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September 26, 2011
Report Card: USC-Vanderbilt
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 21, VANDERBILT 3
A healthy 228 yards. A just-over-50-percent completion percentage (16-for-30). A touchdown. Not bad at all. Until that number at the end of the stat line suddenly glows. Stephen Garcia threw four interceptions against the Commodores. One could be excused, as Alshon Jeffery was supposed to run a comeback route and quit running before he was supposed to pop and come back. The other three - awful. All on scramble plays, one off the back foot. A fifth-year senior shouldn't be making these plays, much less three times in one game. What's good about it is Garcia will definitely get the chance to improve it, because a), He can't get much worse, and b), Steve Spurrier is apparently seeing some pretty rotten things in practice from the backups, because Garcia is for 95 percent sure the starter next week. But this just can't continue. Garcia is not playing well, and he's neutralizing one of the top threats on the team (Jeffery) all by himself. Even his touchdown throw wasn't anything he did except manage to catch Marcus Lattimore's eye under a blitz - the rest was all Lattimore. Whatever it is, Garcia needs to find an answer. He's the guy that will get the ball and he has to prove he can do something good with it. This smoke and mirrors isn't going to last forever.
We all finally saw what we thought impossible - Lattimore continually stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Credit Vanderbilt's defensive front, and also its gameplan - keep a man shadowing Lattimore behind the line and ready to contribute on the tackle. Lattimore constantly credits his offensive line and it's easy to see why after a game like Saturday's. USC's line got no push, no holes for Lattimore to run through, with Vandy often clawing at his waist just after the snap. To the line's credit, it did a magnificent job on Lattimore's second touchdown, that same beautiful zone-read where Lattimore cut inside, his left guard and left tackle pushed away and he sprinted behind them to the end and then in for the score. He also had what I thought was always the only missing part from his game - breakaway speed - on his first touchdown run, where he caught a flip pass from Garcia and out-ran everybody to the end zone. With Kenny Miles shelved, Eric Baker and Brandon Wilds got some looks, but didn't fare too well due to penalties and Vandy being a good run-stopper. Everybody did what they could.
Last week, the receivers didn't do a great job of getting open. This week, they did - but Garcia couldn't hit them. Obviously not their fault that their quarterback can't find them, and Jeffery got rooked on a touchdown that should have probably been ruled out-of-bounds at first, but wasn't; then it was ruled out-of-bounds after it was ruled a touchdown, which violated the spirit of the rule. Still, nine guys caught passes, including a return to the rotation of Ace Sanders, who had the presence of mind to stick his hands low, dive and save a Garcia interception, which gave USC a huge first down in Vanderbilt territory. The ball is getting spread around more and more - when it can get to the receivers.
Justice Cunningham had a catch and Rory Anderson had two, which was very impressive (especially for the freshman, nicknamed "Buster," who caught a ball on the fifth play of the game). As blockers, they're grouped with the rest of the offensive line, which didn't have a great night, but it's good to see that safety-net outlet is always there on the passing routes. If the Gamecocks continue to struggle throwing downfield, the tight-end position could become more and more important.
Lattimore couldn't get much room to run, but Garcia didn't take a sack, so it's hit-or-miss. I think that the rotation of playing only five guys - it's been five and only five for Georgia, Navy and all but the last series of Vanderbilt - is starting to wear on those five. I realize the backups are all freshman and/or inexperienced, but they're going to have to play sometime before next year. Good pass-blocking, bad run-blocking, and T.J. Johnson had two really bad snaps. A.J. Cann had three penalties by himself. Just not a real strong day for a unit that, since Shawn Elliott has arrived, has been very solid and sometimes spectacular.
I don't know about y'all, but every time I looked up, either Melvin Ingram or Jadeveon Clowney was in the backfield. Devin Taylor had a really good game as well, although his statistics weren't eye-popping. Against one of the least-experienced offensive lines in the SEC, USC's formidable defensive line was outstanding. The Gamecocks' front four punched the Commodores in the mouth so often that those boys will still be looking for their teeth come November. FOUR rushing yards? Six sacks, all among the D-linemen? Twelve tackles for loss, all but 2.5 from a D-lineman? Two forced fumbles from Clowney? Ellis Johnson may have gotten a game ball, and he deserved one, but Brad Lawing deserved at least two.
I wrote before the game that a key matchup would be how the Gamecocks' linebackers stood up to Vanderbilt, considering the Commodores run a lot of the triple option and that same offense gashed USC to pieces last week. Shaq Wilson, Rodney Paulk, Quin Smith et al didn't do a whole heck of a lot, but did their jobs. They finished tackles once the D-line slowed the runners, they saved the secondary from having to make all the plays. A good solid performance and good solid grade.
Always the X-factor when USC is involved, the secondary played well. It was man-on-man for the long passes, and Stephon Gilmore straight won a possession battle by playing inside and jumping for a pass at the same time as the receiver. Marty Markett, D.J. Swearinger and Antonio Allen had 13 tackles between them and Allen, again, had a huge play by scooping a loose fumble. Very strong effort and even though it wasn't against the best of teams, that shouldn't dock the unit a grade.
Jay Wooten hooked a 46-yarder wide left, but hey, can't make 'em all. Joey Scribner-Howard punted three times for an average of 46.3 yards, and survived one punt where was hit directly in front of a referee and no flag was thrown. The return game was OK, nothing spectacular, one red mark where Sanders fumbled a punt return but recovered it. Nothing spectacular, nothing damaging.
I think that Spurrier had some good plans drawn up, but nothing was ever proven when Garcia kept chunking interceptions and penalty flags kept getting thrown. He tried to give the ball to Lattimore, but wisely didn't force it when Lattimore was bottled up. He tried to throw downfield, but likewise went short after those first two interceptions (the last two picks were when Garcia scrambled). I did disagree with the use of timeouts, which I guess can be split between Garcia and the sideline, and I really disagreed with the last possession before halftime (just like I did last week). Clock winding and Vandy is punting, Spurrier has one timeout to try and get an offense that can't throw downfield in position for points. Fifteen seconds run off the clock before he called for it. Now, obviously, I didn't know that he knew that Garcia would hit Lattimore with a flip and Lattimore would sprint 52 yards for a touchdown. If I had, I wouldn't be writing this. It just seems like there are an awful lot of timeouts being called when they don't have to be.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
[Complete USC-Vanderbilt game coverage: Click here]
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