SIXTH-RANKED GAMECOCKS OVERCOME DISTRACTIONS, DREADFUL START TO RACE PAST WILDCATS
University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has been throwing his weight around Columbia, S.C. lately – noisily jousting with a nuisance columnist – but it was a familiar, soft-spoken hero who kept the sixth-ranked Gamecocks from being upset for the second time in a row at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky.
Junior tailback Marcus Lattimore easily had his best game since returning from a season-ending knee injury in 2011 – picking up a season-high 120 yards on 23 carries to rally South Carolina (5-0, 3-0 SEC) to a come-from-behind victory over the Kentucky Wildcats (1-4, 0-2 SEC).
Trailing by ten at the half, USC opened the second half with three straight touchdowns – reversing the trend of the 2010 matchup between these two teams, which saw Kentucky come from behind in the second half to beat the tenth-ranked Gamecocks.
“We played a little bit better in the second half than we did in the first half, sort of a turnaround from two years ago when we were up 18 and got beat here,” Spurrier said. “Coming in at halftime I told somebody, we don’t have to worry about being overconfident going into the second half or getting full of ourselves like maybe two years ago.”
The big reason for that turnaround? Lattimore. After picking up just 12 yards on five carries in the first half, the 6-foot, 218-pound workhorse from Duncan, S.C. exploded in the second stanza – racking up 108 yards on 18 carries (including a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns that put the game away). Lattimore also caught three passes for 16 yards.
“Nothing else was working very well and we were getting sacked all over the place so it was time to try to give it to him,” Spurrier said.
Lattimore punched in touchdowns from three and four yards out in the fourth quarter – his thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth as a Gamecock (extending a school record). That was quite a departure from the first half, when Spurrier failed to call on No. 21 in two critical goal line situations.
Not much of anything went right for USC in the first half. The Gamecocks gave up a pair of sacks, had a punt blocked and saw a snap sail over the head of quarterback Connor Shaw. With the exception of one drive – a 6-play, 64-yard scoring march in the second quarter – Spurrier’s squad looked totally out of sync during the first thirty minutes. As a result they entered the locker room trailing the unranked Wildcats 17-7 (after being outgained 173-108 yards in the first half).
Also, Shaw saw his streak of 20 consecutive completions (recorded last week against Missouri) snapped when wide receiver Bruce Ellington dropped his first pass attempt of the game.
In the second half, the script flipped – completely. After an early defensive stop, Shaw hit wide receiver Damiere Byrd on a 30-yard touchdown strike to cap a 6-play, 73-yard drive that put USC within three. After USC’s defense provided another stop, the Gamecocks went ahead on a 17-yard touchdown run by Kenny Miles.
They never looked back.
All told, the Gamecock offense put up 31 second-half points against Kentucky … while Jadeveon Clowney and the USC defense held Kentucky scoreless during the final thirty minutes of play to preserve the win.
Clowney recorded one sack and three tackles. He also forced an interception with his pressure on Kentucky’s true freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow – who was pressed into duty after starter Maxwell Smith was forced from the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. Whitlow had a strong start – frustrating USC’s vaunted defense through the air and on the ground – but he and the rest of the Kentucky offense were completely shut down in the second half (and Whitlow was picked off twice by defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s opportunistic defense).
Still, the 17 points given up by the Gamecocks was a season-high – and the most points surrendered by a USC defense since last year’s game against The Citadel (look it up).
“We didn’t come out fully prepared for Kentucky and they shocked us,” USC defensive end Devin Taylor said. “We were able to bounce back from that.”
He’s right. In years past, Gamecock teams would have folded in this situation – but this year’s squad had the talent, focus and patience to bounce back. That’s a testament to its leaders – on both sides of the ball.
Speaking of leaders, Shaw moved to 12-1 as South Carolina’s starter. The junior from Flowery Branch, Georgia completed 15 of 18 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Shaw also picked up 76 rushing yards on 19 carries.
USC’s win gives Spurrier nine victories in a row (dating back to last year’s loss on the road against Arkansas). That ties a school record set in 1984. It also moves the Gamecocks to 5-0 for the first time under Spurrier – who spent much of the last week waging a battle of wills against columnist Ron Morris of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper.
Spurrier – who has had a testy relationship with Morris for some time – threatened to quit his job and “go to the beach” if The State didn’t fire the controversial columnist. After the Missouri game Spurrier also instituted a new policy – backed by USC president Harris Pastides and athletics director Ray Tanner – in which he refuses to answer questions from the media whenever Morris is present.
This website has criticized that policy, but we also criticized Morris for comparing Spurrier’s actions to the child sex abuse scandal that rocked Penn State University last year. Morris half-heartedly apologized for the Penn State comparison, but that didn’t stop one local television station from canceling a program the featured the columnist.
USC vs. UK Stats (.pdf)
Pic: via Daylife