There has been a prototype for half of South Carolina's losses this year: Hold a late lead, then suffer as a combination of terrible defense and a few offensive mistakes cascade into a gut-punch loss, a la Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. Then, there was the narrow and still relatively late-breaking loss to Auburn. Most of the Gamecocks' losses have been close and painful.
Saturday's loss to Clemson was not one of those. It was not on par with the opening-night rout at home against Texas A&M, perhaps, but it was a thorough and crushing loss to an opponent nonetheless. It was different in a few other respects as well. While the defense gave up 491 yards on the day and got repeatedly burned on Clemson fly-sweeps to Artavis Scott, there was a stretch of the second half where the Gamecocks managed to bottle up the Tigers long enough to allow the South Carolina offense to get back in the game. If only they could.
Instead, the Gamecocks spent much of the day seeing promising drives sputter. Between its two touchdown, South Carolina drove to at least the Clemson 30-yard line four times. The results: a field goal, a missed field goal and a two turnovers on downs -- one at the 3-yard line after a 10-play, 72-yard drive. Clemson made its fair share of mistakes, including an interception to set up the Gamecocks' field goal, but South Carolina was largely unable to capitalize.
And with that, and a likely bowl trip to either Birmingham or Shreveport, the Gamecocks enter an offseason of uncomfortable questions. Does Steve Spurrier return for another year, if for no other reason than to try to preserve his legacy? If so, who fills the defensive coordinator position almost certain to be vacated (voluntarily or not) by Lorenzo Ward? If not, then who takes over the entire program? And can problems that seem to run so deep in the current program get fixed over the winter and the spring?
The five-game winning streak against Clemson was the longest South Carolina has enjoyed in the series, and it was bound to end. The bigger concern for South Carolina is that Saturday's result won't be the last in a series of losses that makes the recent golden age of Gamecocks football look like nothing more than a fading memory.