The goal for South Carolina in week five was to hold its opponent, No. 9 Texas A&M, under 20 points. The Aggies were without wide receivers Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil, so this benchmark seemed attainable.
All appeared to be on course for South Carolina at halftime; the home team forged a 7-7 draw. However, a consistent balance of the run and pass from quarterback Trevor Knight catapulted Texas A&M to a 24-13 win. South Carolina didn’t meet its target, but it did contain A&M’s offense.
Only one aspect of Texas A&M’s performance stood out in a positive way, but it was enough to make the difference. A total of 216 rushing yards enabled the Aggies to dictate the tempo of the second half and establish noticeable leverage on Saturday evening.
“Defensively, you know, I think third down really hurt us in the game,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. “Not being able to get off in some critical third down situations. We’ve got to man those guys up in certain situations and play them better, play tighter coverage at times– I was disappointed of that.”
Since Knight did not have his usual crop of receivers to throw to, the Aggies’ passer relied heavily on Christian Kirk to move the Texas A&M offense early on, finding the wideout on a bevy of quick passes into the flats, short-to-intermediate routes, and handoffs out of the backfield.
Kirk ended the contest with 12 receptions but only 61 yards and without a touchdown, a modest showing for a high-volume workload on Saturday. South Carolina was able to key in on the Texas A&M passing attack and keep the explosive receiver bottled up.
Other aspects of the Gamecocks’ defense left something to be desired. South Carolina faces a zone read attack each day in practice, but Knight was still able to break contain on several runs. The Aggies’ running backs, primarily Trayveon Williams, were able to find space along the edge, too.
“They had been very good running the ball, and [Knight has] done a fantastic job for them athletically with some of the things they do,” Muschamp said.
“Right now, defensively, we have to fit things perfectly right, we have to be in the right gap, because we don’t have much overlap to be able to overcome a misfit out front.
“We don’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s frustrating. I’m very frustrated for our players right now.”
Muschamp actually singled out Williams’ long run as one of the examples where the Texas A&M offense adjusted to the patterns it observed early in the game.
“Give them credit, they made a couple of adjustments in the run game,” Muschamp said. “That 49-yarder, that was the same one we fit probably 15 times in the first half for less than a three yard gain, so we’ve got to be right right now.
“We are playing just decent. Don’t be confused with good.”
The Gamecocks’ defense will have what appears to be an easier task this week when Georgia comes to town. After five games, the Bulldogs rank 50th nationally in rushing yards per game and tied for 81st in the passing department.