ATHENS, Ga. — It was a big evening in Athens, a disappointing one for any Gamecocks fan.
No. 6 South Carolina had a chance to kick No. 11 Georgia when it was down. It ended up getting kicked instead, losing 41-30 in front of a sold-out Sanford Stadium.
Fittingly, the Gamecocks grades are harsh this week, but not everywhere. There were bright spots on a disappointing night. There were even more lows.
Offense – B+
Honestly, I’m not sure how much more South Carolina’s offense could have done. Perhaps USC should have scored on every possession. It needed to, Steve Spurrier said after the game. That’s unrealistic on the road in the SEC, even against a young Georgia defense.
Still, look at those numbers – 454 yards, 225 on the ground, four touchdowns. In two games, Mike Davis has already established himself as an upper-echelon running back in the SEC. Receiver Nick Jones had a breakout game with two touchdowns. And then there was Connor Shaw.
Despite the loss, USC’s senior quarterback’s performance should quiet questions about his ability to play big games on the road. Shaw was 16-for-25 with 228 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He ran for 75 yards on 15 carries. Outside a second-half fumble, Shaw was almost flawless.
Simply put, the offense played well enough to win. If not for …
Defense – F
When it’s clicking, Georgia has the best offense in the country. Everyone talked this offseason about quarterback Aaron Murray making it to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. Through two games, running back Todd Gurley seems to be well on his way to the Empire State.
All that considered, there’s no excuse for what the Gamecocks defense did – or, more appropriately, didn’t do –against the Bulldogs. They made Murray look like Peyton Manning, completing 17-of-23 passes for 309 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Gurley turned into some cross of Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker – which USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward compared him to this week – with 132 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns, one receiving.
Final carnage: 538 yards, five touchdowns. The Bulldogs scored on seven of the nine possessions in which they did not kneel on the football. The nation’s No. 6-ranked team is never supposed to give up those numbers.
Special teams – D
In the end, it didn’t matter. Georgia receiver Justin Scott-Wesley’s 85-yard touchdown took care of that. But USC kicker Elliott Fry’s missed extra point could have crushed the Gamecocks.
The extra point would have pulled USC within a field goal in the fourth quarter. Instead, it remained four points behind, and that completely changes the game. Yes, there were problems with the hold, but there’s never an excuse to miss an extra point. Fry would be the first to tell you that.
The Gamecocks didn’t get much going with their return game, either. Shon Carson averaged 18.5 yards on six kick returns, with his longest being 27 yards.
Coaching – D
Some fans may be more critical of USC’s coaching staff this morning. Certainly, some will hand out a failing grade.
There were plenty of issues. Mark Richt got the upper hand when he completely caught USC off guard on the first-quarter onside kick, a brilliant call. In the fourth quarter, USC lined up in shotgun and ran a toss sweep on fourth-and-one from the goal line, an odd call to say the least. And it never looks good when two coaches threaten to turn the sideline into a boxing ring, as linebackers coach Kirk Botkin and defensive line coach Deke Adams did.
Still, from where I sit, I don’t see what more the coaches could have done. When your defense can’t get off the field, it can’t get off the field. No amount of quality coaching changes that fact.
Overall – D+
The offense pulls the overall grade up. Despite a complete and utter failure on defense, there were bright spots on the other side of the ball – namely, Shaw, Davis and Jones. USC’s offensive line was terrific, too.
Regardless, USC entered the Georgia game facing a fork in the road. Would this be The Year? Or would this be just another good year? I think the Gamecocks have their answer. USC can go on to win oodles of games this fall, maybe back into the Sugar Bowl like Florida did last year. Some great goals are still attainable. But, Georgia is now effectively two games ahead of USC in the SEC East standings. With that offense, I don’t see the Bulldogs losing two more games, not when they host LSU.
South Carolina had a chance to control its destiny. Now, a trip to Atlanta is mostly out of its hands.