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December 6, 2010
REPORT CARD: Auburn
In a new feature at GamecockCentral.com, we'll 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. 2 AUBURN 56, NO. 18 SOUTH CAROLINA 17
Note: While it would be incredibly easy for me to assign everyone an F-minus for the Drubbing in the Dome, I think you know me well enough to realize that I'm never going to tell you only what you want to hear. If I wanted to do that, I would have majored in public relations.
Stephen Garcia began the game well, executing a flawless drive for South Carolina's first touchdown and throwing all over Auburn's secondary. He also did a masterful job on the two-minute drill during the last USC touchdown. His stats for the game weren't bad (16-of-28 for 170 yards and two touchdowns) and only a shade under what he's been doing all year, completion-wise. The problems were the two interceptions and the way he regressed from what he had been doing the past three games. Now, it's not all his fault, because Garcia was being rushed on almost every snap and hardly ever had time to set his feet and throw, and his running game was again neutralized. But the leadership quality that Garcia had showcased disappeared on that second pick, which was thrown while in the clutches and turned into a pick-six. The first interception was where he was hit as he threw (somewhat excusable) but the second was one that a fourth-year player should never, ever make. Connor Shaw did some good things, but it was during garbage time, so this one falls all on Garcia.
Again, Auburn did a great job of containing Marcus Lattimore, although he collected over 100 all-purpose yards and found room for a couple of sweeping runs. Outside of one carry by Brian Maddox and 13 combined carries from the quarterbacks, though, Lattimore's 16 totes were it. Of course you're not going to run when you're trailing 42-14, and that's what sunk the Gamecocks into the familiar pit of this season. When Lattimore can't get loose, neither can the offense. Fact. It's mystifying -- or a testament to just how good this kid is -- that a true freshman could have that kind of impact on a team. He was the missing link to the unit's fluidity, and when he was broken, so was the offense. He ran hard, and the Tigers never quit delivering some vicious pops, but the line being swallowed by Auburn's rushing defense never got him that hole to run through and set a tone for the game. Can't blame his effort, surely, but a running back also has to be judged on his production.
Let me get this straight -- Alshon Jeffery catches two passes on the first drive, which goes for a touchdown, and then catches TWO more for the entire game? Knowing that, is it any surprise that the offense was lost? Oh, I know Auburn quickly adjusted and had him basically double-teamed the rest of the night, where one guy picked him up off the line and the safety was usually playing in the gap and going right to Jeffery on every snap, but I daresay Garcia could have found him a lot more often even with that. As he has done all year, throw it high and Jeffery will come down with it. During the first game, Jeffery had his career-high for receiving yards (192); during the second, he had 36. He wasn't pouting during the game, shaking off the coverage and resuming his spot, which makes me believe the Tigers' defense wasn't that sticky (the passing D was ranked No. 106 coming in). I have all the respect in the world for Tori Gurley and D.L. Moore, who has turned into a very good third receiver, but when the Gamecocks' running game is negated, you have to throw it to your other gamebreaker. Have to. The receivers played well, but as one Auburn fan said to me on press row, "Those guys have the best receiver on the field." My reply? "Not without the ball in his hands."
Patrick DiMarco makes first downs and touchdowns, and the first, where he rolled out and went to the goalpost instead of the corner, was very nice. Even splitting time at fullback, DiMarco managed to impact the game. Justice Cunningham didn't get a pass thrown his way, but continued to block well. Like the RBs and WRs, you can't grade simply effort, but it's not like this position has been a go-to spot in the previous 12 games.
When I do this every Monday, I've usually spent Sunday re-watching the game and talking to two of my buddies who I trust and give me an extra pair of eyes. I got mixed reactions on how the offensive line played on Saturday, one saying it wasn't that bad and one saying it was horrible. The Auburn defensive front, especially Nick Fairley, was pushing through all afternoon, which was expected. That busted Lattimore from the snap and later on, had Garcia scrambling. As the line continued to knock him down, he became rattled and that's when the pick-six occurred. That being said, for the first half, USC protected Garcia and gave him room to operate. It was 21-14 until one of the worst defended plays in college football this season happened. The line deserves credit for the good blocking, and blame for later on, so it's right at mid-level.
