This was supposed to be the year that the South Carolina Gamecocks finally arrived. The country has seen South Carolina come agonizingly close to making the trip to Atlanta three years in a row. The Gamecocks have beaten the SEC East champion three years in a row, but letdown losses to the likes of Tennessee and company have proven to be fatal. The season opening blowout loss to Texas A&M likely means South Carolina fans will have to wait another year before returning to Atlanta for the SEC title game. It’s a long season and the team can turn itself around after week one’s poor showing, but here are the three reasons South Carolina won’t win the SEC East in 2014.
1. No pressure on the quarterback
Kenny Hill, or “Kenny Football” to some, threw for 511 yards against South Carolina. Yes, Hill was starting his first collegiate game ever. Yes, Texas A&M was in a quarterback controversy coming into the opener. Yes, the game took place in Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ defensive line produced so little pressure that it looked like a practice with no pads. South Carolina’s strength on defense has always been the defensive line. The likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram used to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. The Dixon brothers, Darius English and J.T. Surratt? They were out on a picnic while Hill and his receivers eviscerated the South Carolina secondary.
The secondary is incredibly young and only has one senior, Brison Williams. Williams was banged up on Thursday, and that inexperience was exploited on nearly every play. The defensive line MUST create pressure if the Gamecocks have a chance to be a contender this year.
2. The turnover battle
South Carolina’s defense was one of the most respected units in the country last season, and it all revolved around the 30 turnovers the Gamecocks forced. The Gamecocks were decent as far as yards per game, but the unit really had a knack for stealing the ball back for the offense.
Likewise, quarterback Connor Shaw was the master of protecting the football. South Carolina’s winningest quarterback in school history threw 24 touchdowns and ONE interception in 2013. An incredibly favorable turnover margin meant a lot of success for Carolina last season. It’s doubtful that the Gamecocks will enjoy that same level of success this year. The defense won’t generate many turnovers when quarterbacks have all day to throw, and Dylan Thompson simply can’t protect the ball like Shaw can. South Carolina will struggle mightily to get their defense off the field without forcing turnovers, and the offense will be sloppier than last season.
3. Mike Davis‘s Health
South Carolina’s offense lives and dies by the running game. Dylan Thompson is a fine quarterback with good receivers, but junior running back was supposed to be the focal point on offense. Davis accrued over 1,100 yards in 2013 and pounded defenses week in and out. Davis has some trouble with his ribs and barely featured in the season opener. The offense failed to establish the running game or control the tempo with backups Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson, and the team suffered because of it. Yes, Dylan Thompson threw for four touchdowns and 366 yards, but much of that was because of awful marking and hitting wide open targets on busted plays. South Carolina won’t get that lucky every week. The Gamecocks NEED a healthy Davis to make sure they have a healthy offense. Without Davis to worry about, all the pressure will be on Thompson and his largely unproven receivers.
Never say never in football, but the Gamecocks have a mountain to climb if they are to return to Atlanta.