Sapakoff: From 2-0 glee to must-win math for beat up Gamecocks after Texas A&M loss
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS — Playing without key starters requires stepping up, literally.
Jake Bentley dodged Texas A&M blitzers pouring through a South Carolina offensive line missing three starters Saturday night. The sophomore quarterback calmly moved up in the pocket on third down in the second quarter and launched a 45-yard touchdown strike to Shi Smith.
With no Bryson Allen-Williams available to provide an edge rush, defensive tackle Ulric Jones came through with an 8-yard sack on the next Texas A&M series.
It was his first sack of the season. It forced a three-and-out.
But improvisation acts only last so long in the SEC. Injuries and the roar of 96,430 mostly maroon-clad fans finally caught up with South Carolina as favored Texas A&M rallied for a 24-17 victory at Kyle Field.
Once a gleeful 2-0, the Gamecocks are 3-2 (1-2 in the SEC) and beat up. Next week’s home game against Arkansas looks like a must-win in logical bowl-eligibility equations.
South Carolina showed up in College Station missing its best player (Deebo Samuel), best pass rusher (Allen-Williams) and best blocker (Zack Bailey), plus starting right guard Cory Helms.
The Gamecocks lost starting tackle Malik Young and backup receiver Terry Googer in the first quarter.
That means three starters missing from an already shaky offensive line, a tough handicap in any league. That’s why Bentley was sacked seven times and spent lots of the second half running for safe spaces.
South Carolina was out-rushed, 239 yards to an embarrassing 23.
Other edges tilted toward Texas A&M.
The Aggies had The 12th Man — the student body — is “always in the stands waiting to be called upon if needed.” The kickoff coverage team is no longer full of 12th Man walk-ons as it was under Jackie Sherrill in the 1980s, but the noise was bothersome enough.
Yell Practice victims
South Carolina’s kickoff team — and offense — hasn’t been the same since Samuel, a budding Heisman Trophy candidate, was lost with a leg injury Sept. 16 against Kentucky.
Texas A&M on Friday night had Midnight Yell Practice. It’s a road-game tradition, too, but not nearly as festive as the campus version, which includes Corps of Cadets.
It got loud at the most appropriate times for the Aggies.
Eventually, it hurt that the Gamecocks didn’t have Allen-Williams, their on-field yell leader and scariest defender. Out for the season with a shoulder injury, he would have made true freshman quarterback Kellen Mond more uncomfortable.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin might not be thoroughly popular in Aggieland but when tailback Keith Ford scored to snap a 17-17 tie the Kyle Field roar might have rattled windows in small Lone Star State towns from Red Ranger to Stagecoach.
South Carolina is 3-13 in its last 16 SEC road games. Of course, the Gamecocks already won at Missouri this year. And at Vanderbilt last year.
But we’re talking authentic SEC-caliber programs here, not imposters.
It might be easier at imploding Tennessee (Oct. 14) but South Carolina will be the underdog.
And perhaps a three-touchdown underdog at Georgia (Nov. 4).
Win next week at home against Arkansas, and later against Vanderbilt and Wofford. Or else the math of depth problems and road noise will not add up to those valuable extra bowl practices.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff