Game Balls: Top USC performances against Tennessee
David Cloninger looks at every aspect of South Carolina’s 24-21 victory against Tennessee and assigns a grade.
In a game where the running game needed to be emphasized, Jake Bentley still managed to stand out. His throws with pass-rushers en route won the game and his numbers (15-of-20 for 167 yards, two touchdowns) were stout. He had some designed runs and some good scrambles, and of the sacks he took, I didn’t see one where he really had time to pick up the blitz and get rid of the ball. Top marks.
They did well even when Tennessee began keying on them late in the game, especially with Rico Dowdle out. Dowdle continues to show why he’s the future at the spot, with 127 yards on 27 carries (the most yards by a true freshman at home since Marcus Lattimore, 2010). A.J. Turner showed some burst while David Williams filled in a couple of gaps. Not a terrific average (49 carries, 158 yards, 3.2 per) but they got the job done.
Bryan Edwards continued to help out his QB with his well-timed leaping catches, while Deebo Samuel is becoming the best possession receiver in the league. They were the only two true wideouts who caught a ball as Bentley wasn’t going to throw that much against a poor run defense, but it was enough.
Bentley’s emergence, for whatever reason, has lessened Hayden Hurst’s production but increased K.C. Crosby’s. Hurst caught the most crucial pass of the game but also was flagged for holding on a Bentley touchdown run, which cost the Gamecocks four points.
The run-blocking improved (although that could have been greatly helped by Tennessee being atrocious against the run). The pass-blocking … well, Derek Barnett wasn’t going to be kept quiet, but he got three sacks. Three other Vols got a sack apiece. Bentley barely had time to think anything but “Duck!” before they were on him for most of the last three quarters. Everything turned out OK but man, this group continues to struggle.
They linemen quickly figured out that if you blitz Joshua Dobbs, he’s going to make you look silly. They quit doing it after he sprinted for a (called-back) touchdown and stuck to playing contain against the Volunteers’ running game. The Vols only had 136 rushing yards, and that’s a credit to USC’s front seven. The linemen had a couple of nice plays – Darius English contributed to a sack and recovered Dobbs’ fumble – and Ulric Jones led the team with six tackles. The numbers don’t pop until you realize what they had to do to win.
You saw how much Jonathan Walton means to this defense. He had four tackles, two for loss and a sack after not playing last week and helmed the charge whenever Jalen Hurd, Dobbs or John Kelly cleared the front four. T.J. Holloman also had a TFL.
Mark King had two interceptions, the last where he nearly overshot his leap but pulled it in in his best impression of D.J. “JungleBoi” Swearinger. The rest of the defensive backs, knowing Dobbs is a less-than-stellar downfield thrower, were OK – Chris Moody was lit by Jauan Jennings on a touchdown and Chris Lammons was thrown out for a punch. D.J. Smith was also thrown out on the latest terrible interpretation of the targeting rule. Overall, an OK day.
Oh my God. A 100-yard kickoff return where Evan Berry didn’t have to break one tackle. The Gamecocks went two quarters without trying to catch a punt. Sean Kelly had a decent average but also had a couple he’d like to have back. What is going on with this unit?
Some things to work on but the biggest win of the Gamecocks’ last two seasons.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState