Nov. 18, 2006
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Blake Mitchell passed for a career-high 388 yards and four touchdowns and South Carolina became bowl-eligible for the second straight year under Steve Spurrier with a 52-7 victory over Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
Should the Gamecocks (6-5) get a bowl bid – nine Southeastern Conference teams have at least six victories – Spurrier would be the first South Carolina coach to play in the postseason in each of his first two years.
Mitchell continued his strong play since regaining his starting spot a week ago as the Gamecocks broke a three-game losing streak.
The starter coming into the year, Mitchell was benched in favor of Syvelle Newton after South Carolina was shutout by Georgia, 18-0, on Sept. 9. Mitchell sat patiently on the sidelines and got a second chance when Spurrier put him in for the second half against Arkansas and he nearly rallied the team from a 17-point deficit before losing 26-20. Against Florida last week, Mitchell put up 275 yards passing in a 17-16 loss.
Against the Blue Raiders (7-4), Mitchell looked as sharp as he has ever been.
His 15-yard TD pass to Andy Boyd put South Carolina ahead for good, 14-7. Then Mitchell connected with his favorite target, Sidney Rice, on scoring throws of 37 and 27 yards that put the Gamecocks up 28-7 at halftime.
Mitchell’s final touchdown pass was a 19-yard toss to Cory Boyd in the third quarter.
Mitchell, who finished 21-of-28, came out of the game in the final period. His 388-yard performance surpassed his previous career best of 330 yards against UCF to start the 2005 season.
South Carolina put up its most points since a 52-14 win against Vanderbilt in 1995.
The victory ended South Carolina’s three-game losing streak, which tied the second-longest of Spurrier’s career and came against SEC powers No. 22 Tennessee (31-24), No. 5 Arkansas and No. 3 Florida.
Middle Tennessee entered with a four-game win streak and motivation for a good showing. Coach Rick Stockstill was Spurrier’s recruiting coordinator a year ago.
The Blue Raiders quickly scored when Desmond Gee caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from Clint Marks on the game’s first play. The momentum did not last.
Mitchell drove the Gamecocks 85 yards the next time they got the ball, and Cory Boyd’s 4-yard scoring run tied things at 7-all.
Boyd was key to South Carolina’s next TD drive, too. He broke at least five tackles on a 52-yard pass from Mitchell before Andy Boyd’s touchdown catch two plays later.
The Blue Raiders big game comes next week when they take on Troy. A win would give them the Sun Belt Conference championship and a berth in the New Orleans Bowl.
The Blue Raiders managed just 200 yards of offense while allowing 545.
Spurrier has said that reaching a second-straight bowl game would be a good goal for his building program. Former South Carolina coach Sparky Woods was bowl eligible his first two years, going 6-4-1 in 1989 and 6-5 in 1990. But the team did not play in a bowl either year.