SECOND-STRING SIGNAL CALLER GOES OFF IN GAMECOCK ROUT OF EAST CAROLINA
University of South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier brought a cannon to a sword fight … and that was just his second-stringer.
Backup quarterback Dylan Thompson – making his first career start – threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns as the ninth-ranked Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 SEC) cruised to a 48-10 victory in their home opener against the East Carolina Pirates (1-1, 0-0 Conference USA). Meanwhile the Gamecock defense recorded five takeaways – including a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior defensive back Jimmy Legree.
Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Lattimore? He picked up just 40 yards on 13 carries – although the junior tailback did score his 33rd career touchdown to open the game, tying him for first on the school’s all-time list with Harold Green and former Heisman winner George Rogers (both of whom amassed their prodigious totals through four seasons at USC). Lattimore also caught a pair of passes from Thompson and threw several key blocks on Gamecock first down plays.
But the story of the day – and the player of the game – was Thompson, who kept the operators of Williams-Brice Stadium’s new mega-video board busy with highlight after highlight.
Pressed into service after starting quarterback Connor Shaw injured his shoulder in USC’s season-opening win over Vanderbilt, Thompson was lights out – becoming the first Gamecock quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in a game since Shaw did it last year against Kentucky. In fact his 330 yards through the air were the most by a Gamecock passer since Stephen Garcia put up 355 against Vanderbilt in 2010.
The strong-armed redshirt sophomore connected on 21 of 37 passes – and in addition to the three scoring strikes (to Rory Anderson, DeAngelo Smith and D.L. Moore) he didn’t toss up a single interception. In fact with the exception of a few sacks and a fumble late in the game, Thompson’s performance was near flawless – evading defenders, making good decisions with the football, spreading the ball around and most importantly showing some serious arm strength.
“Today the ball was in the air more distance than any game I’ve coached here,” Spurrier said after the game, alluding to Thompson’s deep downfield throws.
The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Boiling Springs, S.C. native also got his teammates – and the crowd – fired up with his charismatic on-field antics following big plays.
It was quite a contrast from ten days ago in Nashville, Tennessee, when Thompson looked totally lost against the Vanderbilt Commodores – misfiring on all three passes he attempted and taking several sacks after entering the game in relief of Shaw.
The Gamecock passing attack – which was limited to just 67 yards against Vanderbilt (its first game of the post-Alshon Jeffery era) – amassed 397 yards against the helpless Pirates. In addition to Thompson’s heroics, third-stringer Seth Strickland threw a 51-yard touchdown strike to tight end Rory Anderson late in the game while wide receiver Ace Sanders threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to D.L. Moore on a “trickeration” screen.
On the other side of the ball? You’ve heard of “bend, don’t break?” Today it was “take, don’t break.”
South Carolina’s defense – going up against a high-octane ECU offense modeled after the gun-slinging Texas Tech Red Raiders – gave up a gaudy 403 total yards (all but seventy of which the Pirates obtained through the air). But USC’s ability to force turnovers on the Pirates’ final three drives of the first half – and first two drives of the second half – helped prevent a repeat of last year’s shootout in Charlotte.
Leading the way on ‘D?’ USC’s “other” Heisman Trophy candidate – Jadeveon Clowney. The 6-foot-6, 256-pound defensive end was a terror on the defensive line – forcing a pair of interceptions with his relentless pass rush. And as coaches promised he would, Clowney wreaked havoc from multiple positions along the line.
While Clowney provided the pressure, USC’s secondary provided the turnovers. In addition to Legree’s “pick six,” Shaq Wilson, D.J. Swearinger and Brison Williams also recorded interceptions. The other East Carolina turnover – a fumble by wide receiver Jabril Solomon – was forced and recovered by linebacker Reginald Bowens.
South Carolina has one remaining non-conference game before plunging into the meat of its 2012 SEC schedule. After hosting UAB next week at home, the Gamecocks will play seven straight SEC games (Missouri, @Kentucky, Georgia, @LSU, @Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas).
Hopefully those games will draw better – and more loyal – crowds. The announced attendance for Saturday’s game was 77,006 – but that’s a generous estimate. Also, 80,250-seat Williams-Brice Stadium was half-empty by the time the third quarter got started – and practically deserted by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
“Fans, stay in the ballpark a little longer,” Spurrier said. “The party will wait.”
Pics: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina