Quirky USC Wins Season Opener 28-14
The major storyline going into the game was how quarterbacks Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley, each seeing extended playing time for the first time in their careers, would perform under Steve Spurrier's tutelage in real game conditions. Both quarterbacks acquitted themselves fairly well, according to the Head Ball Coach. "They did okay," Spurrier said following the game. "They dropped a couple of Tommy's interceptions, but Louisiana-Lafayette had a good pass rush. We only attempted 29 passes, and ran 41 times."
The Gamecocks raced out to a 14-0 lead behind a touchdown pass from each signal-caller. Smelley drove Carolina 64 yards on its opening possession, throwing two passes to Andy Boyd, one for 33 yards and another for a 2-yard touchdown. The defense held Louisiana-Lafayette to a three and out, giving Beecher his turn at the reins. Beecher did not disappoint, finishing off a 50 yard drive with a 19 yard touchdown pass to Kenny McKinley.
Still playing the part of Dr. Jekyll, Tyrone Nix's defense forced another three and out, and the Gamecocks looked poised to push the lead to 21-0. Back in at quarterback, Smelley had the ball at the Ragin' Cajun 34 yard line. He threw a deep post to Moe Brown, but the ball was behind the receiver, and Jarrett Jones grabbed the interception to breathe some life into Louisiana-Lafayette.
"Chris Smelley threw it about 10 yards behind him," Spurrier said. "That was the start of them having the ball for about 16 of the next 18 minutes in the [half]. We thought it was going to be 21-0 there, and then we throw an interception on first down, and then all of a sudden they make an 80 yard drive and score."
At that point, the Gamecocks turned into Mr. Hyde, as the spread option rushing attack of quarterback Michael Desormeaux and running back Tyrell Fenroy marched down the field for a score. The Ragin' Cajuns converted four third downs on the 80-yard touchdown drive. Only three of the yards on the drive were through the air. Another 8 yards came from Gamecock penalties, but the Ragin' Cajuns racked up 79 yards rushing on the series (there was a ten yard holding penalty).
Smelley failed to move the ball on the next possession, and following a punt, the Ragin' Cajuns undertook an 89-yard touchdown drive. Again, Louisiana-Lafayette moved the ball almost entirely on the ground, on its way to 252 yards rushing on 47 attempts.
"Hopefully we'll see maybe a little bit more conventional-type plays, where the quarterback's not a runner [against Georgia]," Spurrier said of his run defense. "When the quarterback can run, we struggle against everybody. I don't have an answer for that."
Mr. Hyde began to turn back into Dr. Jekyll when the Gamecocks got the ball back. Smelley drove the ball to the 30 yard line, but Ryan Succop missed a hurried 47-yard field goal. On the play, Nathan Pepper ran onto the field late, forcing Carolina to snap the ball with no time on the play clock.
"We talked about how we're going to be better on special teams, and we can't even get 11 men on the field," said Spurrier. "We've got a guy back there meeting on the defense, and we're trying to kick a field goal."
With Dr. Jekyll back in garnet, the Gamecocks forced a three and out, and Beecher re-entered the game with 2:16 on the clock. He ran the two minute drill to perfection, keyed by a personal foul penalty on Louisiana-Lafayette and a 20 yard dart to tight end Weslye Saunders down to ULL's 2-yard line. Cory Boyd punched the ball in from two yards out to give Carolina a 21-14 halftime lead.
"Weslye Saunders made a big catch," Spurrier said. "They were in man coverage, and he was covered. The guy was holding him, and he still caught it. Weslye can catch, he's got wonderful hands."
Beecher continued at the helm in the third quarter, leading the final scoring drive of the game. Mixing up passes and rushes, the Gamecocks moved 73 yards in 11 plays before Cory Boyd rumbled in from four yards out.
Louisiana-Lafayette got the ball back, and everyone in the stadium wondered whether it would be Jekyll or Hyde taking the field. Desormeaux and Fenroy moved the ball steadily down the field, but were faced with a 4th and 4 on the Gamecock 29 yard line. The Ragin' Cajuns called a timeout, and decided to go with the unexpected - a pass. Desormeaux dropped back and found Derrick Smith for a 13-yard gain. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Desormeaux dashed 10 yards to set up a 1st and goal on the Gamecock 4-yard line, and a chance to turn the game into a nail-biter. On the next play, Fenroy crossed the goal line, but the play was called back on a holding penalty. Brandon Isaac and Carlos Thomas blew up a screen pass on the next play for a loss of 6, and Jasper Brinkley, hobbling with a sprained ankle, got into the backfield for a four yard loss, setting up 3rd and goal on the USC 24. Desormeaux found Smith again for 22 yards, setting up a 4th and goal on the two.
The Ragin' Cajuns came out in a heavy formation, but called a timeout. Following the break, they came out in their familiar spread offense. Carolina got pressure on Desormeaux, who fired incomplete into the end zone.
The Gamecocks ran nearly five minutes off the clock before being forced to punt, but when the special teams trotted out, Mr. Hyde reared his ugly head. Succop booted a line drive 32-yard punt that was returned 27 yards to the Gamecock 20.
"I went by and asked [Succop] ‘What in the world are y'all trying to do on that low punt right to the guy?'" Spurrier said. "He said ‘I was trying to kick a low missile.' I said, ‘A low missile? Why don't you kick it high as far as you can, or kick that ball that hits the ground and let it roll.'" The defense once again rose to the challenge, though. Desormeaux scampered 15 yards to set up a first and goal from the 5, but the defense stiffened. Fenroy was stuffed twice for no game, and Desormeaux threw incomplete to set up fourth and goal. Desormeaux rolled right and threw back to his left, to tackle Jesse Newman. Newman was not an eligible receiver on the play, but was stopped shy of the end zone anyway. From there, both teams ran out the clock, starting the Gamecocks off as Dr. Jekyll, and undefeated for the 2007 season.
South Carolina fans had eagerly awaited to see the new crop of heralded wide receivers in action, but Spurrier said afterward that just trying to win the game forced them to leave the starters in there, so their debut will have to wait for another game.
Despite staying in the game, Louisiana-Lafayette did not stay close on the stat sheet. They ran the ball for 252 yards, but added just 63 through the air. The Gamecocks rushed for 195 yards and passed for 238 yards, out-gaining the Ragin' Cajuns by over 100 yards. Furthermore, Louisiana-Lafayette failed to capitalize in the red zone, scoring just 14 points.
"I told the guys, we don't look good on defense," Spurrier said, "but you look up after the game and they only have 14 points."
- During the pre-game announcement of the starting lineups, Smelley received the loudest applause of all the Carolina starters.
- Andy Boyd, he of the four career receptions, led a strong showing by the tight ends, as he finished with 3 catches and a touchdown, by far the best game of his career. Freshman Weslye Saunders had a 20 yard reception while being held on the play, and Jared Cook had two more receptions for the group.
- Despite kickoffs being pushed back five yards, Ryan Succop still put all five of his kickoffs in the end zone, with four of them going for touchbacks.
- Carolina's performance was closely related to its rushing game. In the first quarter, as the Gamecocks ran out to a 14-0 lead, they rushed 8 times for 63 yards. In the second quarter, as Louisiana-Lafayette came back, Carolina mustered just 24 yards on 8 carries. The third quarter saw USC carry 10 times for 43 yards, and in the fourth the Gamecocks rushed 15 times for 65 yards. That included freshman Brian Maddox, who carried 4 times for 14 yards at the end of the game.
- The only reported injuries were to LB Yvan Banag (right knee sprain) and LB Cody Wells (right leg strain).
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