When a team gets near the halfway point of the season and you still have the same questions or complaints about the team that you had after the first game, it might be time to admit that you've hit upon the team's identity. And it's time to admit that this just might be what South Carolina is.
What is that? A team constitutionally incapable of playing consistently for four quarters. Once again, South Carolina played exceptional football for a quarter or so -- this time at the beginning of the game -- and put a lesser team on the mat. Once again, they let that lesser team once again make a game of it before finally putting away the game for good. And with a critical three-game stretch coming up that could either keep the Gamecocks technically alive in the East or bury their divisional hopes for good, that's not an encouraging pattern.
Against Kentucky, South Carolina very quickly opened up a 21-0 lead. It was 24-7 at halftime and 27-7 as the third quarter ended. But the Wildcats were driving, and the Gamecocks were about to do what they do so well: allow UK to score 21 points in the last quarter, with South Carolina scoring its own touchdown amid that onslaught to hold onto the win. In its last three drives, Kentucky gained 176 of its 301 yards of total offense. A game that should have been a laugher suddenly became competitive.
That's a dangerous habit to get into as the Gamecocks face a three-game road trip (at Arkansas, at Tennessee, at Missouri) that could easily derail their bid for a third straight 11-win season. Each of those three teams will pose unique challenges that the South Carolina defense will have to address if the Gamecocks hope to win. And based on Steve Spurrier's comments Saturday, it might be a task they face without Jadeveon Clowney.
Kentucky, meanwhile, continued a losing streak that is now in its third game. And it looks unlikely to end as the Wildcats return to Lexington, where they will face Alabama next week. That's another team that could pile up a big lead early -- only the Tide won't be quite so willing to fritter it away.