COLUMBIA – The grades are in from No. 13 South Carolina’s 35-28 win over Kentucky on Saturday night. From the good to the bad – and, yes, the ugly – here’s a complete review of the Gamecocks’ third straight win.
At this point, the offense can’t do anything more. You want a dominant running game? Running back Mike Davis had 106 yards and two touchdowns, and has now crossed the 100-yard rushing mark in four of USC’s five games. You want a dynamic passing game? Quarterback Connor Shaw completed 17-of-20 passes for 262 yards – including a 62-yard touchdown with no interceptions – and had nine receivers catch a pass. You want third-down efficiency? USC converted 5-of-9 opportunities. How about red zone? In two trips, USC had two touchdowns. The Gamecocks finished with four touchdowns, 453 yards and no offensive turnovers. That should be enough, every week.
Steve Spurrier said he expected Kentucky to score 17 points on his defense Saturday. So, to give up 28 points, it was clearly a below-average performance. Spurrier was cheerful after the game, but you could notice just a hint of dejection. He’s accepted that USC’s defense will completely disappear in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks’ defense did some things well Saturday. It held Kentucky to 301 yards overall, and seven points in the first three quarters. But giving up three touchdowns in the final 14 minutes to a Kentucky team that averages three touchdowns per game was simply embarrassing.
Special teams: C
Elliot Fry made two field goals from 40 yards. That was an encouraging sign. Bruce Ellington mishandled two kickoff returns in the fourth quarter, the first a fumble that gave Kentucky a short field. That was discouraging. It was an inconsistent night for the special teams. It’s been an inconsistent season for the special teams. Moving forward, the special teams will likely continue to be inconsistent.
Not a lot you can do when your best defensive player walks up to you before the game and says he can’t play. Jadeveon Clowney’s decision to sit Saturday with bruised ribs completely caught Spurrier and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward off guard. Still, at some point these fourth-quarter letdowns trace back to coaching. Ward has to figure something out on defense. As for Spurrier, I can’t see how it’s wise to keep going to backup quarterback Dylan Thompson early in games. Sometimes it works out. Too often it doesn’t. On Saturday, Connor Shaw directed three straight touchdown drives to open the game. Thompson came in, and USC had to punt for the first time. Spurrier blamed offensive line breakdowns, not Thompson. Regardless, Shaw’s legs minimize the effect offensive line breakdowns have on the offense, buying time and improvising to make plays.
The objective is to win the game. With a win, it’s illogical to give a team a failing grade. Still, a touchdown victory over Kentucky can’t be acceptable. Not for this South Carolina team. It was a win, but it also exposed several problems the Gamecocks have to address this week before traveling to Arkansas – before the start of a monstrous three-game road trip that could decide what kind of season it will be for the Gamecocks. If things don’t get better soon, the season could turn ugly.