David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s win over Florida.
NO. 11 SOUTH CAROLINA 19, FLORIDA 14
W: No matter how it looked, no matter how it was obtained, the Gamecocks won. They won on a day where they didn’t have their best stuff against a team that didn’t know it was a two-touchdown dog, and they won on a day where they again received an astounding bit of good fortune. Auburn nearly choked away a game that it dominated against Georgia, only to see a tipped pass become a touchdown on fourth-and-18 and give it the ballgame. That set the Gamecocks up with an astounding scenario – despite thinking it was over after the losses to Georgia and Tennessee, all USC needs is a Missouri loss to Ole Miss or Texas A&M to go to the SEC Championship Game. Nutty how it worked out, but it worked out. USC took care of its business, no matter how cleanly that was, and has quite more than a puncher’s chance to get back to Atlanta. And Ricardo Louis, and Josh Harvey-Clemons, I suppose, have a free lunch in Columbia any time they want it.
SMALL FRY: Elliott Fry, who sometimes appears so frail that he would fall over if caught in the aftermath of someone blowing the fluff off a dandelion, has a backbone made of girder and a resolve that doubles for adamantium (for you unlearned folks, that’s the stuff that Wolverine’s bones are laced with). The kid who looks like he still sleeps with a teddy bear delivered four field goals to bail out a beleaguered USC offense, including a career-long 45-yarder, and knocked in a chip-shot 22-yarder while some spirit towels were littering the end zone after a no-good touchdown throw to Shaq Roland. That gave USC a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, and Fry then added to the lead with a 43-yarder. Somehow I don’t think he’ll be a walk-on after this year. Shoot, the way he’s going, he might be elected to the Board of Trustees as a sophomore.
IT’S ALWAYS THE QUIET ONES: Shon Carson, who always looks like he swallowed a keg of nails but talks like he’s Shy Ronnie, was the only legit and healthy running back option for USC after Mike Davis was dinged up and Brandon Wilds had a hamstring injury. All he did was take a routine draw for 58 yards to set up USC’s go-ahead scoring drive and post his first career 100-yard game. He ran much more strongly and not tentatively in his most extensive action of the season and ran USC out of serious trouble.
FIND A WAY: Even when he’s having a horrible night, Connor Shaw manages to make something happen. On fourth-and-3 from the Florida 32-yard-line, trailing 14-6 and having missed more passes than he completed in the first half, Shaw rolled right and had nowhere to go. So off his back foot, on the run, he rifled a pass to the end zone, and Brian Poole got all twisted around, and Bruce Ellington reached to his left and snagged it for a touchdown. Just the way it was drawn up, right?
THERE YOU ARE: Even with his ankle twisted – typically for this season, on a tackle-for-loss that wound up not counting due to a holding penalty – Jadeveon Clowney played his best game of the season. Two tackles for loss among five tackles for the game, Clowney leaped from his crouch and enveloped runners behind the line. That’s what the Gamecocks have needed from him, and he shut down some big Florida opportunities.
WRAP: Either Florida coated its uniforms with Crisco, or USC decided to see how effective it could be while tackling with the gusto of an old man watching birds in the park. Florida was hit and kept going. Florida ran through wide-open holes. There was no mystery about what it was going to do – with Skyler Mornhinweg basically told to not fumble the handoff, the Gators were going to run. The Gamecocks still seemed mystified by it, and while they played much better in the second half, their first half was about allowing two touchdowns to a team that was setting records for offensive futility.
RATHER BE LUCKY THAN GOOD: Shaw was casting into double coverage quite a bit, and his floater to Busta Anderson that was hauled in at the 2 was a classic example of playing for interference (which USC got, but turned down due to Anderson catching the ball). The Ellington touchdown was charmed. Mornhinweg played very well until his next-to-last throw, which was a freshman mistake – trying to make something happen, he threw on the run and was 10 yards short, seeing it swallowed by Jimmy Legree. USC got the big play(s) when it needed to get it(them).
MODEL CITIZEN, ZERO DISCIPLINE: Kelcy Quarles jumped offside on a fourth-and-4 that would have been a punt, resulting in a first down. Jordan Diggs hit Mornhinweg after he launched an incomplete on third down, that would have forced a punt, to result in another first down. J.T. Surratt swatted a facemask after a first-down stop, resulting in 15 free yards. This is the kind of stuff that championship teams don’t do.
GRIND IT: Speaking of not-clutch plays Landon Ard belted a kickoff out-of-bounds for 10 free yards after USC had just taken the lead (although he was great at all other times). Tyler Hull punted twice for 26 and 25 yards, the last landing out-of-bounds (although he did launch a perfect kick 49 yards, that rolled to the 1, before the last drive). USC’s special teams continue to be just part of the bad side of the game.
WHAT DID HE DO?: This space has been devoted before to this topic, and will be again. Quite simply, it’s mind-boggling. What did Mike Davis do that makes him so reviled to the play chart?
It’s not the offense after Davis was obviously hurt on the first offensive play of the second half. He was hurt, Steve Spurrier and Co. did what needed to be done. They cycled in the next back, which was Carson, and he responded.
Before that, trailing 7-6 and then 14-6, was the question.
The SEC’s formerly leading rusher got eight carries in the first half. Eight. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry. After he ran for 23 yards, then 3 more, on the Gamecocks’ first drive to set up shop at the Florida 2, USC called a pass play, then a Shaw rush, to force a field goal. Davis rushed for 5, 2 and 8 to get a first down at the 40, then saw four pass plays, a QB rush and a punt.
Shaw said it takes a lot for running backs to carry the ball 20, 30, 40 times a game. And it does. But Marcus Lattimore did it. Davis is just as good, if not better.
Davis does get up gingerly after a lot of runs, but he still goes back in the game. He wasn’t so beat up from the recent toll, as Shaw said, that he couldn’t start.
It’s like there’s panic when USC gets behind, even 7-6, and the Gamecocks think the only option is to throw. Shaw wasn’t sharp on Saturday, which left the run, and Davis was averaging over 6 yards per carry. Yet, the Gamecocks still threw the ball.
Mike Davis is USC’s best offensive option. He’s being treated like an afterthought.
As Alice said, curiouser and curiouser.
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