Pack Cracks under USC Defensive Pressure, 7-3

Devin Taylor had a grand coming out party in his first collegiate game, forcing a fumble, blocking a punt, and dropping Russell Wilson for an eight yard loss on a key third down play, as the USC defense led the Gamecocks to an important if ugly win over NC State. South Carolina won the game 7-3 in front of a national TV audience in the nation's opening game of the 2009 season.

The North Carolina State student section were holding up "Russell Wilson 4 Heisman" signs throughout the game, but the South Carolina defense held up Wilson's campaign for at least one week, holding the heralded State quarterback to only 74 yards. Wilson completed 12 of 23 passes. Stephen Garcia, his counterpart on the Gamecock team had a pretty anemic night as well, but passed for exactly twice as many yards as Wilson, completing 13 of 22 passes for 148 yards. He also had one interception. The USC rushing attack also doubled the Pack output, outrushing NCSU 108-59.

USC head coach Steve Spurrier said, "The defensive guys played their hearts out. I'm very proud of those guys. That was a pretty good State offense out there tonight. I told our defensive coaches that we might have the top team in the nation in total defense, the way we played tonight. We only allowed 133 yards. That's unbelievable. Our offensive team was OK but our defense had a super night."

The USC defense shined from their first defensive play of the game, setting up the offense for their first touchdown on a fumble forced by Devin Taylor at the Wolfpack 14. It was the first offensive play of the game for North Carolina State, and the first collegiate play ever for the redshirt freshman. Taylor started the game only because Clifton Geathers was suspended for one game, but he made a strong statement in his debut, finishing with six tackles, a sack, and three tackles for a loss. On State's next drive, he blocked an NC State punt. Spurrier said the coaching staff asked him if he was going to block a punt, and he answered he would. And he kept his word.

After Taylor's fumble recovery, USC took over on the Pack 14 and Brian Maddox rushed four times, the final one a one yard touchdown play, which ended up being the only USC points for the night, and all the points they needed for the win. It was the Gamecocks' first win when scoring less than ten points since they defeated Memphis by the same 7-3 score 38 years ago, during the 1971 season.

USC's defensively dominated the Wolfpack for the second straight time. Just like their head coach crowed about them, the Gamecock D held the Wolfpack to 133 yards of total offense, which was the lowest total allowed since their last game against the Wolfpack, when State gained 138 yards in last year's season opener. The longest play managed by the Pack in the first half was seven yards.

Combining last year's and this year's games, the Gamecocks held the Wolfpack scoreless for almost seven quarters. The Wolfpack were shut out last year, and did not manage a score Thursday night until 56 seconds left in the third quarter, when they scored their only points of the game on a 43-yard field goal by Josh Czajkowski.

Offensively, the game was often a story of missed opportunities for USC, with a Tori Gurley touchdown called back on a questionable penalty and two field goal opportunities missed, the first on a muffed placement of the ball and the second just an old fashioned miss by kicker Spencer Lanning. Lanning was praised by Spurrier for his punting tonight, whose defensive kicks were stellar with the exception of his last one. "Our offensive guys tried but we didn't do very well," Spurrier said. "We had a chance to score some points here and there but we couldn't do it. We're a struggling offensive team right now. If we can get our guys going on offense we have a chance to have a real good season. Our offense didn't play very well but theirs didn't either."

It was an ugly performance by the offense on the night, but, "It's a win," quarterback Stephen Garcia said, "and we'll take it."

The first offensive drive of the second half for USC could sum up the offensive effort for the night. A promising start with some good individual plays still resulted in no points at the end of the drive. After a stout defensive stand by the USC D to start the second half, Weslye Saunders got the USC offense off to a solid start with a 30 yard reception from Stephen Garcia to the State 36. A 14 yard first down completion to Tori Gurley at the 20 kept the ball going towards the south end zone and pay dirt. Garcia leapt in the air and out of bounds at the 13 for a seven yard gain, followed by a two yard gain by Patrick Dimarco. A third and one pass attempt sailed out of the right side of the end zone, but Dimarco bulled for a first and goal at the ten. Two rushing plays netted zero yards, and then Garcia had to throw the ball away on an aggressive NC State blitz. Spence Lanning came in and missed a 27 yard field goal.

