Report Card: Gamecocks' defense doesn't hold up its end of the bargain at Auburn
Handing out grades after South Carolina’s 42-35 loss at Auburn on Saturday:
In a hostile environment, the Gamecocks ran 86 plays for 535 yards and made the Tigers sweat with an array of fourth-down conversions and clutch throws from senior quarterback Dylan Thompson. Pharoh Cooper joined in Thompson’s career passing night with 127 yards receiving and two touchdowns. South Carolina converted 5 of 6 fourth downs, the only miss coming midway through the fourth quarter when Thompson overthrew Shaq Roland in the corner of the end zone. Had it not been for three turnovers (including two costly interceptions in the red zone), this grade would’ve gone from above-average to celebratory.
There’s not much to say other than what the masses have said throughout the season — South Carolina’s defense is among the nation’s worst. Lorenzo Ward’s starting to feel the heat under his collar as the leader of the bad tackling unit after Auburn averaged 8.8 yards per offensive snap during Saturday night’s game. After punting on their first possession, the Tigers scored touchdowns on six consecutive drives, all spanning at least 75 yards. On the rare occasion Gus Malzahn let Marshall air it out, the senior quarterback threw just two incompletions and had a QBR of 99.0. He was never sacked and was rarely pressured.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
South Carolina’s surprise onside kick in the third quarter was a work of art for Joe Robinson’s unit, spearheaded by Skai Moore’s ability to shield a defender before falling on the football after it passed the 10-yard mark. For the first time this season, Elliott Fry’s field goal duties weren’t needed since the Gamecocks scored five touchdowns.
Can I give individual grades for this one? A + F = C? Steve Spurrier and his rare garnet visor called a great game (arguably his best in a season or two) after realizing early that giving the ball back to the Tigers would result in lengthy touchdown drives for the opposition. He put his best players in position to make plays, giving Mike Davis a game-high 27 touches and relying on Cooper several times in the receiving game to put pressure on the Auburn defense. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward didn’t hold up his end of the bargain however as the Gamecocks were fooled against the run. Ricardo Louis’ 75-yard touchdown run, untouched on a jet sweep, was indicative of the poor angles and bad tackling in the secondary throughout.
No one expected this South Carolina team to be within a Hail Mary of tying the game on the final play, so this high of a grade’s justified. We knew fifth-ranked Auburn would have its way offensively, but Spurrier’s ability to keep the Gamecocks in the game — despite the defense’s obvious flaws — nearly ended the defending SEC champs’ College Football Playoff hopes.