David Cloninger

South Carolina-Florida report card: Special teams get an ‘F’

David Cloninger looks at every aspect of South Carolina’s 20-7 loss to Florida and assigns a grade.

Quarterback

Jake Bentley didn’t have time or targets in the passing game, but he strayed from the calm and poised QB we’ve seen the last three weeks. Tennessee and Missouri pounded him as well but he was able to weather the pass-rush and still make timely throws. He didn’t do that against Florida and also threw high on a couple of early balls. He had two turnovers.

GRADE: C

Running back

David Williams had a nice day and scored the Gamecocks’ only touchdown, but the position overall was a lost cause. USC simply had no chance against Florida’s beastly front seven, even with it pockmarked with injuries. Some of that is the line, some of it is the backs not adjusting like they did against Tennessee and Missouri. Rico Dowdle had a mere 18 yards on nine carries before being hurt, and on the first sustained drive of the day, he had a clear lane to his left, skipped into the middle of the pile and was dropped for no gain. It was that kind of afternoon.

GRADE: D

Wide receiver

USC knew that Jalen Tabor would remove one side of the field and deep targets were going to be scarce. Bentley’s receivers were blanketed early and didn’t matter late because of the pass-rush. Bryan Edwards had one magnificent catch – but his crucial drop on a perfectly placed ball was a killer.

GRADE: D

Tight end

Hayden Hurst and K.C. Crosby tried their best but they were wrapped immediately after most of their catches. USC had to play the short field with screen passes and those two were going to be relied on, and they did have five catches. But Hurst also dropped a first-down pass on his first target.

GRADE: C

Offensive line

The line was horrendous the first two games of the year but had been improving. That ended Saturday. The Gamecocks were completely submarined from the first snap to the last, giving up five sacks and nearly single-handedly disrupting any offense USC hoped to have. Florida blitzed on nearly every third-and-short and succeeded; there was no room for backs to squeeze through; there was nearly no protection for Bentley after halftime. Looking ahead to Clemson, which features another monstrous defensive front, may have started some thinking about the future of the position.

GRADE: F

Defensive line

Even with a patchwork offensive line and a quarterback who transferred from noted football powerhouse Purdue, USC had no pass-rush and was constantly out of place against Austin Appleby and the Gators’ runners. They bit on fakes, couldn’t tackle at the line and lost contain on nearly every screen pass. USC couldn’t make the Gators challenge their defensive backs – not that they had a great day – and had little to no impact on any given play.

GRADE: F

Linebackers

They also share in the tackling woes since many times, they were in position to grab those receivers or runners and didn’t do it. What made theirs worse was they had an extra second or two to line up a stop and still couldn’t. T.J. Holloman had a nifty interception and Bryson Allen-Williams recovered a fumble and was thinking scoop-and-score, but he was quickly brought down. That tackle was the best one involving USC all day – and it was Florida’s quarterback that recorded it.

GRADE: F

Defensive backs

Their tackling wasn’t great either, but they really regressed in pass coverage. Mark King had an awful game and Chris Lammons wasn’t much better. They were turned around on routes and didn’t give anything close to the lift they’ve supplied all season (although King did recover a fumble). The only reason the grade isn’t worse is because all DBs are going to look bad when the line can’t get to the QB.

GRADE: D

Special teams

It remains mind-boggling that USC attempts to run out of the end zone instead of taking a knee. They continued to punt to Antonio Callaway Saturday and only missed giving up a touchdown because it was called back for holding. Sean Kelly is doing his best with a bum knee, and I’m not blaming him for having to punt seven times, but he’s not as consistent as he was (which is probably the injury). They all shared in the tackling misery.

GRADE: F

Overall

After all the hype, all the praise, Will Muschamp’s team showed up flat in a situation where there was no excuse for being flat, not with so much on the line and in that stadium, considering its recent history. It was Mississippi State all over again.

Win next week and get bowl-eligible and that’s fantastic for this team. But it could have been so much more.

GRADE: F

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