In a new feature at GamecockCentral.com, we'll break down every aspect of South Carolina's last game and assign a grade. Go to the head of the class if the grades you assigned the Gamecocks match ours. You've heard the rest, now hear the best.
NO. 17 ARKANSAS 41, NO. 18 SOUTH CAROLINA 20
Disclaimer: I'm assuming the greater majority of the people who subscribe were either at the game or watching it on TV. So you know what this is going to look like. If you have high blood pressure, go sit on a park bench and breathe in that chill-tinged oxygen while you read.
Stephen Garcia never seems to fully get himself out of the pattern that has defined his career -- Joe Montana one day, Joe Blow the next. The Gamecocks, without Marcus Lattimore in the game during the first half and gimpy afterward, needed a leader on Saturday and Garcia should have been the guy to do it. He didn't. His first two throws were way off-target, then he called a timeout that begat a scrambled rush and an incomplete. I realize it's not Garcia's choice on what plays to run, but it is his ability that can make them happen. I'll give him a lot of credit for picking up the running pace when Lattimore was put into the save-him-for-next-week pile, but Garcia was still a pedestrian 14-of-29 for 161 yards and two interceptions. Another pick was dropped, and he also fumbled, which was ruled an incomplete pass. I can't say it's anybody's fault when Lattimore goes out, but it's a group effort to look so lost without him. The field general needs to be in charge if it happens again, rallying the troops. Connor Shaw, Seth Strickland and Andrew Clifford were in for too little time to grade them, so this one is all Garcia. One touchdown saves a complete failure.
Lattimore was getting stood up at the line early, and when he got kicked in the left knee, causing him to miss some time while he hurriedly put on a knee brace, he came back and was without his usual explosiveness. Garcia was the one taking it on many designed runs, while Lattimore only carried 11 times for 30 yards. USC, even with Lattimore, had to somewhat abandon the run when Arkansas went up 24-7, so it was a very forgettable day for the rushing attack. Brian Maddox and Kenny Miles only had one carry each.
Alshon Jeffery masks a lot of weaknesses, and he was magnificent as always. Although he finished one yard short of 100, he got his 100th career catch and broke the 1,000-yard plateau for only the fourth time in school history. Tori Gurley also got open for a few catches, while Ace Sanders had two (and dropped a touchdown). A forgettable day for the entire offense, but the receivers can't do their job if the quarterback's not doing his.
A rare Justice Cunningham sighting, on a nice underneath pass early in the game, and he finished with two catches for 31 yards. Again, hard to blame the tight ends for lack of productivity when the quarterback can't get the ball to them, but Cunningham and Patrick DiMarco played well. They share some blame with the line for not opening holes, but it's been proven before -- with no Lattimore, it's hard for anybody to get loose.
That's two straight weeks where the line has allowed Garcia to get bullied and rushed, and it has to end. The line needs to re-discover what it was doing in the early season -- simply playing tough. It won't be easy, if center T.J. Johnson can't go and freshman Ronald Patrick is called on, but championships aren't supposed to be easy. USC will face another beefy defensive line this week and has to give Garcia time to throw and Lattimore just a tiny bit of room to run. I know it's been a long season, but the line can't afford to wear down now. Play perfect for 60 minutes on Saturday, and see the offense take off.
What happened here? After doing so well against the run all season (which was at least somewhat because teams knew they didn't have to run to be successful), the Gamecocks fell down. Arkansas went to Knile Davis early and when he began finding room, kept it up. Davis finished with 110 yards and Broderick Green had 26 yards on five totes, the defensive front punished time and again by Arkansas' massive linemen. When a defensive lineman's name doesn't appear until the ninth spot on the tackle chart, there's a problem. The worst performance all year, which is fitting, considering the rest of the team was in the same boat.
Normally I say that Josh Dickerson, Tony Straughter, Rodney Paulk and company have been rather lost in the shuffle, often grouped into the problems of the secondary, but I have to take that back this week. All three were as bad as the secondary, never more apparent than on Davis' touchdown run to make it 24-7 just before halftime. DeVonte Holloman whiffed on the first tackle, then Straughter and Dickerson took bad angles and let Davis run right past them on the sideline. A stop there, hold to a field goal (and yes, I'm trying to discount that wretchedly bad fake punt that set this up) and perhaps USC is still in the game.
Nothing has changed, and it's not going to. The Gamecocks simply cannot defend the pass. Before, it was bad coverage. On Saturday, the coverage was OK to start, but horrible tackling let Arkansas off the hook, and then the coverage regressed. They keep saying they just have to make plays, but when they continue to not do it, what then? Is it a case of just throwing up the hands and hoping the offense can answer? USC won't face the caliber of passer of Ryan Mallett again this year (and maybe not ever), but it's simply ridiculous how far this unit has slipped from last year to this year, despite players being older and wiser. And now C.C. Whitlock is likely out for Florida, leaving walk-on Marty Markett and Jimmy Legree as his replacements.
I never expect the Gamecocks to get a huge contribution from their special teams, because it's just not what they do. Haven't done it for a while. All I expect is them not to contribute to losing. On Saturday, there was a little of that, but I'm not sure how much fault lies in the special teams and how much is on the sideline. That fake punt was a disaster. The execution certainly lies on the special teams (Steve Spurrier said somebody missed a block and that's why Dalton Wilson got smacked). The play-call lies on the sidelines (get to that later). Spencer Lanning punted well, but his first field-goal try, a 29-yard chippy, hit the left upright. As it turned out, three points wouldn't have made a bit of difference, but at that time, it would have tied the game and let the Gamecocks kick off. As it was, Arkansas took over and immediately hit a 57-yard pass. Bryce Sherman had a very nice 37-yard return, but his others were the usual -- he's simply too small to get through a hole and cannot break a tackle, often getting physically abused when he is wrapped up. I don't want to compare the Gamecocks' special teams to other units around the country, but it often seems as if USC's group is just there because it has to be.
First, the fake punt. Spurrier said he'd have called it again. Me, I say and will continue to say it was not smart. I know it's a case of if it had worked, he's a risk-taking genius. But here's the thing -- you have to weigh the good and bad of what could happen on a call like that, and in my estimation, the bad won. Doesn't work, you're giving the best quarterback in the SEC a short field when he's already got a 10-point lead, against a passing defense that is the worst in the SEC. Wilson gets tackled, Arkansas takes over, three plays to make it bye-bye-ballgame. As for the rest of it, I can't decide how much is defensive coaching and how much is just plain lousy defensive play. Seems to me the Gamecocks are trying to adjust to the schemes, but the coaches can't go out there and tackle ball-carriers. Ellis Johnson said as much, pointing out that even when USC did something good, there were several missed assignments. Offensively, not handing the ball to Lattimore to try and establish the run game right off the bat wasn't too good, considering Garcia air-mailed D.L. Moore on second down to set up third-and-long, but when Lattimore went out, I don't believe it's the play calls that were the problem. The coaches have to find out why the entire team plays so listless when Lattimore is out, and need to do it quickly. Overall, a rotten evening.
And despite it all, the Gamecocks really lost nothing but a chance for a perfect home record and a chance to be at least co-SEC East champions. That would have meant a trophy, but let's be honest, here -- who wants a trophy recognizing a title when you don't get to play for the biggest prize that comes with the title? USC knew all along it had to win next week to go to Atlanta, and despite it playing so badly on Saturday, it can still make history next week.
Doesn't change this week, but nobody will care if the result is a win next week. If you're one of those fans who holler and scream and post on our boards to fire everybody and that nobody has any belief or it's the same old story, ask yourself this -- would you have rather USC played perfectly and won against Arkansas and then played like it really did next week?
OVERALL GRADE: F
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