COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 22: Ace Sanders #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks breaks away from the Missouri Tigers defense for a long gain during play at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 22, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
In the first game of the season in which it unequivocally looked like a top 10 team, South Carolina defeated the Missouri Tigers this afternoon, winning 31-10 in the CBS Game of the Week. Carolina dominated this game in all aspects, playing well on both defense and offense and playing what was probably the best special teams performance I've seen out of us in years. If not for a late TD drive by Mizzou after we put our backups in on defense, we would've won this game by four TDs and would have outgained the Tigers by around 200 yards. In other words, complete dominance.
A few notes on the game:
--A lot of us--including myself--doubted whether Connor Shaw was healthy enough to play well in this game, and some even doubted whether a healthy Shaw deserved to start over Dylan Thompson. I think we can put both concerns to rest. Shaw played what was likely the best game of his college career today, going 20/21 (!!!) for over 200 yards, 2 TDs, and over 40 rushing yards. That was good a 226.3 passer rating. I saw little sign that his injury is going to continue bothering him other than it looked like he was avoiding hits when he ran, which is fine with me regardless of whether he's hurt or not. This was the Shaw I thought we would see preseason, and if he continues playing like this, I think we're the favorite in the East and a darkhorse national title contender. There are some big "ifs" in there, as he certainly hadn't looked like this prior to this game, but I really believe Shaw could lead us to a magical season if he's capable of playing at a similar level throughout the year. It just opened up so many things in our offense.
--Another real story in this game was special teams play. If Ace Sanders--who also looked good as a receiver--can continue returning punts like he has throughout the first part of the season, he could be a difference-maker for us in the return game. Bruce Ellington's kickoff return was also nice, although I doubt you'll see too many of those this season due to the new kickoff rules. I also thought that Tyler Hull's punting looked a modicum better today (still not great, though), and that Adam Yates had a good day outside of the one kickoff that went out of bounds.
--The offensive line didn't look dominant by any means, but it did look better. Shaw generally had a fair amount of time to throw against a defensive front that I thought would be able to generate more pressure, and while Marcus Lattimore had to work for his yardage, it seemed like things were opening up for him just a little bit at points. Corey Robinson and Mike Matulis looked good as our pair at tackle.
--Defensively, I thought we played very well, albeit against an offense that looked confused and shellshocked most of the afternoon. The defensive front was dominant as expected. Perhaps the biggest story, IMO, was how well we strategized for Mizzou. Lorenzo Ward dared Mizzou to throw the ball by filling the box and leaving the outside receivers in single coverage, and for the most part, this strategy worked quite well. Mizzou didn't run the ball well outside of a brief spurt late in the first half, and our defensive backs did a good job keeping many big plays from developing. Mizzou got a few short-to-medium yardage gains in the single coverage situations, but we did a good job of forcing those plays inside and making sure they didn't go for long gains. In short, Whammy had a good game plan today, and so far he's been a good replacement for Ellis Johnson. Remember, he gets Akeem Auguste back this week, which should help us continue to improve defensively.
--Not too many complaints, but one I do want to mention is that unless the coaches really don't feel he knows the playbook well enough yet, I think it's time to give Mike Davis a look at second-team tailback. Outside of one decent gain on a wheel route reception, Kenny Miles was ineffective in this game, and he turned the ball over when we were knocking on the door for another score. I love Miles, but based on what we've seen so far, it's hard to imagine that Davis isn't the better option.
That's a wrap for now. Enjoy the evening, fellas. Good day to be a Gamecock!