South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier pleads his case with a game official.
One loss may have been okay, but two won't do.
South Carolina couldn't take care of business Saturday against Tennessee, and the Vols' 23-21 upset victory may have dealt a death blow to the the Gamecocks' SEC East title chances. It definitely ends any remote hope they may have of playing for a national championship.
Unbeaten Missouri (7-0, 3-0) is now in the driver's seat after knocking off Georgia and Florida in successive weeks, and if the Tigers can win at home next week against the Gamecocks, the conference office may as well mail the SEC East trophy to Columbia—and that's Columbia, Missouri, not Columbia, S.C.
Georgia did its part to pave the way for Missouri by losing to Vanderbilt, leaving the Bulldogs, Gamecocks and Gators all at 3-2.
It's also what makes South Carolina's loss to Tennessee all the more agonizing. The Gamecocks could have been headed to Missouri next week, where a victory could have put them in front of the Tigers.
Instead, the Gamecocks are left to ponder what might have been.
South Carolina's loss to the Vols was an absolute nightmare, a mixed bag of mistakes, particularly on special teams, leaving the Gamecocks in poor field position time after time.
The defense, with Jadeveon Clowney turning in what was arguably his best game of the season, had some letdowns, but rose up and made stops time and again when put in poor field position.
But the biggest letdown of all came from a Gamecocks offense that had been a model of efficiency all season.
South Carolina's offense turned in a clunker on Saturday.
Call it poor play-calling from coach Steve Spurrier. Call it poor execution. In truth, it was probably a combination of both.
The Gamecocks managed their lowest point total and lowest total yards (384) in a game this season.
South Carolina came into the game averaging 34.5 points and 486.5 yards per game.
An offense that had relentlessly moved the chains all season ground to a pitiful halt against the Vols.
Prior to Saturday, South Carolina had gone three-and-out on only 11.7 percent of their drives this season, the third-best mark in the nation. Against Tennessee, the Gamecocks had six three-and-outs, including their last three possessions of the game.
Those last nine plays netted a total of nine yards.
USC had 14 tackles for loss and lost. That is mind-boggling.— David Cloninger (@DCTheState) October 19, 2013
Perhaps a game like Saturday's was bound to happen sooner or later. South Carolina has appeared to be an unsettled team all season, with defensive lapses leaving the Gamecocks with narrow victories over Vanderbilt, Central Florida and Kentucky.
The circus surrounding Clowney, which led Spurrier to criticize his star player for sitting out the Kentucky game only to apologize three days later, could have and should have been completely avoided.
At the very least, the media focus on Clowney has been a distraction.
Even so, it seemed the Gamecocks had righted the ship with last week's 52-7 victory over Arkansas, the most complete game the team has played all season.
Saturday's letdown changes everything for the Gamecocks moving forward. And they may be doing it without quarterback Connor Shaw, who went down with a knee injury late in the game.
Now Spurrier is faced with the task of motivating his team to finish out a season that began with such high expectations.
What remains is uncertain, but what might have been is long gone.