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Monday, December 15, 2008
South Carolina season review

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

South Carolina was one of the hardest teams to figure out this season in the SEC.

The Gamecocks played the best defense they've played under Steve Spurrier, and props certainly go to first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and his staff.

But it's also one of the more frustrating seasons offensively that the Head Ball Coach has ever experienced. Simply, the Gamecocks (7-5, 4-4 SEC) just weren't very good on offense. They were last in the SEC in rushing offense, and Spurrier fired offensive line coach John Hunt.

Quarterback was an issue all season. Spurrier went back and forth between Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia. When the carousel had ended, the Gamecocks had thrown an SEC-high 24 interceptions.

Like so many of the teams in the league this season, South Carolina closed with a whimper. The Gamecocks were hammered 56-6 at Florida and followed up that humiliating performance two weeks later with a 31-14 loss to arch-rival Clemson.

Spurrier, who's now lost at least five games in all four of his seasons at South Carolina, was clearly frustrated with the inconsistency at quarterback. He's making another change for the bowl game. Garcia will step back in as the starter against Iowa in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.

Offensive MVP: A hamstring injury limited senior receiver Kenny McKinley early in the season, preventing him from putting up the kind of numbers he did as a junior. But he still led the Gamecocks with 48 catches for 556 yards and four touchdowns. McKinley leaves South Carolina as the school's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards.

Defensive MVP: There were a bunch of guys to choose from on defense, as the Gamecocks finished 11th nationally in total defense. But junior outside linebacker Eric Norwood did a little bit of everything. He tied for the SEC-lead with nine sacks and led all SEC linebackers with 13.5 tackles for loss.

Turning point: The second half of the LSU game changed the complexion of the Gamecocks' season. They had the lead at halftime. The Williams-Brice Stadium crowd was going crazy, and it looked like South Carolina was on its way to a sixth straight victory. But it all fizzled in the second half in a 24-17 loss that saw the Gamecocks held to minus-7 yards in the fourth quarter.

What's next: The Gamecocks need to take care of Iowa in the Outback Bowl, or this season will leave a sour taste in the mouth of everybody connected to the program. Several juniors, including tight end Jared Cook, safety Emanuel Cook and Norwood, are considering their NFL draft options. It will also be a crucial offseason for Garcia.