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.
TENNESSEE 23, NO. 11 SOUTH CAROLINA 21
By the numbers, this was a rotten performance, even though they’re a bit skewed. Connor Shaw was a pedestrian 7-of-21 for 161 yards, a touchdown and an interception, his first of the year. Dylan Thompson only threw one pass, and completed it, for 5 yards. Now, Shaw gets a bit of a break because I can think of at least four dropped passes, where the ball hit receivers in the hands. Otherwise, he was floating a few passes like he did last week, and was hesitant to let it go at other times. He did run for 78 yards and a score, which was good, but the pick was just a violation of textbook fundamentals that a senior should never have happen. This was no tipped ball or receiver running the wrong route; this was throwing back across his body while on the run, trying to get a pass over two defensive backs.
Mike Davis posted another 100-yard game, his sixth in seven games, and continues to lead the SEC in rushing yardage and rushing yardage per game. Nothing wrong with him, getting 137 yards despite Tennessee focusing on him. With the game so close, he and Shaw were the rushing game and basically the entire offense for USC. Squarely focusing on the rushing game, they had a terrific day.
Where to start? The fact that Shaq Roland, Bruce Ellington, etc., all had drops? That many couldn’t get open, leaving Shaw to either run or get sacked? That only four receivers caught seven balls between them, and two of those were Davis and Busta Anderson? Outside of the ever-improving Damiere Byrd, USC’s receivers barely showed up.
The tight ends have mostly been an afterthought this year, early drops in the season and an offense functioning well without them taking their toll. In this game, they were barely on the field. Anderson caught one 25-yard strike and was targeted in the end zone, but Shaw over-threw him. Hard to grade somebody when they’re not really playing.
USC dearly missed Ronald Patrick, the zone-read not doing much and Shaw’s protection not as strong as it has been. Clayton Stadnik played his first bad game at center, rolling one snap to Shaw, bad-snapping another that became a lost fumble and high-snapping several more. Davis did get 137 yards, though, and Shaw had 78 more on the ground, so it wasn’t flat-out terrible.
The line, led by Jadeveon Clowney’s best game of the year, played very well. Linemen had 7.5 of the team’s 14 tackles for loss, including the only sack of the game. Going against a mammoth offensive line, USC did well to disrupt Justin Worley’s timing and hold Rajion Neal to 77 yards. There were some knocks – Clowney’s facemask wiped out a third-and-short stop that was negated and became a touchdown, and Kelcy Quarles horse-collared Worley to add 15 yards on what became a drive for a field goal. But the line set up what was overall a good defensive day.
Tennessee ran a lot of plays off the edges, and USC’s linebackers were forced to make a lot of open-field tackles or push them toward the sidelines. Mostly, they did. T.J. Holloman had seven tackles and Skai Moore had six more. They’re improving, which is all that could be expected from such a young group, but still gave up some runs straight up the middle from Marlin Lane.
Repeating a theme from the entire defense, the secondary mostly played well. There were a lot of hits behind the line as USC played up, adjusting to the Volunteers’ side-to-side approach. Tennessee’s receivers just made some great catches. Jimmy Legree had a pick-six caught right in front of him and then, of course, there was the Marquez North catch that was the game-winning play. Ahmad Christian couldn’t have covered that ball any better. What hurt USC was Kadetrix Marcus getting thrown out for making a form tackle, which put T.J. Gurley and Chris Moody into the game since Chaz Elder was hurt and didn’t play.
Don’t know if there’s one word that can accurately describe how atrocious USC’s special teams were on Saturday. Across the board, they were rotten. The shine finally came off Elliott Fry when he left a 45-yard field goal well short. Tyler Hull was an afterthought, averaging 36.2 yards per punt and kicking one 23 yards when USC really needed an escape. Pharoh Cooper was an adventure on catching returns, and never dropped one, but clearly has some learning to do on what to do and what not to do on return. USC got nothing on its return game, with only one starting position beyond its 35-yard-line.
OVERALL GRADE: D
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