David Cloninger

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: UMass

Game Balls: Top USC performances against UMass

Carson Mason awards game balls to some of the top performances in South Carolina's win over UMass.
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Carson Mason awards game balls to some of the top performances in South Carolina's win over UMass.

THE GOOD

WONDERBOY

Safe to say South Carolina found its quarterback, although anyone would be wise to hesitate at least four seconds before anointing Jake Bentley as the savior. While the kid (“The Kid?”) looked good against UMass, UMass is now 1-7 and came into the game ranked 111th nationally in total defense. Still, “Tenacious B” had some zip on the ball, looked like he knew what he was doing and showed a lot of quarterback “smarts” – like sliding after runs following ACL injuries in high school and directing a game-clinching drive. “The Future” threw two fade routes for touchdowns, which I thought were impossible after watching Steve Spurrier flea-fart around calling them. Single-man coverage downfield was actually tested by “He’s Not a Rolls, He’s a Bentley.”

Friends can call him Jake but to you he’s “Mr. Byrnes.”

D DUB

David Williams certainly ran like he’s capable of, and there’s the hope that confidence can make that continue. Again, UMass couldn’t stop warm butter sliding down a hot knife, but Williams looked solid at all times and explosive some times. There were still a couple of carries where he tripped over his shoelaces but overall, he played like the burly every-down back he can be.

UNCLE RICO

Rico Dowdle is going to be some kind of running back. He’d already be freshman All-American if he had a line that could run-block.

LIL’ BAW BAW

Bryson Allen-Williams – or as he laid claim to Saturday, “Big-Play Bryson” – had himself quite a game. He blew up a couple of snaps where it seemed like he was calling UMass’ offense.

The Gamecocks need that going forward.

ON THE T SCALE

That’s “Taneyhill Scale.” Of course Bentley will be compared to Steve Taneyhill, The Mulleted One, because he’s a freshman taking over mid-season. So we’ll keep a running tally.

* Taneyhill beat No. 15 Mississippi State in his first start. Bentley beat UMass. RANK: 2 of 10.

* Bentley has a crew cut. RANK: 0 of 10.

* Taneyhill had a great running game and defense with him. Bentley has not much of a running game and a defense that was OK before Saturday. RANK: 7 of 10.

* There’s that game at the end of the year. If Bentley were to somehow pull it off like Taneyhill did … RANK: 15 of 10.

NO LONGER A LEMMON

Chris Lammons is living up to his potential. He played well Saturday and has throughout this season. Even his mistakes – he fumbled away a punt – was met with success after he intercepted a ball on the next possession.

SADISTIC, MATERIALISTIC …

Lookin’ for a play makes them opportunistic … (Sorry, Young MC). USC nabbed four turnovers. One was on a tipped ball, one was on a pass where the QB was hit as he threw, two were on fumbles. But a turnover is a turnover, and they got ’em.

TITLE TOWN

USC’s women’s soccer team can clinch the SEC championship with a win Sunday night at Tennessee.

That needed to be mentioned.

MEET YOU AT THE LANES

USC has three wins and Tennessee (lost two straight), Missouri (hammered at home by Middle Tennessee Saturday), Florida (not a great team), Western Carolina (Western Carolina) and some other team that should have lost to a team that was blistered 54-13 Saturday by a team the first other team also should have lost to. Six wins or more is very, very doable.

All I’m saying is the Liberty Bowl (noon) and USC men’s basketball at Memphis (9 p.m.) are on the same day.

THE BAD

LITTLE MAC

Brandon McIlwain played, and had some good runs. He also had some poor runs where, bad blocking or not (and it was very, very bad), he cannot get stuffed like he was.

On fourth-and-1, he was dropped like Eddie Murphy’s Oscar chances when he filmed “Norbit.” On third-and-2, he was hit quicker than a new iPhone release by millenials.

The first issue I had was if him playing was an attempt to please Mama. We all saw McIlwain’s mother’s Facebook post this week and wondered if McIlwain being installed on the goal line this week was just to placate the powers that be.

