South Carolina Football: Were Gamecocks Overrated or Just Outclassed?

William Renken@@williamrenkenCorrespondent IIIOctober 23, 2012

October 20, 2012; Gainesville FL, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Justice Cunningham (87) reacts on the bench during the fourth quarter against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks 44-11. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

You have to love headlines like that. Pure instigation for the South Carolina Gamecock fans out there and ammunition for their constituent haters. I.e., University of Georgia fans.

Regardless of your affiliation, the events of last Saturday in the The Swamp do not represent a Gamecocks squad that was overrated. Rather, the 2012 Gamecocks were outclassed in the third rung of their mini gauntlet through three Top 10 teams in the SEC.

Let's cut right to the chase; what has been the identity of the 2012 South Carolina Gamecocks? Certainly not their offensive prowess. Certainly not their extraordinary play at the quarterback position or even their ability to effectively, consistently run the football.

No, the identity of the Gamecocks and what has contributed to the nationwide attention they have received has been their defense. A defense anchored by arguably one of the best defensive players in the country, Jadeveon Clowney (36 tackles, 7.5 sacks this season).

Despite a 44-11 destruction against the Florida Gators, South Carolina only allowed 183 yards to Florida. The reality is, three short fields created by three bonehead turnovers turned into three quick touchdowns which set into motion the grim, embarrassing ending for the Gamecocks.

If we go back three weeks ago, South Carolina only gave up 224 yards to Georgia but managed not to put the ball on the turf and set Columbia ablaze with a 35-7 victory.

What happened against Florida was an offensive unit that was completely and utterly outclassed and unprepared to rise to the occasion against a wily, focused bunch of Gators. The numbers speak for themselves: 191 total yards (36 of which were rushing).

Hell, they even forced Steve Spurrier to go back to his carousel of quarterbacks when he subbed in Dylan Thompson for the second half.

In the end, it was a game that was about rising to the occasion.

The Gamecocks defense did their part (or as much as they could deliver), and throughout the three weeks of hosting Georgia and road tripping to LSU and Florida, the game against the Tigers is their one outlier of not playing up to their hype or potential.

How badly the offense was outclassed against Florida (and even against LSU for that matter, barely 211 yards later) truly showed how far South Carolina has to go to really make that next step toward celebrating in Atlanta and even beyond.

They had 191 yards against Florida, 211 against LSU.

That is a case of being outclassed. Eighty-sixth in the country in passing, 83rd in running. Shaky in moving the football. Unreliable. Hard to say they were overrated when Florida showed exactly what they are: inconsistent and still fickle in stepping into the center stage of college football.

Clowney, Devin Taylor, Shaq Wilson. Those guys have risen to the task as has the rest of Lorenzo Ward's squad. The Gamecocks are the No. 9-ranked defense in the nation despite the two-game losing streak.

And with an offensive unit with a lot of questions surrounding Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore, it will be that justifiably touted defense that will be called upon to be the anchor for a final four games that can easily be a month-long letdown with the hopes of an SEC Championship dashed.