Handing out grades after South Carolina’s less-than-inspiring 48-34 win at Vanderbilt on Saturday:


South Carolina finished each half strong, scoring 17 points in the second quarter and 21 down the stretch to avoid a cataclysmic upset in Nashville. The Gamecocks converted seven times on third down, rushed for a season-high 212 yards and put away the Commodores with some Wildcat flavor from Pharoh Cooper late. Cooper tallied a career-best 188 yards of total offense while Dylan Thompson added three touchdown passes to his season total. It was Thompson’s first outing as a starter without an interception.


Deserving of a D, Brison Williams’ 53-yard interception return for a touchdown just before halftime pushes South Carolina’s defensive performance up a few points. Against the SEC’s worst offense, the Gamecocks gave up 379 yards and 20 points, often letting Vanderbilt receivers get behind the last line of defense for sizable gains. Handicapped at the quarterback position previously, the Commodores mustered 223 yards through the air with three completions of at least 29 yards. Kaiwan Lewis’ sack in the second half was only South Carolina’s second this season, a conference-low.


Abysmal. Steve Spurrier revealed post-game he has taken over kickoff coverage duties from special teams coordinator Joe Robinson after the Gamecocks let Darrius Sims return two kickoffs for touchdowns. Horrific coverage meltdowns, combined with South Carolina’s lack of consistency on defense, nearly cost the Gamecocks the game and any hopes at an Eastern Division title considering how the remaining schedule sets up for Georgia and Florida. A second-half field goal block, South Carolina’s second of the season, was the only plus.


Obviously this low of a grade is a reflection of South Carolina’s entire staff, but it starts at the top. Following Vanderbilt’s first special teams touchdown on the opening kickoff when Sims hit a seam and went untouched 91 yards, squib kicks should’ve been the call the rest of the contest. Instead, Sims jetted down the sideline for another score in the third quarter to pull the Commodores within three. Then came the squibs, seven points too late. Another important coaching note: Spurrier’s infatuation with a pass-first game plan away from home is puzzling considering the Gamecocks are a run-first football team. Why not try and get the ground game established against inferior competition? South Carolina’s first two possessions ended in punts and didn’t feature a single handoff to Mike Davis or Brandon Wilds. Strange.


A win ultimately means everything in the SEC and the Gamecocks got it done on the road, but are the lingering mistakes an evil glimpse into the future? South Carolina’s deficiencies in the secondary will be a season-long problem if the front seven continues to generate little to no pass rush. Due largely to inexperience, defensive backs have appeared lost in coverage at times and the opposition’s come down with the majority of ’50-50′ balls at the second level. Tackling has improved since the debacle against Texas A&M, but South Carolina’s defense is still riddled with holes that haven’t been fixed.