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South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt report card: Gamecocks take care of business

There aren’t too many exciting highlights to relive from this one, but it was still a victory.

A.J. Turner is a thing now.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Passing game: Although quarterback Jake Bentley’s line was hardly eye-popping — 19-of-29 passing for 174 yards and one touchdown — it was one of his best games of the season. Bentley played within himself and was accurate, decisive, and didn’t turn the ball over. Receiver Shi Smith led the Gamecocks with 76 yards and did a nice impression of Deebo Samuel on a 36-yard catch and run score, and OrTre Smith added 36 yards of his own. Hayden Hurst also saw four targets for 31 yards, which was encouraging after his participation in the passing game has been surprisingly limited. Bryan Edwards, however, had a very quiet performance with a couple drops, coming up with only two catches for 15 yards, and he’s a guy the Gamecocks need to be on. The offensive line, finally healthy again, yielded just one sack and generally gave Bentley time to operate. There weren’t a whole lot of fireworks here, but I’m going to give it a good grade mostly for Bentley’s composure. GRADE: B+

Passing defense: Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who has quietly been one of the better signal-callers in the SEC despite his team’s struggles, slung it all over the yard on the Gamecocks. Shurmur threw for a season-high 333 yards and four touchdowns and distributed the ball well to several receivers, led by Kalija Lipscomb’s 128 yards. The rock solid Rashad Fenton finally gave up the first touchdown of his career when he got roasted on a 47-yard strike, and along with the rest of the secondary, played a pretty poor game with untimely penalties and poor tackling. The lack of a pass rush hurt, too — Vanderbilt kept Shurmur well-protected and he was never sacked. South Carolina did come up with two interceptions, but one was nullified by a defensive pass interference penalty. If Vanderbilt had more horses, the Gamecocks might have paid a steeper price for this performance. GRADE: D-

Rushing offense: For the first time this season, the Gamecocks had a running back eclipse 100 yards with A.J. Turner’s 121-yard performance. Turner added 24 receiving yards and also scored a touchdown while averaging an incredible 8.1 yards per carry. Perhaps more intriguing, Jake Bentley scored the first two rushing touchdowns of his young career and scrambled for 47 yards in total, which added another dimension to the offense. Finally, Mon Denson got some snaps in the fourth quarter to provide fresh legs, and iced the game with a nice first-down run. In South Carolina’s first game without injured starter Rico Dowdle, it was an encouraging sight. Although Vanderbilt’s rushing defense is hardly a juggernaut, it was still good to see the Gamecocks take advantage of an opponent’s weakness and roll up 212 yards. GRADE: A

Rushing defense: As a team, the Commodores just barely cracked 100 yards on the ground (107). Dangerous tailback Ralph Webb was ineffective with 31 yards on six carries, and Dallas Rivers gained just 41 on 11. The Gamecocks didn’t yield a rushing score, either. Vandy didn’t necessarily need to establish the run with how well their passing game was working, but it was also pretty clear their rushing attack wasn’t going to get anywhere. GRADE: A

Special teams: Although he missed a 47-yard attempt, Parker White hit on field goals of 44 and 37 yards to continue some newfound stability in the kicking game. White has also been crushing it on kickoffs — with so many touchbacks, I can’t remember the last time an opponent has been able to return a kick. Joseph Charlton booted some nice punts with an average of 48 yards and a long of 54. The return game didn’t get a chance to make an impact, with no punt returns and just one kickoff return, but the coverage units did a good job hemming Vandy in. The highlight of the night, though, was D.J. Wonnum’s big-time block of a Vanderbilt point-after attempt, which allowed the Gamecocks to preserve a one-point lead. What a year he’s having. GRADE: B

Coaching: Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper dialed up a few nice drives and got a bit of a reprieve from the ire he’s been catching this season, but the Gamecocks still have a tendency to get far too conservative far too early. It might be OK (relatively speaking) to get passive and try to run out the clock on teams like Vanderbilt and Tennessee, but that complete lack of aggression will get the Gamecocks crushed against high-caliber competition. As it is, they put themselves in position to sweat out what could have been a comfortable two-score victory. GRADE: C

Officiating: Going to add a bonus category here because it deserves some attention. Questionable targeting calls (and lack of targeting calls), ticky-tack pass interference flags, and just a general desire by the referees to control every aspect of the game made it unwatchable at times. Across the board, one of the worst and weirdly called games I’ve seen this season. GRADE: F