Earning the Grade: Auburn

GamecockAnthem introduces a new feature "Earning the Grade" this week. Each position will earn a grade based on its play each week.

Quarterbacks - For three quarters, quarterback Stephen Garcia was having the game of his Gamecock career. The redshirt Junior was making all the right decisions, completing 14 of 20 passes for 230 yards and three touchdown passes as the Gamecocks held on to a 27-21 lead. Garcia had beautifully engineered four touchdown drives and was near-flawless. Then the fourth quarter came. Back-to-back fumbles ended Garcia's night and erased all the good he had done in the eyes of many. Connor Shaw came in and drove the offense down the field twice, completing 4 of 8 passes for 70 yards. However, Shaw was caught staring down Patrick DiMarco on a slant route deep inside Auburn territory and was intercepted by Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes. Shaw then tried to make a play on the final drive, throwing it up for Alshon Jeffery in triple-coverage in the end zone. Jeffery got his hands on it before it being knocked away and Auburn defensive back Demond Washington making a great play on it to seal the game. Though the quarterbacks had some bright moments, it was not enough to right the four turnovers. Though Spurrier didn't want to admit it, he created a quarterback controversy.

Grade - D

Running backs - Auburn's gameplan was obviously geared to stop Marcus Lattimore and the running backs. Spurrier even mentioned during the week that teams would begin doing that. Lattimore carried the ball 14 times for 38 yards and one touchdown. On this night, it seemed as if the Gamecocks regressed into last season's rushing attack with Garcia leading the team in rushing yards (44 yards on 10 carries). However, unlike last season, the opposing defense still had to respect play-action with #21 on the field and that has to count for something.

Grade - B-

Wide Receivers - With the defense having to respect play-action, Jeffery put on a show. The Sophomore receiver had eight catches for 192 yards and showed off his athletic ability in his two touchdowns. Redshirt Sophomore Tori Gurley also had a productive night, catching four passes for 36 yards and fought his way into the end zone for a touchdown. In total, the Gamecocks had 305 yards through the air and three touchdowns and was pretty much the lone bright spot in the game.

Grade - A+

Offensive Line - The Gamecocks took a battered offensive line to Auburn with Hutch Eckerson and Terrance Campbell being limited in their play and the injury to Kyle Nunn during the game. The line struggled to open up holes for the running backs, but did a decent job for the most part in pass protection. However, the Auburn ends were beating the Gamecock tackles all night leaving Garcia and Shaw to run for their lives. It wasn't a bad night, but it certainly wasn't a good night.

Grade - C-

Defensive Line - The defensive line very well could have four future NFL players in Cliff Matthews, Travian Robertson, Ladi Ajiboye, and Devin Taylor. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton made the defensive line look like a JV line on Saturday night. The line looked lost and had no idea if Newton had the ball or running back Michael Dyer had it. Even in the few instances where they had Newton and Dyer in their grasps, they couldn't hold on. When a team rushes if 57 times for 334 yards and your top eight - yes, eight - tacklers are linebackers or defensive backs, your defensive line was non-existent.

Grade - F

Linebackers - The Gamecocks welcomed back Shaq Wilson to the starting line-up. The Gamecocks knew Wilson was not going to be anywhere near game shape and it showed. Wilson was continuously pushed out of position and had no closing speed. Josh Dickerson had a good night with 9 tackles and Rodney Paulk added 5. The Gamecocks lack that Jasper Brinkley-type bruising linebacker and it will show when the Gamecocks face running teams with big, physical offensive linemen that get up the field. It was an average night overall for the linebackers and they should get an average grade.

Grade - C

Defensive Backs - In what should have been the strongest area on the Gamecock team, the secondary sure hasn't played like it. The secondary has been vulnerable to the big play all season. Most people credited the Gamecock defense as a bend-but-not-break defense in the early part of the season. Against Auburn, it broke. The secondary routinely played 7-10 yards off the receivers, even in short yardage situations. Though Newton didn't have to, he could have easily picked apart the secondary all night long. They were easily blocked all night by the Tiger receivers. Missed tackles and soft coverages doomed the secondary, and they were nowhere to be found on Lutzenkirchen's go-ahead touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Throw in Chris Culliver's knack to get a 15-yard personal foul penalty at the worst possible time, and you get a bad night.

Grade - D-

Special Teams - Spencer Lanning continues to impress and boom the ball as the punter. He punted three times for an average of 44 yards with a long of 53 against Auburn. In fact, he punts the ball so far that he nearly out-kicks his coverage every time. Jay Wooten appears to have won the job for kick-offs and it appears to be a good decision. He doesn't get the ball to the end zone like Shane Beamer would like, but he gives his team time to get down the field by kicking it so high. He also keeps the ball in play, which is something Spurrier has said Joey Scribner-Howard struggles with at times. Bryce Sherman got a chance to return a kick-off three times, but other than speed, he really doesn't give you much in the way of breaking tackles. Culliver is more elusive but lacks that break-away speed that all the great returners have. Gilmore did not get an opportunity to return either Auburn punt. The biggest blunders where Sherman's bobble of the opening kick-off and Seth Strickland's failure to get the ball down that resulted in a missed PAT. That would have come into play had Jeffery held on to that last pass and is why I can't give the special teams a higher mark.

Grade - B

Coaching - The Gamecocks were in the game and had a chance to send it to overtime late in the game. Some will say Spurrier made the right decision to pull Garcia, some will say he made the wrong decision. I really had no problem with the play-calling from the offensive standpoint. The Gamecocks could have run the ball a bit more, but the passing game was working. Carolina ran the ball just enough to keep the defensive line from pinning their ears back and immediately dropping the linebackers back in coverage. The defense played very soft and never appeared to make any adjustments. It was the worst defensive effort in the Johnson era and you can only hope they learn from it.

Grade - D-

Bottom line, if you want to be a premier SEC team, you just don't lose these kind of games. You build an early 13-point (should have been 14) lead and you don't let the opponent back in the game, especially on their field. That's just what the Gamecocks did and it cost them. You simply cannot lose games when you score 27 points in this conference.

Overall - D

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