Assigning grades in South Carolina’s 31-14 victory against UCF:
Lorenzo Nunez threw some bad passes (his first was a dropped interception) but settled in very nicely and restored a lot of hope to a struggling team. His 307 total yards were all but 93 of USC’s total output. He ran the zone read well, made big plays when he had to make them and sacrificed himself by blocking for Pharoh Cooper on a touchdown scamper.
The Gamecocks ran for 216 yards, but the actual running backs weren’t great. Without Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson had to be an every-down back, and he couldn’t get much room against an expecting UCF front. David Williams, until the fourth quarter, had six carries for zero yards. Nunez helped inflate the numbers but the standard running game was a bust.
The Pharoh Cooper Show continues despite an early threat of cancellation. The best players find ways to make up for their mistakes, and Cooper did so with a touchdown run off a busted double pass and then another terrific scoring catch. The rest of the receivers? A continued game of not-much. Shamier Jeffery had a catch for a first down (!!!) and Carlton Heard had a couple of grabs, while D.J. Neal did well sealing edges on runs.
Jerell Adams and Jacob August are playing very strong football. They continue to look good in the two-TE set for run-blocking, and they’re each making clutch grabs.
The one sack was a lot on Williams, who whiffed a block. Zack Bailey played well in his first full game at center and the line did OK against a very strong UCF defensive front. Run-blocking wasn’t the best, but UCF was loading the box early. Nunez had time to take his steps and throw.
Boosie Whitlow and Shameik Blackshear did well in their first big action, Whitlow with a safety, a sack and two tackles for loss. USC showing a lot of early blitzes paid off later on, but the production for getting to Bo Schneider was lacking early. The Gamecocks’ front four continues to struggle getting off blocks.
Well, that worked. T.J. Holloman’s move to middle linebacker resulted in two interceptions, two hurries and a tackle for loss. Skai Moore continued to be Skai Moore, with nine stops. While the new package limits Jonathan Walton, USC certainly seems to have improved despite it.
T.J. Gurley led the team with 10 tackles and Rico McWilliams had six. The secondary improved late with a couple of key breakups. That said, early on was the same story. The opponents know they can hit the slant. They know USC cannot keep up with any receiver. It seems to be what it is at this point, and the Gamecocks will have to hope they can someday jump a route.
No problems here, even after one Elliott Fry field goal smacked the right upright. He made a career-long 52-yarder, Sean Kelly is having a superb season and the kick teams, coverages and returns, are doing well. Cooper’s fumble on a punt return was the only yip.
The defense continues to be a work in progress but the offense showed a lot of life and has hope of improvement when Wilds returns. Nunez offers a lot of upside if the Gamecocks can stop some folks. For this week, as bad as it looked in the first half, it was a win.
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