Gamecocks Dominate in 41-13 Season Opener

After an August of distractions, the South Carolina football team finally got to play some real football Thursday night, and they played it well, whipping up on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles by a tune of 41-13, dominating the scoreboard, the stat sheet, and both sides of the ball.

If the Gamecocks are serious about making noise in the SEC this season, a solid opening against Southern Miss was critical. Mission accomplished. South Carolina started the 2010 season by scoring the most points in a game in three seasons with a 41-13 rout of the Golden Eagles.

Redshirt junior quarterback Stephen Garcia led the offense with both his feet and his arm, scoring the first touchdown of the game on a bruising 22 yard run where he ran over a player to score, and then again on the next to last touchdown from three yards out, when he survived a vicious hit at the goal line to score. In between those two scores, he threw the ball well, including long plays on one drive to Alshon Jeffrey and Ace Sanders of 46 yards and 31 yards respectively that set up another score. He finished with 38 yards rushing and 193 yards passing on 16 of 23 attempts.

USC head coach Steve Spurrier was pleased with his team's effort and win. "I knew we were ready to play," he said. "Stephen Garcia ran the ball very well. His first touchdown run, he ran over that guy at the eight yard line and caroomed into the end zone. THAT was a good play."

Ace Sanders said of his quarterback, "The quarterback just running through people, that gets everybody excited, because that's not something you're used to seeing every day."

Southern Miss and USC each scored a field goal, and then after a quick three-and-out was forced by the USC defense, in Spurrier-esque fashion the team plunged the dagger in three quick plays to go up 17-3. The key play came when Ace Sanders electrified the crowd on a reverse play that went for 53 yards. It was the longest offensive play by USC since November 18, 2006, against MTSU when Bobby Wallace went for 88 yards. Stephen Garcia said of the play afterward, "He's pretty unbelievable. I knew he was quick, but I didn't know he was that quick. The speed on that reverse, I blocked and tried to chase him, but I got tired just watching him run. He's going to be good for us." Sanders was bouncing up and down and smiling after the game while being interviewed. He said, "All that I was thinking was to just get the ball and go."

Two plays later, Marcus Lattimore bulled his way into the end zone for the score and his first touchdown as a collegiate player. Lattimore ran for a second touchdown later in the game, and was the leading rusher in the game, with 54 yards on 14 carries.

Spurrier talked about the play of his two true freshmen afterward. "Ace had two big plays. We need him to get more involved as we go along," he said. "Lattimore had some good solid runs for us. (He is) a good back. He was the only (back) healthy the whole pre-season."

The 41 points scored by the USC offense was the highest scoring output since the 2006 Liberty Bowl, when they scored 44 points against Houston in a shootout. Sanders said, "When you score 40 points, you expect to win."

After a month full of drama and suspense where the USC team and staff didn't know how many of their players would be ineligible to play because of an NCAA investigation into players staying at the Whitney Hotel, only two players were held out, along with the previously announced suspension of Weslye Saunders: offensive lineman Jarriel King, and defensive stalwart Chris Culliver.

Spurrier said, "It was a relief that we had basically our entire team ready to play here tonight. At one time it looked like a lot of them might not play, so it worked out. It was nice to get all the guys on the field." No reason was given on why the two players were held out. Spurrier said any other issues with the NCAA should be cleared up in the next few days.

The head ball coach was pleased when he said, "The defense played well." Southern Miss was driving deep into USC territory on their first drive when Devonte Holloman made his second career interception on the Carolina 15 yard line and stopped the Golden Eagles' first drive there. The play set the tone for the defense, which held the normally potent Golden Eagle offense in check until late in the game after the contest had long been decided.

Associate Head Coach Ellis Johnson said of his defense, "We had a lot of things going on. With as few players as we had out there, I was really impressed. I think the execution was absolutely exceptional. We had probably 14-15 kids that carried us in this game and I couldn't be more proud of them. Some had no back-ups. They played their rears off and there are no stats for that. With that being said, we still have a lot to clean up."

Johnson singled out Stephon Gilmore for special praise: "Gilmore probably played 75 snaps at corner. He's the one we can always count on.

On missing Chris Culliver and the nickel defense, Johnson said, "First of all, it hurts your depth. He's our nickel. Then (Antonio) Allen's down with an injury. So all of a sudden you've got no nickel. So we get Akeem (Auguste) and tell him to play nickel and he hasn't lined up in that spot this year. Then DJ Swearinger gets donged on the head, and he's gone. So we have no nickel package. So we played half the second quarter, and the second half with no 3rd down defense, personnel wise. Some of it will go away, but some of it won't. So we've got to look at some depth issues."

Special teams had a good night. Spurrier said of his kicker Spencer Lanning, "Spencer had a super night as we thought he would. He hit both of his field goals and punted for a 52.5 average. You guys want to build someone up for kicker of the year, you can start for Spencer. I don't think praise will affect him (negatively). He's a good one."

The team struggled at times with common first game mistakes and penalties. Spurrier talked about the defensive effort late in the game, "They didn't score, but we couldn't get them off the field in the second half. Almost put everyone to sleep, including me."

With USC leading 24-6, backup quarterback Connor Shaw got his first playing time at quarterback on the next series, and he ran for 12 yards and a first down on his first collegiate play, making it look easy. His next play was a beautiful pass 44 yards in the air to DL Moore that was broken up at the last moment at the SM 15. He showed his freshman status on the next play when he couldn't get his troops in place before the clock ran out, and had to call time out. He again showed his running ability as he ran 24 yards down to the SM 30 yard line.

In the second half, after a fumble was recovered by Tony Straughter and run back 54 yards to the SM 30, Shaw came back in at quarterback, and a couple of plays later hit DL Moore for a 15 yard touchdown.

The Gamecocks were a perfect five for five on the red zone Thursday night. There were 70,438 in attendance for the game, which was televised nationally on ESPN. The only reported injury was a mild concussion to DJ Swearinger.

South Carolina now gets ready for a September 11th home game noon kickoff against Georgia, the Gamecocks' traditional first SEC opponent of the year. Shaw is a Georgia native, and may have provided the first bulletin board material of the week. He said, "I've been looking forward to this game. I've never had a passion for Georgia."

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