The second issue I had was, wasn’t it rather obvious when McIlwain entered on short yardage that he was going to keep the ball? If I knew it, I daresay UMass’ defense knew it.

The third was, whether he was put in for that or not, was that McIlwain wasn’t trying to fight through tackles on short yardage. Again, the blocking was awful, but he wasn’t met straight up either time. He got hit and surrendered.

If you’re going to offer some kind of threat in the running game, opponents have to respect you. Right now, they’re not.

NOT MAKING HAYMAKERS

The Gamecocks had UMass where they wanted them and let them right back up.

* Ahead 14-0, they gave the Minutemen a cheap first down by blatantly interfering on a third-and-long pass. First problem – T.J. Holloman blitzed, had Andrew Ford in the end zone, and when Ford juked, Holloman quit running. Second problem – USC shoved the receiver in the back in front of an official when the pass was headed out of bounds. Led to a touchdown.

* Ahead 27-7, it appeared that Lammons released a receiver to safety Chris Moody, who either didn’t hear it or didn’t listen to it. Led to an inexcusably cheap touchdown.

* Ahead 34-21, facing fourth-and-10, not only did USC fail to cover the same crossing route it had all game, but Jasper Sasser late-hit the receiver out of bounds. Led to a touchdown.

There are enough problems without giving extra chances.

BUTTERGLOVES

When I was 22 or so, I played one of the greatest games the Charlotte recreational football league ever saw. I caught four touchdowns and intercepted a pass while playing both ways. My secret was I was wearing a pair of gloves a former college football player gifted me, and it was like wearing thumbtacks taped to my fingers.

Technology has substantially improved since then. And yet receivers, on scholarship and much talented than I could ever hope to be, dropped four passes in the first half Saturday.

Got to help out a freshman QB, especially in his first start.

SPECIAL?

Special teams continues to flub in some spectacularly godawful ways. Botched hold on a PAT? Yet another dropped punt? I mean …

On punts, just run out of bounds. Without catching it. As soon as it’s kicked. Seriously.

OFFENSIVE

The Gamecocks’ offensive line has gotten better since the first two weeks. Really, it has. At least in some areas.

Run-blocking is not one of them.

Not sure why this team can’t run-block. Dowdle makes a lot of weak lines look OK, and even Williams could get some yards against a bad defense, but man, USC seems to be straight plowed under at times.

I thought the offensive line would be an offensive strength in the preseason, and much of that was because they were the most experienced guys. Now, I have no idea what the coaching staff thought, because it’s not like these players turned down Alabama to be here. So maybe me and the media were way off base.

Maybe.

YOU GAVE HIM THE KEYS, SO LET HIM DRIVE

Bentley started because he gave the offense something it hadn’t had in the first six games, and he piloted the car very well in the first half. The Gamecocks, for some reason, decided to put him back in training wheels in the second and it could have cost them the game.

The same run up the gut on first down, every drive. Not letting Bentley show off the arm that earned that lead. USC was devolving into the Marty Schottenheimer Playbook (run-run-pass-punt) but when UMass cut the game to six points with 4:20 to go, USC came to its senses and turned Bentley loose, and he got the job done.

The defense’s failures let UMass back in the game, to be clear. But not equaling scores because of some sentiment of milking the clock through 30 minutes didn’t help.

THE UGLY

GRADE D

USC’s defense played wonderfully through the first six games. Even without Skai Moore, USC was so much better fundamentally and in scheme that it frankly made it harder to stomach having to watch the last two seasons’ defenses.

What happened Saturday?

Tight end Adam Breneman drew single coverage even when he caught pass after pass, and the defender never closed that 8-yard gap on the line. Ford was allowed to scramble around because the pass-rush disappeared. Middle runs and edge runs weren’t contained, and had UMass not overthrown a couple of guys and turned the ball over four times, USC probably loses.

UMass had been known to score some points but that USC had a plan and abandoned it left a lot of discomfort in the room. Part of it was how the defense could lay down when it finally had an opponent on the ropes and part of it was wondering if it was now the defense’s turn to suffer what the offense has the first six games.

USC’s back in position to make something out of this season. It can’t slip back down when the piece it was depending on suddenly breaks.

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