South Carolina’s 41-17 loss to Georgia came apart at the seams around the end of the first half, and things suddenly and irreparably snowballed.
Coming out, fans levied criticism on Jake Bentley. Will Muschamp lamented how his team didn’t run the ball enough, though he also said his offensive front got whipped. It’s worth examining those issues and a few other factors.
What went wrong for Jake Bentley
The game was at least slightly in doubt up until the Bulldogs scored for the second time after halftime, making it 34-10. In that span, USC attempted 10 runs and 38 pass plays.
Of those pass plays, around 32 came from Bentley, discounting a bad snap, two pass interference calls, a scramble, a sack and a pass from Deebo Samuel. The batch of bad passes you probably can’t blame on him included:
▪ Five drops, several egregious, one the produced an interception touchdown.
▪ At least two that were batted down.
There were probably about eight passes one could consider “bad” in the batch or at least difficult but completable. Two were overthrown badly without a ton of pressure. Another was overthrown, though it looked as if there was some kind of miscommunication.
Two were into contested spaces, basically where a receiver was somewhat open, but a defender arrived quickly enough to break up the play. That’s a risk against Georgia’s secondary, especially with Deandre Baker patrolling back there.
There were also a trio of what Muschamp has described as “hole shots,” plays where a QB is trying to fit the ball in the gap over a corner (or a linebacker in man coverage), but close enough to the sideline a safety in Cover-2 can’t get over. Bentley twice tried to fit balls in there. Both were open enough that a great throw or great play by a receiver catching through contact would’ve gotten it done, but both times Gamecocks just took big hits and couldn’t finish.
There were a few balls on completions that might’ve been too high or not expertly placed (a swing pass to Deebo Samuel that found him 6 yards behind the line didn’t help), but some of that is nit-picking.
The big thing is, against a team as good as Georgia, eight problematic passes, five drops and a few off-target completions add up. The Bulldogs weren’t giving up big plays. USC had to play a more precise game, and these kinds of things meant the performance wasn’t enough.
What went wrong with the running game
The Gamecocks had only about 10 total true running plays when the game was still in the balance, and that came despite the Bulldogs usually playing both safeties deep.
On only three did a USC running back make it more than 1 yard before contact. Ty’Son Williams got a little more room to work than Rico Dowdle, though Williams showed a little more surge.
One issue was there wasn’t much upside in the runs the Gamecocks had. None made it longer than 9 yards. Only four got five or more. The jet sweep with Samuel that has been quite effective was blown up by a defensive end surging upfield.
There’s an argument the Gamecocks didn’t give those plays enough time to work, but none were particularly efficient or effective. USC struggled to bounce things outside, and Georgia’s speed on defense prevented anyone from getting too loose.
One Georgia advantage
Muschamp pointed out the Bulldogs played mostly split-safety defenses throughout the game. This has a few trickle-down effects and tells us something about the Bulldogs’ confidence.
Playing the safeties back allowed the corners to play tighter. The Gamecocks didn’t have many clean throws to outside receivers, and those guys didn’t make many one-on-one plays with contested balls.
That also means the Bulldogs were usually playing with as many defenders in the box as the offense had blockers. In most cases, that means an offense will try to run with equal numbers.
So South Carolina not running or being able to run either speaks to Georgia’s ability to trigger RPO passes or a conscious decision (perhaps the reasons Muschamp was unhappy). It also speaks to Kirby Smart’s confidence in his front six and how it could control USC’s running game with minimal help.
▪ Joseph Charlton’s shanked punt got much of the attention, but a miscue a few plays before was just as crucial. Samuel was coming over the middle on a 13-yard dig route and dropped the pass from Bentley. If he holds on, South Carolina would have first-and-10 on the Georgia 44 with 1:06 left in the half and a decent scoring chance. Instead, the Bulldogs got a quick drive and went into the half up 10.