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. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA 24, NAVY 21
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Oh, Stephen Garcia. All-American one day, Dickie DeMasi the next. Garcia's numbers weren't bad - in fact, they were rather brilliant, the senior completing 18-of-25 passes for 204 yards and an interception. Deprived of favorite target Alshon Jeffery for the first few plays, Garcia did well to find other receivers at first and keep going at them. He spread the ball around better than he has all year, finding seven different guys for receptions and hitting four receivers more times than Jeffery. And excuse the term, but it took some heavy stones to hang in there and find Justice Cunningham for a first down on fourth-and-10, and to take his eyes off Jeffery on third-and-long, trusting redshirt freshman Nick Jones to get past his man and in the clear. That, and shortening the field by throwing side-to-side, was all very, very good to see. But (and there's always a but when discussing Garcia), there were those other plays. At least twice where he stood back there for at least eight seconds, looking for a man and then running far too late to get anywhere. That awful interception where yes, he got hit, but he still should have known enough by now that trying to hang in there and make the play would require backtracking, and John Brodie couldn't have made that long of a throw off his back foot. I know that Garcia wants to be that gunslinger, and sometimes he is, but he's got to realize that the best plan for the Gamecocks right now is what I call the Trent Dilfer Playbook - you're going to get enough weapons around you to win. Just, YOU don't lose the game.
You know what? It's not even worth trying to be clever, witty and/or pithy. Marcus Lattimore is an absolute monster on that football field.
It's one thing for Garcia to spread the ball around, but it's another for the receivers to be there for him, catching some difficult balls at first and letting him settle in. Jason Barnes rebounded from an awful first game to catch four passes, and Jones (or "Nicky," as Steve Spurrier calls him) broke out for a team-best 52 yards on three catches. It was good to see people stepping up in the absence of D.L. Moore and getting the attention off Jeffery, which should hopefully get the passing game in gear. Good routes were run (maybe that's because Navy wasn't blocking near as well as Georgia) and Garcia wasn't magnetized on Jeffery all night, allowing some of the others to show what they could do. With Ace Sanders also neutralized, that opened another opportunity, and Jones stepped into it. It opens spots for the future as well.
Good blocking, great catches for Cunningham. He may not be the physical specimen of Weslye Saunders, or have the ability to get low and scoot for a few more yards like Patrick DiMarco, but he's steady, has good hands and simply does his job. He has to be a safety net, and Garcia found him as one. That fourth-and-long completion was him simply curling out 10 and waiting, hands up, until Garcia hit his check-downs and found him.
Garcia was sacked twice, but mostly on plays where he diddled around back there before making up his mind. Not really the line's fault. It did an outstanding job opening holes for Lattimore and pass-protecting Garcia, which got better as Garcia opened the game with short throws. Also, for the second straight game, it at least looked like the starting five played every snap. That's not easy to do without having to take at least one breather, and outside of a holding penalty on Rokevious Watkins, it was a very nice evening.
Very tough to defend that triple option, and the line was gashed early. Putting Melvin Ingram at linebacker and unable to take advantage of the pass-rush talents of Jadeveon Clowney, the line could have folded, but it stood tall when it needed to. Devin Taylor again had a fine game (is it me or is he being constantly double-teamed?) and as the game went on, USC began to fill the gaps better and hit harder. It did give up some yards, though, so it can't be a top mark.
In a game where USC needed its linebackers perhaps more than any other, they were good in some spots and bad at others. The problem with playing linebacker against that kind of scheme is that you're never quite sure if the guy coming at you really has the ball. And since you're behind the D-line, you're really guessing as to if the pile coming your way is a decoy or he really has the ball. Ingram played a lot of linebacker and had eight tackles, while Rodney Paulk had five. Shaq Wilson didn't have a tackle, which I found shocking. But overall, a good job for what the position could do.
Sigh … If there was any game where the DBs would have a chance to really get better, because there was no pressure on them, this was it. They knew that on every play, it was unlikely they were going to be challenged. Yet they still gave up some critical passes, like fourth-and-15 in the fourth, when Kriss Proctor found a wide-open man for 16 yards. I realize if a man runs around long enough, he'll get open, but come on. On the biggest play, to that point, of the game, the secondary again can't get it done. Now, Antonio Allen again came up with a huge play, grabbing the game-clinching interception, and he also stripped a fumble that Marty Markett rolled on, then off, of. By the numbers, the secondary had a great day. For those who knew Navy throwing the ball was about as likely as Alex Smith becoming an All-Pro, they knew better.
Jay Wooten again with a clutch field goal, one for a halftime lead and one from 48 yards with plenty of room to spare. Coverage teams did well. There were no punts, so nothing doing there. Kick return again needs some work. Bruce Ellington did nothing but run into the pile and fumble once (Damario Jeffery recovered). Stephon Gilmore was the usual solid-but-not-spectacular self. In the preseason, it was all D.J. Swearinger this and D.J. Swearinger that, but he has yet to be out there. I realize Ellington has enormous potential, but so does Swearinger, at least in kick return. Why not try a new guy?
Obviously, a great decision to give the ball to Lattimore. I know Spurrier may hate being such a one-dimensional team, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Even though it may not have been intentional (Alshon Jeffery was benched because he broke a team rule), not having him out there at the start forced Garcia to look elsewhere and get others involved in the passing game. I actually liked the onside kick call, and it wasn't the coaches' fault that the special teams ran out there in the onside coverage instead of standard, then audibling for the quick snap. The really bad part? The possession to close out the first half. Just a terrible series. Ten plays, 32 yards, and Lattimore (who had 115 yards at the time) carried once. With over three minutes and three timeouts to try and get the go-ahead score.
OVERALL GRADE: B
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