Sept. 9, 2006
SETTING THE STAGE: The South Carolina Gamecocks (1-0, 1-0 SEC) open the home portion of the 2006 slate when they host the 12th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 SEC) on Sept. 9. Game time is set for 7:52 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) in Columbia. The ESPN crew will be on hand with Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge describing the action. Holly Rowe will patrol the sidelines. Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs will be in the booth for the Carolina Gamecocks Sports Network, with Rob DeBoer prowling the sidelines. The game can also be heard on SIRIUS satellite radio channel 119.
A LITTLE HISTORY: This is the 113th 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 100th consecutive year in which USC has competed on the gridiron. Carolina owns an all-time record of 508-512-44. The school’s only conference championship came in the 1969 season when it posted a perfect 6-0 record to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title in Paul Dietzel’s fourth year.
GAMECOCKS AND BULLDOGS: This is the 59th meeting between these two schools. Georgia holds a 43-13-2 lead in the all-time series, including a 17-7-2 advantage when the teams have played in Columbia. The Bulldogs have won the last four meetings, but three of those four contests were decided by six points or less. Carolina’s last win came by a 14-9 margin in Athens in the 2001 season. Their last win over the Bulldogs in Columbia was a 21-10 victory in 2000. Each of those wins helped lead USC to Outback Bowl appearances.
SPURRIER AND THE BULLDOGS: South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier owns an 11-2 record against Georgia. He was 11-1 while in charge of the Florida Gator program, with his lone loss coming in the 1997 season. He also suffered a 17-15 loss in Athens last season in his first year guiding the Carolina program. His squads have scored 30 or more points in nine of 13 contests against the Bulldogs.
SITTING THIS ONE OUT: The Gamecocks will be without the services of safety Brandon Isaac (declared ineligible by the NCAA), wide receiver Noah Whiteside and safety Ty Erving (violation of university policy) and offensive guard James Thompson (violation of team rules). Isaac, Whiteside and Erving will miss the first three games, while Thompson has been suspended for four contests.
ALSO SIDELINED: Tight end Andy Boyd, who learned earlier this month that he has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, will miss the first couple of games due to a fractured right shoulder.
STREAKING GAMECOCKS: The Gamecocks have extended their SEC winning streak to a school record six straight games. They ended the 2005 season with a five-game SEC winning streak, defeating Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida in succession before opening the 2006 season with a win at Mississippi State. They had only won as many as four straight SEC games once (2001-Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama, Kentucky) prior to the current streak.
TRYING TO GET TO 2-0: The Gamecocks are trying to get to 2-0 overall for the first time since the 2003 season (wins over Louisiana-Lafayette and Virginia) and trying to get to 2-0 in the SEC for the first time since the 2001 campaign when they opened with four straight wins. This is the sixth time in which Carolina has opened the season with back-to-back SEC games. They have never been able to win both games, going 1-1 three times (1993, 1994 and 2004) and 0-2 in 1992 and 1995. Mississippi State and Houston are the only other schools to open the 2006 season with a pair of conference games.
EARLY AND OFTEN: Carolina is scheduled for three ESPN appearances, all coming in the first five weeks of the season. In addition to last week’s win at Mississippi State and this week’s contest versus Georgia, the Gamecocks will get another Thursday night exposure when they host Auburn on Sept. 28 at Williams-Brice Stadium in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET: The 9th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs escaped with a 17-15 win over South Carolina on Sept. 10, 2005. Clinging to a 10-9 lead, Georgia finally wore down the Gamecocks with its running game. Thomas Brown finished with 144 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, leading Georgia’s 238-yard effort on the ground. A missed extra point early in the game forced USC to go for two when they had a chance to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter, but Blake Mitchell missed Sidney Rice and the homestanding Bulldogs were able to hold on. Mitchell completed 22-of-34 passes for 236 yards for Carolina.
GEORGIA ON MY MIND: Thirteen Gamecocks list Georgia at their home state. The baker’s dozen include Yvan Banag (Buford), Casper and Jasper Brinkley (Thomson), Terrence Campbell (Austell), Jared Cook (Suwanee), Chris Hail (Lovejoy), David Laggis (Conyers), Kenny McKinley (Mableton), Blake Mitchell (LaGrange), Eric Norwood (Acworth), Nate Spurrier (Snellville), Vandaral Shackleford (Riverdale) and Carlos Thomas (College Park).
