Oct. 7, 2005
SETTING THE STAGE: The South Carolina Gamecocks (2-3, 0-3 SEC) look for their first Southeastern Conference win of the season as they play host to the Kentucky Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday, Oct. 8. Game time is set for 1:05 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) in Columbia. The game will be televised on a pay-per-view basis throughout the state of South Carolina with Mike Morgan providing the play-by-play. Todd Ellis (play-by-play) and Tommy Suggs (analyst) will be in the booth for the Carolina Gamecock Sports Network, with Rob DeBoer on the sidelines. The game can also be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio channel 117.
WHAT’S TRANSPIRED: The Gamecocks are off to a 2-3 start this season, the first of the “Steve Spurrier Era” at the University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won their two non-conference games, posting a 24-15 win over UCF and a 45-20 triumph over Troy, but are 0-3 in Southeastern Conference action, falling by a 17-15 count at Georgia and losing 37-14 to Alabama and 48-7 at Auburn.
NOT EXACTLY CHOPPED LIVER: The Gamecocks are 2-3 this season, but most schools in the country would be hard-pressed to have a better mark if faced with USC’s schedule. Georgia, Alabama and Auburn have a combined record of 13-1 this season and are ranked 5th, 7th and 22nd in the Associated Press Poll this week, and 4th, 10th and 21st in the USA Today/Coaches Poll.
AND FOR THE WILDCATS: Kentucky has stumbled out of the gate with a 1-3 record, but has had two weeks to prepare for this contest as they are coming off a bye week. After a tough 31-24 season-opening loss to highly-ranked in-state rival Louisville, the Wildcats posted their lone victory, a 41-29 win over Idaho State. The `Cats were surprised, 38-14 at Indiana, then lost their SEC opener at home to Florida, 49-28. The Wildcats have struggled on defense, allowing over 450 yards per game, while generating a little under 300 yards per game when they have the ball. Sophomore Andre Woodson has taken most of the snaps at quarterback, completing nearly 58 percent of his passes with five touchdowns. Sophomore Rafael Little is the workhorse in the backfield, owning over half of his team’s carries and 340 of the 400 rushing yards gained. Little is also Kentucky’s top receiver with 14 catches.
SOUTH CAROLINA TIES: Defensive line coach Rick Petri was USC’s defensive ends coach from 1996-98. Offensive coordinator/receivers coach Joker Phillips coached the Gamecock wide receivers in 2002. Kentucky tailback Rafael Little and wide receiver Anthony Stewart are both from Anderson and attended T.L. Hanna High School. Defensive lineman Ventrell Jenkins attended Columbia High.
A LITTLE HISTORY: This is the 112th season of college football at the University of South Carolina, dating back to 1892. The university did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. This is the 99th consecutive year in which USC has competed on the gridiron. They own an all-time record of 502-510-44. Their only conference championship came in the 1969 season when they posted a perfect 6-0 record to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title in Paul Dietzel’s fourth year.
A SOUTH CAROLINA WIN OVER KENTUCKY WOULD:
* Even the Gamecocks record at 3-3 just over the halfway point through the season.
* Keep Coach Spurrier’s record against Kentucky perfect at 13-0. The 13 wins would represent his high mark against any opponent.
* Be the first SEC win for Steve Spurrier as the head coach at South Carolina.
* Extend USC’s winning streak over Kentucky to six games, the longest streak in the series.
* Lift the Gamecocks out of the cellar in the SEC Eastern Division.
SERIES NOTES: This is the 17th meeting on the gridiron between Carolina and Kentucky. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series, 9-6-1. The teams have split seven games in Columbia evenly, 3-3-1, while USC holds a 6-3 advantage in games played in Lexington. The Gamecocks have won each of the last five meetings between the two schools, including a 12-7 win last Oct. 16 in Lexington and a 27-21 win here two years ago. The teams first met in 1937, then played a home-and-home series in 1978 and `81. They have met every year since the 1992 season when USC joined the Southeastern Conference.
