COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina finally got a chance to play in front of its home fans on Saturday. The results were mixed, but a 20-15 win was important for the Gamecocks against East Carolina.
We handed out letter grades to each unit, including coaches, as well as game balls:
If it wasn’t clear in the second half at Mississippi State, it is now. Brandon McIlwain brings a different element to the South Carolina offense, which was clear early when he ran for two touchdowns.
The freshman quarterback sparked the first three drives to points. The Gamecocks scored more points in the first quarter than they had in either of their first two games.
Putting McIlwain’s emergence aside, the rest of the offense earned a good grade. Freshmen Randrecous Davis, Kiel Pollard and Chavis Dawkins all got involved in the offense. It’s easy to see why Will Muschamp feels good about the future of the offense.
The line remains a work in progress, but the potential to have the same starting lineup in back-to-back games for the first time this season should be a positive. The run game should come along more as the offensive line settles in.
Grade: B –
When you look at the total yardage alone, the stat sheet says there is no way South Carolina won against East Carolina. The Pirates gained 519 yards and wide receiver Zay Jones had an absurd outing with 22 receptions for 190 yards. But the counter to Jones’ big day is the fact his longest reception was 15 yards and that gives the picture of what South Carolina did on defense.
The Gamecocks bent constantly, but never broke. They kept ECU out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. They forced three turnovers in the red zone. It was an impressive showing at the moments when it had to be.
It is important to note that despite the 519 yards allowed, it took 91 plays to reach the total. ECU came in ranking in the top 10 in the nation in yards per play with more than 7.50. USC allowed 5.7 to the Pirates on Saturday.
And if you want an unsung play of the day, it came on defense. Defensive end Darius English read a 2-point conversion attempt perfectly and covered the throwback to quarterback Philip Nelson.
South Carolina was in dire need of a first-half jump start. It didn’t come from the offense or defense, but the special teams. A.J. Turner almost took the opening kickoff to the house, as he found a seam and picked up 80 yards. McIlwain went into the end zone easily on the first offensive play after that.
Kicker Elliott Fry accounted for two field goals and two extra points. He now has more than 300 points in his career.
So a big play, no costly mishaps and points on the scoreboard? That’s a good recipe for success on special teams.
Grade: A –
The best coaching move of the day was Muschamp requiring his players to not wear headphones during the Gamecock walk before the game. Players were forced to be more engaged and aware of the fan base, which is only good for a young team.
Muschamp had to get more from his players, especially from a physicality standpoint on defense. He did that. The changes in the secondary paid off. Getting more youth involved on offense paid off and will pay off more later. The move to McIlwain was logical and necessary.
A fourth-down call to go for it late in the game to all but end it was outstanding. An early fourth-down decision with an offensive line failing to win at the line consistently and in your own territory … less inspired. But the direction from last Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State was clearly positive. Players responded and coaching showed.
It was beautiful early for South Carolina. It was blah for the most part. But a win is a win and USC needed to get this one. The Gamecocks surely have hopes of a bowl game and beating nonconference teams is a must to do that.
McIlwain established himself as the quarterback. Davis is a playmaker in the making. The secondary elevated its physicality and more players got experience.
Within the win, South Carolina won in many ways. So while Saturday was not the prettiest football, the Gamecocks got their second victory of the season and made the big plays that it needed.
The freshman quarterback proved to be the sparkplug the offense needed. He will be the starter moving forward after a starting debut with two rushing touchdowns.
You want to talk about a player responding, look no further than Lammons. He was ripped a week ago for a lack of physicality. So he came out and cracked an ECU receiver on a screen, forced a fumble and had a big interception in the end zone. A week made a massive difference for Lammons.
Williams, like Lammons, has had to respond this season. He didn’t play against Mississippi State. He was the leading rusher against East Carolina. His 25-yard run sealed the game on fourth down. He had a key third-down reception, diving around a defender to make the catch. It was a strong 67-yard showing for Williams.