ABOUT THE OPENER: The South Carolina Gamecocks opened the 2006 season with a 15-0 shutout win at Mississippi State on Thursday, Aug. 31. It was USC’s seventh-straight opening day win and its 10th opening day win in the last 11 seasons. They also improved their record to 7-18 in season-opening road games. Head Coach Steve Spurrier improved to 16-1 in season-opening contests, including 14 straight wins.
MORE ON THE WIN: The Gamecocks won a defensive battle in a 15-0 season-opening win at Mississippi State. The game’s lone touchdown came on a double pass as Syvelle Newton took a lateral from Blake Mitchell and found a wide-open Cory Boyd for a 54-yard score early in the fourth quarter. The other nine points were supplied by sophomore kicker Ryan Succop, who connected on field goal attempts of 39, 35 and 47 yards. The Gamecocks outgained the Bulldogs, 274-161.
SHUTOUT NOTES: The shutout win at Mississippi State was USC’s first since blanking New Mexico State in Columbia on Sept. 2, 2000 by a 31-0 count. It was the Gamecocks first road shutout since whitewashing East Carolina in Greenville by a 26-0 score on Sept. 20, 1997. It was USC’s first SEC shutout since handing Vanderbilt a 27-0 defeat in Nashville on Oct. 26, 1996.
150 FOR COACH SPURRIER: Steve Spurrier logged career victory number 150 as a collegiate head coach with the Gamecocks win at Mississippi State. He owns a career mark of 150-45-2 in 17 seasons as a college head coach, a .766 winning percentage. It was his first win in three tries in Starkville, as he had lost his previous two trips to Mississippi State as the head coach at Florida.
UNDER TWO BILLS: The Gamecock defense, featuring 10 new starters, held Mississippi State to just 161 yards of total offense in the season opener, 79 on the ground and 82 through the air. It was the first time USC held its opponent to under 200 total yards since limiting Virginia to 170 yards on Sept. 6, 2003 and was the least amount of yards allowed by the Carolina defense since surrendering just 96 yards against NC State on Sept. 4, 1999.
MVP: The Most Valuable Player in USC’s win at Mississippi State was sophomore Ryan Succop. Handling the placekicking and punting chores for the first time in his career, Succop connected on all three of his field goal attempts, hitting from 39, 35 and 47 yards. He also punted six times for a 48.7 yard average, including a net punting average of 47.8 yards. Two of his punts traveled over 50 yards and two were downed inside the 20. In maybe the play of the game, Succop averted a blocked punt and scrambled away for a 16-yard gain and a first down, leading to one of his field goals. His efforts earned him SEC Special Teams Player of the Week accolades.
BLAKE’S BACK: Junior signal-caller Blake Mitchell returns for his second season guiding the USC offense. As a starter, the LaGrange, Ga. native has won eight of 12 starts. He struggled in the opener at Mississippi State, completing 12-of-22 passes for just 91 yards with an interception, which came on the first play of the season. He also suffered a gash in his right leg which required stitches. He completed 59 percent of his passes a year ago while throwing for 2,370 yards (seventh in school history) and 17 touchdowns (fifth in school history). He is ranked 13th in career passing yards on the USC charts with 2,547 and should pass Dan Reeves (2,561) this week to move into the top 12.
MORE MITCHELL: Junior quarterback Blake Mitchell could move up quickly on the Gamecocks’ career passing leaders list. Mitchell threw for 2,370 yards last season and has thrown for 2,547 in his career. There have been only four players in school history who have thrown for more than 5,000 yards in their Carolina career – Todd Ellis, Steve Taneyhill, Anthony Wright and Phil Petty. With 18 career touchdown passes, Mitchell needs just 11 TD strikes this season to move into Carolina’s top five list in that category as well.
A SMELLEY DEBUT: True freshman Chris Smelley got an early introduction to major college football. The Tuscaloosa, Ala. native was inserted into the lineup when Blake Mitchell went down with a leg injury in the first quarter in the season opener at Mississippi State. He responded by completing 2-of-4 passes for 48 yards, including a 42-yard pass to Kenny McKinley.
NEWTON’S LAWS: One of the biggest off-season question marks was whether 2006 would see the return of Syvelle Newton. That question was answered at Mississippi State when Newton caught three passes for 21 yards and also lined up at quarterback. He had a touchdown pass, hooking up with Cory Boyd on a 54-yard strike after taking a lateral from Blake Mitchell. The senior from Wallace, S.C. suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon while earning SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts in leading the Gamecocks to a win over Vanderbilt last October. A rare combination of runner, passer and receiver, Newton is just 45 yards shy of rushing for 500 yards in his career. He has already thrown for over 1,000 yards and has over 500 receiving yards.
