Bryan Edwards continued his assault on the South Carolina record book Saturday night, hauling in nine catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. His eighth catch, for 23 yards and a touchdown, moved him into first on the school’s all-time career receiving yards list.
But despite nine catches, the senior failed to catch eight passes that came his way.
Whether they were pure drops, overthrows from South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski or tipped balls from the Appalachian State defense, the Gamecocks (4-6, 3-4 SEC) struggled as a receiving corps to catch balls in the team’s 20-15 loss to the Mountaineers (8-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“We had a bunch of drops,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said, including on a Mountaineer interception that was returned for a touchdown. “… Ryan threw the ball well, but it’s hard to rely on some things in the passing game.
Added the coach a minute later when answering a question about Hilinski possibly throwing the ball too fast, “When it hits your hands, we expect you to catch it.
“We had several times that it hit the guys in the hands and they didn’t catch the football. It’s frustrating. We need to cash in on those situations better than we have.”
The coach then mentioned the team’s lack of personnel, “Which was obvious outside.”
SC was without receivers Shi Smith (hamstring) and OrTre Smith (knee), leaving it with Edwards, Chavis Dawkins and Xavier Legette as the only outside receivers who played Saturday who have catches this season. Dawkins entered Saturday with six while Legette, a freshman, had just four.
South Carolina had two drops — and four other incompletions — on what could have been a game-winning drive in the final moments of the fourth quarter, but the team’s struggle catching the football was apparent from the outset.
Edwards dropped a pass on 3rd-and-8 on the team’s first drive of the game, leading to Parker White’s 41-yard field goal that gave the home team a 3-0 lead.
Legette dropped a pass on a 3rd-and-7 and then on the Gamecocks’ next drive let a pass slip through his hands that turned into the Nicholas Ross pick-six touchdown that gave the Mountaineers an eventual 13-6 lead.
Three incomplete passes from Hilinski on South Carolina’s ensuing drive forced a three-and-out.
There was more in the fourth quarter. Gamecock running back Rico Dowdle, who caught five passes for 67 yards, dropped a couple, as did Edwards and Legette.
“Some were some timing things, some were me,” Edwards said. “It is what it is.”
Walk-on Trey Adkins, a redshirt-freshman, had just one career appearance (Charleston Southern on Sept. 7) entering Saturday and had two catches for 33 yards. Chad Terrell, who had played mostly special team in six games, played in his seventh and had one catch, his first of the season, for 11 yards. Jay Urich had one catch, also his first of the season, for 11 yards.
Despite the miscues, South Carolina was in position to win as the clock ticked down with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter.
Hilinski found Edwards in the back right corner of the end zone with less than 10 seconds to go for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown, but the play was called back because of a holding on South Carolina.
“I think I caught it. I don’t know if I was in-bounds or not. You know, it was kind of a bang-bang play,” Edwards said. “It’s one of those plays I’ll have to just go back and look it.”
Edwards had returned after injuring a knee earlier in the game.
“I tweaked my knee. I think I just fell on it wrong,” Edwards said. “I wasn’t really feeling comfortable running for a while. The training staff did a tremendous job help me out and got me to where I was able to go in. I felt pretty good.”
But there was no way the senior, on Senior Night, was going to stay on the sideline.
Muschamp said after the game South Carolina expects to have Smith, and “hopefully” Dawkins, back next week.
“We just need more bodies, man,” Edwards said. “It’s the end of the year, so everybody’s dealing with something. The more bodies you have, the more fresh everybody can be and the faster we can play.
“So it will help a lot.”
Said Muschamp, “You’ve got to go back on the jugs machine. You’ve got to catch more balls. You’ve got to put yourself in position [to make a catch] when you’re running through windows in space.”