South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier said all week that his football team has struggled against the in-state FCS teams during his tenure. You can now add the Furman Paladins to that list. After the Gamecocks built a seemingly comfortable 28-6 lead, the Paladins used two big plays to get back in the game. However, it was Stephon Gilmore that made the biggest play of the night, returning an interception 80 yards for his first career touchdown to clinch the victory for the Gamecocks.
"We're happy to beat Furman," Spurrier said. "They probably out played us, out hit us, probably out-toughed us a little bit. It was tough moving the ball against these guys. They were tough to block."
Furman coach Bobby Lamb said his team only had one goal coming into the game, and it wasn't to receive a paycheck.
"We came down here to win the game," Lamb said. "I know people don't believe me when I say it, but we practice every week and we practice to win every game we play. Our kids played extremely hard. We could have folded at 14-0, and they could have run us out of the stadium, but we made some things happen."
Furman used a 3-yard touchdown on an interception return by defensive end Shawn Boone, and a 72-yard half-back pass from Tersoo Uhaa to Adam Mims to cut the lead to 31-19.
"I didn't know you can throw an interception on a swing pass, but that was a bad call on my part," Spurrier said of the interception. "I told the guys I need to quit calling those plays that he can throw interceptions for touchdowns the other way. We aren't going to throw that swing pass anymore."
With the Paladins driving to look to cut it even closer, Cody Worley's slant pass sailed over the receivers hands and right into the bread-basket of Gilmore. There was nothing but green grass in front of Gilmore and he would not be caught as he took it the distance.
"Stephon Gilmore's interception was the play that took their heart out to end the game," Spurrier said.
On Furman's first possession, Worley converted a third down play with a 12-yard pass to Mims. Uhaa was then dropped for a no gain by Ladi Ajiboye and a one yard loss by DeVonte Holloman on an option. Facing a third and long situation, Worley's pass was intercepted by Carolina's CC Whitlock - his first of the season - to give the Gamecocks good field position, aided by a late hit that moved the ball all the way to the Furman 26-yard line.
"We had pretty good pressure I think most of the night," Spurrier said of the front seven. "Cliff Matthews I think had an excellent game. I think the D-line and linebackers really all played well. They didn't run the ball very well, 51 yards on 27 carries. We played good defense except for a couple plays."
It didn't take the Gamecocks long to strike. After a Stephen Garcia draw play gained nine yards on a 3rd and 8 to give the Gamecocks a first down, Garcia threw a beautiful post pass to the corner of the end zone that was caught by Tori Gurley to put the Gamecocks on the board. Gurley finished with three catches for 52 yards and one touchdown on the game. That was good enough for Spurrier to give him one of the game balls. Jay Wooten capped the 4-play, 26-yard drive with the extra point to give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
After forcing a Paladin three and out, the Gamecocks went back to work from their own 26. Garcia had two nine yard runs and hit Gurley for a 16-yard gain to help the Gamecocks move deep into Paladin territory. Marcus Lattimore ran 21 yards inside the Furman 10 and finished the drive off 2 plays later with a 4-yard run on a sweep around the left side of the Gamecock line for his team-leading fifth touchdown of the season. Lattimore finished the night with 99 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown. Spencer Lanning added the extra point to finish the 11-play, 74-yard drive. At the end of the first quarter, the Gamecocks led 14-0.
After the Gamecock defense forced yet another three and out, Garcia was picked off on the secon play from scrimmage by Furman's Sterling Johnson. On the ensuing drive, Chris Forcier made his first appearance in the game and quickly got a seven yard gain on the first play. The Gamecock defense again came up strong to force a 37-yard field goal attempt for the Paladins. Freshman Ray Early nailed it and Carolina's lead was cut to 14-3, despite the Gamecock defense only giving up six yards on three plays on the drive.
Connor Shaw entered the game on the next Carolina possession, but Spurrier said that had nothing to do with Garcia's interception.
"He (Shaw) was going in the second quarter," Spurrier said. "(The interception) didn't have anything to do with it. It turned out Stephen came back in the game. (Shaw) was set to go. Stephen had a lot of good plays, but he had some bad plays I wish we could get rid of."
On the following Furman possession, the Paladins drove down the field in a hurry. Forcier and Worley combined to throw for 42 yards and Adam Mims took it 25 yards on a triple-option, breaking several tackle attempts by the Gamecock secondary to move the ball inside the Gamecock 10. However, as has been the case throughout the first part of the season the Gamecock defense stepped up with their backs against the wall. After a false start, Worley was sacked by Travian Robertson back to the 17. Devin Taylor nearly came up with a sack on the next play, hitting Gary Scott - Furman's third quarterback of the half - as he released the ball causing it to sail out of bounds. Scott was then sacked by Melvin Ingram on third down. Early was called on again for a field goal, and he knocked down the 37-yard attempt. That capped a 12-play, 60 yard drive to cut the Gamecock lead to 14-6.
