David Cloninger

Report card: USC linebackers, special teams lead way

USC linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams (4) talks with special teams coordinator Joe Robinson in the second half of the Belk College Kickoff in Charlotte, NC, Thursday.
USC linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams (4) talks with special teams coordinator Joe Robinson in the second half of the Belk College Kickoff in Charlotte, NC, Thursday. gmelendez@thestate.com

Grading South Carolina’s victory against North Carolina:

Quarterback

Starter Connor Mitch was 9-for-22 for 122 yards and a touchdown, looking good in some areas and bad in others. Four others took snaps – Perry Orth, Pharoh Cooper, David Williams, Brandon Wilds (and punter Sean Kelly if you count that one). The running game looked good from the zone-read, the passing game not so much.

GRADE: C

Running back

A lot of tough yards gained in crucial situations, and they came from all contributors. Brandon Wilds started the game, David Williams had some strong carries and Shon Carson scored the back-breaker. All will be leaned on next game as the passing gets figured out.

GRADE: A

Wide receiver

Hard to do much without the ball getting to you, but the receivers other than Cooper struggled getting open. Terry Googer had two nice grabs but the others were no-shows. Cooper continued to do what he does.

GRADE: C+

Tight end

Jerell Adams had a nice catch-and-run but also let a perfect strike from Mitch bang off his facemask. He and Jacob August did well when asked to block.

GRADE: B

Offensive line

No issues here. The line stayed intact, gave Mitch all the room he needed to throw and opened holes, particularly on the edges, for the backs.

GRADE: A

Defensive line

The front four went through a lot of rotations and was going against an offense designed to negate a pass-rush, so some struggles were expected. Allowing Elijah Hood to average 11.5 yards per carry was not. The Gamecocks’ defenders couldn’t do anything with him at the first level. That said, the front four combined for four sacks, Kelsey Griffin with 1.5, and Qua Lewis had a key hurry late in the game.

GRADE: B-

Linebackers

If Skai Moore isn’t a first-team All-SEC player, I’ll eat my hat. The man is everywhere on the field, despite having to cover some rather expansive territory in USC’s scheme. He had 10 tackles while playing nearly every down, and his two end-zone interceptions were two of the game’s biggest plays. Jonathan Walton played well besides missing some series (looked he was hit with cramps like much of the team).

GRADE: A

Defensive backs

It’s hard to cover a guy when he’s catching a ball three seconds after the snap. USC knew that would be an issue. So it was still head-scratching to why they were lining up so far from the receivers. That allowed UNC to catch, turn upfield and have a good head of steam before the tackle, and often, the tackles weren’t being made. Still, Isaiah Johnson and Jordan Diggs made some plays, Diggs with a pick and Johnson, after he was beaten on a pass-route, smacking the receiver hard enough for a drop.

GRADE: C

Special teams

Elliott Fry and Landon Ard continued to have great games, and the coverage on the few returns was excellent. Deebo Samuel had a good return until fumbling.

Mostly – Sean Kelly. Wow.

GRADE: A+

Not the tightest performance and a whole lot to work on, but USC won the game against a really good offense and made plays when it had to.

OVERALL GRADE: B

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