CLOSE STILL COUNTS: In the current five-game winning streak over Kentucky, USC’s margin of victory has been six or fewer points four times. In fact, nine of the 16 previous contests have been decided by a touchdown or less.
LAST SEASON’S MATCHUP: Two Josh Brown field goals, including a career-best 43-yarder, capped the only scoring in the first half as USC took a 6-0 lead into intermission. The Gamecocks offense moved the ball in the first half, but two fumbles and an interception kept USC from building a bigger cushion. After injuries put USC’s top two quarterbacks on the sidelines, Blake Mitchell was inserted in the contest and completed 2-of-7 passes for 10 yards with two interceptions in his first significant collegiate action. Kentucky put together a 94-yard scoring drive to take the lead with just under 10 minutes remaining in the contest. USC head coach Lou Holtz went to seldom-used quarterback Michael Rathe and Rathe responded by leading the Gamecocks on a 13-play, 88-yard scoring drive, culminated by a 19-yard touchdown pass to Troy Williamson on a 3rd-and-10 play. The teams combined for nine turnovers, including five by the Gamecocks.
SPURRIER VS. KENTUCKY: South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier owns a perfect 12-0 record against Kentucky. That record matches his 12-0 mark against Vanderbilt as his best record against any school. He also has double-figure wins over Georgia (11), LSU (11), Auburn (10) and South Carolina (10).
HOW CLOSE HAVE THE `CATS COME?: Not very – at least not in recent years. Spurrier’s Florida teams rolled up 568 points in the 12 games against Kentucky, an average of 47.3 points per game, while allowing just 208 points, an average of 17.3 points per contest. Florida put over 50 points on the board five times against the Wildcats, including a 73-7 win in 1994 and a 65-0 whitewash in 1996. The closest Kentucky came to knocking off the Gators under Coach Spurrier was in 1993 when they played to a 24-20 decision. That was also the last time they stayed within two touchdowns of Spurrier’s Gators.
INJURY REPORT: Quarterback Blake Mitchell (left ankle sprain), offensive guard William Brown (lower back), tight end Andy Boyd (right knee sprain), running back Taylor Rank (ankle sprain), defensive end Shea McKeen (lower back) and tight end Jonathan Hannah (right ankle sprain) did not play against Auburn due to injuries.
THE LAST TIME OUT: The Gamecocks were beaten in every facet of the game in a 48-7 setback at Auburn last Saturday. The Tigers nearly doubled the Gamecocks in total offense, churning up 388 yards compared to USC’s 199. Redshirt freshman quarterback Antonio Heffner made his first collegiate start and completed 15-of-23 passes for 133 yards. He hit Sidney Rice on a 45-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter to keep the Gamecocks from being shut out. USC was held to just three first downs through the first three quarters and finished with seven first downs, compared to Auburn’s 21. USC put the ball on the ground five times, but lost just one fumble, while the Tigers played turnover-free football. Cornerback Tremaine Tyler turned in a career-high 13 tackles, including five solo stops.
FIELD POSITION SETS THE TONE: The Tigers used an average starting field position of their own 47-yard line to their advantage to roll to the easy victory. Six of Auburn’s 13 drives started at the 50-yard line or inside USC territory, while USC did not cross midfield until the middle of the fourth quarter. Of the six drives that started at midfield or better, Auburn scored four times, producing 27 points. USC’s best starting field position was their own 30-yard line, while nine of their 14 drives started at their own 20 yard line or worse.
UNUSUAL SLOW START: Carolina found itself trailing 17-0 after the first quarter at Auburn last Saturday. Entering that contest, USC had outscored its opponents by a 35-17 margin in the first quarter this season.
FIRST HALF WOES: The 31 points allowed by USC in the first half at Auburn were the most since Clemson scored 35 points in the first half of its 63-17 win over Carolina on Nov. 22, 2003.
