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September 12, 2011
Report Card: USC-Georgia
We break down every aspect of South Carolina's last game and assign a grade. Go to the head of the class if the grades you assigned the Gamecocks match ours. You've heard the rest, now hear the best.
NO. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA 45, GEORGIA 42
Stephen Garcia played the entire game, except for one snap where Bruce Ellington ran the "Wildcat" (on third-and-7 deep in his own territory, which we'll discuss later). Garcia again was hit-and-miss, doing some very good things when he ran the ball (his toughness always gets an "A") and finding his way for some strong passes (like the two completions on scramble plays, where he found Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown and later on, Ace Sanders for 30 yards). But quarterbacks, especially Steve Spurrier's quarterbacks, are supposed to be strong passers and Garcia wasn't on Saturday. He was a mere 11-of-25 for 142 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, the last where he threw a Hail Mary at the end of the first half and it was batted around before it was nabbed by Georgia. His first passes were all high, causing his receivers to leap, or too far out in front for them to catch. Garcia didn't use any excuses, saying he just didn't get it done, and knew that he deserved criticism. Very good leadership in keeping the team together on drives it had to have, and Garcia made some plays when he had to, but was only average overall.
Georgia dominated the line and stuffed Marcus Lattimore, plus Garcia on running plays, for most of the game, but then the fourth quarter began. Lattimore broke loose in the final frame, collecting nearly 100 yards in just that period and putting a stamp on a 176-yard performance. There was no other back to take into account, since Garcia and Melvin Ingram had the other rushing yards outside of Shon Carson's 2 yards and Ellington's one carry for no yards. Lattimore was again magnificent and is really saving the Gamecocks' offense, since the passing game resembles a broken window and Spurrier spent Sunday's teleconference griping about being a "running team." The good news is, even if Spurrier hates being one, he's got the tool to be one. Lattimore took some solid hits but kept getting back up and never lost his explosiveness.
First-game jitters aren't the case anymore. Again, Jeffery was fine with five catches for 85 yards and his first touchdown of the season, but the rest of the receivers pulled a disappearing act. Sanders had three grabs and looked very good following Garcia on a scramble, eventually pulling in the completion, but otherwise was locked into what's hurting the rest of the receivers - bad execution. I realize that there's only so much a receiver can do when the quarterback is chucking it over their head, but the Gamecocks not named Jeffery are not creating separation, not running sharp routes and getting blasted off their marks at the line of scrimmage. And these are upperclassmen like Jason Barnes and D.L. Moore, too. Like with the running game, Spurrier has a stud to lean on in the receiving corps, but if the other receivers can't do anything, opponents will figure it out and start triple-covering him because Garcia won't be looking anywhere else. The others have to start stepping up.
Offensively, quiet, except for when Justice Cunningham caught Garcia's eye as an emergency dump-off and made a tough catch-and-run in traffic for 6 yards. Against Georgia, the Bulldogs were pushing USC's linemen around and blitzing Garcia so effectively that Cunningham was mostly an extra blocker, sometimes with backup Rory Anderson in there at the same time. Didn't help too much, although most of the blame for the blocking isn't the tight end's fault.
The front five was manhandled, to put it kindly. Garcia was only sacked twice but he was rushed and/or hit numerous times. The Bulldogs rammed the line of scrimmage down the line's throat in the first three quarters, until the Gamecocks pulled it together for Lattimore's key runs in the fourth (much of it was Lattimore's effectiveness at reading the zone, but I saw a few times where the entire left side of the line was on Georgia's ends and linebackers from the snap). The fourth quarter was encouraging, and the starting five are never going to be superstars. They're very capable and competent, with the ability to be strong, but not stars, and many times this season, that should be more than enough. It needed to be increased on Saturday, and wasn't. The fourth quarter, though, gave Lattimore his room, so that raises the grade.
