The Tape: USC offense stuck in neutral

Injury to Shaw contributing to struggles

jkendall@thestate.comNovember 4, 2013 

Offense isn’t coming easy for South Carolina.

The Gamecocks cruised to a 34-16 win against Mississippi State on Saturday, but it was a rough road for Connor Shaw and company, a review of the game by The State revealed. South Carolina gained a season-low 307 yards against the Bulldogs and converted 1-of-11 third downs.

As Steve Spurrier left the field at halftime, he pointed out, during a short interview with ESPN, that Mississippi State’s defense was getting the best of his offense.

“Six three-and-outs in the first half, that is getting whipped,” ESPN analyst Andre Ware agreed.

It actually was five three-and-outs (drives on which the offense fails to pick up a first down or score) in the first half, but the Gamecocks ended the day with a season-high seven. After averaging .67 three-and-outs through the first six games of the season, South Carolina is averaging five three-and-outs in the past three outings. The Gamecocks’ punting numbers tell a similar story — 2.6 in the first six games, 6.3 in the past three.

The Gamecocks faced too many third-and-long situations against Mississippi State. Seven of their third downs were third-and-5 or longer. Only one, the one they converted, was third-and-2 or shorter.

Spurrier wasn’t thrilled with his offensive line play Saturday, and it was inconsistent, but Shaw’s ailing left knee also is a factor in the offense’s inability to generate more first downs. Healthy, Shaw is maybe the best player in the country in securing a first down when a play breaks down. However, since suffering a knee sprain against Tennessee, he has not been his usual nimble self, and he clearly slid against Mississippi State in situations he usually tucks the ball and runs.

Shaw has rushed 10 times for minus-21 yards since his knee sprain. He has finished with negative yardage rushing each of the past two games after averaging 56.7 yards rushing in the season’s first seven games.

Other observations from The Tape include:

•  Mike Davis continues to turn heads. The sophomore tailback rushed for 128 yards and had an impressive 30-yard reception.

“I don’t think he gets the credit league-wide, nation-wide that he deserves,” Ware said.

•  Jadeveon Clowney made little impact, and it wasn’t because the Bulldogs were afraid of him. Mississippi State ran the zone read in Clowney’s direction a few times, and the junior All-American finished the game with three tackles and one pass breakup. Several times junior Mississippi State left tackle Blaine Clausell got the best of Clowney in one-on-one blocking situations.

“Clausell has proven he can block, or stay in front of, Clowney one-on-one,” Ware said.

•  Defensive backs are wary of junior speedster Damiere Byrd. After scoring catches of 62 yards and 76 yards early in games this season, he is getting very loose coverage at the line of scrimmage. South Carolina took advantage against Mississippi State with a 19-yard pass in the first quarter on which Byrd was wide open on a slant route.

“He’s so fast that you have to respect his speed, and he pushes the DB off so far because you have to respect his speed,” Ware said.

•  Shaq Roland’s first touchdown, a 14-yard reception, was beautiful. The Bulldogs lined up with a single safety back, but the Gamecocks forced him into single coverage at the line of scrimmage by motioning Mike Davis from the backfield to the wide receiver spot on the far right side of the field. Roland, who was lined up in the right slot, then had an easy post route in front of his man that was wide open.

•  Sharrod Golightly played one of his best games of the year, if not his best. Golightly consistently beat wide receiver and tight end blocks on the edge to take away Mississippi State’s wide screen game. Artimus Samuel, the Bulldogs’ true freshman tight end, had trouble holding blocks on the edge that might have opened up big Mississippi State gains.

•  The play recognition by USC’s linebackers is getting better each week, and their improved positioning paid off with two interceptions on tipped passes, one by Skai Moore and one by T.J. Holloman. Kaiwan Lewis had an interception last week against Missouri.

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