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South Carolina Gamecocks 33, East Carolina Pirates 23: All Better? Hardly

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The Gamecocks looked better this week than they did last week. That doesn't mean it's time to start penciling them back into the race for the SEC East

Grant Halverson

The first quarter of South Carolina's game Saturday felt awfully familiar to South Carolina fans -- in a bad way. The first two East Carolina drives went 99 yards (not counting a penalty against the Gamecocks), Dylan Thompson started out 0-of-3 with an interception, and South Carolina found itself trailing early at home.

Fortunately for the home team, East Carolina twice had to settle for field goals, and the deficit was only 6-0. After his third incompletion of the game happened on South Carolina's third drive, Thompson completed his next three passes, Mike Davis exploded for the kind of 36-yard running touchdown that the Gamecocks missed against Texas A&M. ECU would get back on top briefly in the second quarter, and it wouldn't end up being the Gamecocks' largest advantage of the night -- but South Carolina had a lead for the first time in 2014.

And after retaking the lead in the second quarter, the Gamecocks would never give it up again. Davis was back to doing the sort of things that once made Heisman talk seem reasonable: 18 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns, much of that yardage on a clock-draining field goal drive in the fourth quarter that essentially ended any hopes ECU had of coming back. Dylan Thompson recovered, ending the night 25-of-38 for 266 yards, a touchdown and the interception while adding 19 yards rushing. Shaq Roland still had some trouble coming up with the ball, but he did have seven receptions for 94 yards in the kind of performance that South Carolina fans have long waited for.

But the defense -- the defense still has some work to do. Did it look better than it did against Texas A&M? At times. But it still allowed the Pirates to rack up 453 yards of total offense, including seven yards a passing attempt and 6.3 yards a run. That's two more yards per rush than the Aggies managed in last week's beatdown. The defense had its moments, including two interceptions in the third quarter that essentially won the game for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks forced one three-and-out, before ECU's only punt of the game. The only bright side is that with the possible exception of Kentucky, the Gamecocks are done with the Air Raid for this year.

Beating Georgia will still be harder than beating East Carolina was, and it's not entirely clear that the Gamecocks are up to the task. The running numbers are particularly harrowing for a team that's about to face Todd Gurley. If the only measurement for the Gamecocks is whether they improved from last week, then consider Saturday a success. But the more relevant question is whether they're improving fast enough, and there were plenty of reasons Saturday to believe that the answer is no.