Report Card: USC-Florida
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. 3 FLORIDA 44, NO. 9 SOUTH CAROLINA 11
Whether it was Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson taking the snaps, the position was marred by bad decision-making all game and too many crucial mistakes. Shaw fumbled on the first offensive snap and never got into a rhythm, throwing or running. Thompson, in to pass, converted one first down in his first four series. Shaw's problems were what he has recently displayed - a refusal to throw downfield unless a receiver is wide-open (and missing some receivers that were wide-open that he just didn't see). Thompson, who hasn't played much, was put in an un-winnable situation and not surprisingly, didn't win. Each put together a drive or two, but then each messed it up. Shaw, after driving the Gamecocks to the Florida 29-yard-line, decided to head-on rush into Jelani Jenkins on a third-down option pitch. Thompson, after driving to the Florida 12 in the fourth quarter, threw three straight incompletes. Each time, USC had to settle for a field goal, one which was blocked and one which only accomplished a double-figure score. No, it's not either's fault that USC was in such a massive hole (that was special teams, after Shaw's initial fumble), but quarterbacks are supposed to lead. Neither did.
Hard to judge when they hardly got the ball in their hands. Marcus Lattimore was a non-factor, after being the third tailback to play and only rushing three times. I thought Kenny Miles had some tough runs, and Mike Davis had a nice long gain in garbage time. The big hole the Gamecocks were in had the coaches moving away from the running game, so the backs spent their time mostly pass-blocking. Good effort, and OK production when they got the ball, but the rushing totals (of just the three backs, not the quarterbacks or Bruce Ellington) were 14 carries and 48 yards. That doesn't get it done.
To be clear, the grade for the position is judged on what they did as receivers, not special teams (otherwise, it'd be lower). In a game where the receivers had to produce, not many did. Now, I saw a few open receivers that Shaw never saw, but mostly, the receivers again struggled to get open. D.L. Moore had three catches to lead the team, but also had another huge drop that would have been a touchdown (the pass was high, but it did hit his fingertips. Depending on who you listen to, if a pass hits the hands, it should be caught). Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington struggled to get open and when they were, Shaw overthrew them. K.J. Brent came in late to catch a ball and Nick Jones caught a screen from Shaw. The receivers can't be blamed if the ball can't get to them, and that's more on the quarterbacks than the receivers. Yes, sometimes there are route-running problems, but it's getting to be more and more on the quarterbacks for not throwing the ball.
Justice Cunningham had another two catches and Busta Anderson had one. They're doing their jobs of getting open and blocking as well as they can.
The pass-blocking gave Shaw room to throw and after a couple of initial mis-steps, did so for Thompson. The run-blocking, as it has all year, was not good, but when the coaches abandoned the run, it never got a chance to improve during the game. The new left-side tandem of Mike Matulis and Kyle Harris did OK, but shuttled in and out with the regulars as well. Between that and the non-run game, it was difficult to judge. The quarterbacks didn't do much, but the line, for the most part, gave them room to make a decision.
The Gamecocks' defensive front was all over Mike Gillislee and Jeff Driskel from the opening snap, shutting the rushing game down, and outside of a long touchdown drive to open the second half, kept it up. It's certainly not for a lack of trying to prevent it that Florida scored three touchdowns in the first half - it was hard for them not to when the Gators started their possessions at the 1, 2 and 29-yard-lines. Jadeveon Clowney played on a bruised foot and still had five tackles, two for loss, with a sack. Devin Taylor had a sack and two tackles for loss, and I thought that even without Kelcy Quarles, the line was dominant. Lorenzo Ward said that there were too many points on the board to be satisfied, and answered "Life isn't fair," when asked if it was fair to ask his D to stop Florida on such short-yardage situations. No, it's not, and neither is a fumbled punt after forcing a three-and-out.
Having to play the edges and keep an eye on Gillislee between the tackles, the linebackers played very well, swarming the ball and helping their rushing defensive ends bring down ball-carriers. Reginald Bowens led the team with 11 tackles and Shaq Wilson had six. The linebackers didn't get a lot of production when Trey Burton stepped in at quarterback - whether or not fatigue was a factor can't really be answered. A good performance.
Early, they helped the rest of the defenders swarm the ball, but in the second half, the Gators began throwing and the DBs never caught up to the routes. Driskel worked the boundaries and sidelines and USC never got to his receivers, which turned the game from manageable to a rout. USC had stacked the box to stop the run, and the defensive backs never got used to the quick strikes that Driskel was throwing. A couple of nice breakups, and only 93 yards, but just a couple of key breakdowns at the wrong times.
Y'all watched the game, right? Adam Yates gets some credit for knocking three field goals, including a 51-yarder, but those two return fumbles put the Gamecocks in a hole they could never get of.
Ward had a great game plan to stop the Gators' running, and it worked. The adjustment of whether or not to stay home and man up Burton or play him on pass routes was exploited, though, and the defensive backs didn't get to the pass in the second half. The biggest decision, though, came on the offensive side of the ball. Steve Spurrier had already made the decision to pull Shaw in favor of Thompson in the second half, and to rest Lattimore. At the time, the score was still manageable at 21-6. Florida scored on its first second-half possession to make it 27-6, which became 27-8 when Victor Hampton took a Byron Jerideau blocked PAT to the house. At that time, it looked understandable to throw because it was a 19-point deficit. But making the decision to abandon the run when only down 15 at the half? Curious. There were still 24 minutes of game clock to work even after the Florida touchdown, but Thompson passed and kept passing to little success. The Gamecocks basically conceded the game at the half with that decision.
OVERALL GRADE: D