COMMENTARY

It's not losing to Kentucky, it's the way USC lost

BY DENNIS BRUNSON
dennis@theitem.com
Posted 10/4/18

South Carolina football fans should not be upset with the Gamecocks' loss to Kentucky on Saturday. After all, USC had lost the four previous meetings with the Wildcats, and for the first time during that stretch Kentucky looked like, at the very …

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COMMENTARY

It's not losing to Kentucky, it's the way USC lost

Posted

South Carolina football fans should not be upset with the Gamecocks' loss to Kentucky on Saturday. After all, USC had lost the four previous meetings with the Wildcats, and for the first time during that stretch Kentucky looked like, at the very least, that it was on equal footing. UK was undefeated and had dominant victories over top 25 teams - at the time - in Florida and Mississippi State.

That's not to say, however, that Carolina fans should not be fit to be tied after the 24-10 setback. Why? Because of the way they lost -- again -- in a big game. South Carolina did not give itself a chance to win the game.

If the Gamecocks had lost a close contest to the Wildcats there still would have been some severely disappointed fans. They would have to be with five straight losses to a program which most consider USC to be better than, but at least they could point to the aforementioned qualities of the season to date for Kentucky.

When you point out though all of the shortcomings the team had throughout the contest, therein lies the rub with Gamecock Nation. Just like in the Georgia contest, the defense had the one quarter in which it had no clue how to stop the Kentucky offense. Quarterback Jake Bentley underthrew three different receivers on what could have been game- or momentum-changing plays, numerous drops by wide receivers and running back A.J. Turner inexplicably tripping over his own feet when he appeared headed for a touchdown.

It wasn't a lack of effort; it was a lack of execution. For Bentley, that has been the case in big games last season and to date this year. In some games, it has been him being high with his passes, but against Kentucky he was coming up short on some tosses.

On the first play of the game, USC goes for the downs and Bentley has wide receiver Bryan Edwards behind the Kentucky defense. He puts too much air under the ball, giving the UK secondary time to recover and knock the ball down.

Later, Edwards is again running free, and if Bentley hits him in stride, it is a touchdown. Instead, Bentley throws short, forcing Edwards to stop and make the catch. Of course, he did not, negating what would have been a big gain.

Finally, Bentley did a tremendous job scrambling to avoid a couple of sack attempts by the Wildcats. That allowed running back Rico Dowdle to become free, but Bentley, having to throw across his body, left the ball short and UK picked up one of its three interceptions and four Carolina turnovers for the game.

It's not all on Bentley as USC had six drops, including two by Edwards and one by wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Still, Bentley has steadily underperformed in games that can be defining moments for South Carolina each of the past two seasons.

Expectations were understandably high for Bentley after the tremendous performance he had in seven games as a true freshman, coming in and leading USC to four victories after not playing in the first six games in a year in which he was supposed to be a senior in high school. Based on the 17 games since, Bentley has at best remained at the same level despite Carolina going 11-6 in that time frame.

Many people point to head coach Will Muschamp's record against top 25 teams at South Carolina, and Florida for that matter. It is not very becoming, but at USC it can be argued that he has been behind the 8 ball. Plus, four of those top 25 losses have come against Clemson and Georgia, Clemson in 2016 and '17 and Georgia last year and a few weeks ago.

In reality, it's games like the ones against Kentucky and the supposed lesser lights in the Southeastern Conference that have led to frustration. Whether too amped up or too laid back, the Gamecocks have shot themselves in the foot on more than one occasion.

Muschamp must find a way to get his team ready to go in those games. The next one? Saturday against Missouri.