FOR STARTERS: Quarterback Antonio Heffner made his first career start for the Gamecocks on Saturday against Auburn. Overall, 24 Gamecock players have made their first collegiate start during the 2005 season. TURNOVERS A KEY: After forcing a season-high five turnovers that led to 28 points in the win over Troy, USC was unable to force a turnover against Auburn. For the season, USC is even in turnover ratio, coughing up the ball eight times (five fumbles and three interceptions) which have led to 20 points, while producing eight turnovers (four fumbles and four interceptions) that have led to 34 USC points.
RED ZONE NUMBERS: USC’s offense has had excellent success in the red zone this season, scoring on 10-of-11 chances, but did not infiltrate the red zone last Saturday at Auburn. The Tigers converted seven of eight red zone opportunities into points against the Gamecock defense. For the season, USC ranks second in the SEC in red zone scoring percentage, converting on 10-of-11 red zone opportunities (91 percent), including seven touchdowns. DEFENSE SCORES: The Gamecocks defense has produced a pair of touchdowns this season. Johnathan Joseph returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown against Georgia. Ricardo Hurley forced a fumble against Troy that Brandon Isaac scooped up and rambled 11 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
GOING THE DISTANCE: The Gamecocks have used most of the field in their scoring drives this season. Of their 15 scoring drives, South Carolina has traveled 62 yards or more on 13 occasions and 75 yards or more 10 times. The longest drive was a 12-play, 97-yard drive that consumed 5:42 against Troy.
BACKED UP: The long scoring drives are a direct result of poor starting field position, something that has plagued the Gamecocks in the first five games. USC has started just 17 of 62 drives (27 percent) beyond their own 25 yard line. They have not started a drive beyond their own 40-yard line in four of the five games played. Over 50 percent of their drives (35 of 62) have started either at their own 20 or worse.
QUESTION AT QUARTERBACK: Redshirt sophomore Blake Mitchell made the start in each of the first four games this season, but suffered a high left ankle sprain in the win over Troy and was on the sidelines in a boot for the Auburn contest. His status entering the week is uncertain. Redshirt freshman Antonio Heffner handled the quarterback duties at Auburn and connected on 15-of-23 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown without an interception. He will get the call against Kentucky if Mitchell is unable to answer the bell.
MITCHELL’S BEEN THE MAN: Redshirt sophomore Blake Mitchell has been the primary signal-caller for the Gamecocks this season. Mitchell ranks third in the SEC in passing efficiency with a 151.4 rating while completing 65.1 percent of his passes, tops in the league. He entered the season having completed just 9-of-22 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown. With 916 yards, Mitchell is nearing Syvelle Newton’s 2004 team-leading total of 1,093 yards passing.
HEFFNER STEPS IN: Redshirt freshman Antonio Heffner made his first career start at Auburn. He completed 15-of-23 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. For the season he has hit on 22-of-33 passes (66.7 percent) for 236 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. His first career touchdown pass was a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter in the win over Troy to Michael Flint. He also carried the pigskin seven times for 45 yards including a 19-yard scamper, and scored his first career touchdown in that contest. He hit a 45-yard scoring strike to Sidney Rice in the loss at Auburn.
MORE RICE PLEASE: Redshirt freshman Sidney Rice has quickly shown that he can be a key ingredient to the Gamecocks’ offense this season with four touchdown receptions in his first four collegiate games (Jermale Kelly had 5 straight games with a TD catch as a frosh in 1997). After sitting out the opener against UCF with a broken left little finger, Rice caught five passes for a game-high 70 yards and a touchdown against Georgia in his first collegiate game. He came back with five catches for 74 yards and a score against Alabama in his first start, then had five more catches for a career-best 91 yards and a touchdown against Troy. He caught three passes for a game-high 63 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown reception in the loss at Auburn. His 4.5 receptions per game ranks in a tie for fourth in the Southeastern Conference, while his 74.5 yards per game average ranks third in the league.
