Much has been made about Steve Spurrier "hanging 50" points on opposing teams during his career as a coach directing a high power offense, and he finally accomplished it at USC in the 11th game of his second season at South Carolina. He stated after the game that "Hopefully someday we can have some games like this against some SEC teams. That is the hope right there. That is not just a dream or a wish. If we get enough players in here that play the system and play well, then we have to hope we can score a lot of points."
Blake Mitchell turned in his best game ever and the seventh best passing game in Carolina history , completing 21 of 28 passes for 388 yards and four touchdowns. It was the most passing yards by a USC quarterback since 1995, and also the most points scored by a USC team since 1995. Mitchell hit Sidney Rice for two touchdowns, and two to the Boyds: one to tight end Andy and one to running back Cory.
Spurrier praised Mitchell's performance after the game: "Blake has really played well these last couple of weeks. The entire team played well. He has gotten to where he makes good decisions back there. Blake has really improved since he has been back. There is no question about that." MTSU Head Coach Rick Stockstill also had praise for Mitchell: "I think Blake's playing at a pretty high level these past three weeks. He has good receivers and he's pretty hot right now."
MTSU's quarterback Clint Marks stunned the crowd by throwing a perfect 73 yard touchdown pass to Desmond Gee, giving the Blue Raiders their only lead of the game. USC turned the ball over after Kenny McKinley fumbled the ball on the next drive, giving USC fans a little early anxiety, but it was all USC after that. The USC offense was so hot they never punted, and scored every time they had the ball but once.
After forcing a Blue Raider punt, USC took over at their own 15 and Mitchell hit four different receivers and Cory Boyd finished the drive with a four yard touchdown run to tie it up.
After the Carolina defense held the MTSU offense to a quick three and out, Cory Boyd electrified the crowd breaking tackle after tackle for a 54 yard gain on a short pass from Blake Mitchell that Boyd turned into a game breaker down to the MTSU 15 yard line. Two plays later, Mitchell then hit Andy Boyd over the middle for a wide open 15 yard touchdown pass and USC led 14-7 with 12 seconds left in the first quarter.
Stockstill was the recruiting coordinator at USC last season before being named to his first head coaching position at MTSU. He said about coming back to USC: "It was good to see the players I coached and recruited and to see Coach Spurrier and the other guys on the staff. In this profession, you're close to the coaches. You develop friendships that are important after games and before games, but during the game you forget about all that stuff. It was good to see those coaches and players that I respect."
Spurrier said of his opponent that "Middle Tennessee is not a great team and Coach Stockstill says they are not ready to play an SEC team yet, but they are a pretty good team and they have played well in their conference. If they beat Troy next week, then they win their conference championship. They have a chance at a super season if they win out next week."
In the second quarter, the Blue Raiders had six plays, three of them stopped by Jasper Brinkley, and they punted the ball after gaining a total of 11 yards. USC took over after a punt on their own 49 after an MTSU illegal motion penalty on the punt. After an incomplete pass and another MTSU penalty put the ball on the MTSU 37, Mitchell took the suspense out of the game with a 37 yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice. Mitchell was able to wait a long time for Rice to get open behind excellent blocking by his offensive line.
After another stellar defensive effort, MTSU was again forced to punt, and USC again drove the ball down a short field for a touchdown. Starting on their own 44, Bobby Wallace ran for 9 yards, and then Mitchell hit McKinley for 15 yards, before again hitting circus act Sidney Rice for a second straight touchdown pass, this one for 27 yards. Mitchell finished the first half with 250 completed passing yards.
One of the keys to this game was the play of the offensive line for USC, and the overall blocking by the Gamecocks. Commenting on not getting pressure on the quarterback, Stockstill said, "I think the big thing on that is just the size differential. South Carolina is very big up front, and our defensive line is not very big. He had a lot of time back there.. ." Spurrier commented on the line play, stating that "Our offensive guys have improved. I think all you guys have seen that as we have gone through the season. His (Mitchell's) protection has been better. It is a better offensive line than earlier in the year. Today they were on him a little more than we hoped. MTSU does a lot of zone pressure, zone blitzes, and bringing different guys playing in zone behind it, but we picked up most of it.. We had a good plan to pick up all of the blitzing and our fullback/tailback guys did a super job all day."
USC received the ball to start the second half, and after their drive stalled in the red zone at the MTSU 11, Ryan Succop reassumed his status as Mr. Automatic and kicked a 28 yard field goal, with 10:17 left in the quarter. It was obvious that the Florida game errors leading to the heart-breaking loss to the Gators was still on Spurrier's mind. He said, "Every time we kicked a PAT, I thought why couldn't we do that last week?" USC led 31-7 after Succop's field goal.
The USC defense played a near perfect game after the first play, forcing MTSU to punt eight times, mostly after allowing only one or no first downs by the Blue Raiders. The next drive in the third quarter was another quick three and out for MTSU, and USC again took over in good field position, after Kenny McKinley returned the punt 21 yards to the MTSU 49. USC relied mainly on the running game on the drive, handing the ball off to Cory Boyd five times before Mitchell hit him for a 19 yard pass for another Gamecock touchdown. After another Succop PAT, USC then led 38-7 with 4:35 to go in the third quarter.
On MTSU's next drive, USC defenders made three straight sacks to end the drive, two by Yvan Banag and one by Casper Brinkley. Another punt, another impressive drive by USC for seven more points, though this one would be thrown by another quarterback. After Mitchell completed four passes and the team drove to the MTSU 4 yard line, Mitchell got his bell rung after completing a 28 yard pass to senior Noah Whiteside, and left the game. Spurrier put in red shirt freshman quarterback Tommy Beecher, who handed the ball off to Taylor Rank for a one yard gain, and then Beecher calmly hit Mike West for a three yard touchdown completion, the first of his collegiate career.
The final score of the game was capped by the biggest play of the game, when backup running back Bobby Wallace took a handoff on the first play of the drive and outran six Blue Raiders to the end zone for an 88 yard touchdown, the first career touchdown for the sophomore and the longest rushing play of the season for South Carolina. It was also the longest run for USC since 1991, when Brandon Bennett had an 89 yard rush.
The 52 points scored by South Carolina today were the most scored by a Gamecock team since 1995.
USC is now 6-5, and technically bowl eligible. "Whatever that means I don't know," Spurrier said. "but we will be ready to play Clemson next week. Then we will find out of we are going to a bowl game or not."
USC will play their arch-rival from the upstate on national television at noon next week. The game will be broadcast by either ESPN or ESPN2.
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