The game plan was to sit back and let Cameron Newton throw, since he had gashed the Gamecocks with his feet the first time. Stats-wise, it worked, since Newton had 78 yards and Michael Dyer had 64 (both of them had at least 100 in the first game). The problems were Newton had all the time he needed to make the throw, which was as much a testament to his line's blocking as it was USC's inability get through. The league's best-sacking defense couldn't touch Newton, sliding off of him three times in the first quarter and eliminating the chance to bring him down, thus putting the secondary behind the 8-ball. Cliff Matthews had seven tackles; Ladi Ajiboye, Melvin Ingram, Travian Robertson and Devin Taylor had 10 combined. Obviously, Auburn didn't do much running in the first half, and Ingram and Robertson each went down for limited plays to nicks and bumps as well, but there was no pass-rush at all. The Gamecocks got zero sacks.
With not much of a running threat early, the linebackers were spying on Newton and expected to handle him if he took off. The guy is a thoroughbred, and tackling him wasn't easy, as he did his best windshield to Tony Straughter's fly on one touchdown run. I know Newton is a chore to bring down, but the linebackers were basically a non-factor.
Awful. Simply rotten. It is amazing that a group with this much talent continues to play so badly. For the past three games, it seems as if the problems were fixed; now, we see it was because the last three games featured opponents that didn't throw downfield. How does one receiver (Darvin Adams) get 217 yards in the first half? By the secondary falling for every fake that Newton had, for one. Remember how he'd take the snap in both hands, kind of lean in with the ball like he was going to run, then draw back to throw? He never tucked the ball, always keeping it outstretched, but the defenders fell for it every time. Stephon Gilmore was flat-out picked on by Newton, falling for the fake on the 62-yarder to Adams that set up the first touchdown and the 54-yarder on third-and-long for the third TD. DeVonte Holloman somehow tipped the ball up instead of down or out-of-bounds, allowing Adams to sneak in behind and catch it before halftime (and safety Akeem Auguste was nowhere to be found at the back of the zone). Auguste was hurdled by Newton on a run late in the game, and Antonio Allen had at least two plays where he rushed Newton, had him around the waist and spun right off. D.J. Swearinger had Emory Blake on the sideline, lost him, then tried to make up for it by separating Blake's head from the rest of his body virtue of his facemask. And Gilmore again, unable to hold on to a deflected pass that bounced right off his hands. That would have ended Auburn's second touchdown drive, at least. And the worst part -- how does this get fixed? Yes, Ellis Johnson was correct in saying the secondary had made plays in the last three games, but a team is only as good as its last one.
Good grief. It's the same, same, same story. No returns. At least one long opponent's return. Mis-directed kicks. And then the group's most consistent player, Spencer Lanning, misses two field goals (one was 51 yards, pushing his limit, but it had the distance). What is the problem here? Special teams are supposed to control the game, and if possible, produce one great field position per game. When is that going to happen at USC? As I said in my GBU feature yesterday, I refuse to believe there are not more options at kick return. Steve Spurrier has always said if the first guy isn't producing, they put the next guy out there. Well, when Bryce Sherman again didn't produce, Swearinger got one return. He didn't do anything either. So that led to Sherman being put back in. Was there not a third-string besides Cedrick Snead, who had an 18-yarder? Kenny Miles, who was swallowed for a 1-yard gain? There must be other players on that sideline who can catch and find room to run, plus be able to handle a hit.
And that squib kick. Good Lord. I had no shame about tweeting when that Hail Mary pass was completed, that the game was over. Because it most definitely was. There is no possible way to rebuild confidence or momentum from that, when USC had finally begun slowing Newton and gotten within one touchdown with 16 seconds to go in the first half. The Gamecocks had the ball first in the second half, too. Yet, the kick is stung low and hard to the upbacks. The Tigers had no return threat, and while I certainly understand USC's lapse on kick returns the past two years, at least it stood a good chance of stopping the returner and limiting Auburn to just one offensive play, instead of the two it became. Shoot, it could have been with less than 10 seconds on the clock after the return, Auburn would have simply kneeled. But edging USC territory, why not take a shot? Why not, indeed.
Offensively, great first drive. Spurrier knew Auburn could stop the run, so he passed over the Tigers. What happened after that? Two more passes to Jeffery? Defensively, maybe it's just that Newton is too good (and he is really, really good). The Gamecocks knew they would have a chore stopping him, and I think chose the right way to defend when they dared him to throw. Problem with that is, you have to rush him and bring him down when you have the chance. When the secondary is expecting a sack, the natural tendency is to stop covering. Then again, it's like basketball -- no matter what, never allow your man between you and the basket. The receivers shed USC's secondary over and over until Newton got the feeling he could do whatever he wanted. Then he did it. As for who's responsible for the squib kick (don't know who made the final call), but look -- championship teams don't screw up like that.
OVERALL GRADE: F