Joined The Augusta Chronicle in 1996 after spending nine years at The Aiken Standard. Served as copy editor, South Carolina bureau chief and Metro Editor before being named Sports Editor in April 2000.
Posted September 4, 2011 02:23 pm

Grading the Gamecocks: Week 1

One of the most anticipated seasons in South Carolina football history started Saturday night against East Carolina in Charlotte, N.C.

The Gamecocks were plagued by turnovers in the first half and trailed 17-0 at one point, but rallied for a 56-37 victory.

Here's how they graded out:

OFFENSE: Steve Spurrier's tinkering with the quarterback spot didn't work. Connor Shaw got the start based on his work in preseason drills, but he didn't help his cause by losing a fumble on an early drive and not generating any points. He threw a couple of nice deep balls, but they were slightly underthrown or they might have been highlight-reel touchdowns. Stephen Garcia came on in the second quarter and led the Gamecocks to six touchdown drives in a little over two full quarters of work. "Somebody on the sideline told me that you can't win it with one drive," Garcia said after the game. "Just take it one drive at a time, one drive at a time, and that was my mentality in the second half." Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery were solid as usual. Garcia rushed for two scores and threw for another, while Lattimore rushed for three scores. GRADE: B+

DEFENSE: Most folks thought South Carolina could score a lot of points, but they didn't anticipate the Gamecocks giving up 37 points to East Carolina. Give credit to athletic quarterback Dominique Davis, who made a lot of nice plays in throwing for four touchdowns and 260 yards. South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore was unimpressive at corner, but fortunately Antonio Allen and C.C. Whitlock were stellar. Allen forced two fumbles and ran back one for a score. Spurrier singled out Whitlock for a game ball. Still, an old problem seemed to persist for South Carolina, at least in the first half: too much arm tackling and not wrapping up. D.J. Swearinger got burned on the goal line before half when he tried to bring down an opponent with a shoulder bump. On the line, freshman Jadeveon Clowney had a solid first game. The top recruit had seven tackles but no fodder for his highlight reel, but give him time. GRADE: C-

SPECIAL TEAMS: This was the Gamecocks' best area. Basketball transfer Bruce Ellington gave the kickoff returns a boost with his speed, and Ace Sanders was dazzling with his speed and athleticism in returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown. The kicking game was OK, punter Joey Scribner-Howard clanked one off his foot to hurt his average, but Jay Wooten was perfect on his PATs and didn't try any field goals. GRADE: A-

COACHING: Spurrier insisted after the game that his decision to start Shaw was the right one. But everyone at Bank of America Stadium saw that the Gamecocks are a much different, and better, team when Garcia is under center. Spurrier made his point with Garcia, who has had plenty of run-ins during his time in Columbia, and hopefully that will be the end of that discussion. "We didn't play very well obviously," Spurrier said. "We need to tighten up and play a lot better next week." No kidding. South Carolina fans will remember this game as a lopsided win, but it really shouldn't have been that close. Playing QB roulette could have been costly. GRADE: C-

OVERALL: To their credit, the Gamecocks made a nice recovery after falling into a pretty deep hole. It's a cliche, but true: turnovers have to be eliminated. The best teams win the turnover battle and don't fall behind by 17 against inferior opponents. The Gamecocks have athletes all over the field, on both sides of the ball, and are exciting to watch. But if they make similar mistakes at Georgia, look out. A wounded, angry bunch of Bulldogs could take a bite out of the Gamecocks and derail their plans to win the SEC East. GRADE: C+