Optimism is not a word that has been part of the collective vocabulary within the South Carolina football fandom this week. A bad matchup against Texas A&M pinned the struggling and injured Gamecock offensive line against the elite Aggies defensive front, and fans feared
For a shorter summary of the Texas A&M game, click here.
South Carolina Football vs. Texas A&M:
A Game Summary
Carolina won the toss, and deferred, something that is an interesting decision when playing with a struggling defense. However, a quick 3-and-out paid off Shane Beamer and the coaching staff for that decision.
Two touches for Mario Anderson and a bad drop from freshman Nyck Harbor (the ball hit him in the facemask) meant that the Gamecocks gave the ball right back to the Aggies. Kai Kroeger had a great punt that should have been downed at the 1-yard line, but the USC coverage unit stopped running and let the ball trickle into the end zone, gifting the Aggies 19 yards of free field position.
A nice stop from Stone Blanton was followed up by a Marcellas Dial sack on a corner blitz, but an acrobatic catch from A&M wideout Evan Stewart gave the Aggies a manageable 4th-and-1 that they converted on a quarterback sneak. After another first down, Tyreek Johnson and Tonka Hemingway teamed up for a sack.
Then, on 3rd down, the Gamecocks picked up their 3rd sack of the drive when Bryan Thomas, Jr. and Jaron Willis converged on Johnson. Willis got a strip sack on the play, and the Gamecocks forced another punt. Kilgore ran up and saved his team some field position, fair catching the ball at the 35-yard line.
Nyck Harbor redeemed his earlier drop with a nice 3rd-down conversion, and then Mario Anderson broke multiple tackles on a swing pass to pick up about 15 more yards to move inside the A&M 40. Harbor got free again on 3rd down for the 3rd-and-13 conversion, and the Gamecocks were threatening. A Mario Anderson big gain on a throwback screen made it 1st-and-goal before the A&M stiffened. However, back-to-back wildcat carries from DK Joyner gave USC a 7-0 lead.
More garnet-shaded fire from the Carolina defense forced another 4th-and-short try from A&M in their own territory, but Jimbo Fisher’s team converted again as the 1st quarter came to an end. That was all the Gamecocks would allow, however, three downs later, Nick Constantinou came out to punt again.
Starting at the 23, South Carolina football got backed up even more with an intentional grounding call. A short gain on a Rattler keeper and a poorly executed screen brought Kai Kroeger back out for the punt team. The kick was relatively short, giving the ball back to Max Johnson and the Aggies offense around the A&M 45.
A&M went matchup hunting against the Gamecocks’ man coverage, finding Evan Stewart on back-to-back plays against Stone Blanton and Nick Emmanwori. A personal foul on USC moved the Aggies to the 20-yard line. A few plays later, freshman Rueben Owens made DQ Smith miss on a run fit and galloped untouched into the end zone to tie the score.
A poor performance from the offensive line on the next possession led to a 3-and-out (and another intentional grounding penalty. Kroeger had another bad punt, giving the ball to the Aggies on the Carolina side of midfield.
Clayton White’s defense stopped A&M on three downs again, but Bobby Petrino’s offense had an answer on the ground for the 4th-down conversion as Johnson got just enough on a QB sneak. A big gain to Ainias Smith set up a short touchdown run for Amari Daniels to give the home team their first lead of the day, 14-7.
Rattler found Trey Knox on the first play of the next possession for a 1st down, but a third intentional grounding call against Rattler set the Gamecocks too far back to convert another, and a sack on 3rd down resulted in another short punt by Kroeger and a kick catch interference penalty.
A&M started the next drive on the USC 42-yard line, but it only took one play before they found the end zone again. Somehow the Gamecock defense lost sight of the Aggies’ top playmaker as Ainias Smith had no one within ten yards of him when he caught the ball. A couple of missed tackles later, and the Gamecocks were trailing 21-7 with less than a minute left in the half.
Mercifully, after a couple of plays, the clock expired, ending the disastrous 2nd quarter and taking the two teams to the intermission.
The Gamecocks received the 2nd half kickoff and picked up two quick first downs. A missed defensive pass interference call cost the Gamecocks a chance to continue the drive, but a 49-yard Mitch Jeter field goal got USC on the scoreboard again. The Aggies took over after a touchback, leading 21-10.
South Carolina’s defense stiffened and forced another Texas A&M punt after some successful pass rush snaps forced Max Johnson to throw the ball earlier than he would have liked. On the ensuing drive, the Gamecocks went nowhere, and an Xavier Legette drop ended the drive after just three plays.
Jimbo Fisher’s squad converted two first downs quickly before things got a little weird. Some poor effort plays by the Carolina defense were followed up by a bad targeting call against DQ Smith (he will now miss the first half next week). In the end, a nice play from Nick Emmanwori broke up a touchdown and forced a Randy Bond field goal to extend the lead to 24-10.
The Gamecock offense picked up two first downs on a Mario Anderson carry and a Nyck Harbor screen, and then Rattler found Harbor again for another conversion. Anderson broke a tackle and busted loose for 29 yards to bring USC to 1st-and-goal as the 3rd quarter came to an end.
On the first play of the period, Rattler found a wide-open Josh Simon for a score in the back of the end zone. On the play, defensive linemen Tonka Hemingway and Boogie Huntley were in the game at fullback and tight end, respectively. The Gamecocks, despite being outplayed for most of the game, cut the lead to one possession, 24-17.
Poor tackling effort from O’Donnell Fortune led to a big gain, and then an even longer run from Amari Daniels put the Aggies in the red zone. The defense held up, though, and Bond trotted back out for another short kick. 27-17 was the lead for A&M with about 11 minutes remaining.
After a decent kick return from DK Joyner, the Gamecocks picked up a first down and then elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 a few plays later. Center Nick Gargiulo’s snap never left the ground, however, and the Gamecocks turned the ball over on downs in Aggies territory. USC’s defense had an incredible stand, but Bond drilled a 52-yarder to grow the lead to 30-17.
Working against the clock, the Gamecocks ran the ball multiple times early on the next drive. USC earned two 1st downs, but Tyshawn Russell dropped a pass on 3rd down. On 4th down, O’Mega Blake dropped a ball right near the sticks, ending the Gamecocks’ hopes for a comeback.
A&M was able to burn enough clock to bring the clock under three minutes before Randy Bond’s fourth field goal attempt was wide left. The Gamecocks got the ball back, but DK Joyner fumbled and gave it right back, ending things for good.
South Carolina football lost their fourth straight game, and at times in this one, the Gamecocks were not competitive. At other times, the team showed more fight than they had almost all season.
Mario Anderson put up over 100 yards of offense, and over half of that came after contact. Outside of a strange chunk of plays in the first half in which he had three intentional grounding penalties, Spencer Rattler played pretty well, though his receivers dropped at least four passes. Nyck Harbor also had the best game of his young career. As a whole, the offense wasn’t good enough, but its best (healthy) players played pretty well.
Linebacker Debo Williams, defensive end Tyreek Johnson, defensive tackle TJ Sanders, and defensive back Jalon Kilgore all had some really strong stretches of play for the defense, but the unit still underachieved.