It's already cliched, but this game was really two games in one. There was the first half that was an example of Murphy's Law for the Gamecocks, and then there was the second half which was what should have happened for 60 minutes. What that tells us about this team and what it means for the rest of the season depends on your perspective.
If you are negatively inclined, though you may call it realistically inclined, you may see the first half as a warning for how bad USC can play. Will a half like that show up against Georgia? or Tennessee? or Clemson? Could a clearly inferior team be given another golden opportunity to ruin South Carolina's season? Those thoughts won't leave the minds of many Gamecock fans.
Others, those that are a bit more optimistic or have shorter memories, might like this team's resolve and the way they played in the second half. They may think Saturday was a wake up call and that the team will be stronger for it.
For me, I'm somewhere in between. Objectively we know that anyone can win the game when the teams line up on Saturday. But we often have trouble visualizing exactly how many unlikely events must occur to let the underdog triumph. Sadly, we got to see exactly how a face plant could look in the first half. Happily, we're good enough to overcome a horrid first half against Kentucky.
When we're playing our best, we can go undefeated, but we can also flush it down the toilet at any minute. This is a new Carolina, but games like Kentucky in 2010, Auburn in 2011 and the first half of this weekend's game show that Carolina still self destruct at a moment's notice. It's not a given that they will, but we know for sure they can.
After two disparate halves, here is what I learned this weekend:
1. Marcus Lattimore is fine, and he can carry the load when we need him to. 23 rushes for 120 yards (5.2 ypc) is a healthy running back. Expect more of the same as the season goes on.
2. Connor Shaw might put up elite numbers this year. Last week he was 20-21. This week he was 15-18. In back to back weeks of conference play Shaw completed nearly 90% of his passes. That's not bad.
3. South Carolina is much, much better than Kentucky. I learned that in the second half. It was a dominating performance when one was needed.
4. On a Saturday when defenses often couldn't be found at many games around the country, ours looked like it still could be elite, not in the first half of course but in the second. In the second half they gave up 70 yards and didn't let the Wildcats cross the 50. Elite.
5. It looks like we're going to keep playing with fire until someone returns a kick for a TD against us. For some reason, we won't kick the ball out of the end zone. Our coverage isn't good enough for that, and we will get burned. It needs to stop, now.
6. The receiving corps doesn't revolve around one star anymore, and that set up can work too. 7 different players caught balls. That's good balance.
7. We will be lucky to get one holding call a game. Our defensive line is getting held on nearly every play. For some reason none of that is being called.
8. When we are near the goal line and need to score, Marcus Lattimore is far and away the best bet, but we might try Connor Shaw running a few times on that first possession anyway.
9. The swinging gate, that gimmicky, antiquated formation we line up in for extra points, is better left for middle school teams, not Top 10 teams.
10. Some plays call for leaving the back side defensive end unblocked. Opposing teams shouldn't do that if Clowney is the backside defensive end.