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Gamecocks Lose a Dawg Fight in Athens

South Carolina made its matchup with Georgia much more competitive than most anticipated. In the end, quarterback Spencer Rattler, in his post-game media availability, cited self-inflicted wounds as the reason for not finishing the job. The Gamecocks lost this fight, but there are plenty of observations to note from the 24-14 loss to the number one team in the nation. Here are the top four takeaways from the Gamecocks loss in Athens and a sneak peek at expectations for next week. 

Weapon Disarmed

The major headline to start the game was the health of several South Carolina stars. Most notably, safety Nick Emmanwori and wide receiver Juice Wells started the game. Both players are leaders and playmakers. Having them at full strength gave South Carolina confidence that they could compete in the game. Health has been a major concern across many positions in the first two weeks for the Gamecocks and the problem persisted early on Saturday afternoon.

After marching straight down the field on the opening drive and scoring from 17 yards out on a screen pass, Wells went down in a big way. The star playmaker looked unstoppable on the opening drive with a couple of catches for 32 yards and a score. While the Gamecocks were playing defense, cameras cut to Wells being carted off on a golf cart. Shane Beamerlater updated that Wells has a small bone broken in his foot. The injury is to the same foot that Wells had surgery on recently. The surgery, which left him limited in the first couple of games, inserted a screw that may prove to be beneficial in helping him recover from the latest injury. They do not think the injury will be season-ending. While the Gamecocks found the end zone once more after the Wells injury, the offense gradually declined. 


One incredibly impactful personnel change was the presence of, freshman, Tree Babalade at left tackle. Woes on the offensive line in Week 1 greatly hindered the Gamecocks offense. The change to insert the freshman brought about great success early on as Rattler had sufficient time to throw the ball. However, the downside of leaning on freshmen means living with freshmen mistakes. On the opening touchdown drive, Babalade jumped early for a false start. But the freshman wasn’t alone as his infraction was just the beginning of 11 team penalties that cost the Gamecocks 73 yards. Penalties were the thorn in the side of the offense. Carolina will need to be more disciplined moving forward to consistently win in the SEC. 

Rattler: The Good

Lost in the Gamecocks’ defeat in Athens is that Rattler started the game with the same brilliance that he has played with all year. Perhaps the biggest point of inflection for Rattler in this game came in the third quarter after a missed field goal by Georgia. Then, Rattler was 19 for 23 for 189 yards, a touchdown, and no turnovers. This was just a shade under his season completion percentage of 83%. As the game moved on, he began to face more and more pressure from the Bulldogs. On a third and long play, Rattler stared down a defender running full speed into his face. He unloaded a dime to, tight end, Trey Knox and was crushed by the Georgia defender. Knox dropped the ball, that could have been a first-down completion and more. Georgia scored on the next drive to go up by double digits. 

From that point on, Rattler had to force the ball downfield more than at any point before. This caused his completion percentage to drop and was the reason for two late interceptions. Many will point out that the complete absence of a running game also played a significant role in the pressure Rattler faced. In fact, the quarterback was the leading rusher for the Gamecocks with only 35 yards. However, offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains did a great job in the first half of using short passes as an extension of the run game to keep the Georgia defense needing to defend the line of scrimmage, as well as, passes deep downfield. As the game slipped away, Rattler began to force the ball into more dangerous situations. 

Rattler: Needs Improvement

The major gripe on Rattler from NFL scouts has been his decision-making. This season has proven that in the right offense, Rattler can make sound decisions and be deadly accurate in delivering the football. The greatest weakness that he has shown thus far is his lack of mobility and strength when facing pressure in the pocket. On multiple occasions, Rattler sustained minimal contact and went down. While the Carolina signal-caller attempts to elude the pass rush and move around in the pocket, he lacks escapability and trips up with the slightest touch. This issue showed itself often as the offensive line wore down and Rattler began to bail out of the pocket more frequently in the fourth quarter. 

Two Halves: Gamecocks Win and Gamecocks Lose

The Gamecocks continue to struggle to put together four complete quarters of football. Previously, the defense has struggled to keep opposing offenses down in the early going but makes great halftime adjustments. This game brought the opposite effect. After the first half, the Gamecocks led 14-3. They were outscored 21-0 in the second half. Defensive coordinator, Clayton White should be applauded for his game plan going into this matchup. Whoever put the team in the right mindset to be aggressive and play without fear from the opening kick deserves some credit, as well. 

The Gamecocks simply outplayed Georgia on both sides of the ball in the first half. Knox still left some things to be desired in terms of blocking and the big fourth-quarter drop. But Loggains had a great plan to use Knox in the backfield as more of an H-back to assist in protection and occasionally slip out for a pass. This plan worked well early and then South Carolina seemed to get away from it as the game went on. Much of the quick game that worked in the first half was less present in the second half. 

The second half showed the talent gap between Georgia and South Carolina. The Bulldogs had the ball for over two-thirds of the second half. This exposed South Carolina’s lack of depth on the lines of scrimmage. Georgia imposed its will in the run game to methodically gain control of the score and run the clock. On defense, Georgia turned up the heat in frequent obvious passing situations and forced Rattler to deliver under duress. This resulted in getting the Gamecock’s offense off the field quickly in the second half. 

What We Think We Know

With a quarter of the regular season over, some questions are beginning to be answered. South Carolina may have found its solution at left tackle in Babalade. Though he wasn’t perfect, this group of offensive linemen overall protected Rattler much better than how the team started the season. Wells can wreak havoc on any defense he wants to if he can get healthy. That’s a big “if.” The timeline for his return is to be determined. Beamer said in his press conference after the game that Wells will see a specialist on Tuesday. In the meantime, the Gamecocks have weapons for Rattler. Xavior Legette is still a significant threat as the Gamecocks face a different set of Bulldogs next week. O’mega BlakeLuke Doty, and Eddie Lewis have also shown promise as playmakers. The Gamecocks will look to get Ahmarean Brown back from injury as well. 

The defense is capable of stepping up against big-time opponents. TJ Sanders made numerous plays at defensive tackle and having Emmanwori back at full strength allows this secondary to be truly dangerous from all angles. Depth and consistency will be the issue across the defense. While the starters came to play on Saturday, there is no experience nor the same talent level beyond the top 15 or so. Injuries and lopsided time of possession games could bring disaster for the Gamecock defense. 

Loggains will need to continue to scheme around the lack of a rushing attack. The Gamecocks will get back to work as they seek to clean up mistakes in practice this week. They return home to face Mississippi State next Saturday night at 7:30 in Williams-Brice Stadium.

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports


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