South Carolina vs. Tennessee: 10 Things We Learned in Gamecocks' Loss
The Tennessee Volunteers upset the South Carolina Gamecocks 23-21 in surprising fashion at Neyland Stadium, and 10 things truly stood out for the Gamecocks in Saturday's matchup.
South Carolina needs to get its act together if it wants a legitimate shot at possibly getting to the SEC title game this season. But it will have to work on a few things before it even takes the field next week.
Connor Shaw Gave His Worst Passing Performance of Season Before the Injury
Connor Shaw looked absolutely terrible as a passer versus the Volunteers. While his 78 yards rushing on 19 carries is solid for a quarterback, his 7-of-21 (33.3 percent) passing for 161 yards was fluffed up by a 76-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd.
He also threw his first interception on the season in the middle of the third quarter. Unfortunately for Carolina and Shaw, he went down with a knee injury and could not finish the game. Hopefully, that injury isn't too serious, and he can return this year.
Mike Davis Is a Legitimate Heisman Contender
So when did Mike Davis turn into 2008-2010-era Michael Turner?
He's plowing over guys, running well in space and even catching the ball out of the backfield and creating plays from it.
His 21 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown doesn't tell half the story. He was able to slash and bulldoze his way through the Volunteers defense to gain yards in chunks at a time. If his 879 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground through seven games doesn't have him in Heisman consideration, then what will?
Damiere Byrd Has Potential to Be a Great Receiver...
One of the few bright spots in the passing game was junior wide receiver Damiere Byrd. He was continually open and looked like a long-term No. 1 option for the Gamecocks offense. The 5'9", 166-pound speedster burned an entire defense on a 76-yard touchdown catch.
And he later followed it up with a 21-yard catch. On the day, Byrd had four catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. He's got big-game speed and runs excellent routes. But his size could be an issue when NFL teams look at him in the future.
...But the Gamecocks Need Other Options to Step Up or Get Healthy
While Damiere Byrd has looked amazing, no one else got open or made plays against the Vols. The Gamecocks showed just how much they were missing Bruce Ellington from his injury.
Rory Anderson was able to get open a couple of times in the end zone but was unable to make the play. Nick Jones was the only other person not named Byrd, Anderson or Davis who even caught a pass. That has to change in future games. Someone else has to make a play.
Jadeveon Clowney Is Still a Monster
Jadeveon Clowney is still the best defensive end in college football. Sure, he doesn't get a sack every play, but his impact is felt beyond that. He played almost every snap against the Volunteers, and most of that was against potential All-American Tiny Richardson.
And he performed exceptionally well with multiple tackles behind the line of scrimmage and a ton of pressure created with his pass rush. Clowney is a dominant threat against any offense and will continue to be that until he leaves for the NFL or graduates.
Carolina Linebackers Have Solid Run Fits but Need to Blitz More
Despite allowing 146 yards on the ground, South Carolina's linebackers did play well with their run fits against arguably the best offensive line in the SEC. The 146 yards came on a total of 41 carries, and no run went for more than 16 yards.
The 3.56 yards-per-carry average on the day was one of the worst for the Tennessee rushing attack all season. Only a 2.66 yards-per-carry performance against the Gators on September 21 was worse.
Carolina's Secondary Can Perform Well Against Mediocre Receivers
Tennessee's Marquez North had an insane three catches against a banged-up South Carolina secondary. Take those three catches out, and the rest of the Tennessee receivers caught 14 balls for a total of 77 yards for one touchdown.
Most of those were by receiver/back Pig Howard. Justin Worley looked like a talented quarterback putting the ball on the mark most of the time, but Gamecocks defensive backs would continually knock the ball away or out of the receivers' hands.
Special Teams Need to Quit Getting Penalized
Pharoh Cooper had a pair of excellent returns. He had one punt return that would have put the Gamecocks on their 45-yard line and one kick return that would have put the ball at midfield. Instead, his teammates hurt field position by over 30 yards each time with stupid penalties.
They had either an illegal block in the back or a holding call on any of the good returns that Cooper could run off. If the Gamecocks want to start winning some games again, they will get their act together on special teams.
Carolina May Need a Better Kicker If It Wants to Legitimately Compete in SEC
When a kicker misses a 45-yard field goal, it's normally acceptable because he at least has the distance on the kick. However, the Gamecock's Elliott Fry couldn't even get the ball to the post on a 45-yard attempt against the Vols.
If a kicker can't even get the distance on a 45-yard field goal, there's no reason for that kicker to continue starting anymore. The Gamecocks replacing Fry with someone who can actually get some power behind his kick would be wise for the future.
Steve Spurrier Needed Better Clock Management at the End
When it was a 4th-and-2 from South Carolina's own 26-yard line, there was no reason for head coach Steve Spurrier to call two timeouts in the exact same situation. He should have either gone for it, had his quarterback attempt to draw the Vols offsides and then call one timeout, or just punt it.
The fact that he called two timeouts and still didn't go for it looked weak and took the wind out of South Carolina's sails at the end of the game. Spurrier is the reason why the Gamecocks were able to fight back, but his decision at the end is why they lost.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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