David Cloninger

USC-Vanderbilt Report Card: A.J. Turner shows off versatility

David Cloninger looks at every aspect of South Carolina’s 13-10 win over Vanderbilt on Thursday and assigns a grade:

Quarterback

Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain rotated during the first half, then Orth took over in the second half. McIlwain opened the offense a bit by running the QB draw, but cost the Gamecocks a possession when he fumbled. Orth was in control throughout the game, the offense held back by penalties and dropped passes in the first half, but coming around in the second. He calmly led the game-winning drive with just under four minutes to play. It’s mostly his grade, and it’s a fine one.

GRADE: A

Running back

A.J. Turner showed why he won the starting job, offering speed, burst and great cutback ability as well as catching the ball out of the backfield. David Williams still seemed a step slow, unable to get his knees high enough to avoid trip-tackles, but he had a key block on Deebo Samuel’s touchdown run. They both were held back by a line that struggled to open holes.

GRADE: B+

Wide receiver

The Gamecocks rarely threw downfield in the first three quarters, but once Bryan Edwards caught his first pass, it was off to the races. He was catching Orth’s eye and the ball on several long third downs, and ended with eight catches for 101 yards. He and Samuel were the only two true receivers to catch a ball. The rest, notably Jamari Smith, struggled to catch.

GRADE: B

Tight end

They didn’t do anything bad, they just weren’t visible. Hayden Hurst had two catches and K.C. Crosby one. They weren’t targeted much and were mostly used to pass-block, and USC didn’t give up a sack.

GRADE: B

Offensive line

Pass-blocking was fine. Run-blocking wasn’t. The Gamecocks couldn’t open holes early, although some of the screens and catch-and-runs late opened Vanderbilt’s defense. USC’s line looks the part, and was playing a man down, but its push against the Commodores’ front was lacking.

GRADE: D

Defensive line

Constant rotation didn’t affect the group’s ability, as it stacked the box to stop the run and did extremely well. Yes, Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame ended up getting their yards late, but it was because USC’s defense was fatigued from a first quarter where it was on the field for 11 minutes. Overall, the linemen stayed in their gaps, stopped the run and got the game’s only sack. Qua Lewis tied for the team lead with seven tackles.

GRADE: B+

Linebackers

Packed in the box, the LBs swarmed to tackles and finished them. Jonathan Walton had six stops, five solo, and T.J. Holloman and Bryson Allen-Williams were always there to help contain Vandy’s running game.

GRADE: B

Defensive backs

They probably weren’t going to be relied on much, but once they were, they were on point. Chaz Elder had seven tackles and a pass breakup, while newcomer Mark King played textbook man-to-man for his PBU. Rashad Fenton swatted away two passes and Chris Lammons tipped a ball headed to the end zone.

GRADE: A

Special teams

Hero Elliott Fry delivered a career-long 55-yard field goal (tying for the second-longest in school history) for the win and also booted a 48-yarder. Sean Kelly was his usual sterling self. The only problem USC’s specialists had was in the return game – Samuel fumbled a punt and Turner nearly took a safety on the opening kickoff.

GRADE: B

There were struggles, as expected, with so much youth. There were yips, which could be first-game jitters. Overall, USC responded when trailing and did enough to win. The only thing that mattered late Thursday was a 1-0 record.

OVERALL GRADE: B

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