KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The grades are in from South Carolina’s surprising upset loss Saturday at Tennessee. Here’s a comprehensive look at the Gamecocks’ disappointing Saturday.
OFFENSE – D-
The only thing that saves USC’s offense from its first failing grade of the season? The Gamecocks did have 218 rushing yards on 42 attempts, an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Mike Davis had another tremendous day with 137 yards on 21 carries, including a 21-yard touchdown. So, golf clap. Other than that, good gracious this was a bad performance.
There were dropped passes, enough to give quarterback Connor Shaw nightmares. Shaw completed 7-of-21 passes, by far his lowest completion percentage of the season. Let’s just say that number is misleading. Any help from his receivers, and Shaw would’ve been above 50 percent.
There were missed blocks. That certainly disrupted the rhythm and timing on offense.
There were penalties. Oh, the penalties. Any time you have an illegal formation immediately after a timeout, it’s not good.
All around, just ugly football for an offense that played like the Sistine Chapel in the first half of the season.
DEFENSE – C
It’s hard to be too critical of the defense. The two touchdowns USC gave up came when the defense was gassed in the first half, with the offense unable to stay on the field. Tennessee only got two field goals in the second half. Obviously, there were issues. Any time you give up a game-winning drive, a game-winning field goal on the final play, there’s going to be a bitter taste. That said, there were positives to take away for the defense.
Tennessee only had 325 yards of offense, well below its season average. With a one-point lead, the defense held Tennessee scoreless twice when given a short field inside the final eight minutes. Jadeveon Clowney had easily his best performance of the season – and against Vols left tackle Tiny Richardson, no less – with 2.5 tackles for loss. If he’s that kind of player the rest of the season, USC’s defense could be in good shape.
SPECIAL TEAMS – F
South Carolina got nothing done with its special teams. Elliot Fry air balled a 45-yard field goal, which would have been the difference in the game. The return game never took off, primarily thanks to penalties. But, most troubling, Tyler Hull’s inability to get distance on his punts in the fourth quarter killed USC’s field position. With Hull averaging 36.3 yards per punt, the Vols owned quality field position for most of the game.
COACHING – F
You can debate how Steve Spurrier used his second-half timeouts all day. It’s a fascinating argument to me. The conventional play would be to punt the football facing fourth-and-2 with a one-point lead and three minutes left, obviously. Punting without burning two timeouts, even better. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right decision.
Spurrier’s gut was telling him to go for those two yards. Hand the ball to running back Mike Davis, let him power his way for a first down. Hindsight means everything, of course. But, if a team is going to lose, I think you’d prefer that team lose with the legendary coach following his instincts. That didn’t happen.
Furthermore, Spurrier would be the first to tell you the offense wasn’t ready to play in the first half. It didn’t play well in the first quarter either. Take away USC’s two third-quarter touchdowns, and you’re left with a train wreck. Some of that falls on coaching and getting players prepared during the week.
OVERALL – D
Georgia and Florida saved this weekend from being an utter failure. South Carolina’s hopes of winning the SEC East should have died in Knoxville. They didn’t, because the Bulldogs and Gators also had surprising losses. For the Gamecocks, there is still a path to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game. Unfortunately for them, the first requisite is they must win every conference game the rest of the season. Judging from the team that showed up at Tennessee, that’s far from a certainty.