The South Carolina football team finished their 2014 campaign (I can’t even say 2014-2015 because their season didn’t make it to the New Year) 7-6, comfortably short of their preseason expectations.
Coming into the season with a preseason no. 9 ranking, it seemed that the only unresolved questions were surrounding the departures of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and quarterback Connor Shaw, two of the best, most important Gamecocks in the history of the South Carolina football program.
With fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson set to take over for Shaw however, the general consensus was that the offense was in good hands.
As it turns it out, Thompson was indeed more than capable of directing the South Carolina offense to one of its most prolific statistical seasons in history. He led the SEC in passing yards and was third in passing touchdowns, but his propensity for untimely turnovers and late-game collapses were a common thread in most of South Carolina’s losses.
5 of Thompson’s 11 interceptions came in fourth quarters (per ESPN), very much the opposite of Connor Shaw, who not only took care of the ball much better (1 INT in 2013), but who could be counted on down the stretch.
The entirety of the blame for late-game collapses cannot be put on Thompson though. South Carolina’s biggest weakness this year was the defense, in particular their defensive line.
The loss of Kelcy Quarles (2013 team leader in sacks), Jadeveon Clowney (Jahweh), and Chaz Sutton was probably felt proportionally this year, but the drop-off in production was still horrifying. It all started with the failure to produce from the defensive end spot.
Gerald Dixon led the team with two sacks.
South Carolina’s inability to rush the passer made nightmares of games for the secondary, who was having to cover wide receivers for upwards of seven seconds on some plays.
South Carolina allowed a league-high, 5.4 yards per carry and 214.4 rushing yards per game (per SaturdayDownSouth).
South Carolina’s inability to seal the edge allowed running backs to bounce plays outside, rendering any good work put in by the defensive tackles useless, and forcing the linebackers to cover sideline-to-sideline on every play.
In six losses this year, the South Carolina defense allowed 70 points in the fourth quarter. 77 points were scored by opponents against the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter this year, but one of those touchdowns was a pick-6.
When a team with so much talent loses six games, most in humiliating fashion (either blowouts or late–game collapses) it is not because of one shortcoming, but rather a perfect storm of problems. In this case, it was not just Thompson’s turnovers or the lack of productivity from the defensive end position, but a combination of those and other more minor defects that doomed the Gamecocks’ season.
South Carolina did finish the year on the up-and-up with a win over the Miami Hurricanes. That they did not give-away a late lead and in fact hung on to win late was a tremendous positive and one that the coaching staff will look to build upon this offseason.
The Gamecocks will have bigger questions at quarterback next year than they did this year, but much of the youth and inexperience that maligned South Carolina’s defense will be a year wiser in 2015.
If the quarterback situation can be somewhat satisfactorily resolved, the return of an electric stable of running backs (even without Mike Davis, who is leaving early for the draft) and a defense that has nowhere to go but up may render 2014 a mere blemish in the Gamecocks’ recent run of success.