Post and Courier
July 10, 2014

South Carolina report card: Gamecocks pass 2013 season with high grades on offense, defense

Posted: 12/13/2013 09:00 p.m.


By Ryan Wood

South Carolina has a full regular season to review over the next few weeks as it prepares for a New Year's Day matchup with Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

All 12 games are behind the Gamecocks. There was history made. USC had its third straight double-digit win season. There also were disappointments. For the third straight year, South Carolina beat the SEC East champion but missed the conference's title game.

South Carolina can win 11 games for the third straight year with a victory over Wisconsin. Focus will soon shift to that game and the Gamecocks' trip to Orlando. Before then, here's an evaluation of USC's 2013 season. As you might guess, the grades are quite high.

Pass offense: A-

The raw numbers show South Carolina's consistency. For the third time in four seasons, the Gamecocks will likely have more than 3,000 passing yards. There were more options this year, with six receivers exceeding 200 yards on the season, and tight end Jerell Adams 30 yards away from that mark. USC has never had seven receivers reach 200 yards under coach Steve Spurrier.

Where South Carolina's passing game truly excelled was its efficiency, which may be the most important attribute for a quarterback. Senior Connor Shaw finished with 21 touchdown passes and one interception, the nation's only quarterback with double-digit touchdowns and only one pick. It can be argued Shaw was the best game manager throughout college football this season, lofty praise for a quarterback who wasn't even an honorable mention selection on the All-SEC teams.

So why not a solid A? The loss at Tennessee can't be ignored. Shaw's 103.9 passer rating was his lowest of the season by almost 12 points. Not coincidentally, it was South Carolina's only loss outside of September. If not for one fall Saturday in Knoxville, Shaw - and the Gamecocks' passing game - flirted with perfection.

Rush offense: B+

Mike Davis didn't close the fall like he wanted, but the sophomore tailback was a revelation in his first season getting the bulk of South Carolina's carries. Davis passed the 1,000-yard mark after just nine games, leading the SEC in rushing much of the season. He's currently fourth in the league with 1,134 rushing yards, though he remains second with 1,476 yards from scrimmage.

Davis got much of the attention, but South Carolina had backfield depth. Four Gamecocks had at least 200 yards rushing, including Shaw with 511. Shaw also is the only senior in that four-man group. It hints at a promising future for USC's ground game, as well as good work from the offensive line up front.

Passing defense: B

South Carolina's pass rush was not as dominant as last season, when it led the SEC with 43 sacks. The Gamecocks only had 24 sacks this fall, ranked fifth in the conference. Star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney only had three sacks in his final season at USC, 10 fewer than last fall.

Regardless, the Gamecocks' secondary played better than in 2012. Even without the dominance up front, USC's pass defense ranked fourth in the SEC with 202.8 yards allowed per game. That was only 8 yards more than 2012, less than a first down difference per game.

South Carolina's pass defense was also opportunistic, ranking third in the SEC with 15 interceptions. Freshmen Skai Moore, T.J. Holloman and Chez Elder combined for six interceptions this fall.

Rushing defense: A-

When it comes to the Capital One Bowl, no matchup is more important than Wisconsin's rushing attack against South Carolina's "run defense pants," as Spurrier called it. Most expect that edge to go to the Badgers, a prolific running team. Perhaps that's why Wisconsin opened as a slight favorite this week. In reality, the numbers don't look bad at all from South Carolina's side.

The Gamecocks rank second in the SEC in run defense, allowing 142.25 rushing yards per game. That's behind first-place Alabama (108.33 yards per game) and similar to third-place Florida (142.42 per game). While the defensive line hasn't been as effective rushing the passer, the front seven has more than held its own on the ground. USC's defense has mostly played behind the line of scrimmage, ranking third in the SEC with 83 tackles for loss.

Special teams: C+

Throughout the season, South Carolina's weakest link was the special teams. A credit to coaching, some of those issues got better as the season progressed. Freshman Pharoh Cooper filled a void at punt and kick returner, named to the All-SEC Freshman Team at that position. Kicker Elliott Fry was the biggest bright spot, making 15 of 18 field goals and also earning All-SEC Freshman Team honors.

Yet, South Carolina finished in the SEC's bottom 11 in punt returns, kickoff returns and punting. It was last in punting, with Tyler Hull averaging 38.05 yards per boot.

Coaching: B+

This coaching staff has raised South Carolina football to new heights. Before Spurrier, the Gamecocks had only one double-digit win season in history. Now they have three straight.

USC has not reached the top level. It has yet to win an SEC championship, reserved for an A grade. As remarkable as the last three seasons have been, the Gamecocks haven't played for the conference title once during the stretch. Still, USC's consistency is something to marvel.

Only two SEC teams have double-digit wins in the past three seasons. South Carolina is one. Two-time defending national champion Alabama is the other. Behind Spurrier, the Gamecocks are in rare company.