The first SEC home game is in the past, a 35-25 win against Vanderbilt that got South Carolina’s season back on track. Now, the Gamecocks enter a bye week.
But before we look ahead to USC’s trip to Orlando, where it will play Central Florida on Sept. 28, here’s a full breakdown of Saturday night. Time for our weekly Gamecocks grades.
Offense – A-
The numbers were absolutely dominant. South Carolina had 579 yards against Vanderbilt’s defense, a group coach Steve Spurrier praised earlier last week for always finding a way to make his offense struggle. The Gamecocks hadn’t scored four touchdowns against the Commodores since 2006. It took them less than 20 minutes Saturday night.
Connor Shaw has established himself as one of the better passers in the SEC. Mike Davis is running like one of the best tailbacks in the SEC. Nine receivers caught passes. As Spurrier said after the game, there were a lot of things to be happy about.
So, why not a solid A? As good as USC was in the first 20 minutes, it went cold in the final 20 minutes. When they needed one score to put the game away early, the Gamecocks ended the game with two punts and one turnover on downs. Yes, the special teams miscues threw USC’s offense out of rhythm, but it would have been nice for the group to finish the game strong. Just a minor complaint on an otherwise flawless night.
Defense – B
When the defense had to make a play, senior cornerback Jimmy Legree delivered. That was the biggest difference between Saturday night and the previous weekend in Athens, but not the only one.
Jadeveon Clowney got more help on the defensive line, with end Chaz Sutton and tackle Kelcy Quarles both making big plays. The secondary gave up eight catches and 106 yards to Vandy receiver Jordan Matthews, but his big plays were limited. And, of course, the Gamecocks forced their first two turnovers of the season – ending a nasty dry spell.
Spurrier pointed out USC held Vandy to 268 offensive yards, and that’s a good number. The Gamecocks could’ve been better in sudden-change situations – giving up a touchdown one play after Shon Carson’s fumble was exactly positive – but take away 13 seconds and it was a very solid night.
Special teams – F
Spurrier was blunt afterward, saying USC had to find “better players” on special teams. Yes. Yes it does.
There was Carson’s fumble. There was the punt that hit T.J. Gurley’s foot, a fluke occurrence that could be avoided with more awareness. There was shoddy kick coverage and shoddier kick returns.
The miscues turned what should’ve been a sure blowout into a too-close-for-comfort ending.
I’d expect Bruce Ellington – or, someone not named Shon Carson – to return kicks against Central Florida in two weeks. I’d expect some changes to the coverage team. Mostly, as Spurrier said, I’d expect the Gamecocks to find better players for their special teams unit.
Coaching – B
Twice Saturday night, USC needed to get one yard. Both times, it picked up a first down with Connor Shaw sneaking under center. Yes, the question could be asked, where was that on the goal line in Athens?
USC coached a much cleaner game than the previous week. Of course, it helps when assistant coaches are not on the cusp of throwing punches on the sideline. The defense lined up better, probably because calls got in from the sideline faster. Spurrier clearly figured something out against Vandy’s defense. All around, a solid effort.
Overall – B
The way Saturday night ended left an unmistakable concern entering the bye week. USC had been sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season, and it showed once against Vandy. In the first half, the Gamecocks looked like a true top 10 team, a team that could win every remaining game on its schedule. In the final 20 minutes, they looked mediocre.
The goal was to get back on track, and that was accomplished. Overall , it was a successful night. But, entering these next two weeks, the most important thing for USC is determining which team it will be. Are the Gamecocks Jekyll, or are they Hyde?