Three drives into Saturday’s tilt between South Carolina and Vanderbilt, things weren’t going as expected.
This was a Gamecocks team with an offense that struggled with consistency, and a Vanderbilt team built on a defensive outlook with Derek Mason. Neither attack was near as good as its corresponding defense and the over/under was fewer than 47 points.
Yet in the first two drives, the teams averaged 13.5 yards per play, and among the first 10 drives, only one failed to gain at least 19 yards.
Instead of a defensive struggle, the Gamecocks were in a lightweight shootout, and in that, they still managed to persevere in the 34-27 win.
This South Carolina team isn’t going to play a lot of “its kind” of games, because it’s a team whose identity remains a bit of a mishmash.
At season’s start, the Gamecocks were supposed to be an offensive team, but that didn’t come together before Deebo Samuel was lost and the line was wrecked by injuries. The defense played better than expected, but its ceiling still isn’t all that high.
Saturday, that unit’s arguably best player, Rashad Fenton, had his worst day.
But there might be some upside in that reality.
The Gamecocks’ identity is ever-evolving and shifting, but it means they can thrive in a wide range of situations.
They can play a grind-it-out game like Tennessee, or a quasi-shootout like Saturday night. They can pull out a bad day (Louisiana Tech) or get rolling on defense (Arkansas).
These Gamecocks aren’t complete, aren’t the team that was expected or even the team they looked like at points this season. But they’ve done what’s needed in more than a few spots, and early in a coach’s tenure, that’s much of what you can ask.