Whose stock is rising and whose is falling after No. 12 South Carolina's 19-14 win over Florida Saturday night?
Shon Carson: It was the biggest play of the game. Backed up to their own 5 thanks to a false start from Jerell Adams on first down, the Gamecocks stared nearly the length of the field with only 9:32 left to play. Facing a Florida defense that had stymied nearly every idea from Steve Spurrier and company all night, USC called a draw play - a playbook standard in such situations. What wasn't standard was Carson's speed with the handoff. Looking shot from a cannon, Carson got behind the Gators defense before it knew what happened, and it wasn't until 58 yards later that Florida tracked Carson down.
With 102 yards on 13 carries, Carson's big run came at a time when USC needed it most and had nowhere else to turn - Mike Davis was injured, Brandon Wilds begged out of action because of a hamstring and Carson was the only real option. Fortunately for USC, Carson was ready to contribute, and let it be known that if the Gamecocks do make it to Atlanta and raise an SEC East banner, it was Carson who helped make it possible against the Gators.
Elliott Fry: Wow. Just, wow. I can't think of a more clutch freshman kicker since Collin Mackie, and that's some company right there. Coming into this season, USC was barrel scraping with kickers, trying out basically the whole student body, and in the one fall scrimmage open to the media, the kickers were all so bad it looked as if South Carolina was in serious trouble. Enter Elliott Fry, and enter a young man with a compelling backstory overcoming diabetes and an unwavering approach to kicking that is a recipe for consistency.
I had the opportunity to study him on the sidelines at the end of the Missouri game and into both overtimes, and he never once appeared nervous or even the slightest bit agitated when twice he had to move people - one of whom was Ray Tanner - out of his area where he practices his kicks. Against Missouri, his 40-yarder under insane pressure clinched the game while his counterpart got a bad hold and clanged the post from 24 yards, and against the Gators, he basically won the game single-handedly with four field goals, including a career-high 45-yarder, and 13 points.
The only blemish is a missed extra point at Georgia and a missed 45-yarder into the wind at Tennessee that could have provided a winning margin, but other than that, Fry has been without question the shining bright spot for a special teams unit for whom competence seems a titanic struggle.
Lorenzo Ward: Talk about the pressure being on, early in the season Ward's unit was under near-constant fire for everything from effort (Jadeveon Clowney) to miscommunication (remember Kirk Botkin and Deke Adams arguing on the sidelines at Georgia? Or Spurrier shouting at Adams the next week against Vanderbilt?) to fourth-quarter meltdowns against Vandy, UCF and Kentucky that all had people wondering how long the offense was going to be able to carry the team.
Well, since then the defense is averaging only 16.8 points per game against opponents while the offense has the shakier unit, especially in the season's glaring black-eye: a 23-21 loss at Tennessee.
Against the Gators, after getting gashed for 169 yards on 22 carries (7.7 avg.) and 14 points in the first half, the Gamecocks pitched a shutout in the final two quarters and stifled Florida's running game to the tune of 18 yards on 14 carries (1.3 avg.) in the third quarter and 13 yards on four carries (3.25 avg.) in the fourth. Operation Fix the Defense? Mission accomplished. Only one more test remains, and for Ward, how this season will be perceived defensively will depend largely on the results of Nov. 30.
Jerell Adams: Boy, when you think of expectations for someone so physically gifted - the sophomore Adams is 6-foot-6, 287 - the reality has been modest, to put it kindly. It was thought that Adams' size would give South Carolina a threat over the middle and downfield few teams could match, and on occasion he has shown flashes - a 44-yard catch against UCF down to the 3 yard-line and a 4-yard touchdown catch against Mississippi State.
His false start in a critical situation in the fourth quarter put the Gamecocks underneath their own goalposts, earning him a quick hook from the game, and mistakes like that need to be corrected. There's no doubting Adams' massive upside, and maybe as a sophomore it's unrealistic to expect more, but I do, so there it is.
Tyler Hull: First, yes, when the game was basically decided he hit a beautiful 49-yard punt to pin the Gators inside their 5 yard line. There were 12 second left at that point. Before, when the game was absolutely in the balance, Hull was horrific, shanking two punts for 26 and 25 yards, respectively. He's the worst punter in the Southeastern Conference and has been since the beginning of the season, anchoring the No. 14 spot with no competition. He puts the defense in tough spots time and again - the 26-yarder in the second quarter went to the Florida 23 when a better kick could have pinned the Gators back and flipped the field, and his 25-yarder in the third quarter gave the Gators the ball at midfield.
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