RICE RETURNS: Despite being held to a career-low two catches and 13 yards in the opener at Mississippi State last week, wide receiver Sidney Rice made a name for himself as a redshirt freshman in 2005, breaking nearly every school receiving record, culminating with a record-setting 12-catch, 191-yard receiving performance in the 2005 Independence Bowl. Rice, who was on everyone’s Freshman All-America list, is the lone all-conference performer returning to the Gamecocks’ lineup, although cornerback Fred Bennett did earn SEC honorable mention honors by the Associated Press and defensive end Dakota Walker was selected to the SEC All-Freshman squad.
MORE RICE PLEASE: Sidney Rice set the school’s single-season record for receiving yards (1,143) and touchdown catches (13) in 2005. He logged six 100-yard receiving games and has caught a touchdown pass in nine of his 12 career games. After one season and one game, he is 22 catches and 318 yards shy of moving into Carolina’s top 10 career list for receptions and receiving yards. With 13 receiving touchdowns last season, he is just six away from Robert Brooks and Jermale Kelly, who share the school record with 19 career receiving touchdowns.
BOYD CARRIES THE LOAD: Despite not getting the start, junior Cory Boyd showed he is back in the 2006 opener at Mississippi State. Boyd, who missed the entire 2005 season due to a violation of team rules, carried 12 times for a game and career-high 93 yards in the win at Mississippi State. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry. His previous rushing high was 60 yards against Tennessee in 2004. Boyd also caught a team-high four passes for a game-high 67 yards, including the game’s lone touchdown on a 54-yard pass from Syvelle Newton.
MCKINLEY MAKES A PLAY: With defenses focusing on Sidney Rice, sophomore Kenny McKinley will be asked to make more plays this season. The true sophomore responded at Mississippi State with an acrobatic one-handed catch for a 42-yard play, setting up USC’s first score. The 42-yard reception from Chris Smelley matched the longest completion of McKinley’s career. He also caught a 42-yarder for a touchdown at Arkansas last season.
DAVIS DELIVERS: Tailback Mike Davis was held to just six yards on seven carries against Mississippi State a week ago, but the Columbia, S.C. product gave the USC running game a boost late in the 2005 season. He rolled up his first collegiate 100-yard rushing game in the regular season finale against Clemson, going for 111 yards on 21 carries. It was the first 100-yard rushing game by a Gamecock since Daccus Turman ran for 122 against Florida on November 15, 2003. He followed that up with a season-best 125-yard performance on 18 carries against Missouri in the Independence Bowl.
NO ROTATION HERE: The Gamecock offensive line of left tackle Gurminder Thind, left guard William Brown, center Chris White, right guard Thomas Coleman and right tackle Jamon Meredith took every offensive snap in the win at Mississippi State.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE DEFENDERS GONE?: In pitching a shutout at Mississippi State, the Carolina defense did so despite 10 new starters. The Gamecocks lost seven defensive starters off last year’s squad either to graduation or to the NFL (safety Ko Simpson and cornerback Johnathan Joseph). Of the four returning starters, only cornerback Fred Bennett took the first snap this season. Mike West has moved to the offensive side of the ball, while Jordin Lindsey and Stanley Doughty are in for backup roles.
BREAKING DOWN BENNETT: All-America cornerback candidate Fred Bennett will have to serve as the leader on the defense. With 22 starts under his belt, Bennett has made more starts than the next two defensive players (Stanley Doughty and Jordin Lindsey with 9 each) have combined. In fact, the other 10 starters on defense combined for just 13 starts on that side of the ball (Hampton-5; Hall-4; Wells-2; Brown-1; Sapp-1) entering the 2006 season.
BENNETT NEXT IN LINE: Fred Bennett recorded an interception in the season-opening win at Mississippi State. The senior from Manning, S.C. who picked off three passes a year ago and has eight career interceptions, is looking to follow in the footsteps of other recent standout USC defensive backs, including Dunta Robinson, Sheldon Brown, Ko Simpson and Johnathan Joseph, who took their skills to the NFL.
