Whew. Where to begin.
Passing game: Jake Bentley had a horrible, no good, very bad day, finishing just 16-of-29 passing for 126 yards and two awful interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. It wasn’t all on play design or his teammates’ execution, either --- he had plenty of open receivers, and some pretty clean pockets to work with as well. It was, to say the least, very unfortunate that Bentley was so incredibly off in the biggest game of the year. This has been an up-and-down season for him, and I think even his most ardent defenders would have to officially consider it a sophomore slump. He’s obviously got a lot of the tools; I’m just not sure where he is in his development right now, and how much of that comes back to coaching. For that matter, I have no idea what South Carolina’s offensive identity even IS, and we’re two years into Kurt Roper’s system. GRADE: F
Passing defense: Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, while not a polished passer, still managed to go 23-of-34 for 272 yards and a touchdown. Receivers like Tee Higgins and Hunter Renfrow helped him with phenomenal yards after the catch, and South Carolina obliged by not tackling particularly well. The Gamecocks did come up with two interceptions, both of which led to points, but the game had already been decided. GRADE: D
Rushing offense: Another loss, another virtual no-show from the running game (81 yards). It didn’t help that A.J. Turner departed early with an ankle sprain, but South Carolina was actually finding some daylight against Clemson’s fearsome defensive front before inexplicably abandoning the run and becoming one-dimensional. It’d be more understandable if Bentley had been on target and the short passing game was eating the Tigers up a la N.C. State, but neither of those things occurred. Most glaring was the absence of any designed runs for Bentley, who had been getting a lot of carries over the past few weeks and was adding a little something extra to the offense. There was zero creativity or interest in maintaining the ground game, which might have helped get Bentley going or at least taken some pressure off. GRADE: F
Rushing defense: The Tigers rushed for 184 yards and got a couple of scores from Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster, but a 13-yard Kelly Bryant carry was their longest of the day. This was one of the only aspects of the game South Carolina managed to keep a lid on. GRADE: B
Special teams: Yes, Parker White made a 40-yard field goal. Unfortunately, it came long after the game had been decided. Joseph Charlton booted some solid punts, but the coverage team kept getting fooled by Clemson’s returners and wasted several opportunities to pin the Tigers deep. Chris Lammons nearly fumbled a punt away as well. GRADE: D
Coaching: The Gamecocks were flat out unprepared and a lot of that lands squarely on the coaches’ shoulders. The team came onto the field with an obvious amount of emotional energy, and some of that can be helpful if it’s channeled properly. However, the Gamecocks spiraled out of control, committing far too many foolish penalties that extended Clemson drives. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper called an okay-ish game initially, but as previously mentioned, went away from the run too early and generally lacked any semblance of creativity or guts. Two fourth-down scenarios are perhaps the most damning decisions of them all: the 4th and 1 in the first quarter when South Carolina chose to punt, and the sad field goal attempt in the fourth. That first opportunity, on the edge of Clemson territory, was a wasted chance to capture some early momentum and instead sent the message that USC was not a threat. The field goal attempt, while good, came when South Carolina was trailing 34-0. Was trying for a touchdown really too risky in that scenario? GRADE: F
Uniforms: This week’s bonus category goes to the black helmet-garnet jersey-garnet pants combo, which I thought looked fantastic and was the only good part of the game. Unfortunately, given the circumstances in which it debuted, I doubt we ever see it again (or at the very least, it’ll be a long while). GRADE: A, but I’m still bummed.