Head coach Steve Spurrier has a serious problem on his hands that likely won't end well. His players aren't responding to the coaching staff as if they are an SEC contender and seem to already have their bags packed for next season. Some may attempt a do-over in college or will bolt for the NFL, but this season seems to be lost for the Gamecocks.
Motivation: It may be one of the most underrated traits a head coach can have. It's the ability to keep players hungry and always looking to dominate the next task. Alabama's Nick Saban is one of the best motivators in the country, as his team isn't satisfied with winning three national championships in four seasons.
His players continue to have that chip on their shoulder and play nearly every game with passion and the will to win.
As for South Carolina, it's a team that has looked lackadaisical all season long. From its 41-30 loss to Georgia to nearly losing to Central Florida, the Gamecocks have sleepwalked through the first half of the season and aren't playing with a point to prove. Kentucky scored 21 points in the fourth quarter of its 35-28 loss.
The old Gamecocks would have closed the game out in impressive fashion.
Even with one loss, they're still in the thick of the SEC race and have an outside shot of competing for a national title. But you couldn't tell by watching them.
But the big concern was dropped before the conference game against Kentucky when star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney told the coaching staff that he wouldn't be playing. He did miss practice during the week due to bruised ribs, but the plan was to have him on the field come game day.
Nobody thought his injury was serious enough to miss playing time and the scratch from the lineup was shocking to everybody.
But what sets off the alarms is Spurrier's press conference following the win over Kentucky:
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward?
DC Ward: "I was totally surprised" when Clowney said he couldn't play.— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) October 6, 2013
This is an awkward situation no matter how you slice it. A player is injured and removes himself from the game right before kickoff. A coach doesn't seemed concerned at all and comes off as if he doesn't care that the season is slowly beginning to unravel.
Uh, he can play if he wants to, if not, I don't care. We'll move on without him if he can't go.
Huh? Instead of coming across as nonchalant, you should be asking questions.
Sure, it's the coach's job to make sure the next guy is prepared. The show doesn't stop just because a player is injured. But if this doesn't raise a red flag, nothing will. When was the last time a coaching staff was kept in the dark on an injury?
This isn't a kicker who pulled a leg muscle warming up, it's one of the best players in college football. You're telling us you didn't know Clowney wasn't going to play? Coaches know everything.
Has Steve Spurrier lost the team?
The status of a player's injury may not be clear to the public, but coaches are well informed of how each player is doing. He wasn't ruled a game-time decision or questionable leading up to kickoff. Spurrier said it himself. It was a surprise that he wasn't suiting up.
This stuff doesn't happen every day and shouldn't be swept under the rug.
If Clowney truly couldn't go, fine. An injury should never be taken lightly. However, Spurrier is either lying about not knowing the severity of the injury, or Clowney is mailing it in for the NFL. Either way, this is bad news for the South Carolina head coach.
This may explain why Clowney has struggled most of the season to produce.
Sure, being double- and triple-teamed most of the year plays a part in why he's 15th on the team in tackles, but removing yourself from a game at the last second seems like he isn't motivated as much as last season. In fact, the entire team has this attitude.
South Carolina would have lost to UCF if it wasn't for running back Mike Davis putting the team on his shoulders in the second half. Vanderbilt and Kentucky lost their games by a combined 17 points. The team does just enough to get by mediocre opponents, which isn't going to fly when matchups against Florida and Clemson take place.
There's too much talent on both sides of the ball for this team to barely get by against lesser opponents.
What once came off as a team and Clowney issue now seems to be a coaching problem. It's the coach who needs to keep that competitive edge intact and the players inspired. Once players get lazy and bad body language becomes the norm, everything begins to fall apart.
This isn't to say Spurrier should be on the hot seat. He's helped turnaround a program that was down in the dumps and turned it into a national championship contender. However, this could be the beginning of something tragic. Once you lose the team, you've lost everything.
To some, it was just a player missing the game due to injury. To others, the problem is a lot deeper than that.