David Cloninger

Report Card: USC-Clemson

David Cloninger looks at every aspect of South Carolina’s last game and assigns a grade. Go to the head of the class if the grades you assigned the Gamecocks match his.

NO. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA 31, NO. 6 CLEMSON 17

Quarterback

Nothing more that can be said about Connor Shaw. He’s nearly the sole reason that the Gamecocks won. With the running game going nowhere, Steve Spurrier turned to his senior signal-caller and told him to go win. Shaw’s passes were mostly on-target, he ran every time USC needed a big play, he seemed to live to force a third-and-long just so he could pick up one more. He kissed the field afterward, with nearly everybody in the stadium wanting to do the same to him. Throw in the brilliance that Pharoh Cooper performed, and this is an easy mark.

GRADE: A+

Running back

The pure running backs didn’t fare well. Clemson was keyed to stop them, and did. Mike Davis had a piddly 22 yards on 15 carries. Brandon Wilds only had 3 yards, but clinched the game when he caught a short screen pass from Cooper and ran in for the touchdown. That falls under the wide receiver grade, though.

GRADE: D

Wide receiver

With the running game locked up, the receivers needed to be on point if Shaw was off, which he wasn’t often. They were ready for anything. Shaq Roland had a magnificent touchdown catch, hauling in a fade pass destined for the cheerleaders and still snagging his feet in-bounds. Bruce Ellington did what Bruce Ellington does against Clemson, with four catches for 51 yards. Damiere Byrd hauled in some tough catches in traffic, fullback Connor McLaurin caught his first career ball and Wilds clinched the game. No problems here.

GRADE: A+

Tight end

They weren’t used much except to block for Shaw on his runs, which they did a fine job of.

GRADE: A

Offensive line

The O-line didn’t do much opening holes for the running backs, which could have affected the game plan, but did a marvelous job protecting Shaw on his passing attempts, and then blocking downfield for him on his runs. Since those were the M.O. of how the Gamecocks produced, they rise above the running game non-factor.

GRADE: B+

Defensive line

Tajh Boyd felt the pressure and was sacked four times, with Kelcy Quarles having another strong day. Jadeveon Clowney did get his sack, but he was being one-on-one blocked most of the time and still just had the one. The line did well pressuring Boyd, and not very well containing Rod McDowell, who cut through it like a hot needle.

GRADE: B

Linebackers

Skai Moore had a fantastic day, intercepting Boyd to put the no-doubt stamp on the game and recovering a fumble to get the game started. Kaiwan Lewis tied for the team lead with six tackles, and also had a sack. They do share some of the burden for not stopping McDowell, though.

GRADE: B

Defensive backs

They adjusted to the screen passes to stop Sammy Watkins in space, and Brison Williams helped set an early theme when he perfectly read a trick double pass on the game’s first drive, soaring to intercept a touchdown pass meant for Adam Humphries. T.J. Holloman snared a Boyd throw late in the game to remove any lingering doubt.

GRADE: B+

Special teams

Yes, USC’s special teams can earn back-to-back top grades. The punt coverage was one of the stories of the game, being around Humphries when Martavis Bryant bumped him for one fumble, and then Lewis stripping Humphries for a second fumble as Kwinton Smith was there to dive on it. Elliott Fry continued to be money, and Cooper had a 55-yard kickoff return. Joe Robinson’s boys brought it in spades on Saturday.

GRADE: A+

OVERALL GRADE: A

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