Spurrier gets 100th SEC Victory
Steve Spurrier won his 300th game as a head coach in steady if not spectacular fashion. The win was his 208th overall win, and ran his SEC record to 100-25 for a sterling .800 winning percentage.
It didn't look good midway through the third quarter when Mississippi State took a 21-17 lead, and USC's offense looked feeble on their next series. The game took on a distinct maroon hue at that point. "We were concerned when they had that long drive and then we did nothing with our possession." Spurrier said. "At that point it didn't look real super for us. Can't criticize the officials, but they (penalties) were the phantom types, did anybody see them?"
Then in an instant, the game turned garnet. Eric Norwood blocked a punt that was recovered at the MSU 27 yard line, and then USC looked like a Steve Spurrier team, immediately went for the kill and scored on the next play to take the lead for good, 24-21. Chris Smelley hit Kenny McKinley for a 27 yard touchdown, and the game became fun again for the Head Ball Coach again.
After the previous four games, Spurrier wasn't smilingin his post-game press conference. He was today. "Mississippi State's tough, it was a fun game, and a good win for us. We're excited to beat those guys and win us another conference game." 78,883 fans were in attendance for this Homecoming game. The Gamecocks impvoved to 4-1 overall, and 2-1 in the SEC.
Spurrier has been known throughout his career for looking brilliant after pulling one quarterback and inserting another. Redshirt freshman Chris Smelley celebrated his 21st birthday by throwing for 279 yards and two touchdowns to ignite what had been a stagnant passing game for the Gamecocks, and he was rewarded with a game ball and another starting assignment against 5-0 Kentucky this Thursday.
"To get an SEC win out there in my first real big start, it was great," said Smelley. "Kenny was huge tonight. He made my bad passes look good, and he took them to the end zone a couple of times and made some big plays for me. Coach Spurrier told me that he was planning on me going the whole way, so I was just out there playing as hard as I could. You can't think about mistakes. You've got to be positive the whole time."
Spurrier said, "Chris Smelley handled the ball pretty well, made one careless throw, other than that he was pretty good."
Smelley said of his one interception, "That was just reliving high school moments, I guess; trying to make too big of a play out there. I should have thrown the ball away and gotten three points right there. It was definitely a mistake."
McKinley was clearly the player of the game, finishing with four catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns, his second game of more than 100 yards receiving this season. He also caught a 44 yard pass and was dragged down just short of the goal line at the two yard line.
"Eric Norwood went in and blocked a punt when we were behind, and we were able to hit Kenny and he made a beautiful play." Spurrier said. "As he did everything all day. Obviously Kenny had a super game."
Mike Davis tied a school record with three touchdowns in one game, rushing for 59 yards on 18 carries. "Mike got a game ball; he's good around the goal line," Spurrier said.
USC had lost two of their best players to injury the previous two weeks, and on the first play of the game it looked like they might have lost a third. Running back Cory Boyd was hurt on the first play of the game, and the TV replays didn't look good. But Boyd shook it off and returned to the game, rushing eleven times for 58 yards. Spurrier said, "Boyd twinged his knee a little bit, got it caught in the ground. He was able to walk it off. He'll probably be very sore tomorrow, and we'll wait and see how he feels during the week. He came back and made some nice plays for us."
Shane Beamer moved from the MSU sidelines to the USC side during the off season, and was brought in by Spurrier largely for his specials teams' expertise. It began to pay off last week with the team's first blocked punt since 2000, and then Norwood's block against MSU changed the entire direction of today's game.
Smelley said, "I think that was a big momentum shift for us. We had a decent first half and then they got ahead in the second half. That blocked punt really turned the tide for us. We got a big play right after it."
"That was exciting," said Beamer, who had spent the previous three seasons at Mississippi State. "We've been working at it and it was good to see something good happen."
Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom also thought the punt block was the turning point of the game, saying, "The stadium was real quiet. I felt like we had the upper hand down there on the field, and that changed everything. Spurrier agreed, opening his post-game remarks by saying, "We can say special teams helped win a game around here now." South Carolina came into the fifth game of the season ranked 16th in the country, but with some question marks still hanging over the program. The special teams play improved today, as did the passing game. A consistent concern all season had been the play of the offensive line, and Spurrier had two new starters on the line, Seaver Brown and James Thompson. He said after the game he was fairly pleased with the play of the line, whose play got better as the game progressed. "The protection got a little bit better towards the end of the game," he said. "To be behind in the third quarter, and the guys keep on playing was neat."
The unit with the best overall game for the Gamecocks was the defense, who after struggling to stop the run in previous games, held MSU to 45 yards in the first half, and 140 net rushing yards for the game. "Coach (Tyrone) Nix called a super game." Spurrier said. The defense looked strong despite having lost Jasper Brinkley, its best player.
Brinkley, who damaged a knee ligament in last week's LSU defeat, had season-ending surgery this past Wednesday. "I think it probably shows that a team is more than one person," said Marvin Sapp, who started in place of Brinkley. Anthony Dixon led the Bulldogs with 83 yards and two rushing scores, but Mississippi State didn't do much through the air against the Gamecocks with 118 yards.
Quarterback Josh Riddell was 9 of 21 for 101 yards and an interception. Norwood ended the game with a flourish, sacking the MSU quarterback and ending any thoughts by the Bulldogs of scoring a face-saving final score.
The Gamecocks play SEC foe Kentucky next on Thursday at 7:30 pm on ESPN. The Wildcats won 45-17 over Florida Atlantic, and ran their record to 5-0 on the season.
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