I've gotten used to seeing the offensive line fluctuate during Spurrier's reign at USC, but the defensive line has usually been solid game to game. This year, with so much talent and experience up front, I expected it to be great game to game. Saturday was merely so-so. Again, the Bulldogs dominated the trench, blasting apart holes for tailback Isaiah Crowell and getting just enough of a push for Aaron Murray to unleash his quick-slant passing game in the second half. Much of Crowell's success was simply due to not wrapping up tackles (I'm anxious to do a count of how many busted tackles there were in the game, like I did for Lattimore against Georgia last year). The line looked average, as it was hardly able to touch Murray when it really needed to. That being said, the game turned due to a defensive-line play. Jadeveon Clowney was untouched on a blitz that caused Murray's fumble and Melvin Ingram's recovery, and that was the play of the game. Devin Taylor had a fine game that didn't show up in the stat sheets, pushing his man almost every time into Murray on the throw. It should be able to re-assert itself this week, but that's this week and not Saturday.
Well, Quin Smith led the team with eight tackles, and Shaq Wilson had six. With only two linebackers in the scheme (and sometimes only one, with two spurs on the field at the same time), I guess it's hard to really control a game or make a huge play, but what I didn't see on Saturday was really any plays being made by the linebackers. I saw plenty of hands sliding off Crowell's pant legs or arms, and while it's not accurate to say it's completely the linebackers' fault, it might not be all that inaccurate (got to watch the replay). Ellis Johnson was peeved at the entire defense, for sure.
In the second half, when Murray started cutting apart the middle of the field, the secondary tried to adjust and couldn't. In the first half, the defensive backs were as guilty as everybody else of not wrapping up. C.C. Whitlock, a week after a fine game, looked clueless out there, getting burned for Georgia's first and last touchdowns. That caused Johnson to grumble that if that's the best the defense can do, giving up a jump-ball for a touchdown, might as well just tackle the guy and take the interference. Some strong plays - Stephon Gilmore broke up a sideline pass and then returned a fumble 58 yards to set up a touchdown, and Antonio Allen, my goodness - but some really bad ones, again. No adjustment in the second half, no way to stop Murray, and the game came down to digging in the heels and hoping for a mistake, which the Gamecocks received.
It's an offensive play, because it's a rush, but Ingram's marvelous fake-punt run came out of a special-teams alignment. He also caught the crucial onside kick that cemented the game. Jay Wooten was again very solid, able to kick long and to the corners and booting a 49-yard field goal with room to spare, his first as a Gamecock. All that gets an "A." The kick-return coverage, I'm trying to decide, is either a "D" or an "F." Now, I know that Brandon Boykin is a one heck of an athlete, especially on kick returns. USC knew all about him from two years ago and planned accordingly - Wooten did his job by kicking to the end zone or going to the corners. Boykin still got a ridiculous 184 yards on seven returns. That's the responsibility of the other 10 guys on the field, and for every time they actually got Boykin to the ground, there were two other times that he slipped a tackle, spun around and kept running. Not a failing grade due to all of the good things, and maybe it's just a case of one guy having USC's number, a guy who won't be around next year. But man, that guy I believe John Butler was considering asking a player to take a 2x4 onto the field and just level Boykin, consequences be damned.
Always a case of good and bad. Good was that fake punt. Bad was squandering timeouts on consecutive plays (or the same play). Spurrier was good about giving the ball to Lattimore and resting the game on the sophomore's legs, since the passing game, quite frankly, stunk. Bad was how the defense continues to give up points and yards by the bucketful, with no apparent solution coming (is it coaching or players' execution?). Good was throwing multiple looks at the Bulldogs on offense, like triple-stacking receivers on one side, empty on the other and letting Lattimore run anyway. Bad was giving Ellington his only carry of the game on third-and-7 at the Gamecocks' 28-yard-line in the third quarter, while trying to maintain a one-point lead. Good was being 2-0 and 1-0 in the SEC, bad is how the Gamecocks looked doing it. Not time for panicking yet, since USC can out-talent the next two opponents, look perfectly horrible and still win by three touchdowns. But answers need to be found, and quickly.
OVERALL GRADE: C
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