South Carolina improved to 3-0 with Saturday night's hard-fought 24-21 victory over Navy. The Gamecocks continued their pattern of falling behind early, then rallying for a victory.
Anyone who thought South Carolina was going to run away with this game was misinformed. Navy plays disciplined, assignment football, and its triple-option attack is good at grinding out yards and touchdowns.
South Carolina moved up to No. 10 in the USA Today/Coaches poll, but dropped two spots in the Associated Press poll to No. 12. I guess the win wasn't impressive enough for some voters.
OFFENSE: Marcus Lattimore was the star again. With a career-high 246 yards, he nearly matched Navy's output (274) on the ground. Behind his offensive line and downfield blocking from the receivers, Lattimore ran at will and averaged nearly seven yards per carry. While some might be concerned about Lattimore taking that kind of punishment on a weekly basis, the sophomore isn't one of them. He said he would be a bit sore today, but he would be fine by Tuesday. South Carolina's passing game is more of an enigma. Star receiver Alshon Jeffery didn't start because he violated a team rule, and he was very quiet against Navy with just two catches for 35 yards. Jason Barnes and Nick Jones stepped up in his absence. Stephen Garcia started off slow again, missing the mark on some early passes and throwing a horrible interception near the Navy goal line in the third quarter. But when it mattered, he found his marks and threw several nice balls. The Gamecocks only had seven drives, and they scored on four of them and didn't punt. GRADE: B+
DEFENSE: As predicted, Navy's triple-option attack proved difficult to stop. The Midshipmen consistenly moved the chains against the Gamecocks. But give South Carolina's defense credit for its effort at the end. Except for allowing Navy to complete a fourth-and-15 pass to pick up a first down, the Gamecocks were rock solid in the fourth quarter. Jadeveon Clowney, Melvin Ingram and the rest of the front seven were relentless when it mattered most.Navy came in averaging 400 yards per rushing, but were held well below that average. The bad news, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said, is that the Gamecocks didn't get a chance to work on their weakness: pass coverage. Antonio Allen picked off a pass to stop Navy's final drive, which isn't surprising. He's made one every game this season. GRADE: B
SPECIAL TEAMS: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier singled out Jay Wooten for his 48-yard field goal as the first half expired. That ultimately turned out to be the difference in the game. The Gamecocks didn't break any long returns on punts or kickoffs, but they didn't allow any either. South Carolina didn't have to punt because Spurrier elected to go for it on fourth down a couple of times when he normally would have kicked. GRADE: B+
COACHING: Spurrier isn't going to spend too much time worrying about the Navy outcome. Sure, he would have liked a more comfortable margin, but he's been around enough to know that Navy could have walked out of Williams-Brice Stadium with a win. "That's the kind of game that teams can upset you," Spurrier said. "That clock keeps running when you play a team like Navy." The Gamecocks probably should have scored one more touchdown on offense, and the defense gave up a couple of big plays that allowed Navy an extra score. Factor those in, and the final score could have been 31-14, which is about the margin bookmakers predicted when setting the game's line. Bottom line, no milk was spilt and Gamecocks are 3-0. GRADE: B
OVERALL: South Carolina fans might be anxious to blow out an opponent, but at 3-0 and nationally ranked, the Gamecocks aren't going to sneak up on anyone. Vanderbilt is up next, coming off a big win against Ole Miss, and the Commodores have typically played South Carolina tough. It would be easy to look ahead to the Oct. 1 game against Auburn, but that would be a mistake. Spurrier will let Lattimore do his thing against Vanderbilt, and the defense should be able to keep the Commodores in check. The Gamecocks have handled some interesting challenges very well through three games, and that's a positive. A team that could be 1-2 is 3-0 and still has its conference and national goals in sight. GRADE: B