South Carolina isn’t the type of team that can go absent for long stretches of a game and expect to win. That proved true against Tennessee on Saturday.
The Gamecocks lost 27-24 to the Vols after falling behind 17-0 in the first half. Following are the grades South Carolina deserved based on Saturday’s performance:
Quarterback Perry Orth managed the offense well and made several big plays in the passing game, especially after Tennessee safety Brian Randolph was ejected for targeting. Orth completed 20-of-39 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball nine times for 42 yards. Orth also had good timing in the pocket. He knew when to get rid of the ball despite a strong pass rush. He was only sacked once.
Brandon Wilds won’t be mentioned among the top tailbacks in the SEC, but the Gamecocks could do much worse. Wilds carried the ball 20 times for 79 yards. He also caught three passes for 19 yards.
Statistically, Pharoh Cooper didn’t have a huge day, but he deserves credit for just being able to stay in the game after Randolph’s crushing hit in the second quarter. Cooper caught four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Tight end Jerell Adams had two catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. However, he has to better protect the ball. His fumble late ended any chance South Carolina had for an upset.
South Carolina’s defense looked lost early in the game before tightening up. The Gamecocks allowed 142 yards on Tennessee’s first two touchdown drives. South Carolina allowed 266 yards after that. However, Tennessee could only manage 17 rushing yards on 17 carries in the second half. The Gamecocks’ secondary struggled at times to cover the Vols.
South Carolina had seven tackles for a loss by six different players against the Vols. Linebacker T.J. Holloman led the team with seven tackles. Forcing turnovers helped South Carolina stay in the game. Safety Isaiah Johnson intercepted a pass. Safety T.J. Gurley and defensive tackle Phillip Dukes forced fumbles.
Special Teams: B-
Kicker Elliott Fry would love to have that 46-yard field goal attempt back that he missed. That could have had South Carolina tied late in the game. Fry made a 43-yarder in the second quarter.
Credit South Carolina with containing Tennessee’s dynamic punt and kick return game. The Vols rank near the top in both categories nationally but the return game wasn’t a factor on Saturday. Punter Sean Kelly averaged 49.7 yards per punt.
It’s clear that South Carolina’s players believe in interim coach Shawn Elliott, whether or not he’s a real candidate to become the full-time head coach. Elliott rallied his team on the road against an up-and-coming program and nearly pulled off a monumental upset.
The Gamecocks could have quit. They didn’t. That’s a testament to Elliott’s energetic leadership style.
The Gamecocks seemed taken aback by the enormousness of the game early. Either that or they were simply outmatched physically by the Vols. Either way, that’s not the way to start an SEC football game.
It doesn’t get any easier for South Carolina. It hosts Florida and Clemson in two of its final three games. can’t It afford a 17-0 stretch in either of those contests and expect to win.