Report Card: USC-Tennessee
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. 17 SOUTH CAROLINA 38, TENNESSEE 35
Talk about a night-and-day difference. Playing a secondary that he knew he could exploit, Connor Shaw flung the ball all over the field. He had 356 yards and spread the ball around to six different sets of hands, mostly getting rid of the ball when he had to. He only had a couple of mistakes, the biggest being not letting the ball go on fourth-and-4 when the Gamecocks had to have a score on the drive, rolling left and throwing a floater that was intercepted. But, with Marcus Lattimore out for the season, it was huge for Shaw to show that the Gamecocks can still move the ball.
Not a great day running the ball, especially when looking at the per-carry (3.2), but the Gamecocks got just enough, especially when Lattimore was out in the second quarter. Kenny Miles ran hard, one nice run being called back due to penalty and another being tripped up at the last second to prevent a touchdown. Mike Davis had another good jaunt, and it wasn't in garbage time. Again (broken record), I think it would have been more with some decent holes to run through.
Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders each had an outstanding day, really picking up the team after Lattimore went down. Ellington had 16-yard catches on back-to-back plays, and Sanders made a pretty grab for a touchdown when he kept eye-balling the pass through a lunging pair of Tennessee hands and looked it into his mitts. Those two were expected to lead the receiving corps this season and really helped out Shaw, catching downfield throws as well as the standard quick-out, catch-and-runs.
Justice Cunningham, 108 yards. Busta Anderson, a touchdown where he caught the ball, was popped by a defender, stayed up and stumbled backward into the end zone. Cunningham had a couple of penalties, though.
Very nice pass protection, not-so-good run-blocking, and it was against a defense that was the worst against the run in the SEC. A few penalties as well, even one on fifth-year senior T.J. Johnson. Still, the line more or less did its job, and the one-week experiment of Kyle Harris and Mike Matulis was ended. Brandon Shell played well until he sprained his ankle, and I thought Corey Robinson also played well.
USC knew that it wasn't going to get a lot of pass-rush against Tennessee, and didn't. It stopped the run moderately well, and Jadeveon Clowney made the biggest play of the game when he finally got room to hit Tyler Bray, and caused a fumble. Gerald Dixon Jr. continues to play well in relief of Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau. Not a lot of statistical production, but it did what most outside of Lorenzo Ward said it would do.
Shaq Wilson obviously had a huge play by recovering Bray's fumble, and he and Quin Smith played the run well. Not going to place the blame on them for the success of Tennessee's passing game, because Bray was mostly screening to the sideline away from the linebackers unless he was heaving downfield.
The onus was on the secondary to have its best game, and it didn't. A lot of soft coverage, and Bray picked it apart. Jimmy Legree has played very well this year, but fell down on a deep pass route. Brison Williams was toasted on a couple of touchdown throws. D.J. Swearinger had 10 tackles, and Victor Hampton showed some serious steel by going up to intercept the game-clinching ball when the safe and smart play was to play the man, not the ball. Still, a lot to be concerned about with pass-happy Arkansas coming in, and then heading to Clemson two weeks after that.
Yes, it has happened. Special teams gets a top grade. Joe Robinson didn't take "the hell with it" approach by kicking deep when he knew it wouldn't work consistently. The Gamecocks booted one ball of the end zone, but otherwise pooched to the upback, kicked out-of-bounds, anything but give the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson with room to run. Adam Yates hit the game-winning points after USC ran itself right out of a touchdown. Sanders and Ellington each had one nice return. Put it in the books.
Ward kept blitzing although it wasn't working much, and I'm not sure how much he could have played a different scheme to stop Bray. He did move Swearinger to cornerback and played Clowney inside a bit, which opened Tennessee enough so that he could switch him back out and he could make the big play. Steve Spurrier threw and kept throwing, which was the right move. Tennessee couldn't stop it, so why not keep doing it?
OVERALL GRADE: B+