David Cloninger

Report Card: Grading the Gamecocks in loss to Kentucky

South Carolina Gamecocks running back Brandon Wilds (22) gets a first down on a run in the second half against Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina Gamecocks running back Brandon Wilds (22) gets a first down on a run in the second half against Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium. gmelendez@thestate.com

Grading South Carolina’s 26-22 loss to Kentucky:

Quarterback

Split duty, as Connor Mitch started and Perry Orth finished. Mitch was again average in his limited game, going 4-for-7 for 43 yards before a bad pitch, fumble and dive on the loose ball knocked him out for the game (and perhaps the season). Orth was outstanding when he came in, completing 13-of-20 for 179 and a touchdown, but his interception (running to the left, off his back foot, on first down) was a back-breaker.

GRADE: C

Running back

Brandon Wilds picked up some tough yards and felt he should have been asked to do more, while Shon Carson showed that he could be considered for top backup with a couple of late runs where he ran so low to the ground defenders were having to bend double to get him. David Williams, the target on the pitch, had a mere 18 yards on five carries.

GRADE: B+

Wide receiver

Another game of Pharoh Cooper being magnificent and other receivers trying to get noticed. Cooper had 100 yards, but also lost a fumble that was turned into a two-point score. Carlton Heard caught a 31-yarder in busted coverage, while Deebo Samuel caught one pass and dropped one pass.

GRADE: C

Tight end

The Gamecocks’ last touchdown was exactly what USC thought it had in Jerell Adams – a midfield target who can’t be brought down. Orth hit Adams and Adams bounced off one defender and bulldozed through two more for a score. Especially as Orth takes over, Adams needs to be a bigger part of the game plan. Jacob August also caught a pass.

GRADE: A

Offensive line

Strong blocking, strong protection, the backs had holes to run through. The issue was Alan Knott’s personal foul, which deprived at least one goal-line play. Lots of things caused the loss, but one more try at a touchdown from the 2-yard-line really would have helped.

GRADE: B

Defensive line

Like all of the defense, it was bad in the first half and good in the second. The line bears a bit more of the blame for Kentucky’s success in the first half, though, since it couldn’t generate much pressure on Patrick Towles and treated the Wildcats’ tailbacks as if they were coated in Crisco. They did well in the second half and Darius English got the only sack, but many of the 24 points Kentucky scored in the first half started up front.

GRADE: D

Linebackers

Skai Moore continues to shine and Jonathan Walton spent his second half hammering Kentucky’s tailbacks. They share the blame for the Wildcats’ first-half success, though, keeping them from a top grade.

GRADE: B

Defensive backs

Scheme or talent? When the Wildcats passed, they hit the 10-to-15-yard slant with bare resistance. The Gamecocks’ secondary continues to give receivers a lot of cushion off the line and like the rest of the defense, shared in missed tackling in the first half. It also shared in bashing Kentucky in the second half.

GRADE: C

Special teams

Some strong returns and another standout game from Sean Kelly. Elliott Fry hit three field goals in the second half, but his 42-yard miss in the first half came back to haunt.

GRADE: B

Another tale of two halves that had USC converted just one of its many second-half offensive opportunities, probably would have meant a win and a severe difference in the season’s outlook.

OVERALL GRADE: C

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