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September 24, 2012
Report Card: USC-Missouri
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. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA 31, MISSOURI 10
Is there a grade above "A+?" If so, Connor Shaw deserves it. The junior was spectacular on Saturday, directing the offense as a maestro would an orchestra. There was no hint of the pain or tentativeness that Shaw had against UAB - rather, it was night and day from that performance. After a rough first few series where Shaw held the ball too long or the Gamecocks turned the ball over, an 80-yard touchdown run shook the cobwebs loose. The play didn't count due to penalty, but Shaw was transformed. He had already completed one pass before it, and he didn't miss for the rest of the game, completing 19 more in a row to give him a shot at SEC and NCAA history next week. Steve Spurrier said all week that Shaw was fine, that his shoulder wasn't bothering him, and we all saw the proof.
Really thought the running game would be a focal point, for two reasons - Missouri doesn't defend it that well, and Shaw's last performance throwing the ball wasn't too keen. Marcus Lattimore, playing for the first time this year without his knee brace, ran well on some plays and broke some nice runs, while Shaw's zone-read capabilities are still not to what they were, but I believe that's mostly because he's always thinking of protecting the shoulder when he lands. The run-blocking improved, not greatly, but enough to think that it will keep improving as the defenses get tougher.
Obviously, for a quarterback to complete 20 straight passes, the receivers must have had a big day, right? Well, no. Damiere Byrd caught a ball (three, in fact) and he fumbled one away. Nick Jones and Ace Sanders each caught a long ball, their only catches of the game. Bruce Ellington looked great with a 17-yard catch-and-run, a zigzag through the defense. Most of the passes were caught by Lattimore and Kenny Miles (a combined nine receptions) and tight end Justice Cunningham (four). The receivers, to me, did a good job getting open but Shaw went for the wide-open men underneath - nothing wrong with that, especially when Missouri stubbornly refused to cover the middle of the field. Sanders' touchdown grab was a beautiful play, one where he snatched a ball headed for the hedges out of the air, and that's what pushes the grade above a "B."
Cunningham kept circling to the middle, waiting, and Shaw kept hitting him. Then, he alertly ran ahead of Shaw downfield while keeping an eye on his quarterback - Shaw got tackled, but shoveled the ball out with his left hand, and Cunningham was there to catch it. Buster Anderson caught yet another touchdown.
As promised, there was a shakeup on the offensive line - Corey Robinson started at left tackle in the first start of his career. There were some early penalties - although the one on Mike Matulis, upon further review, was bogus - but the line gave Shaw plenty of room to throw (in the first quarter, Shaw just didn't take it a lot). The run-blocking improved as the linemen knocked the Tigers off the ball, but it's still not quite to where it needs to be.
I could have sworn that Devin Taylor had more than one tackle. Seemed like every time I was watching him, he was impacting the game. He swatted away a pass (just missing a pick-six in the process) and recovered a fumble, which was a huge moment in the game. Jadeveon Clowney added another 1.5 sacks to his collection, and the interior guys played well. It was expected to dominate against a patchwork Missouri offensive line, and while "dominated" is a bit strong, it more than held its own, stuffing the run and getting in James Franklin's face.
Outstanding game by the LBs, shutting down Franklin's running ability and sitting on Kendial Lawrence. Quin Smith had 10 tackles while Shaq Wilson had seven, with Reginald Bowens just behind with six. Missouri is an offense that likes to run and pass for short gains, lining up and snapping the ball, but USC's ball-hawkers knocked the Tigers out of that plan rather quickly.
For a position that seemed to be the hinge on whether or not USC could hang with the Tigers, they were really kind of taken out of the game. Not that they didn't make good plays, but they were hardly called on and mostly just backed up the linebackers if a running back got free in space. Of course, maybe that's the key - when the Tigers did want to throw deep, USC's DBs blanketed the receivers.
Been waiting a while to assign even a passing grade to this bunch, but I finally can. Ace Sanders and Ellington electrified the Gamecocks with three strong returns between them and Tyler Hull averaged over 41 yards per punt. Adam Yates smoked a 38-yard field goal. That's the kind of day that had Joe Robinson grinning.
The only bad decisions I saw was when Shaw got the call to run twice from the 1-yard-line, one time on fourth down, where he swept left end and got dropped. That one had even the Missouri media asking why Lattimore doesn't get the ball there. That was quickly readjusted when USC got the ball back, and Lattimore did what he does around the goal line. Nothing lasting, but that one decision could have lingered much longer than it did.
OVERALL GRADE: A