For the third straight season, South Carolina’s report card is a keeper.
Quarterback Connor Shaw was superb during his senior season with 24 touchdown passes and only one interception. He played through injuries and was the quintessential leader for this team. Coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw ranked up there with any quarterback he's ever coached. Shaw had plenty of help, though, with a balanced South Carolina offense that just missed passing for 250 yards per game and rushing for 200 yards per game. They averaged 253.8 passing yards and 198.5 rushing yards. Sophomore running back Mike Davis finished with 1,183 rushing yards, while Bruce Ellington averaged 15.8 yards per catch and had eight touchdown receptions. South Carolina's offensive line proved to be one of the better units in the league, and the Gamecocks were fourth in the SEC in red zone offense. Spurrier's offenses at Florida might have been flashier and put up bigger numbers, but this was an offense that delivered in key situations more times than not.
Not being able to put teams away was a real problem for South Carolina's defense early in the season, but it's a unit that got better as the season wore on and grew up in key spots, particularly at linebacker, and played its best football down the stretch. South Carolina and Alabama were the only two teams in the SEC to finish in the top 12 nationally in both scoring and total defense. And during its six-game winning streak to close the season, South Carolina's defense didn't allow more than 17 points in regulation in any of the six games. Moreover, the Gamecocks forced 10 turnovers in their last two games, wins over Clemson and Wisconsin. Jadeveon Clowney had an off season in terms of sack numbers, but he still had a huge impact on the way opposing offenses attacked the Gamecocks and opened up a lot of opportunities for tackle Kelcy Quarles, who was third in the SEC with 9.5 sacks. Let's hear it for Lorenzo Ward, too. He's easily one of the more underrated defensive coordinators in the country.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
Kudos to freshman walk-on Elliott Fry for coming through at placekicker for the Gamecocks. He made some big kicks in both the Florida and Missouri wins and finished 15-of-18 on the season. Other than Fry, there wasn't much to get excited about on special teams for South Carolina. In fact, the kicking game struggled for much of the season. The Gamecocks finished last in the SEC in net punting (34.1 yards), 12th in punt return average, 11th in kickoff returns and 10th in kickoff coverage. They gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown in the bowl game, allowing Wisconsin to get back in it in the fourth quarter, and simply didn't make much happen on special teams all season.
The only thing that keeps this from being a solid “A” was the inexplicable loss to Tennessee. Spurrier has taken the Gamecocks to unprecedented heights, but that 23-21 loss to the Vols and some of his decision-making in the second half wasn’t his finest hour. Otherwise, the season speaks for itself. South Carolina was the only team in the country to beat three different teams that finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll and won 11 games for the third straight season. Go back and count how many times that’s been done, period, in the SEC. Spurrier has turned South Carolina into a national power, and nobody would have predicted that when the Head Ball Coach took over in Columbia in 2005.