Gamecocks Outclaw Cats for 28-26 Victory

A cornered pack of Wildcats is a dangerous thing, with their claws out, their fangs bared and the game on the line, but the Gamecocks took all Kentucky had to give, and then strapped on their spurs and made every play that they had to in order to win. And win they did, a 28-26 victory that gave them sole possession of 2nd place in the SEC East and ran their record to 5-1.

The South Carolina defense had assumed the starring role in wins over NC State and Ole Miss, but the Gamecock offense took center stage in their pivotal win over the Kentucky Wildcats, as Stephen Garcia threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, and then kept a late fourth quarter drive alive with a Tim Tebow-esque leap for a first down on a 3rd and 5 play that kept Kentucky off the field and denied the Wildcats any chance to come back.

The head ball coach was in an uncharacteristically good mood after the game, debating which of two key plays by Garcia was his best move ever as a Gamecock. Garcia said of his coach, "He strives for perfection. He demands perfection. I'm trying to get there every single week."

Spurrier's demand for perfection was still evident as he began talking about Garcia by saying, "I told Stephen he had some errant plays in the game," but he was smiling as he said, "But that leap for the first down was huge. That may have been his best play as a Gamecock."

He then went on to praise Garcia for his throw into the corner of the end zone to freshman receiver Alshon Jeffrey, saying that might have been his best play. To the laughter of the press corps, he qualified his statement, stating it might have been his best pass play.

Jeffrey showed why he was one of the most coveted recruits in the nation before signing with the Gamecocks. The Calhoun County native had a huge coming out party, making seven catches - three for touchdowns and four for first downs, for a total of 138 yards receiving. All of his grabs were leaping efforts where he went up in traffic and came down with the ball. Garcia said of his receiver, "Anytime you can throw the ball up and the guy comes down with it makes my job easier. He went up three times today and just caught the ball over everybody. That was good to see, we needed that a lot."

After Jeffrey's amazing game, Spurrier good-naturedly felt the need to explain why his prize recruit had not played more up to this point, saying, "He wasn't here this summer and he didn't know the offense very well. He's learned how to play faster. We probably should have played him more."

The win gave USC a ten game winning streak over Kentucky, and ran Spurrier's record over the Wildcats to a perfect 17-0. This season the Gamecocks have now won four straight, are 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC, and with Georgia's loss to Tennessee, take over sole possession of second place in the SEC East. The Gamecocks' only loss was a nail-biter to Georgia between the hedges that came down to the final play of the game.

Kentucky scored the first points of the game, a 36 yard field goal by Lones Seiber with 6:32 to go in the first quarter. Jeffrey then put the Gamecocks up 7-3 with his first touchdown of the day, a ten yard pass from Garcia with 3:55 left in the first quarter.

The Wildcats went back up 10-7 on a Derrick Locke 11 yard run early in the second quarter. USC quickly responded with a drive that only lasted a minute and 28 seconds, capped by a 28 yard touchdown pass from Garcia to Jeffrey, who battled for the ball at the two yard line, and after having wrested control of it, rolled over the back of his defender and into the end zone for the score, giving USC the lead back 14-10. It didn't last long.

UK quarterback Mike Hartline hit Randall Cobb on a seven yard pass for a touchdown and a 17-14 Wildcat lead, a lead they would take into the locker room at halftime.

Last week the nation was discussing a blown call by SEC officials when Georgia receiver AJ Green was called for a celebration penalty that he clearly didn't deserve, and LSU took advantage of the call and the short field it gave them to score a game winning touchdown.

With less than a minute gone in the second half, a play that should have been blown dead cost the Wildcats their starting quarterback, when Hartline went down with a twisted knee. The officials threw a flag for delay of game penalty, but allowed the play to continue, only penalizing Kentucky after the play was over. Meanwhile, Hartline was hit in the backfield by USC's Darian Stewart and was injured on the play.

Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks said, "Hartline's injury affected us significantly. I think it's at least a MCL tear or sprain, hopefully nothing worse."

The Wildcats did not fold after Hartline's injury, far from it. Kentucky had to punt after backup quarterback Will Fidler's pass was broken up on the ensuing 3rd and 15 play, but held the Gamecock offense in check, who had to punt the ball back on their next drive.

Kentucky again was unable to move the ball, and again punted. South Carolina took over on their own 39, and drove down to the UK 22, where Garcia hit Jeffrey for his third touchdown catch of the game. Jeffrey is the first player to catch more than two touchdown passes in a game since Sidney Rice caught five against Florida Atlantic in 2006. The Gamecocks regained the lead 21-17 on the drive.

A coaching gaffe on the next play probably cost Kentucky the game. The Wildcats drove down to the Gamecock 14 yard line before stalling, and Brooks called a fake on the field goal attempt. The Gamecock defenders caught Randall Cobb for a three yard loss on the play. Had they taken the three points, they would not have been forced to go for two on their final touchdown.

Brooks said, "The fake field goal was a dumb call by me. We expected them to be in a different defense. We should have changed the call, but didn't.

Kentucky did score a field goal after a Garcia fumble to pull within 21-20.

With 10:23 left in the game, the Gamecocks again took over on their own 39. Kenny Miles rushed for 12 yards and a first down, then Garcia hit Moe Brown for a 22 yard gain down to the UK 27. Miles then broke free for 26 yards before being stopped just short at the one. Garcia finished the job on a one yard quarterback sneak to give USC a 28-20 lead.

The Gamecock defense struggled on the next UK drive when Cobb was inserted at quarterback, and the Wildcats rushed eight straight times, six of them by Cobb, the final a two yard plunge by Cobb into the end zone. Forced to go for two to tie the game, Will Fidler was sent back in, and Cliff Matthews knocked his pass attempt down, and the Wildcats trailed 28-26.

USC took over with 4:34 left on the clock at their own 20 after a touchback, and Garcia came through on the critical 3rd and 5 play to keep the clock running and the drive alive, leaping five yards over the cornerback to the first down marker. Miles sealed the deal with another first down when he burst for 14 yards out to the USC 49, and the Gamecocks ran out the clock for the win.

Miles entered the fourth quarter having only gained 39 yards rushing, but ran for 62 yards in the fourth quarter, gaining 101 for the game and his first 100 yard rushing effort.

Spurrier called it a great game, and opened by saying, "It was a fun ball game. It was a nip and tuck, up and down ball game. They rushed for more yards than we did, but they had 360 (total yards) and we had 361. It came down to who scored touchdowns and who doesn't. Today, we didn't have to kick any field goals." In the Gamecocks' only loss of the season, they had to settle for five Spencer Lanning field goals, and ended the game four points short.

Remarking on yet another close game, Spurrier said, "At halftime of all these games we have not been ahead by much. And we trailed today by three. It's encouraging our guys are playing through the finish. We feel like we have a great chance as long as we keep playing. That's encouraging. We're not a super team, but if we play our best and eliminate some of these big mistakes, we feel like we can play with anybody. We'll find out next week (against #3 Alabama) if we can play with the big dogs."

The Gamecocks again played to a small crowd — the 68,278 was the lowest attendance at Williams-Brice Stadium since the Gamecocks went 1-10 in 1998.

The game against Alabama next Saturday will either be at 3:30 on CBS or at 7 on ESPN, but is expected to be the 3:30 tilt.

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