ORLANDO, Fla. – The good, the bad. There was a lot of both.
It was an inconsistent Saturday afternoon. It was also successful. Here’s a look at the grades for South Carolina’s football team after its 28-25 win at Central Florida.
When an offense scores four unanswered touchdowns on its first five second-half possessions, it’s an above-average day.
Mike Davis continued to be a revelation this season, rushing for 167 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore tailback is second in the SEC with 508 rushing yards, and he’s third with six rushing touchdowns.
Still, USC left Orlando with plenty to be concerned about.
Backup quarterback Dylan Thompson was only average filling in for Connor Shaw after USC’s starter “bruised” his throwing shoulder on the game’s first possession. Thompson completed 15-of-32 passes for 261 yards and one touchdown. His third-quarter rushing touchdown gave USC the lead, but Thompson also had to use his legs to avoid UCF’s pass rush. Thompson said he needs to play better. His track record indicates he will.
Then, there is the receiving group. Damiere Byrd had a big day – as did Bruce Ellington – but Nick Jones has been quiet since his early touchdown against Vanderbilt. The junior dropped some passes that would have been big plays. He needs to smooth out his consistency. Speak of, Shaq Roland’s issues continue. After being suspended Saturday, his status is unknown going forward.
In short, plenty of unknowns going into Kentucky week.
USC’s defense had plenty of good moments Saturday:
- Four forced turnovers, one more than the three they had on the season entering the game.
- Clowney didn’t get a sack, but he created two with his pressure. Yes, Clowney is too good to be pleased with a glass half full. With two sacks in four games, it’s fair to say the junior defensive end’s numbers are disappointing. Still, his presence alone has clearly made USC’s defense much better. That can’t be forgotten.
- UCF got nothing going with its running game, picking up just 69 yards on 25 carries – an average of 2.8 yards per carry.
The defense had a lot of bad, too:
- Big plays. The Gamecocks have to eliminate them. Bortles’ 73-yard touchdown pass to Rannell Hall prevented USC from putting the game away early. His 79-yard pass to Breshad Perriman that set up the final touchdown made every player and coach – and fan – disgusted. The fourth quarter ruined an otherwise great performance, like splattering red paint all over the Mona Lisa.
- USC allowed UCF to pick up more than half of its third downs (6-of-11).
- USC’s defense struggled early, giving up a touchdown on its first series. In two road games, USC’s defense has given up 17 first-quarter points. It allowed touchdowns on both of its opening series.
Overall, call the defense average.
Special teams: B-
Not a lot to complain about, but special teams didn’t play a big role in the game.
Hampton’s ill-advised decision to field a punt inside USC’s 5-yard line didn’t look good, but Ellington’s 31-yard kick return was a major improvement.
When he got the punt off cleanly, Tyler Hull was solid. He averaged 47 yards per punt in three clean punts. Of course, his botched punt late in the second quarter is something he’d like to forget.
Finally, Elliot Fry was solid, making all four of his extra points.
Steve Spurrier’s hesitancy to give Mike Davis the football threatened to cost USC a winnable game. The offense sputtered in the first half, while Davis got only five carries. It was confusing. It was perplexing. It was bad strategy.
Of course, Spurrier knew it. The Head Ball Coach is smart, you know. Adjustments were made. Davis got 21 carries in the second half, and he ran all over UCF’s defense.
Still, USC is lucky UCF didn’t take advantage of some opportunities in the first half. The Gamecocks should have trailed by more than 10 points at halftime. They wouldn’t have been shutout, however, had Davis gotten more first-half touches.
USC did what it was supposed to do. It went down to Orlando and beat the Knights. At times, it wasn’t pretty. The Gamecocks justifiably dropped one spot in the AP top 25 poll Sunday, now ranked No. 13. Ultimately, USC isn’t interested in style points right now. It needs wins. Mission accomplished.