COLUMBIA -- It was only one game. And it was the season-opener to boot.
South Carolina wasn't supposed to be perfect Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette, and it wasn't. Too many missed tackles, giving up over 5 yards per rush and somehow allowing the opposing quarterback to run for 116 yards isn't exactly the definition of an SEC champion.
But hey, it was the first game. If nothing else, there's time to fix the problems before the next game.
At least, that was the excuse before Saturday.
"Now we know we're a bunch of average stiffs, and we will have an average year if we don't play better," coach Steve Spurrier said following a 28-14 win over the Ragin' Cajuns. "So maybe this is good for us."
See, it wouldn't be that big a deal for your average USC football team, the one that entered Saturday holding onto an all-time record of 515-517-44. But this isn't supposed to be an average football team.
Spurrier kept his mouth shut about the Gamecocks' potential for his first two years, because he knew there was no way USC could really challenge for a conference title with the talent it had. As it turned out, he was a major upset away from playing for the SEC championship in 2005 and didn't come close to challenging last year, but that's beside the point.
Spurrier said this was the first year USC could reasonably expect to contend for the SEC title. He said the talent was there and the league was even enough for the Gamecocks to make some noise.
So when the Ragin' Cajuns, from the BCS stalwart Sun Belt Conference, waltzed into Williams-Brice Stadium, blinked a couple of times and were trailing 14-0, it seemed maybe Spurrier was right. Sure, it wasn't against the best of competition, but USC's backup quarterbacks had engineered two quick touchdown drives.
And then it fell apart.
ULL studied the tape from last year's USC-Wofford game and employed it, carving the Gamecocks apart with a mix of quarterback keepers and option pitches. The word seems to be out on the USC defense -- run, run, run and the Gamecocks can't stop it, either because of missed assignments or missed tackling.
"We didn't know what they'd do, but we did expect more from our leadership from a game standpoint," said beleaguered defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, still trying to fix the same problem he had when he took over two and a half years ago. "I thought we'd see more from the leaders."
Nix got production from usual suspect Jasper Brinkley, who again led the Gamecocks in tackles despite playing on a sprained ankle. The only problem was when Brinkley had to take a seat for a series, the defense was suddenly caught in a "What do we do now?" panic mode.
The Gamecocks eventually stopped ULL, giving up chunks of yardage but keeping the Cajuns out of the end zone. But then there were other problems to worry about.
Another terrible night of special teams, sending only 10 men out for two formations, one that ended in a hurried 47-yard field goal attempt that missed. Moe Brown got rung up for penalties on two consecutive plays, despite playing wide receiver. The early momentum from those two touchdowns disappeared when Chris Smelley got intercepted in the end zone.
Bottom line -- it was a medium performance that was good enough to win this week. Next week, at No. 13 Georgia?
Not so much.
"Our team needs to really improve if we're going to have a chance next week and the week after," Spurrier said. "We've played lousy before and won."
Spurrier summed up the night -- not great, but it could have been worse.
They could have been Michigan.