COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Time after time Saturday night, the South Carolina defense bucked up and forced Texas A&M to kick field goals at the end of long drives.
It did little good, though, as the Gamecocks could generate little offense in a 30-6 loss at Kyle Field. It was the fewest points South Carolina has scored since its 28-0 loss to Virginia in last year's Belk Bowl.
“We didn’t play very well, especially on the offensive side of ball," head coach Will Muschamp said. “I'm frustrated and disappointed for our players."
With a chance at bowl eligibility on the line, South Carolina managed just 260 yards of total offense, only 102 in the second half. The Gamecocks rushed for only 45 yards, 10 of it coming on a scramble by punter Joseph Charlton.
The Gamecocks were 2-for-15 on third down and did not convert a third-down play until nine minutes left in the game.
With star receiver Bryan Edwards missing the game with a knee injury and South Carolina unable to run the ball, quarterback Ryan Hilinski completed just 16 of 41 passes for 175 yards. Dakereon Joyner replaced Hilinski late in the fourth quarter but was knocked out of the game after a hard hit on a fourth-down scramble.
The Gamecocks had three scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter, but came up short on fourth down twice and settled for a field goal with 3:27 left in the game.
“We just can’t get anything going offensively and we’ve lost confidence and can’t stay on the field on third down," Muschamp said. "… They are not a tempo team and they ended up running 80 snaps on us. It’s frustrating. I hurt for our kids. We need to do a better job for them."
The Gamecocks managed just three points in the first half and then gained just one first down on their first four possessions of the second half. The most telling statistic: Charlton punted eight times, averaging 46 yards per kick. Another punt attempt was foiled when the kick was almost blocked, but Charlton scrambled for 10 yards and a first down.
“We just can’t stay on the offensively at all, can’t get anything going in the run game," Muschamp said. "We are having a hard time piecing anything together in the run game."
“We just can’t get in a rhythm," said tight end Kyle Markway, who led the Gamecocks with five catches for 47 yards. "We go out there and make a few plays but we just can’t be consistent. If we could run the ball better, it would open up our offense a bit more."
Muschamp said he believed his team had a strong game plan for running the ball and used some different formations early in the game. But South Carolina's offensive line could not handle Texas A&M's front seven, which had four tackles for loss and eight quarterback pressures.
“I thought we had some things in the run game, but we knew [defensive end Justin Madubuike] and those guys were good up front. We had a hard time blocking them the last two years," Muschamp said. "We thought we had some things in run game but we are having a hard time creating anything explosive on offense and that makes it very difficult."
Muschamp said his team lost confidence as the game wore on and the offense could not score or convert on third down. The Gamecocks were a dismal 3-for-18 on third and fourth down combined.
“Throughout the game, you feel it on the sideline. You get the frustration, and it’s not just your offense, it’s your football team," Muschamp said. "When you are not able to produce ... then guys try to make plays instead of just doing your job and it happens on both sides of the ball."
Texas A&M led 13-3 at the half and kicked its third field goal early in the fourth quarter for a 16-3 lead. Then, after another three-and-out by South Carolina, A&M tore through a worn-out Gamecock defense for a five-play, 65-yard scoring drive. The Aggies had runs of 11, 14 and 31 yards before quarterback Kellen Mond scored on a 1-yard run to put the game away.
After South Carolina was stopped on fourth down at the A&M 23-yard line, Cordarrian Richardson broke loose for a 75-yard touchdown run to give the Aggies a 30-3 lead with 6:37 remaining.
Muschamp said the defense was worn down by that point.
“They played 80 snaps, and they’re not a tempo team," he said. "… That’s the frustrating part, when you are not able to stay on the field offensively. We started the second half with three three-and-outs. We’ve got to be able to flip the field on offense."
Texas A&M took an early lead, marching 78 yards on 12 plays. The drive was aided by a targeting call against linebacker TJ Brunson, which cost the Gamecocks one of their best defenders for the rest of the game. J.J. Enagbare stopped the drive with a sack on third down from the 11-yard line, forcing the Aggies to settle for a field goal.
South Carolina tied it with a seven-play, 63-yard drive. Hilinski came out firing, hitting Shi Smith with a 41-yard pass to start the drive. But after a pair of 11-yard completions to Kevin Harris and Markway, the drive stalled and the Gamecocks had to settle for a 37-yard Parker White field goal.
Texas A&M responded with a 75-yard drive to regain the lead. Isaiah Spiller did most of the damage, breaking off runs of 20 and 18 yards. Mond then hit running back Richardson, who was wide open, for a 17-yard touchdown pass to put the Aggies up 10-3.
The Aggies tacked on a field goal with 26 seconds left in the half to take a 13-3 halftime lead. South Carolina managed just 158 yards in the first half and was 0-for-6 on third down.