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. 14 SOUTH CAROLINA 34, MISSISSIPPI STATE 16
** WARNING: All offensive grades are skewed by one of the strangest offensive days I can remember.**
Connor Shaw completed only 50 percent of his passes, which for him, is a rotten day. But four of his 10 completions went for touchdowns, and he didn’t throw an interception. He also stayed in the pocket, only rushing three times. His throws from mid-field weren’t anything to write home about, but he knew what to do in the red zone.
Again, Mike Davis gets the ball and good things happen. While his first-half touches were few and far between and didn’t go for much (outside of a 23-yard scamper), he broke loose in the second half with one 43-yard run and a 30-yard leaping catch on the very next play. Shon Carson had a nice day and Pharoh Cooper got his most extensive action yet in the Wildcat. The only problem here is why there wasn’t more of it.
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The ball was again spread around, Shaq Roland re-emerged from obscurity and Damiere Byrd, with a diving touchdown catch, continued to be USC’s best receiving option. The criticism was that many of the receivers weren’t helping Shaw out when he was flushed from the pocket, by running back toward him. Even if only three of the pass-catchers are actual wide receivers, they’re catching the ball.
Two straight weeks where they’ve been back, and really back. Jerell Adams ran a perfect route, boxing to the left side of the end zone, and ran under a Shaw pass for a score. Busta Anderson only had one catch but if Shaw had seen him on a wide-open post earlier in the game, would have had a touchdown. They share in the credit and the criticism of the receiver corps.
Mississippi State got a lot of pressure off the edge, but Shaw only took one sack (and that was from a middle blitz). The run-blocking was good, except for one possession that started on the USC 5-yard-line. The Bulldogs stacked the box and Davis was swallowed. Great jobs on the passes that became touchdowns, but the rest of the game was merely OK.
After a tough first possession where Dak Prescott ran through it, USC clamped down on the MSU quarterback and began punishing his offensive line. The Bulldogs began to go side-to-side early, which put the pressure elsewhere, and whenever Prescott dropped to pass, USC was on him. Jadeveon Clowney missed a sack, but J.T. Surratt got a huge one.
I thought this was the group’s best game to date. The LBs were running all over, very active, making MSU constantly switch its game plan because there were no open lanes. Skai Moore made a tremendous diving catch of a tipped ball for an interception. Put it this way – Cedrick Cooper was thought to be the best of the linebackers, and he hardly plays. Why? The other youngsters have taken his spot.
Victor Hampton and spur Sharrod Golightly each played outstanding games. Golightly was playing the edges early, taking terrific pursuit angles to the sidelines and holding on for tackles, while Hampton broke up two touchdown passes and straight ripped a fumble out of a ball-carrier’s hands, recovering it before he stepped out-of-bounds. Golightly also recovered a fumble and Chaz Elder napped a pick.
The only questionable moment was Landon Ard’s line-drive kick to open the second half, but it didn’t end up hurting USC. Elliott “Small” Fry was money on two field goals, one from 44 yards, and Tyler Hull had a decent 40.4-yard average on his punts (and he was used a lot). It was consistent, which isn’t a word that’s been used a lot in relation to special teams this year.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
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