COLUMBIA, S.C. — It was quite the night for South Carolina, which put more together than it had at any point this season to knock off No. 18 Tennessee 24-21 on Saturday.
We take a closer look at how each unit performed and hand out letter grades:
Was it perfect? No. The negative is highlighted by the offensive line in pass protection. The Gamecocks allowed 6 sacks and 10 tackles for loss as Jake Bentley was under constant pressure.
But that bad also was some of the good, as Bentley showed poise that is hard to explain for a freshman. He was 15 of 20 for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns in his second start, displaying confidence and command.
Rico Dowdle was right there with Bentley, recording 127 yards rushing on 27 attempts – both career highs. He was outstanding. Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel had highlight plays as the passing game continues to progress.
It’s a long way from where this offense was a few weeks ago, even though a lot of improvement remains.
And hey, let’s not forget about some nice plays that Bentley made with his feet on multiple touchdown drives.
Only Alabama held Tennessee to fewer yards this season – 163 compared to the 297 the Vols had against USC on Saturday.
South Carolina had a good showing in the season opener against Vanderbilt. But this other team from Tennessee has a lot more talent at skill positions and up front.
So this has to be the best defensive performance of the season. The defense allowed 14 points, just 3.7 yards per rush and held Josh Dobbs to 161 yards passing – his lowest total against a non-ranked team this season.
The Gamecocks forced three turnovers, resulting in 14 points and a drive that almost sealed the game in the fourth quarter. It was an opportunistic showing on top of being an encouraging one.
USC also had four sacks, giving Dobbs a tough time. The defense not only forced him to throw, but made throwing hard on him.
Special Teams: C
No muffed punts!
But a 100-yard touchdown return from Tennessee’s Evan Berry could have been costly. Berry scored on the kickoff after USC took a 17-7 lead in the third quarter. This still is a team that can’t afford mistakes of this capacity.
Elliott Fry was good on his lone field goal attempt and Sean Kelly was solid once again.
Only two plays for Brandon McIlwain, by my count. He played two snaps early, throwing once and running once on short-yardage situations. They remain puzzling, so it was good to see the Gamecocks go away from them.
It was a well-called game, all things considered, but the best element of the coaching was the preparation. South Carolina looked prepared from the start.
What a win for the Gamecocks. They stopped a good offense and a talented team. They did enough on offense and made strides again.
It’s a building block this team can use to boost itself the rest of the season. How about that?