NEWTON CAN GIVE AND RECEIVE: Junior wide receiver Syvelle Newton is equally adept at throwing and catching the football. After throwing for over 1,000 yards and rushing for 262 as a quarterback in 2004, Newton caught a career-best and a team-high six passes for 63 yards, including a 25-yard scoring reception, in the opener against UCF. The touchdown was the first receiving TD of his career. He leads the team with 21 receptions for 226 yards. His 4.2 receptions per game average ranks eighth in the league. As a receiver, he caught 22 passes for 277 yards in 2003 but had no receptions last season. He now has five career rushing scores, six passing TDs and two receiving touchdown.
PLAYING THE OLDIES: Sophomore Tim Frisby hauled in his first career reception, a nine-yard catch against Troy. The 40-year old former U.S. Army Ranger earned national attention last year, appearing on Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, ESPN’s Cold Pizza, and was featured on NBC’s Today Show, Live From CNN and Good Morning America. The walk-on receiver and father of six children served in the first Gulf War and in the conflict in Kosovo. He received a pair of prestigious post-season honors, earning the inaugural Keith Jackson Award for Excellence and the Walt Disney World of Sports Spirit Award.
EARLY RETURNS: The Gamecocks feature a pair of true freshmen in their return game. Carlos Thomas handles the kickoff returns. He has returned 12 kicks for 292 yards, a 24.3 yard average which ranks sixth in the league. His longest return is a 79-yarder against Troy. Kenny McKinley has returned 10 punts for 40 yards, a 4.0 yard average.
MIXING IT UP: The Gamecocks have used five different offensive lines in the first five games of the season. Center Chris White and tackle Na’Shan Goddard have started all five games. Jabari Levey and William Brown have each made four starts, Freddy Saint-Preux, Fran Person and James Thompson have each started twice and Thomas Coleman has made one start. TANDEM TACKLES: The Gamecocks are blessed with a pair of bookend senior offensive tackles. At six-foot, six-inches, Jabari Levey mans the left side or the quarterback’s blind side. The Moncks Corner, S.C. native has started 22 games over the past three seasons. On the right side is six-foot, five-inch Na’Shan Goddard. Goddard, who hails from Dayton, Ohio, has started every game over the past three years and has made 31 career starts, the most on the squad. The pair shared the team’s Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award during the spring and both are strong candidates for All-SEC accolades.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?: Josh Brown is one of those rare athletes who handles both the punting duties as well as the kicks on field goals and extra points. He is averaging 39.8 yards per punt this season with a long of 51 yards. He has converted all three of his field goal attempts this year and is 13-of-18 in his career with a long of 43 yards. After missing four of his first five field goal attempts in his career, he has converted 12 of his last 13 field goal tries.
INTO THE END ZONE: Freshman kicker Ryan Succop has been impressive while handling kickoffs for the Gamecocks this season. Eleven of his 21 kickoffs have been touchbacks, most in the SEC. One that was returned by Troy’s Leodis McKelvin went 100 yards to paydirt, the longest return against South Carolina in school history. Only 15 of 52 USC kickoffs a year ago (29 percent) were touchbacks.
SUCCOP GETS CHANCE: True freshman Ryan Succop has shown he has a big leg and will get an opportunity on long field goal attempts this season. Rated the fourth best kicker in the country by Rivals.com a year ago, Succop had an opportunity on a 50-yard field goal attempt against UCF that had the distance but went wide right. He also missed from 46 yards out against Georgia.
THREE-WAY THOMAS: Freshman Carlos Thomas has done it all this season. He leads the squad in all-purpose yards per game with an average of 75.4 yards per contest. He has started twice at wide receiver where he has made five catches for 45 yards. He has carried the ball twice for a total of 40 yards. He also has been the primary kick returner, with 12 returns for 292 yards, including a long of 79 yards. In addition, he has played cornerback, making a key interception of a D.J. Shockley pass in the end zone late in the first half at Georgia. His two-way performance against the Bulldogs earned him recognition as the SEC Freshman of the Week for September 17. His 79-yard kickoff return against Troy is the longest kick return in the SEC this season.
