David Cloninger

Report card: Dowdle has day to remember; O-line paves the way

Game Balls: Top USC performances against Western Carolina

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

David Cloninger looks at every aspect of South Carolina’s 44-31 victory against Western Carolina and assigns a grade.

Quarterback

Jake Bentley was impressive on third down and hit some clutch middle-of-the-field throws when the screen game was going nowhere. His numbers were steady and not spectacular, but he was handing off for most of the fourth quarter. He also had 34 yards on some designed runs.

GRADE: A

Running back

Have yourself a day, Rico Dowdle. The freshman rushed for the sixth-best single-game performance in program history and was the offense throughout the second half. A.J. Turner also had 97 yards and David Williams had some tough yards and a clutch catch. Everybody who toted the ball had positive yards.

GRADE: A

Wide receiver

Overall, the numbers were good, but it was clear this game that the running game needed to be the focus. Deebo Samuel scored three touchdowns, but none as a receiver; Bryan Edwards had 61 yards but 40 were on one catch. Each of the receivers were lacking in downfield blocking, which is why the screen passes were snuffed, but mostly, they were OK.

GRADE: B

Tight end

Hayden Hurst got a chance to show off his arm again and while K.C. Crosby didn’t have as great of a production as he has with Bentley under center, he didn’t do anything to put USC in a bad spot. Each could have done better with downfield blocking.

GRADE: B

Offensive line

That’s what a bulldozing offensive front is supposed to look like. Going against an FCS line that had atrocious defensive numbers, USC was clearing minefield gaps for the running game. There were no sacks allowed and Bentley was able to keep a mostly-clean jersey for the evening.

GRADE: A

Defensive line

The Gamecocks had their second straight poor game, being taken apart by an FCS line and unable to put much of a hand on Western Carolina’s runners. They blitzed and lost contain on the quarterback; they had Detrez Newsome pinned for a loss and let him get by. The Catamounts gained 6 yards per play.

GRADE: F

Linebackers

They ended with decent numbers by cleaning up what the defensive line couldn’t stop, but they were out of their gaps on nearly every play in the first half. The LBs played better in the second half, but there were still missed tackles galore and a general confusion about how to make an open-field tackle.

GRADE: F

Defensive backs

They weren’t called on much in pass coverage so they had to come up and help stop the run. They were as hit-and-miss as the front seven were. D.J. Smith recovered a fumble on an errant Western Carolina backwards pass but that was about it for the highlights. They weren’t quite as bad as the others but didn’t have as many opportunities.

GRADE: D

Special teams

Elliott Fry made some big field goals and Samuel took a kickoff to the house for just the second time since 2002, but USC’s kick coverage was again abysmal and simply catching the ball was again an adventure. This time, there was good to equal the bad.

GRADE: C

Overall

USC got the win and is bowl-eligible, and that’s the most important thing. There are definite issues going into next week’s game, but this week, USC found a way to win despite them.

GRADE: C

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