South Carolina got its first SEC win of the season with an agonizing 21-20 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday. It was Shane Beamer’s first career conference win as well. Their record sits at 4-3 on the season, but the Gamecock staff still has more questions than answers as they hit the back side of their schedule. Despite taking an early 14-3 lead and racking up over 420 yards of offense, last weekend’s performance was more head scratching than comforting. South Carolina needed a game winning touchdown drive engineered by Zeb Noland to avoid having Vanderbilt end their 15 game SEC losing streak in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Gamecock Staff Has Plenty to Clean Up
This team is currently at a crossroads of perception. The Gamecock staff has made it a point to preach positivity and praise the good things their team is doing. While there have been notable improvements in the offensive production the last few weeks, the number of mistakes and negative plays seems to be growing as well. This past Saturday saw South Carolina top 400 yards of offense for the first time since the season opener. Unfortunately, they coupled that positive production with 10 penalties, four turnovers, and multiple plays of negative five or more yards. Success is just not sustainable with those, mostly self-inflicted, mistakes piling up.
The other issue for these coaches is their game management. The player rotations at some positions have been puzzling at times, and some of the in-game decisions have been flat out poor. The Gamecock staff has often talked about an aggressive mindset they want to coach and paly with. That is great in theory, but sometimes there is a need to ‘read the room’. The pension for attempting fourth down conversions while in field goal range with an offense that struggles to move the ball and score must reevaluated. This team can not afford to leave points on the field, and they have too often this season.
Shooting Yourself In The Foot
The second half against the Commodores was as frustrating a half as many Gamecock fans can remember. Considering this program’s history of mediocrity, that is an alarming statement. The Gamecocks had two drives in the 3rd quarter in which they gained over 60 yards, but those drives resulted in zero points. One drive ended with a fumble inside the red zone. The other was stalled by penalties, negative plays, and resulted in a missed field goal. Vandy scored on their possession sandwiched in between those possessions to take a 17-14 lead. South Carolina responded by going interception, three and out, interception on their next three drives. Luckily their defense only allowed 35 yards after giving up the lead, and they escaped with the drive by Noland.
Flag Them Down
The turnovers and negative plays are not good to have, but some of that can be down to a talent issue with the South Carolina roster. Keep in mind this program won just 6 games the previous two seasons combined. However, penalties can be laid on discipline and focus, which is up to the Gamecock staff to clean up. Through seven games, the garnet and black rank 115th in the nation in penalties, with just under eight per game. To contrast that, South Carolina opponents have been called for the second fewest penalties so far this season. Despite having a defensive line playing at at high level, Gamecock opponents have been flagged for one holding call in seven games. South Carolina has had 20 holding calls made against them.
This team has little margin for error. The number of penalties must be cleaned up. Far too often this season when the team is doing some good things on offense, an ill-timed flag halts any momentum. Add in the negative plays, and this offense can’t get out of its own way far too often. They have lived behind the chains in long down and distance situations in 2021. This team is simply not producing consistently enough to overcome that.
South Carolina still has a chance to make a bowl game. This would be an extremely positive accomplishment in Beamer’s first season. If they hope to reach that goal of six wins and bowl eligibility, the mistakes must be reduced. That is on the Gamecock staff to clean up over the next few weeks. The defense is playing at a pretty high level, and the offense has gown and improved this season. However, the mistakes and penalties negate much of that growth, and will kill any chances this team has of finishing strong.