David Cloninger

Report Card: USC-Clemson

David Cloninger looks at every aspect of South Carolina’s last game and assigns a grade.


Jake Bentley looked tentative, nervous and sometimes scared. Even if the Gamecocks would have lost, he could have kept them in the game, and Bentley didn’t do that. He was off on his first pass and when he threw an interception after USC’s brief first-quarter momentum, the Tigers were off and running. For him to leave with a minor injury seemed a blessing, and while Brandon McIlwain did some good things, he was mopping up against a backup defense.


Running back

I’m stunned it took five plays to get Rico Dowdle the ball, and another three plays before he touched it again. Wasn’t the best way to win to keep Clemson’s offense off the field? Isn’t Will Muschamp 101 to run the ball and play defense? After USC blocked that field goal, wasn’t playing safe and helping out a freshman quarterback the wise thing? Not that the running game could do anything with the line in front of it (Rod Talley was the high rusher, against Clemson’s second string), but all of the backs were content to head to the pile instead of the small spaces of grass they saw.


Wide receiver

Hard to catch the ball when the quarterback can’t throw it near you, or get it out of his hands. It was a disappearing act for anybody not named Deebo Samuel, and even he got a mere 14 yards on four catches. Not their fault they can’t get the ball, but downfield blocking on screens and runs? The effort wasn’t there.


Tight end

Hayden Hurst has been dynamite this year, and he’s going to run the plays that are called. So on that fake punt, I understand him running because the passing lanes were shut off … but he ignored a stretch of green in front of him and ran into the laundry. His three catches were solid, and K.C. Crosby had a great catch for USC’s first first down, but overall the TEs were like the receivers – if you can’t catch, block. Didn’t do it.


Offensive line

In the grand scheme, USC’s line performed exactly how it was thought to against one of the best defensive fronts in college football. Perhaps I placed a little too much on the pride and want-to of playing a rival and thinking that could help, because Clemson was only rushing three most of the night and still had unchecked paths to Bentley or the running backs. That’s the kind of game where fingers get pointed.


Defensive line

USC has some veterans on the defensive front who know exactly what Wayne Gallman and Deshaun Watson can do, and they were going against a lot of youth on Clemson’s offensive line. That went right out the window as the Gamecocks’ front was completely submarined all night, and when they did get a hand on orange, orange skipped out for 5 more yards. Hard to wrap up when you can’t get to a guy … and hard to get to a guy when you’re nosed into the dirt on every play.



It was up to them to pick up the defensive line’s slack, and they still let Clemson average 4.6 yards per rush and drive them into the turf. Nobody could wrap and while Bryson Allen-Williams had an acrobatic interception, he was also in the middle of the pregame whatever-it-was that surely didn’t put Clemson in a pleasant frame of mind.


Defensive backs

Jamarcus King won SEC Defensive Player of the Week this season. Perhaps that made him feel better when he was beaten three times for touchdowns – in the first quarter. When he leaped upon Mike Williams’ back, spun around and Williams still dragged him into the end zone … that summed up the night. All of the DBs were slit by Watson’s laser-guided arm and arsenal of weapons, and all were caught out of position by the Tigers’ speedy approach.


Special teams

A bright spot … sort of. Sean Kelly punted seven times for an average of 44 yards, doing his part to get USC out of trouble (not that the defense accepted the opportunity). But there were still two fumbles on kick return and the ones that were returned went nowhere (not that the offense accepted the opportunity).


I think we all knew Clemson should win, but considering last year’s result and how the Tigers have let a lot of teams hang around this year, some thought it might’ve been close. Yet the Gamecocks came out unprepared and nearly comatose Saturday, which in a rivalry setting, is inexcusable. The biggest fight they showed was in a pregame shoving match.

Afterward, they said they’d be marking this game down next year. I’m wondering why it wasn’t marked this year, and why it took a 49-point paddling to discover how important this game is to the citizens of an entire state, many of whom changed their minds about attending the bowl game.


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