Sept. 1, 2005
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – This was hardly like old times for the Ol’ Ball Coach.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had a new black visor and the same offensive style, but he needed a fourth-down stop by his defense with less than three minutes to go to save a 24-15 victory over UCF in his return to college football Thursday night.
“It was a tough night,” Spurrier said. “But we’re one and oh and we’re not going to sit around and cry about it because we could’ve lost the dadgum thing.”
Blake Mitchell, a sophomore making his first start, threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns for the Gamecocks (1-0).
Despite the late charge, the Golden Knights (0-1) extended the country’s longest losing streak to 16 games – the past 12 under former Georgia Tech and Notre Dame coach George O’Leary.
After falling behind 24-3, UCF rallied in the final quarter with Mike Walker’s 13-yard touchdown catch and John Brown’s field goal.
Minutes later, the Golden Knights had a fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 2:50 left, but Kevin Smith was stopped short trying leap for the end zone by linebacker Ricardo Hurley and defensive lineman Ryan Brown.
Still, South Carolina could not put this one away. Punter Josh Brown ran out of the end zone for a safety and the Golden Knights got the ball back in the final minute on an onside kick. But time ran out on UCF and Spurrier improved to 15-1 all-time in opening games.
For the first three quarters, this one was all about Spurrier. The former Florida coach was back in the Southeastern Conference after two disappointing seasons with the Washington Redskins and another one out of the game entirely.
The sold-out crowd of 82,753 at Williams-Brice Stadium couldn’t wait to see their newest hero take the sidelines. They packed the State Fairgrounds across from the stadium hours before kickoff and even cheered loudly in the middle of the pre-game prayer when Spurrier’s name was mentioned.
Spurrier said the crowd was alive and enthusiastic until the Gamecocks bogged down in the second half. For him, it was like he’d never left the college game.
“It felt very similar,” Spurrier said, “calling plays, getting them in there. Chucked a few deep, hit some, missed some.”
It didn’t take long for Spurrier to show off the “Cock-n-Fire” offense.
Five plays into the opening drive, Mitchell faked a handoff to Bobby Wallace, stepped back and hit Noah Whiteside in stride for a 49-yard touchdown with 12:46 left in the first quarter.
Mitchell was firing again the next time South Carolina got the ball, finding Mike Davis on a short dump pass that went for 64 yards. Tight end Andy Boyd capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown catch to put the Gamecocks up 14-0 less than eight minutes into the game.
Mitchell, who had completed only 9 of 22 passes in his career, connected on 15 of 19 in the opening half. His 283 yards passing by halftime surpassed the Gamecocks totals of every game but one from last season.
Mitchell finished 18-for-23.
But this was far from the scoring machine Spurrier built over 12 seasons at Florida.
Mitchell missed a wide-open Travis Lee on South Carolina’s third series that would’ve easily gone for another TD.
Mitchell got a third TD, flipping a pass out to the flat to Syvelle Newton – last year’s starting quarterback – who went 25 yards for the score in the third quarter for a 24-3 lead.
Just when it looked like Spurrier had the Gamecocks rolling, UCF came back.
Spurrier has said the Gamecocks are a ways out from competing for an SEC title. They showed that at times against UCF.
After Mitchell drove the Gamecocks to UCF’s 16, he was sacked twice and South Carolina missed a 50-yard field goal try.
On another series South Carolina moved from its 8 to UCF’s 5. Again, the Gamecocks faltered in the red zone, settling for Josh Brown’s 22-yard field goal.
In the third quarter when backup quarterback Antonio Heffner fumbled the snap, Spurrier slammed his papers to the ground in disgust.
And things figure to get rougher next week when the Gamecocks go to Georgia in Spurrier’s first SEC game in four years. Bulldogs fans remember all too well how Florida scored a late touchdown in a 52-17 blowout in 1995 so the Gators could be the first opponent to hit the half-century mark at Sanford Stadium.
“We got to get better on defense, we got to get better on offense, we got to get better everywhere,” Spurrier said. “Simple as that.”