A Tale of Two Halves or: Too Little Too Late
Given the strength of schedule this year, a win against Kentucky could have been considered a must if the Gamecocks were going to have a successful season and tally more wins than the 2014 squad. Despite this year's Kentucky being unarguably more talented than average, Kentucky is just not a team that South Carolina is supposed to take a loss against: South Carolina owns a 13-2 record between 2000-2014, and 7 of those were against the best teams Kentucky had seen in decades led by Rich Brooks. Having now lost 2 in a row is extremely depressing, and does not bode well for the rest of the season or the immediate future of the program.
You can point your finger at several plays in the 2nd Half and lay the blame of the defeat there: attempting 3 straight passes after 1st and 10 from the 11, Alan Knott's personal foul after Carson runs the ball to the 2 yard line, Orth's interception in the final offensive series, failing (in a major way) on the 2-point conversion after Jerell's TD. The truth, however, is that the game was lost when we gave up 327 yards and 24 points in the 1st Half. After giving up an interception on their first series, Kentucky scored points on every remaining possession in the half. Given the state of our offense and lack of playmakers on that side of the ball, we cannot expect to be able to carry a 24-7 deficit into the locker room at halftime and come out with a victory. The fact that we were even able to make it close is astounding in its own right.
The defense is a complete enigma so far in 2015. They've given up 38 points and gobs of yards in 4 quarters in 1st Halves, and then completely shut teams out in 4 quarters of 2nd Halves. The performance last week is particularly mystifying: 4 three-and-outs followed by a four-and-out, 9 yards of offense on their first 4 possessions, and only 72 total yards in the 2nd Half. This is tremendous performance against any level of opponent. If the defense had been able to play at just 70% of this level in the 2nd Quarter, the Gamecocks likely get the win.
This review has been almost entirely negative so far (losing to Kentucky at home, giving them their first road victory since 2009, won't generate many highlights), but it is important to note that there were some good aspects of the game. Aside from the dominant performance by the defense in the 2nd Half, I think you can say that overall Perry Orth's performance in his first significant action was a pleasant surprise: 13 of 20 for 179 yards and a TD (and 1 INT), making him the best QB on the field. Brandon Wilds had his first 100 yard game of the season, Pharoh Cooper had 9 receptions for 100 yards, Skai Moore got his 3rd pick of the year (currently leading the SEC in that category), and true freshman Quandeski "Boosie" Whitlow looked really good pressuring the QB.
In my preseason preview, I predicted the Gamecocks would get 8 wins in 2015. After the loss to Kentucky, and considering performance in the first 2 games, 4 wins (1-7 in the SEC) is looking more likely. South Carolina is going to have to play much better from here on out just to just get bowl eligible.
Bill Connelly from Football Study Hall has a great detailed breakdown of the game here, and you can watch the full Kentucky game below, if you must: