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. 24 SOUTH CAROLINA 17, NO. 22 GEORGIA 6
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Stephen Garcia wasn't great, but he wasn't terrible. His numbers (12-of-17 for 165 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions) were good but don't tell the whole story. Garcia reverted back to some hesitancy when trying to get rid of the ball, a problem that disappeared against Southern Miss but returned against the Bulldogs. Some of that was due to his protection, which allowed far too many bull-rushes. Garcia took five sacks but avoided several others, his only really bad move when he didn't secure the ball enough on a picked-up blitz and got it knocked away. When he did have room to throw, some were fluttering passes that his receivers helped him out on, but some were also darts placed right where they needed to be. With the running game doing so well, Garcia was simply asked to not lose the game -- he did so.
Since only two backs carried the ball, and one of them was on two carries to wind the clock of the first half, it was a one-man show. And what a show it was. Marcus Lattimore blew up Georgia's defensive front for 182 yards and two touchdowns, taking the same play and continuing to gash the Bulldogs' stubborn defenders. Coach Steve Spurrier said that he had never had a back break so many tackles (29, according to one media source) and Lattimore never put the ball in harm's way. His running style, outside of the straight power and elusiveness, always had him facing the tackle head-on and casting his eyes downfield, thinking of the next move. Just an outstanding, dominant performance.
Even in a game where the running game was exploited over and over, Alshon Jeffery still caught over 100 yards and the rest of the receivers were also good. Jeffery was the main one, with seven catches, but Tori Gurley, D.L. Moore and Justice Cunningham each had one catch (Lattimore and Patrick DiMarco also caught one apiece). Jeffery did his usual, finding a way to get to the ball and becoming a blur of elbows and knees downfield. He also had a big stiff-arm to slip one tackle and sprint for extra yards. Gurley caught a high pass and survived a hard hit, spinning around and trying for more yardage before getting hit again. He also had a terrific play when Jeffery fumbled near the goal line, scooping the fumble and diving into the end zone (Jeffery was ruled down and the touchdown was negated). Not a lot of production outside of Jeffery, but it's not like that's their fault.
Cunningham and DiMarco were basically blocking all day and they did their job well. DiMarco mostly stuck to fullback, opening holes for Lattimore, while Cunningham added another man to the line and tried to keep Garcia from getting breathed on. He does share some blame with the offensive line for a five-sack day, but he also shares credit for Lattimore's 182-yard day -- the back was stunning on Saturday, but he was also hardly ever hit in the backfield. Nothing spectacular from Cunningham, but very, very steady.
It was a "Yeah, but ... " day for the line, which got great news before the game when Jarriel King was cleared. As said before, it opened several holes for Lattimore and bulldozed the Bulldogs' defensive front, but it also allowed Garcia to get hit five times, at least three of which where blockers whiffed and Garcia never had time to get rid of the ball. A few more false starts were whistled and each member of the line had at least one example where he was pushed out of the way or bowled over by a marauding Bulldog. But they also had several instances where they did their own punching. The sacks are what keeps them out of a top grade.
What a difference a quarter-inch of tape makes. Ladi Ajiboye, his fingers now sticking out of the club cast on his left hand, returned to form with six tackles and Travian Robertson played a great game, helping hold Georgia's Washaun Ealey to 75 yards and getting into quarterback Aaron Murray's face as the game progressed. Devin Taylor sacked him once, with a forearm shot to the chest, and had five tackles while Cliff Matthews tripped Murray when the QB was about to take off. The gameplan seems to be staying off the pass-rush early and going to it late, and while it may allow an opposing QB to look good in the first quarter, he feels the pressure in the fourth.
Shaq Wilson is definitely missed, but the players in his stead are doing what they can. Like USC's tight ends, the linebackers are playing steady football -- it may not show up in any highlight reels, but it's getting the job done. Josh Dickerson tied for the team lead with seven tackles while Tony Straughter had four. Rodney Paulk added to his reputation for making plays by having Ealey fall over him, preventing Ealey's knee from hitting the ground and ensuring Ealey's fumble would remain USC's ball. Obvious that the Gamecocks miss having Wilson's versatility, especially at rushing the quarterback, but the others are making do.
Once again, DeVonte Holloman helped squash an opponent's drive and swung the momentum back to USC's. The fumble he stripped from Ealey was one of the game's biggest plays -- Georgia had already decided to go for two points and a tie with that touchdown; instead, Holloman ripped the ball loose and Stephon Gilmore recovered. Holloman was excellent with seven tackles while Akeem Auguste had another fine game with six tackles. Murray did exploit the secondary a good bit with some of his passes, but USC's red-zone defense made sure it never really hurt. Chris Culliver looked a bit rusty in his return to action, getting burned on a couple of overthrown incompletions and also receiving a foolish personal foul, but he should be back in game shape very shortly. Overall, strong, but I can't give a top mark due to Murray picking it apart early in the game.
The Bulldogs' return game, which decided the Georgia game last year, was effectively nixed and the credit goes to USC's kickoff coverage. They wisely stayed away from Brandon Boykin, Joey Scribner-Howard not getting a touchback but putting plenty of air under his kicks so the cover team could get downfield. Spencer Lanning continued to add distance to his punts and bailed USC out of some sticky situations; his field goal which gave the Gamecocks a two-possession lead came after a made kick that was wiped due to penalty and a bad snap on the second try. Lanning did miss a 51-yarder, but that was somewhat expected -- his career-long is 47 and with the situation, it was either try and pooch-punt or go for it on fourth-and-8 from Georgia's 48-yard-line. The miss never came back to hurt the Gamecocks and the late kick iced the game.
The best thing about Steve Spurrier's game plan was he never lost patience with it. The Gamecocks were succeeding on the ground and as long as Georgia never adjusted, bringing more men into the box to try and stop Lattimore, there was no reason to quit doing it. Spurrier never threw up his hands and reverted to his throw-the-ball self, mixing it in once in a while but largely avoiding downfield tosses. As he said, Lattimore needed to carry the ball 37 times on Saturday and since Georgia never adjusted to it, Spurrier kept calling the same play. On the final drive, he told him directly that he was getting the ball every play and never looked at his play sheet from then on. A couple of bad timeouts, the decision to try for a 51-yarder were far buried under a case of patiently letting the running game carry the team.
OVERALL GRADE: A
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