Carolina would have an answer on the following drive. Shaw would complete all three of his passes on the drive, the two biggest being a 21-yard pass to Gurley and a 15-yard completion to Alshon Jeffery on a receiver screen to move the ball inside the Furman 10. Brian Maddox capped the drive with a 9-yard score to give the Gamecocks a 21-6 lead after the Lanning PAT to end the first half.
As was the case for most of the first half, Furman was held to a three and out to open the second half. As was the case for most of the first half, the Gamecocks struck quickly on the following drive. Garcia hit Jeffery twice on the drive for 41 yards to move the Gamecocks into the red zone. After three Lattimore runs got the ball to the 11, it appeared that Carolina would stall. Garcia just missed Patrick DiMarco on a slant and the Gamecocks tried an Ace Sanders reverse, but the Furman defense was not fooled. Facing 3rd and 5 from the Furman 6-yard line, Garcia found D.L. Moore in the back corner of the end zone for his second touchdown pass of the game. Lanning's extra point made it 28-6 Gamecocks on the 11-play, 72-yard drive.
From there things got dicey for the Gamecocks.
On South Carolina's next drive, it was Boone's interception for a touchdown that drew the Paladins a little bit closer. Garcia wasn't too sure what happened or how it happened.
"I'm not sure (what happened)," Garcia said of the interception. "Jarriel (King) is supposed to cut the guy, the D-end, so we're looking down the field. So I can't see if the guy is on the ground or not. I just threw it to (Bryce) Sherman, and the Furman player was standing there, so there wasn't anything I could do."
The Gamecocks moved the ball into Furman territory on the following possession, but the drive stalled. Lanning was called on to attempt a 51-yard field goal. Lanning's kick - a new career-high - was good and the Gamecocks led 31-13. Lanning would later boot a career long 58-yard punt in the 4th quarter.
"He's a good kicker," Spurrier said. "He is reaching in practice all the time from 51. He punted beautifully. We need to shorten him up a little bit when we punt from midfield. He's having a super year, and he's an outstanding kicker and punter."
As Spurrier mentioned earlier in the week, the Gamecocks needed to be prepared for anything, including trick plays. The Paladins did just that and the Gamecocks certainly weren't ready. Uhaa took the pitch on an option and found Mims behind the Gamecock secondary for a 72-yard catch and run. It was only the second touchdown of the year allowed by the Gamecock defense. The Paladins tried some trickery on the extra point attempt, but the Gamecocks snuffed it out. Still, the Paladins were right back in the game, trailing 31-19.
After forcing a Gamecock punt, it was again Mims that made a big play. A 47-yard completion had the Paladins in business inside Gamecock territory. However, two plays later Worley overshot his intended receiver and Gilmore was there to take it the distance.
"I made a good play on the ball," Gilmore said. "They didn't throw to my side too many times, but when they did I tried to make a play on the ball. They had a lot of momentum until that play, but our defense calmed down and ended up making the play on the ball."
Mims had a career night for the Paladins. Mims had 202 yards receiving on 10 catches and a touchdown. He also ran the ball twice for 26 yards.
"I told some of the South Carolina coaches before the game that we had one guy that could run with their guy, and that's No. 2," Lamb said after the game. "And every one of them came over after the game and said, ‘You're right, he can play.'"
"Number two, he's pretty quick," Spurrier said. "We had trouble tackling him at times."
Going forward, Spurrier took two things from the game tonight that the Gamecocks have to work on if they hope to continue making progress towards their goals.
"Blocking and taking care of the ball," Spurrier said. "Our quarterbacks taking care of the ball, I should say. Not giving the opponent anything. We gave them 10 points tonight, which kept them a little bit alive. We were a little careless at times. Maybe we can get in the ball game next week with Auburn and play those guys as smart as we can."
On the other side of the ball, Assistant Head Coach Ellis Johnson said his team just needs to focus a little bit better.
"Saw a little bit of what happened on the field in practice, a little lapse of concentration and so forth," Johnson said. "Overall, we played what I think was a very good football team. I thought our pass rush was good, and we got to the quarterback some. Coverage was not bad at times, didn't play man-to-man very well."
The Gamecocks travel to the Plains next week to face Auburn in the first road game of the season.
South Carolina defeats Furman 38-19
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