Senior receiver Moe Brown started a rush party for South Carolina Saturday night, taking the first offensive play from scrimmage 50 yards, but freshman Jarvis Giles was the headliner of a rejuvenated rushing attack for the Gamecocks Saturday night, with seven Gamecocks totaling 287 yards on the ground to lead USC to a 38-16 pasting of Florida Atlantic. Giles rushed eleven times for 113 yards and a touchdown. Kenny Miles lit up the crowd with 56 yards on five carries for an 11.2 yard average before he had to leave with an injury. His replacement, Eric Baker, kept the average going with two carries for 22 yards. Dual threat quarterback Stephen Garcia rushed four times for 26 yards and a touchdown. Starter Brian Maddox rushed for 24 yards and two touchdowns, and then he caught a third touchdown for good measure.
The South Carolina offense has not been exactly what Gamecock fans envisioned when Steve Spurrier became their head coach five years ago, but with the addition of the running game that accumulated 287 yards on Saturday to go with a mistake-free game by quarterback Stephen Garcia, they’re getting closer to what Spurrier wants, accumulating 943 total yards of offense the past two games. “That is the most rushing yards we have had since I have been here,” said Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier. “We had a few mess-ups, but I was overall pretty pleased.”
Though fans often thought of Spurrier’s offense in terms of big passing plays, the run game was always a big part of his offensive package made famous at Florida.
The Gamecocks lacked big plays in USC’s first two games, managing only two plays longer than 25 yards against NC State and Georgia, but USC looked like a Steve Spurrier team on this night with their quick-strike offense making five plays covering 35 yards or more. Giles and receiver Tori Gurley, who had four catches for 100 yards each, had two of the big plays, and became the first USC freshmen tandem to hit the 100-yard mark in rushing and receiving since Mike Davis and Sidney Rice did it twice in 2005.
The passing game was a solid complement to the running game. "Stephen played decent," Spurrier said. "He had a couple of deep opportunities. I wouldn't call it a breakout performance with 222 yards passing but he handled the ball well. We're happy to get the victory. We felt like we wanted to give the run game a good opportunity, and we did most of the night," Spurrier said. "We were able to run the ball a bit and hit a few (passes) here and there."
The Carolina offense ran 20 fewer plays than it did in last week's 41-37 loss at Georgia, but USC still finished with 516 total yards, the second highest offensive output under Spurrier.
Garcia said, “That’s the most run yards since I've been here. We were running the ball pretty well. If we continue to run the ball like that, were going to be pretty tough to beat.” Garcia said that having the running game clicking obviously takes pressure off of him as quarterback. Assessing his own performance, he said, “I had a few mental mistakes. I’m still getting used to leading the team.”
This was a game South Carolina was supposed to win, but FAU kept the game close and made for an uncomfortable first half for the home crowd. The South Carolina defense gave up a 143 yards passing in the first two quarters, and allowed the visiting Owls to come within a blocked PAT of tying them at halftime.
Garcia said, “We were disappointed in our play in the first half. We came out after halftime and played better. We’re a young team, and we can only get better.”
USC came out after halftime, and on the first play from scrimmage the defense made a takeaway, when freshman Stephon Gilmore intercepted the ball at the Florida Atlantic 38. The USC offense in typical Steve Spurrier fashion went for the jugular, and Stephen Garcia hit Tori Gurley at the FAU three yard line, followed by a Brian Maddox three yard touchdown that put USC up 24-16, and the Gamecocks never looked back.
It was the first of three straight possessions that the Gamecocks scored in the second half, turning the uncomfortably close game at the half into a rare blowout.
"We are showing the country that we are very explosive and we can go off at any time," Gurley said. "In the second half our defense shut them down and our offense just put points on the board. As long as we keep that up, we're going to be successful in the long run."
Ellis Johnson addressed his defensive unit’s struggles after the game, saying bluntly, “We don’t have a defensive unit right now.” Johnson pointed at a number of shoulder injuries the team has suffered as indications of an equipment malfunction that is allowing players to get repeated shoulder injuries. Johnson said six to eight players have suffered the injuries, and defensive stalwart Eric Norwood and freshman running back Kenny Miles both had to leave tonight’s game after suffering shoulder injuries. Norwood tied the USC all-time sack record at 26 before leaving, and Miles looked very impressive before his departure because of the injury.
USC dominated the second half, outscoring the Owls 21-0 and outgaining their opponent by a 260-98 margin, and forced three turnovers. The Gamecocks were even or better in the turnover department for the third straight game. In addition to his interception, Gilmore also caused a fumble, and the Gamecock offense turned both into touchdowns.
Johnson made defensive adjustments at the half, switching from a three man defensive front they had adopted because of their depth problems to a more traditional four man front, and the passing defense improved. The Carolina defense was effective against the Owls’ rushing attempt for most of the game, limiting them to 96 total net yards rushing on the game.
"Overall, it was a good game for our team," Spurrier said. "We're happy we won. We could've lost. It's good to get this one behind us and get ready for another SEC game Thursday. I know our crowd will be into that game."
Garcia was complimentary of his opponent’s defense. The redshirt sophomore said, “They disguised coverages as well as anybody I've seen.” He looked forward to the team’s next game Thursday night against Ole Miss, who is currently ranked #5 nationally and will be ranked higher on Thursday after a Southern Cal loss Saturday. “It will be fun playing the number 5 team in the nation. We are going to take it very, very serious, and go out there and beat them.” He emphatically repeated his earlier statement, saying, “We can only get better from here.”
The weather forecast for the game was a 60% chance of rain, but the rain never showed. Along with the level of opponent being played, the weather may have limited the size of the crowd. The 72,017 in attendance was the smallest crowd to see a home opener since 1995, when 70,411 turned out for a 68-21 win against Louisiana Tech. Williams-Brice stadium celebrates its 75 year anniversary this year, and the place figures to be jumping for the big SEC matchup against the Rebels on Thursday. "I know our crowd will be much more into next week's game than they were tonight." Spurrier said. "But our crowd was fine."
One area the team continued to struggle in was special teams coverage. Last week they gave up a 100 yard return against Georgia and allowed the Bulldogs to set a school game record for return yards in the first half, and Saturday the Owls always seemed to start their offensive drives on their own 40 yard line. Spurrier said he and special teams coordinator Shane Beamer would be sitting down to figure out what was needed to fix the special teams problems. The Owls averaged 26 yards a return.
Spurrier said earlier in the week that Kenny Miles and Alshon Jeffries would see more playing time. He was as good as his word. Miles started his collegiate career in grand style, three straight carries for a total of 36 yards on the second drive of the game, followed by a nine yard completion to Jeffries. Miles then peeled off a 17 yard gainer to the FAU 30. The drive stalled and Spencer Lanning came in to kick a 41 yard field goal, the longest of his young career. But after having to rely on the field goal kicker to put up points five times the previous week against Georgia, it was the only time the Gamecocks needed to call on Lanning for other than PATs for the night.
The Gamecocks also improved their red zone production, failing to score only once, on a fourth and short running play where the ball was turned over to the Owls on a fumble.
Garcia hit ten different receivers on the night. One player getting his first career reception was Spurrier’s son Scotty, a senior receiver who has led the team in weight room workouts and other ways, but had not made a reception until he caught a 13 yard pass from Garcia late in the game.
The Ole Miss game will be televised nationally at 7:45 pm on ESPN. It will be the second Thursday night game of the season for the Gamecocks.