David Cloninger looks at every aspect of South Carolina’s last game and assigns a grade. Go to the head of the class if the grades you assigned the Gamecocks match his.
NO. 13 SOUTH CAROLINA 35, KENTUCKY 28
Connor Shaw, for some reason, seems to play his best football when he’s coming off a shoulder injury. Only a few days after he was thought to be lost for a week or two, Shaw completed 17-of-20 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 50 yards and another score. His best play was sliding at the end of a 31-yard scamper, knowing full well that going in head-first had gotten him rung up or fumbling previously in the season. Dylan Thompson only played one series and was ineffective, but he didn’t do anything to harm the team.
Mike Davis wants the ball, Mike Davis gets the ball, Mike Davis produces with the ball. He had yet another 100-yard game, scoring twice and spinning for the extra fourth yard on third-and-3 late in the game, when USC really needed that first down. Shon Carson didn’t do much, but he didn’t lose any yards, and Pharoh Cooper was a nice addition to the running game as a Wildcat quarterback.
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All of the receivers did a much better job getting open, and Damiere Byrd again led the crew with a five-catch, 98-yard day, including a 62-yard touchdown four plays into the game. USC utilized its runners out of the backfield and even found Kwinton Smith and Cooper for a catch apiece, while Nick Jones made an excellent leap and grab for a two-point conversion on the last touchdown.
Really anxious to see Jerell Adams get the ball more. That guy is a grown man. Get him in the open field and he’s a nightmare to bring down, and he’s doing an excellent job of catching his quarterback’s eye when the QB is facing a blitz. Busta Anderson continues to get a catch or two, although he’s yet to get a touchdown. That’s not a bad thing – USC is hitting a lot of big-play touchdowns, and inside the red zone, the ball needs to go to Davis.
Very quietly, the line has had a stellar season. Davis doesn’t get that first hole to step into without the line blocking it open, and Shaw doesn’t get as much protection as he does without the line standing and refusing to yield. The Gamecocks did give up three sacks on Saturday, and only one to Thompson, but overall, the linemen played another fine game. Clayton Stadnik continues to show that there is no drop-off from starter Cody Waldrop.
By numbers, the line did well. Of the two sacks and four tackles for loss that the team collected, D-linemen had 1.5 and 3.5, respectively. Kelcy Quarles played the best game of his season and Darius English was certainly in frame a lot, rushing the quarterback but getting pushed away from the pocket as Jalen Whitlow stepped up. Playing without Jadeveon Clowney, the line did as well as it could be expected to. Solid, not spectacular.
Lot of missed tackles, but through three quarters, it wasn’t anything that was really glaring. Then the fourth quarter hit, and as it has a habit of doing, nearly negated all of the positive from the first three quarters. The familiar slant routes began appearing, the Kentucky receivers were racing past the linebackers and USC couldn’t stop it. Between this group and the defensive backs, they bear the brunt of allowing the Wildcats to score 21 points in one quarter.
The Gamecocks began to get roasted in the zone, so they switched to man-to-man. Seems pretty simple. So why was Javess Blue racing untouched on the edge for a 33-yard gain, leading to the Wildcats’ third touchdown of the fourth quarter? More missed assignments and more non-execution, that’s why. It’s one thing to miss a tackle every now and then, it’s another to spike a ball on an incomplete pass to give the opponent 15 free yards. Not finishing a game and contributing to it with penalties is a recipe for disaster.
Elliott Fry has been one of the best surprises of the season, the freshman continuing to show stone-cold money mentality when kicking field goals, and Landon Ard has tremendously improved since launching his first two opening-game kickoffs out-of-bounds. There were no long returns given up, but the unit can’t get a top grade due to Bruce Ellington’s fumble (after a really nice return). That fumble changed the complexion of the game and gave Kentucky an easy touchdown.
OVERALL GRADE: C-
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