By Rixon Lane
Even with all the turmoil of the 2014 season, even with all the defensive issues, South Carolina could have been looking at a 9-3 regular season.
The Gamecocks would be heading for a major bowl game if not for three major collapses against Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Believe it or not, those losses weren't completely all on the defense.
The Gamecocks held a 14-7 lead entering the 4th quarter against the Tigers. South Carolina had rushed for just 79 yards on 33 carries in the first three quarters, an average of 2.4 yards per carry. However, South Carolina ran the ball on eight of its first 11 plays of the quarter, taking a 20-7 lead on a drive that featured six rushes for 34 yards. Brandon Wilds picked up 29 of those yards on four carries.
After Missouri cut the lead to 20-14, the Gamecocks got the ball back with 6:49 to go. After Mike Davis, who ran for four yards on one carry on the previous drive, was stopped for no gain on first down, the Gamecocks threw the ball twice for no net gain and punted.
Missouri scored to take the lead and the Gamecocks put the ball in the air four times on their final drive, with all four passes falling incomplete.
From the time South Carolina took a 20-7 lead, the Gamecocks ran the ball once.
Once again, South Carolina held a seven-point lead entering the final 15 minutes. Up 31-24, and having already run for 223 yards on 41 carries (5.4 yards/carry), the Gamecocks rushed four times for 39 yards. Mike Davis covered the final 26 on a touchdown run to give South Carolina a 38-24 lead.
Kentucky trimmed the lead to 38-31 and the Gamecocks took over with 8:01 remaining. Mike Davis picked up 13 yards on first down. Averaging 8.0 yards per carry, Davis was then replaced by Shon Carson, who gained seven yards on two carries. On 3rd-and-3, South Carolina tried to throw the ball and failed to convert. The Wildcats then tied the game.
With the ball, 2:41 to go, and the ball on their own 20, the Gamecocks threw the ball twice. The second pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. 45-38 Kentucky. South Carolina threw the ball four times on the next drive, had another pass intercepted, and lost.
From the time the Gamecocks took a 38-24 lead, South Carolina ran the ball three times.
Like the Missouri game, South Carolina's offense had not been humming on the ground against the Volunteers through three quarters. The Gamecocks had amassed 98 yards on 27 carries entering the 4th quarter, 3.6 yards per rush. Leading 28-21, South Carolina called pass plays three times and was rewarded with a touchdown pass to Pharoh Cooper, stretching the lead to 35-21.
After Tennessee scored, the Gamecocks kept the ball on the ground three consecutive plays. Although they failed to pick up a first down, they milked 2:18 off the clock. The defense then came up with an interception and, after two pass plays put them into 3rd-and-18, Dylan Thompson and Brandon Wilds combined to run for 90 yards and give the Gamecocks another two-score lead.
Tennessee scored again and the Gamecocks recovered an onside kick at midfield. South Carolina ran the ball twice with Davis and forced the Vols to burn a pair of timeouts. Then, needing four yards to extend the drive and potentially win the game, the Gamecocks tried to throw. Thompson was sacked for a loss of eight and South Carolina punted.
Again, Tennessee scored and a Brandon Wilds run on the final play of regulation sent the game to overtime. The Gamecock defense managed to force a field goal. Needing only three points to keep the game going, South Carolina tried to throw on three consecutive downs. Thompson was sacked twice and a 58-yard field goal never had a chance.
After taking a two-touchdown lead, South Carolina ran the ball on eight of its next 14 plays. On three of the final five pass plays of the game, the Gamecocks allowed a sack.
Obviously, stops by the Gamecock defense would render this topic useless. However, when discussing the three most crushing losses of the season, some blame must be laid at the feet of the playcallers.