Steve Spurrier waited all week to name a starting quarterback, saying he would decide in warm-ups who would start. When South Carolina lined up for its first offensive snap, Chris Smelley was on the field. When the Gamecocks lined up for their second snap, Stephen Garcia was the quarterback. Spurrier continued to rotate his quarterbacks on almost every play.
“Both quarterbacks played pretty decent, all things considered,” he said. “We said we were going to play both of them, so why not just send them in with the play. Stephen can’t get the signals anyway. Really, it’s not a bad way to do it.”
Spurrier made the decision to rotate quarterbacks earlier in the week, but he declined after the game to say whether he would use the same tactic next week against Florida. Of the Gamecocks’ 64 offense snaps, the same quarterback took consecutive snaps only five times for six plays. It was a tactic Spurrier famously first used while at Florida, with Noah Brindise and Doug Johnson in the 1997 win over top ranked Florida State. There is sometimes concern that rotating quarterbacks can affect their rhythm, but that was not an issue on Saturday.
“He didn’t explain it to us, but we didn’t ask questions either,” said Garcia. “It’s fine with me and Smelley; we were joking about it on the sidelines. We said it was interesting, entertaining. The cadence didn’t make that much of a difference [to the offensive line]. We have pretty much the same cadence.”
“You hear people talking about getting into a rhythm and all that stuff, but I think we felt pretty good out there,” Smelley agreed. “We practiced it a little bit this week. We weren’t exactly sure how we were going to do it, but it worked out.”
Carolina came out on fire. Defensively, the Gamecocks held Arkansas to -1 yard rushing in the first half and 132 yards total. Of that, 70 came on busted coverage when Casey Dick hit wide open Jarius Wright for the Razorbacks’ only score of the half. Offensively, Carolina marched down the field on its first possession in just four plays. Kenny McKinley had a 30 yard catch and run that put him past Sterling Sharp as Carolina’s all-time leader in receiving yardage.
Two plays later, Garcia ran 14 yards up the middle on a quarterback draw for the touchdown. Ryan Succop kicked a 54-yard field goal on the next possession to make it 10-0. After Arkansas’ touchdown, Smelley found Jared Cook on a drag route. Sprung by a downfield block from Jason Barnes, Cook tightrope walked down the sideline for a 66 yard score, the longest offensive play of the year for the Gamecocks.
“That was a very good play by Jared Cook,” said Spurrier. “He tight roped the sideline and their player didn’t make a very good play trying to push him out.
In the third quarter, the Razorbacks finally found their offense. Arkansas used an 8:12 minute, 15 play, 62-yard drive to pull back to 20-14.
“We were standing over there and we were standing over there, and probably [the media] went to sleep or had a sandwich up in the box,” Spurrier said. “I said, ‘We’ve been over here 15-20 minutes and they’ve only gained 20 yards.’ They’d go forward and backward, forward and backward and they finally scored.”
The Gamecocks went nowhere on their next possession, and Arkansas was mounting another drive when Lindsey made the play of the game. Dick tried to throw to his receiver in the flat, but Lindsey jumped up and plucked the ball out of the air. He rumbled 40 yards down the field to the Arkansas 15.
“Jordi Lindsey made the play that turned it all around,” said Spurrier. “What a play. Not many guys can jump up and intercept that pass.”
“I knew it was going to be a short pass, so I was able to get my hands up at the right time and it just stuck,” said Lindsey. “I was trying to get as far as I could with it before I collapsed. We had a big speech on the sidelines and knew someone had to step up and make a big play. Luckily I was the one who was able to do that for our defense and our team.”
The first play of the fourth quarter was an incomplete pass to McKinley in the end zone. On the second play, Garcia threw a fade to McKinley who was wide open for the touchdown.
“Kenny ran a beautiful fade route,” Spurrier said.
The defense forced a punt, and then the offense did something it had rarely been able to do all season: it pounded away on the ground. Spurrier called 11 straight runs on a 72 yard, 6:22 drive. Aside from one quarterback sneak on 3rd and 1, it was all running backs Eric Baker, who finished with 59 yards on 9 carries, and Mike Davis, who had 44 yards on 14 carries. The senior Davis capped off the drive with a 13 yard touchdown run that put the game away, 34-14.
“We didn’t have to throw a pass,” Spurrier said. “We could have. Up top, [the coaches] were saying ‘Kenny’s one-on-one out there for a touchdown.’ I said, ‘its 3rd and 2, we need to make a first down and win the game.’”
The Carolina defense harassed Casey Dick all day, and finally knocked him out of the game on the ensuing drive. His brother Nathan Dick took over, and led the Razorbacks to a garbage time touchdown. Down 34-21, Arkansas attempted an onside kick. Emanuel Cook recovered the kick, but as players were getting out of the pile, safety Chris Culliver got in a fight with an Arkansas player. Both players were penalized for personal fouls, but Culliver was ejected for throwing punches. The ejection means that Culliver will miss the first half of next week’s game against Florida according to SEC rules. Spurrier had harsh words for the sophomore after the game, calling it an “unbelievably selfish play” and a “sad ending for a good game.”
“I couldn’t believe I saw him in there swinging away,” he said. “That’s embarrassing for me and our coaches that we’ve got a player out there swinging. I apologize to the Arkansas guys and their coaches that we had a guy do that. It’s inexcusable.”
- Eric Norwood had a career-high three sacks, and the defense tied a season high with six sacks overall.
- Carolina held Michael Smith, the SEC’s leading rusher to 25 yards on 7 carries, almost 100 yards below his season average. Smith was knocked out of the game in the first half with a shoulder injury.
- Carolina is now 7-3 overall and 4-3 in the SEC. The win guarantees the Gamecocks of a bowl appearance and a non-losing record in conference play.
- Addison Williams had his first career interception in the first quarter.
- Spencer Lanning had a career-long 53 yard punt in the first quarter.