GAMECOCKS GET SOLID MARKS ACROSS THE BOARD IN SEC VICTORY OVER THE TIGERS
By John Loveday || Thanks to comments from University of Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, the scoreboard for the 2012 college football season currently reads, “Old Man Football“ - 2, Missouri – 0.
After hanging with the Georgia Bulldogs for half of a game earlier this season, Richardson’s Tigers were blown out on Saturday by Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks – who relied on a balanced offensive performance and another stellar defensive outing to earn a 31-10 win over the newest member of the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
How did the Gamecocks grade out in their win over Mizzou?
USC OFFENSIVE GRADE: A-
Connor Shaw’s return to action against Missouri reminded South Carolina fans of why he earned the nod as starting quarterback – and why he’s posted an 11-1 mark since assuming that role midway through last season. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound junior from Flowery Branch, Georgia – who didn’t play against East Carolina and struggled to move the USC offense against UAB – showed no ill effects from his shoulder injury. Shaw was a staggering 20 of 21 passing for 249 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. His 95.2 percent completion percentage set a new single game school record and ranked second all-time among SEC signal callers. Shaw also ran the ball 12 times for 45 yards against the Tigers.
If Shaw can continue playing at this level – or even close to it – South Carolina will have a chance for a very special year.
Running back Marcus Lattimore – who played for the first time post-injury without his knee brace – turned in another solid outing. Lattimore rushed for 87 yards on 21 attempts for two touchdowns. The junior also pulled in a season-high seven catches for 60 yards. With his two rushing scores, Lattimore is now the school record holder for rushing touchdowns (hitting pay dirt 33 times on the ground through his first 24 collegiate games). It took Harold Green 44 games and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers 46 games to score 31 rushing touchdowns.
Last week, Lattimore broke Green and Rogers’ total touchdown mark.
USC’s offensive line – which has struggled to open holes this season – had a solid day clearing paths and protecting the quarterback. Starting for the first time in his career, left tackle Corey Robinson contributed to the Gamecocks’ line giving up just one sack on the day. It will be interesting to see who starts up front over the next few games, but one thing is clear: More consistency is vital at this position if USC is to have a chance to win against Georgia, LSU and Florida.
The reason the Gamecocks didn’t earn an “A” or “A+” here? USC fumbled the ball twice, and both were lost. Also, a clipping call negated an 80-yard touchdown run by Shaw in the 1st quarter.
USC DEFENSIVE GRADE: A-
South Carolina’s defense gave up only 255 yards against Missouri – 109 rushing and 146 through the air. Quin Smith led the team with ten tackles while Devonte Holloman and Shaq Wilson both recorded seven tackles. Sophomore sensation Jadeveon Clowney continued to dominate up front with four total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. So far this season Clowney has a total of 4.5 sacks through 4 games – putting him on track to smash the school’s single season record of 10 sacks, which is currently shared by Andrew Provence (1983) and Melvin Ingram (2011). Clowney has a ways to go, though, if he hopes to break the NCAA record of 24 sacks in a seson – set by Terrell Suggs of Arizona State in 2002.
As I predicted back in early August, lineman Chaz Sutton is finding great success playing with Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor.
With defenses focusing on Clowney and Taylor, Sutton if often left in one-on-one situations. Against Missouri he responded with one of his best performances as a Gamecock, registering three total tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and one sack.
What’s most impressive about USC’s defensive performance against Mizzou is that the Gamecocks were able to smother a potent passing attack without the leader of their secondary, senior D.J. Swearinger (who was serving a one game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit against UAB). Swearinger’s replacement – true freshman T.J. Gurley – recorded two tackles but more importantly he made no major mistakes.
The main reason the Gamecocks don’t earn an “A” or “A+” here is because their second team defense gave up a late touchdown with 17 seconds left in the game. Many players on the second and third team defense will be starters next year. Improved play and consistency is needed in this area, but the season is still young and these guys will (hopefully) have many more opportunities to mature between now and next season.
USC SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: A-
Walk-on Tyler Hull averaged 41.3 on three punts, with one kick downed within the Missouri 20-yard line. Hull seems to be improving each game as his confidence and experience grows, which is a good sign for USC’s special teams. The coverage unit also performed well – not allowing Missouri an opportunity to return a single punt.
The undisputed stars on special teams this past Saturday were Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington, though. Sanders returned six punts for a total of 106 yards – including a sensational 49-yard return that took the ball to the Missouri four yard line.
In case you missed it …
Meanwhile Ellington’s one and only opportunity to return a kickoff in this game– and his first opportunity of the year due to the NCAA’s new touchback rule – went for 50 yards. It would not surprise me at all if Ellington breaks one off for a touchdown sooner rather than later.
Adam Yates was 1 for 1 on field goal attempts – connecting on a 38-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Yates also took over kickoff duties this week with three touchbacks on six attempts. The only real error on special teams this week came from Yates as he yanked one kick out of bounds – giving the ball to Missouri on the 35-yard line. If South Carolina’s special teams can continue to play at this level across the board, they will add a dimension to this Gamecock squad that was lacking a year ago.
Check back later this week for a detailed breakdown/ prediction of USC’s game against Kentucky this weekend. Kickoff in Lexington is scheduled for 7 p.m. EDT with ESPN2 providing the coverage.