Grading The Keys To Victory
I. Force Proctor To Beat You
The South Carolina defense was not perfect on Saturday afternoon, but they competed well against one of the premier rushing teams in America. The Gamecocks held the Tigers to 181 yards rushing, an impressive 48 yards below their season average. With the Tigers not able to dominate in the ground game, the pressure was put on quarterback Will Proctor to make clutch conversions in several key situations. As expected, that played right into the Gamecocks hands. Proctor did not look comfortable throughout the game, and although his final stats were decent (191 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), he was rarely able to challenge the Gamecock secondary down the field. Clemson only converted on 5-11 third downs, and the Gamecocks forced the often one-dimensional Tigers offense to punt five times on the day.
II. Score Touchdowns In The Red Zone
After only finding the end zone once in the previous eight quarters against the Clemson defense, the South Carolina offense came out firing on all cylinders on Saturday. The Gamecocks rolled up 492 yards of total offense, and the only thing that could stop USC's attack on this day was their own miscues. Carolina converted 5-6 opportunities in the red zone, including four rushing touchdowns on their way to scoring 31 points. Mike Davis punched in two scores on the afternoon, while Cory Boyd and Blake Mitchell each scored from 1-yard out.
III. Protect Blake Mitchell
The Gamecock offensive line gave an inspired effort on Saturday against an aggressive and physical Clemson defensive front. The line held the Tigers without a sack on the day, but the Tigers, led by Gaines Adams, were able to apply some pressure and force a few errors from the otherwise precise Blake Mitchell. Adams had two pass deflections against the Gamecocks, including a momentum-swinging tipped ball that was intercepted and returned 82 yards for a touchdown by Jock McKissic at the end of the first half. Mitchell finished the game with three interceptions caused by defensive pressure, but he was able to overcome those miscues on his way to completing 23-36 passes for 268 yards.
IV. Minimize Clemson's Big Plays
The Clemson offense racked up 372 yards of total offense on the day, but over half of those yards came on three plays. Jacoby Ford got the fireworks started in the first quarter when he beat a stumbling Fred Bennett down the sideline for a 76 yard touchdown reception. C.J. Spiller was responsible for the other two breakaway plays, with touchdown runs of 80 and 31 yards. With the exception of these three plays, the Gamecock defense was relatively stout, as they held the Tigers to a respectable 3.8 yards per play for the rest of the game.
V. Win The Field Position Battle
The Gamecocks have been looking for a spark on the kickoff return team throughout the season, and they may have found one in freshman speedster Captain Munnerlyn. The Alabama native returned two kickoffs down the right sideline for an average of 32 yards per return, which allowed the Gamecocks the rare luxury of not starting drives from the shadow of their own end zone. Emanuel Cook made one of the biggest plays of the day when he forced a fumble that was recovered by Jordin Lindsey at Clemson's 34 yard line, and ultimately allowed the Gamecocks to tie the score at 28 and capture back the game's momentum in the third quarter. Ryan Succop also did an outstanding job limiting the nation's 3rd ranked kickoff return team with 5 touchbacks on the afternoon.
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