- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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A second straight 11-win season for South Carolina means another batch of good grades for the Gamecocks.
OFFENSE: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is never going to be thrilled with a unit that finishes ninth in the SEC in total offense. But the Head Ball Coach cares a whole lot more about winning than he does putting up flashy numbers. For the most part, the Gamecocks did what they needed to do offensively this past season to win games. Their rushing totals dropped off dramatically from 2011 when they finished third in the SEC with an average of 192.1 yards per game. They were next-to-last in the SEC this past season with an average of 138.5 rushing yards per game. Part of that drop-off was that Marcus Lattimore was coming back from major knee surgery and then got hurt again heading into the final month of the season. South Carolina wasn't able to run it at all in its losses to LSU and Florida. The Gamecocks managed just 34 yards on the ground against LSU and 36 yards against Florida. The flip side was that South Carolina was much more efficient throwing the football. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson both engineered huge wins, and Shaw's ability to make things happen with his legs was a big part of South Carolina's offense. The Gamecocks finished third in the SEC in passing efficiency. They threw 29 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions and averaged 32 points per game in their five-game winning streak to end the season. GRADE: B
DEFENSE: There were times in 2012 that South Carolina looked like the strongest defense in the SEC. In starting out 6-0, the Gamecocks didn't give up more than 17 points in any of those six games. They finished 11th nationally in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. Their 43 sacks led the SEC and were fifth nationally. Sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney led a defensive line that wreaked havoc most of the season, and the Gamecocks' linebackers were underrated. As much as anything, it's a defense that played big in big situations. Go back to Clowney's sack and strip of Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray in the final minutes of that game. Clowney's massive hit in the Outback Bowl turned that game around, and in the season-opening 17-13 win at Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks held the Commodores to 12 total yards in the fourth quarter. The 44-11 loss to Florida was more on the offense and special teams for turning it over and giving the Gators easy points. But in the 23-21 loss to LSU, South Carolina simply couldn't get off the field and was gutted for 258 rushing yards. Even so, South Carolina only gave up nine rushing touchdowns all season, which was the lowest total in the league. GRADE: B+
OVERALL: Up until the 2011 season, South Carolina had never won 11 games in a season in its history. For that matter, the Gamecocks had won more than eight games in a season only three times. So to rack up a second straight 11-win season says volumes about the job Spurrier has done with this program, which had been mired in mediocrity prior to his arrival. Give his staff a ton of credit, too. Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has brought a level of toughness and stability that had been missing up front for the Gamecocks, and first-year defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward pressed all of the right buttons this season. Clowney is obviously a special player and the ultimate game-changer on defense, but the entire program has jelled under Spurrier. The four-turnover debacle against Florida kept the Gamecocks out of the SEC championship game, which was especially difficult for them to stomach after beating Georgia by four touchdowns. Once again, though, they ended the season with a bang by beating rival Clemson for the fourth straight year and winning a second straight bowl game. It all added up to a No. 8 ranking in the final Associated Press poll, the Gamecocks' highest final ranking in school history. GRADE: B+
5dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf