don’t believe it’s accurate. I think the powers-that-be knew this season would be rough and he would be OK, as long as it wasn’t a complete disaster.

Disaster is suddenly in play. Muschamp lost every bit of faith he had from his fan base Saturday. There are no more excuses, just a team full of his guys that gather in his new operations building and looked completely unprepared Saturday.

Still time for a turnaround, lots of it. But it has to be major, and it has to be now, not in a year or two.

There isn’t a year or two remaining with more results like Saturday’s.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

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