Taylor was not the only newcomer who played a key role in the game. Nineteen Gamecocks made their first collegiate appearance, and in addition to Taylor, key plays were made by Stephon Gilmore and Tori Gurley. On State's most promising drive to take the lead late in the game, Gilmore knocked down a Wilson pass in the end zone to end the threat. Gilmore said he knew State would throw his way. "But I like stuff like that," he said, "so I just had to make a big play on the ball."

"Tonight was the first night for a lot of our younger guys and I thought they all played well," Spurrier said. "Stephon looked great. He was there to break it up on their last offensive play and almost got the interception."

Redshirt freshman Tori Gurley also made the most of his debut game, contributing a solid first game receiving with 34 yards gained on 4 receptions. Others notables playing their first game in the garnet and black were Alshon Jeffery, Jarvis Giles, DeVonte Holloman, Adam Yates, and Justice Cunningham.

It was a heartbreaking loss for the home standing North Carolina State crowd, who watched their defense also play a solid game. Their offense was hampered by a number of oh-so-close but no cigar pass plays, and costly penalties at key junctures that backed them up, frequently towards their own goal line. The turnover deep in their own territory on their first offensive play turned out to be the key nail in their coffin.

NC State Head Coach Tom O'Brien said, "We lacked the ability to sustain on offense. We couldn't get anything going, and with our pass protection, we had Russell Wilson running around too much. He couldn't get his feet set. We must be better up front." The NCSU quarterback was sacked six times for a cumulative loss of 33 yards. Two of those were by senior linebacker Eric Norwood, who had two sacks to move pass John Abraham to second place on the Gamecocks' all-time sack list.

Norwood nearly added a fumble recovery to his nightly achievements in the third quarter when he pounced on a loose ball as he fell out of bounds. An official review of the play ruled he was out of bounds before he possessed the ball, allowing the Wolfpack to retain possession.

The game was decided on the Gamecocks' final drive of the night. After Gilmore's defensive heroics in the USC end zone, Garcia and the offense took over, and ground out the clock. The key play came with 2:40 to go when Garcia found senior receiver Moe Brown for a 33-yard completion on third-and-3 at the Pack 40 yard line.

"Thank God he caught it," said Garcia. "I might've been kicked off the team if I didn't complete that one."

Brown's reception was South Carolina's longest play all night. The Gamecocks were then able to run out the clock from there. The NC State clock keeper was also held in check by Brown's big play.

It was the tenth straight opening win for USC and their fifth straight under Spurrier. Their last season opening loss was ironically to the Wolfpack here in Raleigh, in Lou Holtz's debut game as USC head coach in the 1999 opener, a 10-0 loss that was played in a hurricane induced deluge.

Notes: Linebacker Rodney Paulk, who redshirted last year, is likely lost for this season as well after sustaining an ACL tear during the game, Spurrier said afterwards.

Norwood's 24 sacks are now only two shy of all-time leader Andrew Provence. Three and a half more sacks will also put Norwood in the Top Ten all-time in the SEC for sacks.

With a career record of 29-22 at South Carolina, Spurrier is now seventh on the all-time South Carolina wins list. He is closing in on his predecessor Lou Holtz, who is sixth all-time with 33 wins.

The USC rushing game was improved, though it needs to improve a lot more to compete in the brutal SEC. Junior Brian Maddox led the rushing attack with 23 carries for 66 yards and the touchdown. Seldom used as an offensive weapon, fullback Pat DiMarco carried the ball 5 times for 19 yards. Garcia was 8-16, and freshman Jarvis Giles had the longest rush of the night for 22 yards, but also was caught behind the line of scrimmage more than once; dropping his net yardage for the night to 13 yards on 5 carries. Receiving: Tight end Weslye Saunders caught four balls for 50 yards. Brown caught three balls for a total of 54 yards to lead the team.

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