David Cloninger assigns grades to USC’s 24-21 Independence Bowl victory against Miami:
He took a couple of sacks, misfired on a few passes, threw some bizarre jump-screen passes, but Dylan Thompson had an overall great game. He was 22-of-34 for 294 yards and two touchdowns, ran in the game-clinching TD and didn’t turn the ball over. His TD to Mike Davis on a busted play was a hat tip to their chemistry, he would have had two more had Pharoh Cooper not let one go through his hands in the end zone and had a ball not smacked off Damiere Byrd’s helmet. Thompson finished his career by staying upright for the few crucial seconds to run out the clock, and he finished a year where he wasn’t perfect, but he was plenty good.
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Miami’s defensive front made running the ball difficult. The Gamecocks carved out 60 yards – Mike Davis earning 55 to leave him 18 short of 1,000 for the season – but outside of a Byrd 19-yard end-around, the running game was stifled. The backs themselves fought but had nowhere to go. Davis had some tough runs and logged the game-clinching first down.
The running game was going nowhere, so Thompson took to the air, and his receivers held on through some vicious hits. Nick Jones finished a fine, if understated, career with three catches for 14 yards, Byrd had three for 61 and K.J. Brent turned himself into a starter with two first-down catches. Brent also sealed the edges on the play of the game – Cooper’s 78-yard catch-and-burst TD. That Cooper kid had an OK day as well.
Jerell Adams caught one pass for 5 yards and was lit up on another drop, keyed by a high snap. He wasn’t targeted much.
The line didn’t pave much of anything for the running backs, especially through the middle. Alan Knott again played well, but two high snaps cost the Gamecocks two first downs. He also was flagged for holding on a touchdown run. Thompson took two sacks, but the pressure was there all day. It was a performance indicative of their year.
There was constant pressure on Brad Kaaya, they got some hands on Duke Johnson so the linebackers could wrap him up and Gerald S. Dixon forced and recovered a fumble that led to the game-clinching touchdown. There were still problems – far too many runs right up the gut and linemen still unable to shed blocks – but it was a good performance considering that J.T. Surratt and David Johnson didn’t play.
Skai Moore again led the team in tackles, and Jonathan Walton played the game of his career – tallying a few pops on Johnson and the tailbacks and grabbing a tipped ball for an interception. The most talented group of defensive players shined in Shreveport.
Miami was going to run, so USC stacked the box and let the DBs find their own paths. It was a 50-50 day. D.J. Smith was toasted on Miami’s final touchdown, Brison Williams didn’t stick his man on a two-point conversion, and there were more missed tackles to key long runs after contact. It wasn’t all bad – Chris Lammons got away with slight interference on a touchdown pass, and Sharrod Golightly was hammering Miami players all day.
Landon Ard had three touchbacks, the return game got going with some very strong runs and Tyler Hull had a strong 44.8 yards per punt. Elliott Fry missed two field goals, though, one a 58-yarder that had no chance, but the other – a 40-yarder – should have been money.
OVERALL GRADE: B