You'll have to pardon the unintended yet apropos pun, but many Gamecock fans channelled their inner Chicken Little over the weekend following Carolina's 35-27 loss at Auburn.
Based on reaction on Twitter, Facebook and the call-in show after the game you'd have thought the Carolina program suffered its most embarrassing loss ever, that Stephen Garcia would make a better quarter horse than quarterback and that Steve Spurrier finally proved he belongs on the golf course everyday. None are true, but a lot of fans want to believe they are.
Let's start with some of the real reasons a large faction of Gamecock Nation is angry - and has reason to be.
1- Giving up a big lead...First, after giving up a touchdown on Auburn's first drive the Gamecocks scored three straight TD's of their own, though a missed PAT on the third made the score 20-7 at that point. Auburn then took a 21-20 lead, Carolina scored again to make it 27-21 before the Tigers scored the final 14 points of the game. Get a big lead and hold it. Fair reason to be upset.
2- Four second half turnovers...Two fumbles by Stephen Garcia and two interceptions by Connor Shaw doomed the Gamecocks late in the game, no doubt about it. For each player though, I truly only blame them for one apiece. Garcia's second fumble and Shaw's first INT were bad mistakes by players whose first responsibility is to protect the ball. The other Garcia fumble was made on a solid defensive play, while Shaw's second pick came in desperation time. The ball was near Alshon Jeffrey, but he was covered by three defenders, one of whom made the play.
3- Defensive letdowns all night...It was great to have Shaq Wilson back in the lineup, but he alone won't make things better against a team with a weapon like Cam Newton. Carolina's vaunted D gave up 492 total yards, 334 of them on the ground. Half of those rushing yards were gained by Auburn's big QB. The Gamecocks - and Ellis Johnson - knew EXACTLY what Auburn's plan was and simply couldn't stop it. Missed tackles, bad angles and a superior Auburn offensive line all contributed to a brutal night for the defense. They're better than they showed at Jordan-Hare, but that's a moot point.
I could keep going but there's no reason to. The Tigers were more physical "in the trenches" all night. In the SEC, if you keep getting pushed around on the line you're likely to lose after four quarters. No one singular play (or player, or coach) cost Carolina the win. It was a collective failure on many fronts. Simply put, Auburn was better than Carolina all night and won the game.
Now for some good news. Despite all the aforementioned failures, Carolina had a chance to tie the game on its final possession. They were in the game all night. Garcia, as predicted, had a good night through the air, going 15-21 for 235 yards and three TDs. Shaw was 4-8 for another 70, giving the offense 305 total passing yards. To that end, Jeffrey had 192 receiving yards in the game, fourth best night ever by a Carolina receiver. The confidence gained through the air should serve the team well moving forward.
As for larger goals, they're all still attainable. Carolina is likely to be tied with Florida when the Gamecocks host Alabama next week (the Gators visit Tuscaloosa Saturday). Believe it or not, losing to Auburn only counts as one loss, though to hear some tell it the loss doomed Carolina to another season of mediocrity. While beating Bama will be a tall order, it's doable. Pull off the upset and you're right back in the hunt. Even losing to the Tide won't be a killer - if there's no more losing before the trip to Gainesville in November.
Bottom line: Carolina is 3-1. They're still in the Top 20. They have a week off to heal and extra time to prep for America's best team. They have some exciting young talent. They have a terrific coaching staff. Yes they had a bad game. At times it was very bad. They've been worse though.
If you called in Saturday blaming Garcia's fumble or Spurrier's decision making, stop. That wasn't the difference. It wasn't the end of the season either. Relax. Enjoy the off week. Quit looking for a scapegoat. The Gamecocks are good, and they have a lot of football left in them.
Saturday night in Auburn an acorn hit the Gamecocks on the head. It wasn't the sky at all.