David Cloninger

Report Card: High marks for USC passing game vs. USF

Deebo Samuel: USC confident passing game would work

South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel speaks after the Birmingham Bowl.
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South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel speaks after the Birmingham Bowl.

USF 46, SOUTH CAROLINA 39 (OT)

Quarterback

Jake Bentley looked terrific after a rough start, throwing for 390 yards and three touchdowns, but his mistakes really came back to haunt. He threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and one after USC got a first-possession stop. He also took some sacks where he absolutely couldn’t take a sack. He is just a freshman and much has been made of, “Well, he should still be in high school,” but he is in college and older than the guy he replaced. If he’s going to be the guy, got to start a little quicker and a little cleaner.

GRADE: B-

Running back

The Gamecocks had 91 total rushing yards against a pretty bad defense. That could be understood with the passing game doing so well (and being down 15-0 meant USC had to pass) but then the backs couldn’t hold onto the ball. Rico Dowdle and A.J. Turner each fumbled inside the 5-yard-line and Dowdle had another fumble. It’s hard enough running behind that line without fumbling.

GRADE: D

Wide receiver

Deebo Samuel showed why he’s one of the best receivers in the nation with 14 catches and 190 yards, and Bryan Edwards kept the game extended with his marvelous heads-up touchdown catch. If each had been targeted/produced late, who knows what could have happened?

GRADE: A

Tight end

Hayden Hurst can be such a weapon for a fluid, take-no-prisoners offense. That he’s so good for an offense that only throws when absolutely necessary should prove that.

GRADE: A

Offensive line

It really wasn’t that bad in pass-blocking. Bentley took sacks when USF jailbreak-blitzed or came from the safety spot, and even a great O-line can’t block two-on-one. Still, the run-blocking remains suspect at best and senior Mason Zandi, in his last game, somehow committed a personal foul. That it was still one of the best performances of the year shows you how bad it was for most of the year.

GRADE: C

Defensive line

Quinton Flowers shredded it with fakes, head-nods and straight-up power running and the pass-rush was non-existent. Not one sack against an American Athletic Conference line, and allowing Flowers to stand in the pocket untouched for two back-breaking touchdowns? The Gamecocks simply don’t have the speed to compete off the edge right now and when they also have problems with basic tackling, it’s going to be a long day.

GRADE: F

Linebackers

They played pretty well in the second half, but was that more USF playing it safe to preserve the lead or USC finding its way? I kept seeing Bulls runners falling forward or breaking tackles as they consistently found wide-open spots over the middle of the field. Bryson Allen-Williams had a heck of an interception but was also left grasping at air a few too many times, and Jonathan Walton also seemed in need of a few lessons on clutching.

GRADE: D

Defensive backs

Not really their fault they can’t continue to cover receivers when there is no pass-rush, but they could have covered them better when they had them in their sights. Poor tackling, poor routes and extremely poor switching led to wide-open touchdown passes and USC being in too big of a hole to completely climb out of. Like all of the defense, they played pretty well until the end of the year.

GRADE: D

Special teams

Michael Almond did well in sudden spot duty and Elliott Fry finished his stellar career with seven points. Chris Lammons nearly had a punt return for a TD … but the rest of that kick coverage was disgusting. Throw in yet another fumble on kick return and a fumble that could have been had on kick coverage and it was another so-so day.

GRADE: C

Overall

This team got to a bowl game and showed some gumption when being down 18 in the fourth to force overtime. That said, it was a game there for the taking and USC didn’t take it. Too many early mistakes to put it in a hole, too many late turnovers to keep points off the board. Overall, this squad played way over its head to get to a bowl game, but you can’t look back at one game this season and say, “That’s a sign of things to come” with any positivity.

OVERALL GRADE: C-

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