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 25, 2011 03:22 pm

Grading the Gamecocks: Week 4

South Carolina improved to 4-0 with Saturday night's 21-3 victory over Vanderbilt.  It is the first time in a decade, and the first since Steve Spurrier took over in 2005, that the Gamecocks have started 4-0 and 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference.

The Gamecocks moved up to No. 10 in the Associated Press poll, and face defending national champion Auburn (3:30 p.m., CBS-Ch. 12) on Saturday. South Carolina should have plenty of motivation after last season's two losses to the Tigers, including a blowout in the SEC Championship game.

Here's how I grade their performance from Saturday night:

OFFENSE: How can I put this delicately? Stinks is probably the best word for a family newspaper/Web site. South Carolina did very little well or right when it controlled the ball. Stephen Garcia continues to bewilder the Gamecock faithful, throwing four interceptions. In fairness, his receivers didn't help him out on two of the picks. But still, it was bad enough that the Williams-Brice Stadium faithful rained boos on him. Spurrier inserted backup Connor Shaw in the fourth quarter, and he at least protected the ball. The most puzzling thing Saturday night was Marcus Lattimore's lack of production. The nation's leading rusher was held to 77 yards on the ground, but he did catch three passes for 73 yards. South Carolina also had six fumbles, but they lost none of them. And the offensive line was whistled a few times for penalties. "Really, really a poorly coached offense tonight out there representing the Gamecocks," Spurrier said. "(I) apologize to Gamecock fans for such a putrid offensive performance, but we won the game." GRADE: D+

DEFENSE: On a night when the offense didn't show up, the defense was sensational. Vanderbilt was held to four yards rushing for the night, and only got 73 through the air. That's impressive no matter who is playing. And on third downs, a weak spot for the Gamecocks, the Commodores were held to just 1 of 14. Vandy's offensive line was no match for Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, who spent much of the evening in the Commodores' backfield. Clowney caused two fumbles, and one of those Ingram jumped on in the end zone for his third touchdown of the year. The secondary seemed to wrap up on tackles better, and Vandy's longest pass of the night was a 20-yard completion late in the fourth quarter. "I thought our players were physical for the whole 60 minutes for the first time this year and they played with a little bit more confidence," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. GRADE: A+

SPECIAL TEAMS: Nothing out of the ordinary here. Jay Wooten missed his first field goal of the year, but remained perfect on PAT attempts. Punter Joey Scribner-Howard was solid again, averaging 46.3 yards on his three boots. The coverage teams didn't allow Vanderbilt any big plays. GRADE: B

COACHING:  South Carolina fans were probably scratching their heads as to why Lattimore didn't see more action early in the game. He had only seven carries at halftime for 20 yards. The screen pass that he turned into a touchdown late in the first half was a thing of beauty, but it never materialized in the second half. Spurrier has a penchant for throwing the ball deep to Alshon Jeffery, but in reality those plays work very little. Most teams double cover the star receiver, and it was a fluke that Jeffery tipped the ball to Ace Sanders for one of the biggest plays of the night. Defensively, the strategy was effective and the coaches didn't tinker with success. GRADE: C

OVERALL: This South Carolina team continues to be a head-scratcher. The defense has put up two good games in a row, but the offense has yet to hit its stride. Look for Garcia to remain as the starter, but he could be a couple of slipups from going back into Spurrier's doghouse. Even though Auburn is down this year, this contest should be a good barometer for the Gamecocks. Auburn's defense isn't very good, but its offense can be potent. A win over Auburn would be a big step for the Gamecocks on their way to another SEC East title. Perhaps South Carolina will play a complete game on offense, defense and special teams for the first time all year. GRADE: C+