TWIN KILLINGS: Those who watched the opener felt that middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley was the best player on the field. With 11 tackles, including eight solo stops, Mississippi State must have thought there were two Brinkleys on the field. They were right. His twin brother, Casper, is USC’s starting defensive end and added three tackles. Both are junior college transfers from Georgia Military College. THE HAMPTON INN(TERCEPTION): Junior safety Chris Hampton recorded the Gamecocks first turnover of the season when he intercepted a pass at Mississippi State. It was the Memphis, Tenn. native’s first career interception. It led to a Carolina field goal.
YOUTH WILL BE SERVED: The Gamecocks list eight true freshman on their two-deep. On offense, quarterback Chris Smelley, left tackle Hutch Eckerson and right guard Garrett Anderson are all listed as second team players. The defense lists five true freshmen on the two-deep, including defensive end Eric Norwood, linebacker Rodney Paulk, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safeties Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart. In the opener at Mississippi State, eight true freshmen saw action. Of those listed above, only Hutch Eckerson did not see the playing field. However, third-team wide receiver Chris Hail did get some late action in the opener.
NO AARP CARDS NEEDED HERE: The Gamecocks have just six seniors on the squad that came into the program as scholarship players. Only two – center Chris White and tight end Andy Boyd – are in their fifth-year in the program. The four-year players are wide receivers Syvelle Newton and Noah Whiteside and cornerback Fred Bennett, while safety Brandon Isaac came to USC via the junior college route. Only White, Newton and Bennett saw action in the season opener.
EARNING THEIR KEEP: Prior to the start of the season, Head Coach Steve Spurrier placed five former walk-ons on scholarship. They include quarterback Brett Nichols, snapper Scott Morgan, offensive guard Thomas Coleman, offensive guard Seth Edwards and linebacker Greg Wright. Over the past two seasons, Coach Spurrier has rewarded nine walk-on players with scholarships.
SECOND TO NONE: Gamecock fans are hoping that history will repeat itself. The second year of Steve Spurrier’s collegiate stops have been better than the first. After winning five games at Duke in 1987 he led the Blue Devils to a seven-win season in 1988. After winning nine games in 1990 at Florida, the Gators posted a 10-win campaign in 1991. Carolina posted seven victories in 2005. An eight-win season would be their best since the Gamecocks logged a 9-3 mark in 2001.
NEW FACES: Head coach Steve Spurrier made several changes on his coaching staff, both in personnel and in their duties heading into the 2006 campaign. Fred Chatham was hired to take over the tight ends and special teams. Chatham, who spent the past 17 years at Duke, was originally hired by Coach Spurrier for the Blue Devils in 1989. Brad Lawing is the Gamecocks’ new defensive line coach. Lawing is very familiar with USC, having coached in Columbia from 1989-98 under Sparky Woods and Brad Scott. Robert Gillespie begins his first season as the running backs coach after serving as a GA in 2005. Gillespie played for Coach Spurrier at Florida and with the Washington Redskins. Ron Cooper has been given the title of assistant head coach and works with the secondary. Tyrone Nix is the sole defensive coordinator after sharing that title last year, and works with the inside linebackers. Dave Wommack takes over the duties with the outside linebackers. David Reaves continues to assist the head coach with the quarterbacks and also assumes the recruiting coordinator position. John Hunt (offensive line) and Steve Spurrier, Jr. (wide receivers) retain their same positions from the 2005 staff.
BUILDING BLOCKS: The Gamecocks are coming off a 7-5 season in 2005, including a 5-3 mark in the Southeastern Conference that put them in second place in the SEC East Division. The Gamecocks won a school record five-straight SEC games to bounce back from an 0-3 start in league play. The winning streak including USC’s first win ever in Knoxville against Tennessee and its first win over Florida since 1939.
SECOND BEST: With a 5-3 conference record and a win over Florida, Carolina finished in second place in the SEC Eastern Division in 2005. It matched the Gamecocks’ highest league finish, as they also went 5-3 and tied for second in the 2000 season. That year there was a three-way tie for second (Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee) behind 7-1 Florida.
CLOSE CALLS: Carolina was 5-3 in games decided by 10 points or less in 2005, with each of their last six games – four wins – decided by eight points or less. The Gamecocks were 4-2 when tied or trailing at the half and just 3-3 when leading heading into intermission.
