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. 15 SOUTH CAROLINA 17, FLORIDA 12
Once again, in his game manager role, Connor Shaw played pretty well. He obviously needs to work on throwing while on the run/rolling out, and his passing abilities as a whole are always going to be suspect - until he shuts everybody up by throwing a 46-yard bomb with perfect touch to Ace Sanders, like he did against the Gators. I thought that Shaw came out trying to stay in the pocket just a wee bit longer, until he figured out that no, USC's offensive line still can't give him that much protection. So Shaw began running again, sometimes too quickly, but most of the time on the zone-read that he loves to play in, he did well. He's a tough runner, a strong runner, and doesn't mind going into the pile (although a few more of those hits and there might be reason to be concerned). Always things to work on when you're basically a first-year SEC starting quarterback, but Shaw continues to do well with them. Since Bruce Ellington also played a bit of QB (and threw one pass), he figures into the grade as well. Not too great on running the Wildcat, but a very positive mark because his one pass will always be a trivia answer - it became the record-breaking yardage catch for Alshon Jeffery.
I think we all saw it from the first snap - Brandon Wilds was ready to get his yards the hard way. Florida was dominating the line of scrimmage, but Wilds kept ramming his head and shoulders into the pile and trying to move it. His effort never wavered and his production increased, as he stayed fresh and Florida wilted. Wilds rushed for 120 yards, his second 100-yard game in just three tries, and continued to show that yes, he is indeed an SEC running back. Kenny Miles got a few carries, three for 3 yards, and was able to give Wilds a breath on the sideline, although perhaps not at the greatest time (which will be covered later on in the report card). Mostly Wilds, and mostly his grade.
USC's struggles in the passing game have been well documented, and Saturday was another chapter to add to the file. Shaw can barely get his feet set after the snap before he's being pressured, and the Gators were doing it almost exclusively with their defensive line. Shaw did a good job of finding some receivers underneath, and went back to the screen passes as well. Sanders had the biggest catch of the day, telling Steve Spurrier that he could run past his man and get the ball, and he did. Jeffery finally broke his record and wasn't quite as frustrated (from my view, anyway) as he had been. Can't dock a grade because of lack of production when they depend on someone else to get them the ball, so a nice average mark.
Justice Cunningham deserves an "A" simply for keeping his eyes trained upward, when a pass was batted into the air and Cunningham was behind the defensive line to catch it. As usual, got to knock back a bit because he shares in the pass-blocking duties, as does Rory Anderson.
The good part was that the line continued to push forward all day so Wilds and Shaw had room to run. The bad part, as usual, was the pass-blocking was simply atrocious. It was bad at the start and only got worse - Shaw only completed six passes and only on attempts where he rolled out, planted just long enough and heaved, or took the snap and fired to the side or over the middle. I thought Mike Matulis played very well in his return to the lineup, but the rest of the guys, not so much. T.J. Johnson had a couple of penalties, Terrence Campbell was missing his blocks, Rokevious Watkins allowed a few jailbreaks. As mentioned before (and before, and before), it's not going to get better. The Gamecocks just have to hope, that like their other games, it's good enough to win.
Florida's offensive line was pushing through USC's defensive front, and then suddenly gave up on it. Why, I have no idea. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were basically running the same play over and over, zone-read right, and it was working, and then Florida stopped. John Brantley fell down rather than take a sack after he tried to hand the ball off and the tailback was already gone, and that turned the game around. That's when USC's line really started pressuring Brantley, and it sacked him three times. The line rebounded very well, got a couple of turnovers and re-asserted itself. A fine job at the most crucial time - when Florida was threatening to tie the game.
Boy, was that needed. Shaq Wilson, Quin Smith, Rodney Paulk and Reginald Bowens each had very strong games, disrupting Florida's passing lanes, chiming in on the pressure of Brantley and helping stuff runners. Wilson was a pleasant surprise, chipping in six tackles, including two for loss. The Gamecocks almost dared the Gators to throw on them, and had their short routes to speed guys planned out.
Knowing they would have to play front to back all day due to the Gators loving to use the short field, USC's secondary was up to the challenge. Stephon Gilmore started it by running around the edge, sacking Brantley and causing a fumble on the first series, and it only continued. Antonio Allen and Gilmore each had a tackle for loss, and one of the biggest plays was when freshman Sharrod Golightly burst through the line and dropped Demps on first-and-goal. Yes, Florida helped immensely by dropping a few passes, including one where Jordan Reed got behind the defense, faded back and tripped over his own feet while falling into the end zone, the ball inches from his fingertips. But close plays don't count, made plays do, and the Gamecocks were the ones making them.
That was also severely needed. One week after an implosion against Arkansas, USC's special teams contributed to the win. Jay Wooten wisely stayed away from Florida's dangerous return men, pooching the kick high and deep enough so the Gamecocks could get down and make the tackles. The coverage teams were great, with even snapper Walker Inabinet making a stop. Ellington looked great on return, which may give USC another option once Victor Hampton comes back on return (he had two tackles on coverage). Joey Scribner-Howard did what he could do. Coach John Butler needed that one to restore some good graces, and he got it.
The only problem I had with the day's direction was when Miles subbed in for Wilds, who had 90 yards at the time, after Florida had cut it to 14-6 and USC needed to get some points. Miles couldn't get any room to run, and neither could Shaw, which forced a punt and then became a Florida touchdown. Obviously, everything turned out fine, but it's not like Wilds was woozy or out of breath - he was calmly sitting on the bench. Other than that, it was do what you can do. Run the ball, let Shaw make his own running decisions, don't try to pass too much. Butler did a great job with his special teams direction and Ellis Johnson swarmed Brantley with a lot of pressure, although sometimes Brantley threw right over it.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
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