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 October 9, 2011 02:41 pm

Grading the Gamecocks: Week 6

Order has been restored in Gamecock Nation. Connor Shaw made a successful start at quarterback and led the Gamecocks to a 54-3 victory over Kentucky on Saturday.

It was a feel-good win for the players, coaches and fans. Hapless Kentucky could muster no offense, and had no answers for a variety of Gamecock weapons. Here's how the Gamecocks graded out:

OFFENSE: For the first time in the Steve Spurrier era, the Gamecocks rolled up more than 600 yards of total offense. Spurrier made a jab at the media in his postgame press conference, saying that maybe this will some of the complaining and second-guessing about the offense. For the first time all year, the Gamecocks weren't predictable with their play-calling. The Gamecocks showed their base offense, a split lineman approach, ran some option and even threw to the tight ends. South Carolina's receivers exploited Kentucky's weak secondary, and were open all afternoon. Shaw found them often, and he threw for 311 yards. Marcus Lattimore put in a workmanlike effort for 102 yards, and Alshon Jeffery was the leading receiver. With nearly a complete game under his belt, Shaw was impressive and seems to have won over his teammates. GRADE: A

DEFENSE: This unit has a chance to become the best in school history. For the second time in three games, the South Carolina defense held its opponent under 100 yards of total offense. If South Carolina hadn't fumbled the opening kickoff to give Kentucky prime field position, it's likely they would have shut out the Wildcats. The secondary, shaky early in the year, seems to be performing better and picked off four passes on Saturday. The front seven, though, is where the Gamecocks really shine. Melvin Ingram and Co. aren't giving up big runs and routinely hurry the quarterback into bad throws. GRADE: A+

SPECIAL TEAMS: Bruce Ellington fumbled the opening kickoff and Jay Wooten had an extra point attempt blocked for the second week in a  row.  Those miscues didn't hurt in a blowout win, but they will make the difference in upcoming games against better opponents. Wooten did kick a pair of long field goals in the third quarter, but Spurrier will need to fix the breakdown on point after attempts. GRADE: B-

COACHING: South Carolina looked like a different team on Saturday. The combination of giving Shaw the start and trying some different looks on offense paid off big time as the team looked like it enjoyed itself for the first time in a month. Give Spurrier credit for letting Shaw know early in the week he was the starter. Rather than dragging the decision out, as he did before the opener, he was decisive and sent a message to the team and fans. Clock management was better, and it didn't seem like timeouts were wasted. The offensive line was whistled for a couple of false starts early on, which drives Spurrier nuts. Those unforced errors will need to be corrected if the Gamecocks hope to win against better opponents. GRADE: A-

OVERALL: South Carolina is 5-1 at the midpoint of the season and could be undefeated if the offense hadn't imploded in the loss to Auburn. All of the preseason goals are still on the table: winning the SEC Eastern Division, returning to Atlanta for the championship game and possibly earning a berth in a BCS bowl game. The next month will be crucial, though, as the Gamecocks play three times on the road in a four-week stretch. Up first is Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs will be looking to earn a big win after a rocky start to the season. With a successful stretch, the Gamecocks could return home to a big game on Nov. 12 against Florida. GRADE: B+