USC Wins Shootout at the Memphis Corral 44-36

Two of the best gunslingers in college football had a shootout in Memphis Friday night, and when the smoke cleared, it was the kid from back East still standing, not the Texan from Houston like the Hollywood scriptwriters usually have it. South Carolina defeated Houston in the 2006 Liberty Bowl, 44-36.

South Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell, the game's Most Valuable Player, was 19-of-29 for 323 yards, throwing four touchdown passes. "Blake did a tremendous job of getting the ball where it needed to be," Gamecocks receiver Sidney Rice said. His counterpart at Houston, senior quarterback Kevin Kolb, finished 26-of-39 for 386 yards and three touchdowns.

Media analysts had looked at the South Carolina - Houston matchup and the two schools potent offenses, and saw the potential for a high scoring shootout. They were right, at least for the first half.

The game featured the highest scoring first half in the history of the Liberty Bowl. Kolb passed for 232 yards and three touchdowns in the half. Each team only punted once in the half, and at halftime Houston led by a mere point due to a missed PAT by South Carolina, 28-27. The Cougars and Gamecocks combined for 588 yards in the half, much of it just before halftime. In the final three minutes of the half, four touchdowns were scored in a span of 12 plays - the last a 77-yard TD catch by Houston's Vincent Marshall with 11 seconds left.

Much like their last game against Clemson, South Carolina did not give up despite giving up several big plays leading to touchdowns. The Gamecocks battled back time after time to stay in the game. When they got the lead in the second half, they kept it.

"I still believe our defense can play a lot better," USC Coach Steve Spurrier said. "We got out of position in the first half. But to hold Houston to eight points was a very good defensive effort in the second half."

After only forcing one punt in the first half, the USC defense forced the Cougars to go three and out twice in the second half, preventing them from answering USC scoring drives as they had so well in the first half. The Gamecock D held the Cougars to only 63 yards in the third quarter. They sacked Kolb three times, forced two turnovers and stopped the Cougars twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

The turning point of the game may have been on Houston's first possession of the second half, when the Cougars ended up with fourth and goal from mid-field. After having first down at the USC 8 yard line, Houston lost 27 yards on a bad snap, and then had tacked on another 15 yards for a penalty after quarterback Kevin Kolb kicked the ball out of bounds in an attempt at keeping a South Carolina defender from recovering the ball. That forced Houston to punt from midfield after having first-and-goal. Houston Coach Art Briles credited the South Carolina fans with making it tough to hear, forcing the Cougars to go to a silent count. "It disrupted our exchange out of the shotgun. That was a big turning point," Briles said. Spurrier agreed. "That was a wonderful play for us," he said.

USC did play some defense in the first half. Defensive end Jordin Lindsey was named defensive MVP for USC after coming up with two first-half turnovers, intercepting a pass and recovering a fumble that set up 13 points. Lindsey said after the game they knew they had to turn up the pressure or endure Spurrier's wrath. "Basically, we were told to, or we would know what would happen. So we turned it up," Lindsey said. Commenting on the interception, Lindsey said, "I was looking up to recognize the screen. I looked up and he threw it right to me. I couldn't believe it. I tried to get as much yardage on it as I could after the reception."

South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley continued to play like a one man wrecking crew, making all three tackles on one of the critical second half three and out drives by Houston in the second half. He also stopped Anthony Alridge short on fourth-and-4 with 9:31 left at midfield, forcing the Cougars to turn it over on downs to kill another drive. Brinkley hit the 100-tackle mark for the season when he recorded his fourth tackle of the game, also on Alridge, midway through the second quarter.

The Cougars didn't score in the second half until Jackie Battle ran in from 3 yards out with 5:42 left. The 2-point conversion cut South Carolina's lead to 44-36.

Houston out gained South Carolina 527-512, but the Cougars managed only 200 in the second half. It was the first time in Liberty Bowl history both teams topped 500 yards. Cougars receiver Vincent Marshall, who set a bowl record with 201 yards receiving, said South Carolina's zone defense took away the middle of the field. "They had a safety over the top and a man in my face, and they made it hard to throw deep. They blitzed and kept people in Kevin's face," Marshall said.

Spurrier showed confidence in his do everything kicker Ryan Succop, giving him the go-ahead to kick a 45-yard field goal into winds gusting up to 20 mph on the Gamecocks' opening drive of the second half, despite a missed PAT in the first half. "Nobody makes them all." Spurrier said. The field goal put South Carolina ahead to stay at 30-28. Mitchell padded the lead with a pair of 43-yard TD passes to Kenny McKinley, the last with 7:39 to go for a 44-28 lead.

WR Sidney Rice eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season in the first half of Friday's Liberty Bowl game. Rice set a school record with 1,143 receiving yards last season and now owns two of the three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in school history. Rice went over the 100-yard receiving mark when he brought in an 18-yard pass from Mitchell in the third quarter. Rice has gone over 100 yards five times this season. He has gone over 100 yards receiving 11 times in his career, breaking the tie he had with Sterling Sharpe (1983, 1985-87) for the school record. Rice also extended his school record for career touchdown receptions to 23.

Kenny McKinley set career-highs with two touchdown catches and 112 yards receiving.

South Carolina has now won four of its last five bowl trips.

A total of 12 South Carolina seniors saw their Gamecock careers come to an end Saturday, as DB Fred Bennett, OL Thomas Coleman, LS Ike Crofoot, OL Seth Edwards, WR Jamal Hayes, ROV Jerod June, LS Scott Morgan, FS Syvelle Newton, QB Brett Nichols, DE Keron Rouse, C Chris White and WR Noah Whiteside suited up for the last time as collegiate players.

Spurrier summed the season after the game. "It was a good win. Eight wins is good for us right now. We had seven last year, and we shoot for nine or 10 next year. We've got Blake Mitchell coming back and just about the entire offensive next year. We have to replace a couple; three offensive lineman. Hopefully we can do that. We have just about the whole defense coming back."

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories