Grading the Keys to Victory
I. Protect Blake Mitchell
The South Carolina offensive line proved Saturday night, while they are still not where they want to be, they are better off than last year's line at this point in the season. On most occasions, they blocked well for Mitchell, giving up only two sacks, allowing him to settle in and play a solid game with no turnovers.
While not spectacular, Mitchell looked as comfortable as ever on the field, showed the leadership some say he lacks and the ability to manage the offense by checking off at the line of scrimmage to what was generally the right play.
The line came up its biggest, however, in the fourth quarter, as they paved the way for Cory Boyd and Mike Davis to move the ball downfield while eating up precious minutes off the clock. With momentum seemingly turning in Georgia's direction, these drives were the difference in the game as the team stood strong when past Gamecock teams would have likely folded.
II. Contain Brown, Moreno
The South Carolina defense rebounded from its poor tackling performance against Louisiana-Lafayette to hold the Georgia rushing attack to 128 yards rushing. While Knowshon Moreno was the game's leading rusher with a 104 yard performance, nearly half of that came on one play. Fortunately, safety Darian Stewart was able to corral Moreno, and the Georgia offense was kept out of the end zone and held to Steve Spurrier's bench mark of less than 150 yards rushing.
The last team to keep the Bulldogs out of the end zone in Athens? Your Gamecocks in 2001.
III. Generate the Big Play
While the special teams were once again far from special and the offense failed to come up with the big play, it could be argued the defense came up with big play after big play, holding Georgia to just 3 of 19 conversions on third and fourth downs and keeping their offense out of the end zone. The defense also finally forced its first turnover of the year on its final play of the game, when Jasper Brinkley intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass after it was kicked in the air by Munnerlyn.
On the negative side of things, much like they did two years ago, the secondary missed a handful of opportunities for a big play, dropping a few balls that would have been interceptions. While the team did what it needed to win, it's hard to give a great grade here.
IV. Wrap Up and Tackle!
The defense proved on Saturday night that all the preseason hype was not unwarranted, as they fielded a superior product from a year ago. The unit, which featured an improved run defense as well as a hard-hitting secondary, swarmed to the ball all night, making sure-tackles and in many instances had three and four players flowing to the ball carrier to clean up the play. While Eric Norwood, Darian Stewart, Captain Munnerlyn, and the Brinkley's stood out as individual performers, the entire defense played well together and seemed to play better as a team than the sum of its parts.
The most encouraging thing about the defense was how it dealt with adversity. On three different occasions in the first half, the defense thought it had gotten off the field only to be put right back out there due to personal fouls. Each time the defense stood strong, surrendering only a missed field goal on those drives.
V. Get Receivers open downfield
The offense again didn't throw down field much, yet seemed content in completing short passes, not making mistakes, and giving the defense a chance to win the game. In the first two games, the offense has been very conservative, but will need the offensive line to continue to improve as well as have another receiver step up to allow Spurrier to run his system and for the team to reach its full potential. If the defense continues to play well and the offense improves as it did last year, then the Gamecocks could be in for a special season.
It's hard to be too tough on the team here after arguably the biggest win of the Steve Spurrier era, so the offense gets a pass this time.
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