SACK ATTACK: The Gamecocks logged one sacks in the loss at Auburn and rank third in the SEC with 14 sacks after five games. Mike West leads the team with 3.0 sacks. The 14 sacks already exceeds the Gamecocks’ 2004 total of 12 sacks over 11 games.
KO IS OK: Sophomore safety Ko Simpson is the most heralded player on the Gamecocks’ roster. The 6-1, 201-pounder was USC’s only pre-season all-conference selection and has been named to numerous pre-season all-America squads. He is regarded as the top safety in America and a first team all-America by The Sporting News and is on the Watch List for the Bronco Nagurski Award. The accolades are not unfounded. Simpson was named the SEC Freshman of the Year by the Associated Press and was a Freshman all-American last season after logging six interceptions, tying for the SEC lead and tying for third nationally. This season he leads the team with 37 tackles, including 20 solo stops. His 7.4 tackles per game average ranks fifth among SEC defensive backs.
PICK THIS: Junior cornerback Fred Bennett is at it again. He owns a pair of interceptions this year, one against UCF in the season opener and one against Troy. He is tied for fourth in the league in interceptions per game (0.4) and ranks in a tie for eighth in passes defended with an average of 1.0 per game. Bennett started all 11 games a season ago and recorded four interceptions, including two in the road win at Alabama. The Sporting News ranked him as the No. 14 cornerback in the country entering 2005.
TUCKER TACKLES `EM: Senior defensive tackle Chris Tucker is making his presence felt in the opponents’ backfield. Four of Tucker’s 10 tackles have come behind the line of scrimmage, amounting to 21 lost yards.
SENIOR LEADERSHIP: After logging just seven tackles through the season’s first four games, senior cornerback Tremaine Tyler was credited with a game-high 13 stops against Auburn, including five solo tackles. Tyler, who started 10 games a year ago, has started each of the last two contests for the Gamecocks.
HURLEY HYPE: Senior linebacker Ricardo Hurley stepped up against Alabama, recording 10 tackles, including nine solo stops. For the season he has logged 35 stops, second on the squad, including five tackles for loss.
SEEING DOUBLE: The Gamecocks have opponents seeing double when Dustin and Jordin Lindsey are on the field. Wearing numbers 40 and 41, the Lindsey twins from Davidson High School in Mobile, Ala., are regular contributors on the defensive side of the ball and on special team assignments.
FACING WEST: Junior college transfer Mike West has made an impact in his first season in the Garnet and Black. West, a 6-0, 211-pounder who has been clocked in 4.38 seconds for 40 yards, is third on the team with 33 tackles. He owns 3.0 sacks which ties him for seventh in the Southeastern Conference.
PLAYING THE KIDS: Coach Steve Spurrier and his staff brought 24 freshmen scholarship players into the program this year. Of the 24, half have already seen action. Those who have played in their first season on campus include Yvan Banag, Mike Davis, Jonathan Hannah, Shea McKeen, Kenny McKinley, Nathan Pepper, Taylor Rank, Marvin Sapp, Ryan Succop, Carlos Thomas, Bobby Wallace and Dakota Walker. Those who are still eligible to take a redshirt season include Tommy Beecher, Kerry Bonds, Freddie Brown, Jared Cook, Brent Davis, Lemuel Jeanpierre, O.J. Murdock, Gerrod Sinclair, Cade Thompson, Jeremy Ware, Damien Wright and Brandyn Young.
