For one half, it looked as if the South Carolina Gamecocks would leave Orlando, Fla. with a second loss on their ledger before returning to conference play next week.
At halftime, the Gamecocks trailed Central Florida 10-0 as the Knights took advantage of several things; the major one being an injury to South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw, who sustained a shoulder injury in the first quarter, and did not return for the rest of the game.
His replacement, Dylan Thompson, was not able to find a consistent rhythm, and the Gamecocks were besieged by turnovers, penalties and sloppy play in general. It looked as though Steve Spurrier‘s squad would be in for a long day in the state that “The Head Ball Coach” knows as well as he knows his golf game. A state where he experienced success as a player, assistant coach and head coach of the Florida Gators.
Once the teams came out for the third quarter, the Gamecocks looked sharper, and were playing like the No. 12 team in the country. For one thing, Thompson was able to find a comfort zone in the passing game, and running back Mike Davis, who was held in check in the first half — rushing for a paltry 15 yards — found his groove, scoring three touchdowns to help South Carolina to a 28-25 win.
Shaw is expected to be out anywhere from two-to-three weeks recovering from the shoulder injury, meaning the keys to the offense will be handed to Thompson. But that’s not unusual for Spurrier and his quarterbacks interchanging whenever the situation calls for it. That method has been his modus operandi throughout his head coaching career. This time, it involves an injury, not ineffective play.
Davis finished the game with a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns, also a career high. Spurrier, known for his “Fun-N-Gun” offense from his days at Florida, didn’t seem to mind letting Davis carry the brunt of the offensive load this day. That may be the blueprint that the HBC and his offensive brain trust may need to utilize in the coming weeks. Davis, who has averaged at least 114 yards per game, has been more than an adequate replacement for Marcus Lattimore.
If there is an Achilles heel for the Gamecocks, it is a lack of consistency in the defensive secondary. The Knights had 360 yards through the air, despite trailing 28-10 going late into the fourth quarter. But they were able to make some plays in the passing game, exploiting weak areas in the South Carolina defensive backfield.
What about defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who came into the season with a lot of preseason accolades. So far, Clowney hasn’t put up the defensive numbers that he was expected to. Against UCF, Clowney had two assisted tackles. He played both left defensive end and right defensive throughout most of the game, spending most of the snaps at right defensive end.
In the 10 years that George O’ Leary has been the head coach at UCF, his teams have been known to play tough and physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage. They showed the visitors from Columbia that they can play with anyone. After all, they have a win over Penn State on their 2013 portfolio.
As the Gamecocks prepare for a return to conference play, Spurrier and his staff will be working to get the team in focus, and find players to step in and play if they wish to have a major run in the postseason.