It's about time

South Carolina's tight end duo finally had a breakthrough performance in Saturday's 38-35 win over Tennessee. The position was talked about as one of the strengths entering the season and it showed for the first time Saturday. Will it continue to be a strength the remainder of the season?

South Carolina's version of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez finally had their breakout performance in Saturday's 38-35 win. While comparing Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson to the New England Patriots duo is a stretch, you may be hard-pressed to find a tight end duo in college football better than Cunningham and Anderson.

Cunningham and Anderson both had spectacular games against the Volunteers Saturday, combining for nine catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. In one game, Cunningham almost equaled his combined receiving yards in his first two seasons with 108 yards receiving, by far a career high. Anderson just continued doing what he does best, finding the end zone. On a third and goal from the Tennessee 26, Connor Shaw found Anderson over the middle at the five, who bounced off a pair of Tennessee defenders to fall forward into the end zone.

"I told them I've turned into a tight end coach," head coach Steve Spurrier joked. "Right now a graduate assistant pretty much handles it, so I might name myself tight end coach the way they played. They finally got some balls coming."

Entering his final season at Carolina, Cunningham has slowly seen his receiving production rise each season. Always known as a tremendous blocker, the 6-4, 264 pound senior has slowly been worked into the receiving game. Cunningham had just two catches for 23 yards in 13 games his freshman season, seven catches for 92 yards in 14 games his sophomore season, and then exploded in 2011 with 18 catches for 142 yards his first career touchdown against Kentucky. He caught his 18th pass of the 2012 season against Tennessee and already has 228 yards receiving. He had a career-long 45 yard reception against the Vols, stiff arming a Tennessee player to the ground before being pushed out at the Tennessee seven. Cunningham had another opportunity to get into the end zone but was marked down at the one.

"That's about the third time that's happened this year so I'm hopefully I'll get in there sooner or later," Cunningham said.

On the other hand, Busta has no problems getting into the end zone. In his freshman season Anderson had just eight catches, but three were for touchdowns. Through nine games this season Anderson has 12 catches and five touchdowns. That's 20 catches and eight touchdowns. There is likely no reception-to-touchdown percentage, but nearly 50% would have to be pretty high.

Prior to the season the coaching staff continually talked about the tight ends and sang their praises, yet prior to the Tennessee game they were somewhat quiet. Cunningham had a huge catch on the game-winning drive against Vanderbilt, Jerell Adams had a big fourth down catch at the end of the LSU game to give the Gamecocks an opportunity to win, and Anderson had the big catch last week against the Vols, but they haven't been as big a piece of the gameplan as they expected to be. Prior to Saturday, Cunningham, Anderson, and Adams had a combined 24 catches for 358 yards. After Saturday's performance that may change.

"That would be nice, but we just try and game plan according to what helps the team out that week," Cunningham said. "If that's what it takes then we'll do it.

"We came into the season telling ourselves we were the deepest position this year," he continued. "We wanted to make an impact and we were just waiting for a chance to do it."

Note

Cunningham wore Marcus Lattimore's practice jersey in both Tuesday's and Wednesday's practices. It drew some attention on Wednesday when he spoke to the media, but it hasn't been anything new for him this season. Cunningham has worn several practice jerseys of injured players to show some love for them.

"I always switch jerseys for practice," Cunningham said. "I usually wear it for anybody that's hurt. I've been wearing seven while Shon Carson is hurt, 21 when he's hurt, and (six) DeAngelo Smith when he was hurt. It's just to show love for my boys."


Gamecock Anthem Top Stories