GOING BOWLING: The Gamecocks earned their way to the 2005 Independence Bowl where they suffered a 38-31 loss to the Missouri Tigers. It was USC’s first bowl appearance since the 2001 season, which ended in an Outback Bowl win over Ohio State. It was also just the 12th bowl game in 112 years of intercollegiate football for Carolina. Steve Spurrier joined Jim Carlen (1975) and Brad Scott (1994) as the only coaches who have led the Gamecocks to a bowl game in their first season as USC’s head coach. No head coach has led the Gamecocks to back-to-back bowl appearances in his first two seasons at Carolina.
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 turn of the century. Since the start of the 2000 season, USC has logged an overall record of 41-31. The 40 wins from 2000-2005 was just one win shy of the best six-year stretch in school history. The Gamecocks won 41 times from 1979-1984.
NEW DECADE, DIFFERENT RESULTS: The Gamecocks have posted a 41-31 record since the calendar turned to 2000. The 41 wins from 2000-2006 matches their total of 41 victories posted in the entire decade of the `90s. Carolina’s most victories in any decade is 63, set from 1980-89.
KEEPING IT ALIVE: Head Coach Steve Spurrier has said countless times that the minimum goal this season is to win more games than they lose. If that would happen, it would be the Gamecocks their third straight winning campaign (6-5 in 2004 and 7-5 in 2005). The last time they turned in three consecutive winning seasons was 1988-90 when they went 8-4, 6-4-1 and 6-5 in consecutive years.
PRE-SEASON ACCOLADES: Sophomore wide receiver Sidney Rice and senior cornerback Fred Bennett have received some high pre-season praise. Both were named to the pre-season All-SEC first team and both were named to The Sporting News’ pre-season second team All-America squad. Bennett is regarded by the magazine as the nation’s third-best cornerback, while Rice is pegged as the country’s fourth-best wide receiver. Senior center Chris White was on the spring list for the Rimington Award, which recognizes the nation’s top center.
THE PIPELINE: The Gamecocks roster features four players who competed at Georgia Military College prior to the their arrival in Columbia. Both Jasper and Casper Brinkley, Joel Reaves and Brandon Isaac played for the Bulldogs, located in Milledgeville, Ga.
BLACK IS BACK: The Gamecocks wore black shirts in Starkville. It marked the first time USC has worn that color in the Steve Spurrier era. The last time they wore black jerseys was on Nov. 6, 2004, when USC beat Arkansas, 35-32, at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks wore black shirts and black helmets during the 2004 campaign.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?: They may wear black, but the Gamecocks are well-stocked with Brown.The 2006 roster features six players – none of whom are related – with the last name of Brown. The Browns include Freddie, Marquise, Moe, Ryan, Seaver and William. The Gamecocks also have a Green (James), a White (Chris) and a Whiteside (Noah) on the roster.
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 190 straight games without being whitewashed since that day in Jersey.
DON’T BLANK ME: South Carolina has played 37 games since it was last shutout, that coming on November 9, 2002 in a 23-0 loss to Arkansas.
PLAYING OT: The Gamecocks have played just one overtime game in its history, falling to Tennessee by a 23-20 margin in Knoxville on Sept. 27, 2003. Every other SEC team has played at least three overtime games since the rule was established in 1996.
BOWL TIE-INS: The SEC has arrangements to send eight teams to post-season bowls. They include: BCS, Capital One, AT&T, Cotton, Chick-fil-A, Outback, Autozone Liberty, Gaylord Hotels Music City and PetroSun Independence.
CAPTAINS: Seniors Chris White (center), Thomas Coleman (right guard) and Fred Bennett (cornerback) served as team captains in the opening game at Mississippi State.
BIG CHECK: Head Coach Steve Spurrier announced just prior to the start of the season that he and his wife, Jerri, would pledge $250,000 over the next five years to help the Carolina athletic department’s capital campaign. The Athletics Department is working on a master plan of facilities expected to be unveiled in October. The silent phase of a capital campaign is underway. The proceeds from the campaign will help underwrite new and improved facilities for the entire department.
UP NEXT: The Gamecocks step outside of the SEC for the first time this season when they host in-state foe Wofford, a I-AA team out of the Southern Conference. The Terriers from Spartanburg, S.C. have faced the Gamecocks 20 times in their history. USC has won 16 of those 20 meetings, including the last 13 in a row. The teams have met just once (2001) since the 1957 season. Wofford’s last win came in 1917 by a 20-0 score, which also marked the last time the teams met in Spartanburg.