Perhaps we should have seen it coming. After all, by the time this year's game between South Carolina and N.C. State was over, the two teams have combined for 54 points and 1,224 yards -- over their last three meetings. That's an average of 9 points and 204 yards per team per game. And don't forget the 20 fumbles (10 lost) and eight interceptions over the same time frame.
Only once in those last three meetings has a team gained more than 300 yards -- last year's South Carolina squad (369), whose 34 points would outscore all the other teams in all three games combined. This has not been a series marked by shootouts.
So what do we take away from Thursday night's 7-3 victory by South Carolina over a clearly overmatched N.C. State.
It's ridiculously early in the season to say anything of the sort, but you can expect many to go ahead and predict that Steve Spurrier's offense will underwhelm again. Not that it isn't fair; Spurrier hasn't given us any reason to trust that his offenses will turn around, and those are the kind of snap conclusions people come to after the first game. At the least, what we saw Thursday gives us no reason to believe that Spurrier and QB Stephen Garcia have figured out how to turn things around. Opportunity after opportunity went away; a game that easily could have been a 20-3 victory or more lopsided game was only a Gamecocks win because of a difficult but catchable dropped pass in the end zone by the Wolfpack. Had South Carolina lost this game, there would have been no one to blame but the offense.
For his part, Garcia showed an occassional talent for putting the ball in the right spot when he saw the open man. He also showed a tendency to take off a bit too soon, even if he looked hesitant to do so because of Spurrier's instructions to go through his progressions first. Garcia was clearly better than last year's awful performance against Iowa in the Outback Bowl; by the same token, he was still easily flustered by a pass rush.
There were some encouraging signs for the Gamecocks offense in the running game. The 108 yards was better than last year's 94 ypg average, though the 2.6 ypc average was worse. Brian Maddox, Patrick DiMarco and Jarvis Giles showed the ability for tough, long runs that was missing in last year's woeful ground performances.
The defense was strong again; how much of that was simply a matter of appearances against an overestimated N.C. State offense remains to be see. That said, Eric Norwood looks like we expected him to, and the defensive line had little trouble getting into the Wolfpack backfield despite playing without three members of their two-deep.
The Gamecocks didn't have an awful game Thursday -- just their typical game against N.C. State. But if they want to compete in the SEC, they will have to do better.