Darryl Worley’s country ballad starts out, “I woke up early with a poundin' in my head.” The words are apropos for the South Carolina Gamecocks, who after their sleep-walk through the first half of their game against South Carolina State only led by a 10-7 margin at halftime. But their offense shook off their first half headaches and woke up early in the third quarter, pounding the Bulldogs relentlessly and scoring three touchdowns in the period. By the end of the quarter, the Gamecock fans were breathing easier, and were feeling the chorus of Worley’s song, “I love this crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful, beautiful life.”
The USC offense needed to work out the kinks and make a statement against their smaller FCS opponent. Prior to the game against the Bulldogs, South Carolina has won three games and almost won their other game against Georgia on the strength of a stellar defense and just barely enough offense. After continuing to count on the defense in the first half, they also continued another trend: playing down to the level of their opponent. Garcia ran one yard for the only first half touchdown for the Gamecocks, and Spencer Lanning hit a 30 yard field goal to account for their ten first half points.
Allegorically appropriate, a major power outage hit Williams-Brice stadium approximately ten minutes before kickoff causing problems in the first half, knocking out all video and tv production.
But after halftime, the offense came alive, starting with Kenny Miles rushing 22 yards for his first career touchdown. USC quarterback Stephen Garcia only had 44 yards passing in the first half, but threw for 83 yards and two more touchdowns in the period, hitting senior receiver Moe Brown on a 40 yard strike for one, and then hitting Brown for nine yards on the other one. USC led 31-7 at the end of the quarter, and sent in their reserves in the fourth quarter.
Brown was bubbling after the game, saying “I can’t believe it right now. Wow, it was so great to go out there and play like that tonight. I haven’t had a two touchdown night since high school, so it was definitely a good feeling.”
Brown talked about what happened in the locker room at halftime. “Halftime, coach just challenged us,” he said. “When you have a team you’re supposed to beat, and beat them handily, that’s what you’ve got to do. He pretty much challenged us to step up our game, and that’s what we did.”
With SEC play renewing next week when Kentucky comes to town to play, the Gamecocks can’t afford to take a half off before getting in gear, a theme Clifton Geathers picked up, saying of the halftime adjustments and the need to play better the whole game, “We just knew we had to pick things up. From now on, we need to pick it up in the first half (too).”
Head ball coach Steve Spurrier acknowledged the poor play of the first half, but was very positive about the play of his offense in the second half, saying he was “…proud of our guys, who kept battling. The first half was just a struggle.”
He singled out Brown and Garcia specifically for praise, stating that Brown had his best half as a Gamecock, and Garcia made some of his best throws after the half. “Moe ran some beautiful routes, and in the third quarter, Stephen looked pretty good. Those three throws to Moe Brown were right on the money,” Spurrier said, referencing Brown’s two touchdown catches and a third catch that went for 23 yards down to the SCSU 13 yard line and set up the nine yard touchdown play.
Spurrier is never quite satisfied with the play of his quarterbacks, and still had challenges for Garcia, saying, “He can still throw a lot better.”
His backup quarterback Reid McCollum completed the first touchdown pass of his career in the fourth quarter, appropriately to a receiver catching his first career touchdown, heralded freshman Alshon Jeffrey. Jeffrey did exactly what he was recruited to do, going up high over a defender in the end zone and bringing the ball down for a score. The coach praised Jeffery, comparing him to Georgia’s star receiver AJ Green when he said, “It was a ‘put the ball in the air’ and see if Alshon can jump higher than their guy. Alshon can go (up) and get it, and that’s a play we’re going to use more often.”
Spurrier said Reid did ok. “He threw a nice ball, and he’ll be ready if needed.” Talking about the touchdown throw to Jeffrey, the coach said, “…and it was not out of the ballpark and (it was) where Alshon can plant his feet and go up and get it. And he knows how to do that obviously really well.”
The USC rushing game actually gained more yards than the passing game did, 213 yards gained to 164 through the air. Jarvis Giles rushed for 74 yards on 11 attempts, Kenny Miles rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts, and Brian Maddox rushed for 46 yards on 7 attempts.
Spurrier was in a good mood after the game and didn’t hold back praise for his running backs, remarking that “We were able to run the ball. All three running backs had their moments. It was interesting that all three of them averaged around six yards (per play). Brown and Bryce Sherman had the best rushing averages of the night; Brown averaged 21 yards on his one reverse play, and Sherman continued a trend of getting the last play of the first half and making it count, when he rushed for 22 yards on his only rush of the night. Garcia carried the ball four times for a net of minus ten yards, but one of them was a quarterback sneak for one yard and the Gamecocks' first touchdown of the night.
After four games where the defense provided the best highlights, Spurrier said, “Our defense had a good day,” but praised the Bulldogs' offense, saying, “They moved the ball better than Ole Miss against us, whatever that means.” SCSU compiled 326 yards of offense against the Gamecocks, but time after time when the Bulldogs broke a play for big yardage, the USC defense stepped up and ended the drive without points.
As usual, Eric Norwood was a defensive leader for the Gamecocks. The first Norwood for Heisman campaign highlight of the game was a 38 yard field goal block by the all-everything player for South Carolina at the 8:23 mark of the third quarter. The second highlight was a pass deflection by Clifton Geathers that Norwood turned into an interception in the fourth quarter. He also had a quarterback hurry and was in on three tackles. Five different defensive players led the defense with six tackles.
Norwood said, “I think we just needed a little spark. That was it, I think we got it. The momentum definitely changed in the second half. We made a couple of stops and anytime you block a field goal or any type of kick, the odds of winning the game are pretty good.”
In addition to Norwood’s block, another key special teams play was made by freshman Stephon Gilmore. On a SCSU punt, Gilmore picked up a bouncing ball off the turf and bounced 30 yards down the field to the SCSU 36. USC capitalized on the good starting field position, and quickly scored a touchdown.
Spurrier had promised that walk-on offensive lineman Garrick Chisholm would play against the Bulldogs, and kept his word in an unusual way. Chisholm hadn’t played yet as SCSU was winding the clock down on their final drive, so Spurrier put Chisholm in for his first play on defense. “Hopefully next week, he’ll play on offense.” the coach said.
With the defensive front paper thin, the coaching staff made the decision to play Aldrick Fordham for the first time, burning the possibility of him redshirting this year. Another key defensive player was missing for the game, Akeem Auguste. Spurrier said he was officially suspended indefinitely, but would miss at least three games according to university guidelines for his unspecified “violation of team rules.”
Brown praised the Bulldogs, saying “They’re a good team, very physical, well coached, should have a good season.” Head SCSU Coach Buddy Pough, a former USC assistant under Lou Holtz, said, “I thought we played pretty good for a half and hung in there, but I don’t think we took advantage of all the opportunities we had.”
As the game was drawing to a conclusion, SCSU drove deep into the USC red zone. A 58 yard fumble return by USC's Tony Straughter to the SCSU 34 was taken away by the referees on review, and the Bulldogs salvaged a little pride with a one yard touchdown plunge by Malcolm Long with ten seconds left in the game.
A crowd of 77,066 were on hand for the game.
Kentucky comes to town next week for an SEC contest at 12:30 that will be broadcast on FSN. Gamecock fans hope to keep singing along with Worley when the Wildcats show up:
It's a beautiful life
Awful, beautiful, life
I love this life
It's a beautiful life