South Carolina failed to complete the “Remember November” campaign with a 4-0 record. The Gamecocks lost to Clemson 16-7 on Saturday night. The Tigers extended their winning streak in Williams-Brice Stadium. It will remain intact for at least another two years when the rivalry returns to Columbia. The Gamecocks have not beaten the Tigers at home since 2013. However, the consequence of the loss that stings the most is the end of the season. The Gamecocks’ season lost its momentum against Clemson, as they failed to reach the 6-6 mark needed to go to a bowl game. There is a slim chance that Carolina will still get a bowl invite at 5-7, but that outcome is not likely. Dowell Loggains’ offense also came to a halt, managing only one drive that even had a chance to produce points. Momentum was elusive against Clemson, and the Gamecocks never grabbed it.
The Disaster Start
The Gamecocks began the game with the ball. Spencer Rattler quickly completed a pass to leading receiver Xavier Legette for 12 yards. In the following play, Rattler brought Legette in motion and then threw him the ball in the flat. The pass surprisingly bounced off Legette’s hands and fell to the field. For a second, Williams-Brice Stadium sighed at the dropped ball and collectively moved on to second and 10. But the officials did not blow the play dead. The pass was backward. A Clemson defender plucked the ball from the turf and ran it in the other direction into the end zone. On the game’s second play, momentum and energy were ripped from the Gamecocks. They never recovered.
In our preview of this game, the atmosphere in Williams-Brice was highlighted as a key to South Carolina winning the game. The energy of Gamecocks fans came to a halt after that play. To make matters worse, Rattler once again loaded up on the next play and looked for Legette. The star receiver was running a post route in single, man coverage, a matchup that almost always works out well for the Gamecocks. Fans collectively drew in a deep breath as the ball was in the air, but instead of a big play for Carolina, the Clemson defender high-pointed the ball for an interception. Momentum was further removed from the Gamecocks. Although the offense scored a touchdown on its best drive of the day the next time it touched the ball, that would be all of the scoring for Carolina on the day.
The Defensive Struggle
Clemson’s defense deserves all of the credit for limiting South Carolina in this game. After historic seasons from both Rattler and Legette, not much was happening on offense on Saturday. The Gamecocks’ offensive line failed in their efforts to get a push against an elite defensive front for the Tigers. One more score on offense would have drastically changed the game’s dynamics. But with no running game, Rattler became a sitting duck each time he dropped back. Routes developed, and receivers flashed open downfield on a routine basis, but the quarterback did not have the opportunity to see them, much less throw them the ball. In what was likely his last game in the garnet and black, the Gamecocks’ quarterback lost the momentum of an otherwise noteworthy season.
The Gamecock defense did their part Saturday night as well. For a unit that has struggled throughout the year, the improvement that Clayton White has coached out of his defense in the final three games of the year has been nothing short of impressive. Although Clemson managed 219 yards on the ground, it only had 319 total yards of offense and failed to find the end zone. Over three games, White’s defense has given up only 29 points. However, a crucial mistake stands out even with the “bend but don’t break” defense showing up strong. After South Carolina tied the game in the first quarter, O’Donnell Fortune made a great play on a Clemson third down. However, he dropped the interception that was in his hands, allowing Clemson to retain possession and kick a field goal on the following play. The turnover there eliminated three points and kept this to a one-score game.
With the season over, the Gamecocks look to gain momentum through many off-the-field avenues that exist during the off-season. The transfer portal opens for 30 days on December 4th. South Carolina needs to strengthen numbers at running back, edge, and linebacker. However, the nature of the transfer portal is that teams will inevitably lose key players as well. The fanbase should prepare to say goodbye to young, promising talent. There will be players who are well known that will decide to leave. As those decisions develop, we will analyze positions of need in player acquisition.
There is also the more traditional method of player acquisition: high school recruiting. The early signing period, which is when almost all players will sign, is December 20-22. The perception is that the Gamecocks’ coaching staff has lost momentum on the recruiting trail, as well. However, they are currently ranked 19th nationally, with 16 commits. The staff is looking to add a couple more pieces, namely running back Daniel Hill and edge player, Southern Cal commit, Kameryn Fountain. Momentum is not lost for the Gamecocks in recruiting, but it does come in waves. There is reason for concern regarding misses at key positions.
Shane Beamer does a great job of building the excitement around the program during the off-season. If the Gamecocks can hold on to most of their current players and make a big splash in the transfer portal, fans will have some relief sooner rather than later. If not, the loss to the rival school, the loss of key players who are moving on to the NFL, and the overall loss of momentum to close 2023 could linger into next season.