CANADIANS, EH?: The Gamecocks roster features three players from north of the border. tight end Robert Pavlovic and offensive lineman Gurminder Thind are from Mississauga, Ontario, while offensive lineman Justin Sorensen hails from Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
BETTER OF LATE: After the 1998 and `99 seasons saw South Carolina win just once in 22 tries, the Gamecocks have begun to turn the corner since the start of the 21st century. Since the start of the 2000 season, USC has logged an overall record of 35-29. Their 33 wins from 2000-04 matches the best five-year stretch in school history. USC also posted 33 wins from 1980-1984.
BOWL ASPIRATIONS: The Southeastern Conference has agreements to send eight of its member institutions to post-season bowl games following the 2005 season. The winner of the SEC Championship Game will automatically participate in the Bowl Championship Series comprised of the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta Bowls. the Capital One Bowl (Orlando) will then make its pick. Other SEC tie-ins are with the Outback Bowl (Tampa), SBC Cotton Bowl (Dallas), Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl (Atlanta), Mainstay Independence Bowl (Shreveport), Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl (Nashville) and EV1.net Houston Bowl.
PUTTING POINTS ON THE BOARD: The last time a Steve Spurrier coached offense was shutout came on October 3, 1987 against Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights blanked the Blue Devils, 7-0. Coach Spurrier has coached 182 straight games without being whitewashed since that day in Jersey.
EARNING THEIR WAY: Head Coach Steve Spurrier rewarded four former walk-ons with scholarships this fall. The quartet includes deep snapper Ike Crofoot, wide receiver Michael Flint, fullback Lanard Stafford and linebacker Jerod June.
RECORD SALES: USC has established a school record for football season tickets sold. The Gamecocks sold 62,618 season tickets for the 2005 campaign, surpassing the previous mark of 62,103, set in 2002. The numbers do not include student tickets and tickets contractually obligated to visiting teams.
FIRST -YEAR COACHES: With two wins in the first four games, head coach Steve Spurrier has already surpassed the combined first-season win total of the two previous USC head coaches who had national titles under their belt. Paul Dietzel and Lou Holtz combined to go 1-20 in their initial season in Columbia.
GOING BOWLING: Only Jim Carlen in 1975 and Brad Scott in 1994 led the Gamecocks to a bowl game in their first season as head coach. Carlen’s squad lost 20-7 to Miami (Ohio) in the Tangerine Bowl, while Scott’s `94 team defeated West Virginia in the Carquest Bowl, 24-21.
LENDING A HAND: Head Coach Steve Spurrier has put together an excellent coaching staff. On the offensive side of the ball, Coach Spurrier is the coordinator and also works directly with the quarterbacks. Madre Hill, one of the top tailbacks ever at the University of Arkansas, is in his first season at USC as the running backs coach. John Hunt, who worked with Coach Spurrier at Florida is the offensive line coach. David Reaves, son of All-American quarterback John Reaves, assists Coach Spurrier with the quarterbacks. Steve Spurrier, Jr. rejoins his father’s staff, taking over the wide receivers. Rick Stockstill is in his second season at USC as the recruiting coordinator and also handles the tight ends. On the defensive side of the ball, John Thompson and Tyrone Nix are co-defensive coordinators. Thompson, who served as the head coach at East Carolina the past two seasons, also works with the inside linebackers. Nix, who played and coached at Southern Miss, handles the defensive line. Ron Cooper works with the outside linebackers and also is the special teams coordinator. Dave Wommack serves as the secondary coach. Thompson, Nix and Wommack all worked together at Southern Miss.
THE Steve Spurrier TV SHOW: “The Steve Spurrier TV Show” is produced at the studios of NBC affiliate WIS-TV in Columbia, and can be seen on the Gamecock Television Network each Sunday across the state and throughout the Southeastern United States on cable. It airs at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings on Columbia’s WIS-TV10.
IN THE BOOTH: Receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. and secondary coach Dave Wommack are the only full-time coaches who sit in the pressbox during the game. The rest of the full-time staff are on the sidelines.
UP NEXT: The Gamecocks will enjoy an off week next week before returning to action on Saturday, Oct. 22 against Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series, 12-2.