We 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. 13 SOUTH CAROLINA 27, NO. 12 CLEMSON 17
Well, hello there, Dylan Thompson. Good to see you. With most of Gamecock Nation fretting once it found out that Connor Shaw was hurting too much to play, Thompson calmly took the field and shredded the Tigers. He was 23-of-41 for 310 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, and rushed 14 times for 38 yards (without sacks, he had 73), including a 19-yard and a 20-yard run. All wasn't perfect - Thompson sometimes looked as if he was waiting for a sack and then curled right into it, and some of his passes late in the game were too low - but I couldn't in good conscience dock the kid a grade, simply because of what he did. He was the leader, the field general, the hero. And he answered any lingering question on if he could play well against a big rival, not some throwaway cupcake.
The run game was, like it has been most of the year, pretty bottled up, but Kenny Miles found room for 45 yards and Mike Davis had 43. It wasn't a bad performance, but with the Gamecocks needing to run clock, they had to do it mostly on Thompson's short passes. Miles ran hard but had a knee injury (he returned to the game) knock him out of rhythm, and Davis had one really nice 26-yarder, but also had a couple of key yips. He slipped on one off-tackle play for no gain, then whiffed a block on the next play and let Thompson get mauled. There weren't a lot of great holes to run through, and the backs did mostly OK, but they weren't great.
Boy, did these guys have a great game and really help out Thompson. Ace Sanders had another brilliant scoring run, where he caught a crossing pattern, then stepped back out of his defender's hands and strolled into the end zone. Bruce Ellington caught two touchdowns, and has just as many receiving yards in two rivalry games (143) as Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins have combined in their two rivalry games. Little Nick Jones, Thompson's Upstate buddy, had a great day, with four catches for 45 yards. The tight end underneath route was being camped on by Clemson's defense, so Thompson took what was available.
Only two catches, but Justice Cunningham's season has been a wonderful thing to watch. Like I said two weeks ago, he would have to drop-kick his own coach during a game to get any grade less than an A-double-plus.
Yeesh. All's well that ends well, I suppose, but man, did the line play poorly. The first half was atrocious, marred with false-starts and a personal foul, and throughout the game, USC's biggest running gains were called back for holding. The pass protection was good at times, not-so-good at times (four sacks). Lot of talent, lot of depth, but the line has just had a really bad year.
After a couple of initial mis-steps, Jadeveon Clowney showed up and brought his 85 percent self with him, begging the question, what can he do at 100 percent? Tajh Boyd will be having nightmares into his 30s about Clowney, who has 5.5 sacks against him in two games and was also pressuring him into an interception on Saturday. The rest of the line didn't have much statistically but was denying Boyd a lot of the middle-runs that he likes to do, and with the hulking Clowney on the end, Clemson decided to focus on the run. Didn't work.
Shaq Wilson played a fine game, as did Quin Smith and Reginald Bowens, and the Gamecocks denied Clemson a lot of what it wanted to do. No complaints.
Outside of D.J. Swearinger's foolish personal foul, the DBs had a great game. Two interceptions, a lot of good tackles in space and they didn't let Watkins or Hopkins get loose. They busted them off the line early and never let up, which was a great tactic. The two never got comfortable, and Hopkins was blanketed other than his touchdown (which, I thought, couldn't have been defended any better. Boyd made a terrific throw).
Adam Yates was terrific, kicking two field goals and recording six (six!) touchbacks, taking away Clemson's threat of a return. Sanders and Ellington had some nice returns as well. Tyler Hull didn't flip the field too well, but he was solid. Not a top grade, but just under.
The defense played a great game, guarding the receivers early, adjusting at halftime to quit over-running plays and not giving up too many large gains. Outside of Steve Spurrier having a bad two-minute drill at the end of the first half and for him throwing long when the safe move was to go middle and kick a field goal, he did a terrific job of managing the offense. He had to work short and run clock, not go long, even though the passes were there.
OVERALL GRADE: A