South Carolina's bubble burst early Saturday against Auburn. After four weeks of living dangerously, the Gamecocks imploded at home in front of the home crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium. There was no magic potion, no Melvin Ingram, to come in and save the day as South Carolina fell to 4-1.
The loss dropped the Gamecocks to No. 18 in the AP poll and No. 14 in the coaches' poll. Up next is Kentucky, and kickoff is set for 12:21 p.m. (CBS-Ch. 12).
Here's how the Gamecocks graded out:
OFFENSE: Several adjectives come to mind, but "ineffective" seems to be the best. Against a unit that had been porous all year, the Gamecocks could run only 52 plays and muster 289 yards. South Carolina was bottled up on its own side of the field for much of the game. Marcus Lattimore was held to 66 yards rushing, his lowest output of the season, and Stephen Garcia struggled again. He hit only 9 of 23 pass attempts, and was picked off twice. Alshon Jeffery provided a bright spot with his 50-yard touchdown reception -- he dragged the Auburn defender into the end zone -- but was largely quiet. Auburn figured out what others haven't: load up on the run and force Garcia to throw. GRADE: F
DEFENSE: The unit almost kept South Carolina undefeated with its inspired play. Auburn's offense wasn't as potent as last year's Cam Newton-led version, but the Tigers have been putting plenty on the board. The Gamecocks kept them in single digits until the final two minutes. Melvin Ingram and Antonio Allen continued to rack up impressive numbers, but both said after the game that their accomplishments meant nothing in a loss. Allen had 13 tackles, and Ingram had 11 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks. The unit was on the field for 92 plays, but Auburn could only put up 358 yards. If Barrett Troxler doesn't get off that touchdown pass with Ingram breathing down his neck, the Gamecocks are still undefeated and rising in the polls. GRADE: B+
SPECIAL TEAMS: We'll never know if Jay Wooten could have made the game-tying field goal after time ran out with South Carolina on the Auburn 30. I'm guessing it would have been less than 50-50 because he would have been kicking into the wind, and it would have been roughly 47 yards. He's hit longer field goals, but who knows what he would have done in the pressure situation? Wooten had an extra point attempt was blocked early in the game. Punter Joey Scribner-Howard had several of his early kicks nearly blocked, but his average improved after he abandoned the rugby-style rollout. South Carolina returned only one kick all night; Auburn's kickers kept the ball away from the Gamecock return men. GRADE: C
COACHING: Steve Spurrier hinted at making changes in his postgame remarks. "We'll make some changes if we need to, and we probably will," the Head Ball Coach said. Spurrier might want to start at the top. The Garcia experiment isn't working out as he had hoped. Garcia is capable of running an offense that piles up yardage and points, but the last three games have been a struggle. The offensive line let the Gamecocks down Saturday with several penalties and not giving Lattimore any room to run. At the end of the game, South Carolina got the ball on its 20 with 1:38 to play and two timeouts. South Carolina wasted a timeout after a holding penalty put them in a third and 20 hole. The Gamecocks picked up the first down, but had to call their final timeout. With eight seconds left and no timeouts, Garcia's pass to Bruce Ellington was complete over the middle for 12 yards. The game officials signaled end of the game, although Spurrier felt there was still a second left. Even if there was, that wouldn't have been enough time to spike the ball or run the field goal unit out. GRADE: D
OVERALL: South Carolina's players, coaches and fans will look back on this game as "one that got away." But in reality, it might be a good thing for the struggling team. The Gamecocks have plenty of talent, but merely showing up doesn't guarantee a win, particularly against SEC foes. There is still much this team can accomplish, including a repeat as SEC Eastern Division champs and a return to Atlanta for the title game. A possible berth in one of the BCS bowls is also still on the table. A loss could be the catalyst for great things, or it could be the first crack in a foundation that is crumbling. We'll see how they respond Saturday against Kentucky. GRADE: D+