College Sports

USC-Alabama report card: Game plan gives Gamecocks a chance; secondary struggles

South Carolina had a mixed bag of results Saturday in its 47-23 loss to Alabama. The offense played well in spurts and the playing calling was maybe as aggressive as ever in Will Muschamp’s for seasons in Columbia. But the defense, the secondary and linebacker play in particular, wasn’t very effective. Here are the grades.

Quarterbacks: If nothing else, Ryan Hilinski proved last week wasn’t a fluke and he belongs. Barring injury, this is his team to lead moving forward. It was still a controlled passing game without many shots downfield, but Hilinski played well in his first SEC action. He completed 36-of-57 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns. His 31-yard touchdown pass to Shi Smith into double coverage was a thing of beauty. He did have a fumble and interception though. Grade: B-

Running Backs: Rico Dowdle played well with 102 yards on 12 carries but his inability to score late in the first half that would have made it a one-score game was a huge momentum shift. Tavien Feaster was a non-factor early and finished with 12 touches, but many of those were late in the game. Feaster needs to be more involved in the offense, especially in the passing game. Grade: C

Wide Receivers: Bryan Edwards set a career-high with nine receptions. Smith had the highlight reel touchdown catch in the second quarter and had a team-high 90 yards receiving on six catches. OrTre Smith and Josh Vann combined for six receptions but only 37 yards. Outside of Edwards and Shi Smith, it was a rather routine game. Grade: B-

Tight Ends: Kyle Markway and Nick Muse seemed to be a safety outlet for Hilinski. Markway led the way with five receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown, while Muse added four catches for 21 yards. The one drawback is Markway had the questionable holding call that negated Parker White’s 33-yard touchdown run on a fake field goal in the first quarter. Grade: B

Offensive line: Another mixed bag. They allowed three sacks but Hilinski was pressured a number of times and took several shots. The running game averaged 4.7 yards per carry with Dowdle going over 100 yards for the first time since the Tennessee game last year. Grade: C

Defensive line: Maybe the best performance of the defensive side of things. They basically put six guys in the box a lot of times and forced Alabama to rely on the passing game. They only allowed 3 yards per rush, but they didn’t generate much pass rush. That allowed QB Tua Tagovailoa sit back and pick the secondary apart. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Ernest Jones led the team with nine tackles, but he and T.J. Brunson were part of problem with the secondary. Alabama hit a lot of seam routes that turned into big plays. Deeper drops into the zones could have possibly prevented that. Grade: D

Defensive backs: You could make an argument that Alabama has the best receiving corps in the country, and the Gamecocks secondary couldn’t disagree. Tagovailoa set a career-high with 444 passing yards and averaged 15.8 yards per completion. The Crimson Tide had scoring pass plays of 24, 81, 42, 42 and 11 yards, which tied for most passing touchdowns in a game for Tagovailoa. It was the third most-ever passing yards in Alabama history. Grade: F

Special Teams: If the trick plays would have worked, this grade would be different. Muschamp called a fake field goal, a fake punt and an onside kick, all which ended up not working in the Gamecocks favor. Also, the Gamecocks had a procedure penalty that negated a punt being downed at the Alabama 1-yard line. White did kick field goals of 44, 28, and 48 yards. Grade: C

Coaching: The game plan and play-calling are what fans have been wanting; unfortunately the execution was poor. But the intent was there. The more comfortable Hilinski becomes, the more they can open things up. Defensively, they could have mixed things up to make Tagavailoa move some in the pocket, but now teams will probably attack a vulnerable secondary going forward. Grade: B-

Overall: At the end of the day, it’s still a 24-point loss to an SEC team, albeit the No. 2 ranked team in the country. There are winnable games coming up, starting with a trip to Missouri next weekend. The coaching staff and players are going to have to find a way to make something good happen in the first true road game of the season. Grade: C-

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