In one sense, South Carolina got completely outplayed by Texas A&M in their game Saturday. The Aggies had 29 first downs to 19 for the Gamecocks. South Carolina was outgained by almost 100 yards and committed two turnovers. A&M ground out 321 yards on the ground, a figure that would be astonishing if we weren't so used to underwhelming performances by the Gamecocks' rushing defense.
But scoreboards are funny things, and a knack for well-time big plays managed to keep South Carolina in the game. Perry Orth, who would in no normal universe be considered a dual-threat quarterback, rumbled for 66 yards at one point to set up a Gamecocks touchdown. Brandon Wilds ran for 43 yards on another play. Six South Carolina receivers had catches for double-digit yards, including a 47-yard strike to Hayden Hurst, a 27-yard completion to Kyle Markway and a 21-yard pass to David Williams. Pharoh Cooper was essentially silenced (four catches, 22 yards), but when Orth wasn't throwing his two interceptions, the Gamecocks aerial attack did fine.
Of course, that's a whale of a "when." And the Aggies had more consistent success than South Carolina on offense. Kyler Murray was 20-of-28 passing for 223 yards and a touchdown; he also rushed for 156 yards and a score on 20 carries. Tra Carson ran the ball 21 times to add 122 yards and a touchdown of his own. Combine those numbers with Donovan Wilson's two interceptions, including a pick-six, and you get the 35-28 score to end the game.
Which would be a moral victory for South Carolina, if there were any room left for moral victories for this team. But it's not a sign of progress for a continuing Gamecocks regime -- Shawn Elliott is unlikely to get the head coaching job on a permanent basis -- nor is it an encouraging indication that South Carolina could win the games it will need to win at the back end of its schedule to get a bowl berth. It's a close and heartbreaking loss -- nothing more, nothing less.
For Texas A&M, the verdict is a little more muddled. After losing their last two SEC West games by a combined score of 64-26, and being all but eliminated from the division race, a single-score victory over a lackluster South Carolina team is not exactly a harbinger of great things. But aside from the season finale at LSU, there's not a truly foreboding game left on the schedule. If the Aggies continue to play as well as they did Saturday, that could be enough for a nine-win season, regardless of how close the scoreboard looks at the end.