Gamecocks Show Progress In 45-6 Victory

One week after eking out a win over I-AA Wofford, and a mere five days away from hosting the #2 team in the country, the Gamecocks entered Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic needing to win, and win big. For once, Carolina did not disappoint.

Carlos Thomas gave fans a sign of things to come when he returned the opening kickoff 51 yards to start USC off with a short field. Syvelle Newton was sacked on the first play from scrimmage, but the offense quickly went to work. Newton hit Sidney Rice for 18 yards, and then Taylor Rank, who made a surprise start when Mike Davis was benched for a violation of team rules, got his first career carry and gained 6 yards. A roughing the passer penalty on fourth and one gave Carolina a first down on the FAU 23. Split wide left, Rice made a double move to beat single coverage as Newton lofted a pass into the end zone. With less than five minutes gone from the clock, the Gamecocks were up 7-0, and the route appeared to be on.

When Florida Atlantic took over the ball, they gave Owl fans brief hope. The Gamecock defense stuffed the Owls on the first two plays, setting up 3rd and 7. Coach Nix dialed up an all-out blitz for the third down. Facing the pressure, FAU quarterback Sean Clayton stepped up and ran right past the blitzers. With nobody back, he was able to scamper for 47 yards before Captain Munnerlyn was able to drag him down. On the very next play, Carolina brought another blitz. Clayton threw a bubble screen to Jason Harmon, and with the middle of the field once again empty, Harmon followed blockers 25 yards for the score. FAU missed the PAT that followed.

Carolina was unable to move the ball on its next possession, and visions of Wofford began to creep into the minds of the Gamecock faithful. However, Nix dialed back the blitzes, and told his front four to take care of the pressure. They did not disappoint, forcing a quick three and out. Carolina took over, and needed just four plays to respond. After starting with two runs, Newton hit Kenny McKinley for 21 yards. Then, heading the advice Blake Mitchell had surely given him in practice, Newton threaded the needle for a 21-yard scoring strike toe Rice. The rout was officially on.

FAU managed to get a first down before punting. The highlight of the next drive was a 44-yard run by Rank, Carolina's longest run of the year. Noah Whiteside, in his first game back from suspension, was blocking downfield on the run. Two plays later, Whiteside caught his first pass of the year. Newton dinked and dunked into the red zone, finding Mike Davis for a pair of short catches. On 3rd and 3 from the 8, FAU once again had single coverage on Rice on the outside. Rice ran a quick slant, beating his man so badly there was nobody with 5 yards of him as he caught his third touchdown of the day.

The next three drives were 3-and-outs before Carolina added one more touchdown in the half. Newton scrambled away from pressure, and located Rice downfield. Ignoring the four defenders surrounding Rice and fellow receiver McKinley, Newton leapt off his back foot and hurled the ball down field. FAU's Corey Small nearly caught the ball, but as he brought it down the ball bounced off the helmet of teammate Taheem Acevedo. Rice stuck his hands out and the ball bounced right into his hands as he fell into the end zone. "God just put it right in my hands," Rice said with a smile. Newton was equally surprised Rice came down with the ball. "I forgot [McKinley] was over there and I just threw it up to [Rice], and it just bounced in his hand," said Newton. The fourth touchdown pass gave USC a 28-6 lead going into the half.

The Carolina defense set up the offense for the first core of the second half. Nathan Pepper forced Clayton to fumble, and Rodney Paulk scooped the loose ball up and returned it to the 19-yard line. It took only one play for the Gamecocks to capitalize. Newton threw a fade to Rice for the touchdown. The touchdown was Newton's fifth touchdown pass, and Rice's fifth receiving touchdown, sending USC officials scrambling for the record books and the starters to the bench.

The game deteriorated from that point on. FAU was able to move the ball some, but never able to add any points. Davis and Rank ran well, with both getting 15 carries. Rank finished with 101 yards and Davis had 92 yards and a score. Eric Norwood seemed to be everywhere on defense. He was only credited with 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2 quarterback hurries, but every tackle in the second half seemed to be made by "Eric Norwood and…"

The five touchdown passes for Newton tied the school record, held by Tommy Suggs (1968), Jeff Grantz (1975), and Steve Tanneyhill (twice in 1995). Spurrier was excited about the potential Newton showed. "I wish I'd trained him when I first got here," Spurrier said. "I wish he'd said ‘Coach I can play quarterback.' He's an excellent passer, he's just not comfortable taking his steps and letting it go."

Rice broke the record for receiving touchdowns and total touchdowns. Rice shared the old record of three receiving touchdowns with several players. The old record for total touchdowns was four, held by Mike Dingle (1990) and Stanley Pritchett (1995). Rice's five receiving touchdowns were also one shy of tying the NCAA record for receiving touchdowns.

Rank, a redshirt freshman who had been buried on the depth chart, impressed in his first start. He notched the first 100-yard rushing game of the season for the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, it took injury and suspensions to the backs ahead of him for him to get his chance. Starter Cory Boyd was out with an ankle sprain, and backups Davis and Bobby Wallace ran afoul of team rules. Wallace was suspended for the game, while Davis was benched for the opening drive. Spurrier did not reveal what the two players had down, but made it clear that players who break rules do not play. "We're going to have some discipline around here. Guys are going to follow the rules or they won't play."

The Gamecocks have little time to celebrate this win. Auburn comes to town for a Thursday night match up. The Tigers crushed Carolina last year on the plains, and Spurrier said he would vote them number one in the country. The team can gain confidence from the victory over FAU, Spurrier said, but they cannot get comfortable. "I think we played a little better, but we're not sitting here saying, ‘We've got it made,' by any stretch. I thought we could pass block better than we did. We've got a long way to go if we want to hang in with Auburn."

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