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Oct. 19, 2007

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The South Carolina Gamecocks (6-1, 3-1 SEC), winners of nine of their last 10 games, return to Southeastern Conference action this week as they host the Eastern Division rival Vanderbilt Commodores (3-3, 1-3 SEC). Game time is set for 12:30 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250). The Gamecocks are ranked sixth in the latest Associated Press poll and eighth in this week’s USA Today/Coaches’ poll. They are No. 6 in the initial BCS Standings.

OVER THE AIRWAVES: This week’s game will be televised on a pay-per-view basis throughout the Palmetto State. Mike Morgan will handle the play-by-play call with Brad Muller providing the analysis from the booth. Former Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers is the sideline reporter. Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs will once again be in the booth for the Carolina Gamecocks Sports Network, with former Carolina and NFL standout Duce Staley joining the team this year as a sideline reporter. The game will also be carried on Sirius satellite radio.

A South Carolina win over Vanderbilt would…

* Improve the Gamecocks record to 7-1, matching their best start since they were 7-1 to open the 2000 season.

* Improve the Gamecocks’ SEC record to 4-1 and keep them atop the Eastern Division standings and in control of their own destiny.

* Assure the Gamecocks of at least a .500 record in SEC play for just the sixth time in 16 years since joining the league in 1992. The Gamecocks have finished 5-3 three times (2000, 2001 and 2005) and have been 4-4 on two occasions (1996 and 2004).

* Improve Coach Steve Spurrier’s record over Vanderbilt to a perfect 15-0.

* Be the Gamecocks 10th win in their last 11 games dating back to last season. The only loss in that stretch was a 28-16 decision to second-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge.

SERIES NOTES: This is the 17th meeting on the gridiron between Carolina and Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series, 14-2. The teams have played every year since 1992. USC won each of the first seven tilts (including a win in 1961) before Vandy broke through with back-to-back wins in 1998 and `99. Carolina has won the last seven meetings, including a hard-fought 35-28 win in 2005, the last time the teams met in Columbia, and a 31-13 win last season in Nashville. The Gamecocks have won six of the seven meetings in Columbia. The Gamecocks have scored 30 or more points in each of the last four meetings and in six of the last seven contests, while holding Vanderbilt to 14 points or less in nine of the last 12 and in 12 of the last 16 contests.

SPURRIER VS. VANDERBILT: South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier has never lost to Vanderbilt in 14 previous meetings, winning twice while at Duke, 10 times while coaching at Florida and twice as the Gamecocks’ head coach. A win this week would give him a 15-0 mark against the Commodores, matching his 15-0 record against Kentucky as his best mark against any school.

SPURRIER SUCCESS: Steve Spurrier is 14-0 against Vanderbilt and will try to match the 15-0 mark he owns against Kentucky. He owns two of the top six undefeated marks for a current Division I head coach against any opponent.

THE LAST TIME THEY MET: Syvelle Newton passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as USC earned its school-record fifth-straight SEC road win with a 31-13 victory at Vanderbilt on Oct. 21, 2006. One of the TD passes went to Sidney Rice, his sixth of the season and 19th of his career, tying Robert Brooks and Jermale Kelly for the top mark in school history. Ryan Succop added a 55-yard field goal, the longest of his career and the second longest in school history. The Gamecocks overcame a season-high four turnovers by outgaining the Commodores 327-253. The game may have been won on third down, as Carolina converted 8-of-11, while Vandy converted just 1-of-12 third-down opportunities.

THE LAST TIME THEY MET IN COLUMBIA: Sidney Rice’s third touchdown catch – a 3-yard reception with 1:41 to go – lifted South Carolina to a 35-28 victory over Vanderbilt on Oct 22, 2005. Vanderbilt had one last chance, driving to the USC 30 with 20 seconds to go. But Jay Cutler, who finished with a career-high 339 yards passing, threw four straight incompletions. The Gamecocks had rallied behind versatile star Syvelle Newton, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third as the Gamecocks took a 28-14 lead in the final period. But Newton, who lined up at quarterback, wide receiver and tailback, injured his left Achilles’ tendon on his 11-yard scoring run. Without Newton, Blake Mitchell took control on the winning drive. He completed passes of 32 and 14 yards to Kris Clark, then connected with Rice for 18 yards. Two plays later, Rice cut across the middle of the end zone, catching Mitchell’s winning touchdown pass.

INTO THE POLLS: With the win at No. 11 Georgia on Sept. 8, South Carolina moved into the nation’s Top-25. They entered the polls ranked 17th by the Associated Press and 23rd in the USA Today/Coaches’ poll. It was just the second time in the Steve Spurrier Era that the Gamecocks were ranked. They were ranked 19th for one week in 2005 after defeating Florida, but fell out the following week after a loss to Clemson.

THE LATEST RANKINGS: The Gamecocks have moved up to sixth in the AP poll this week and are eighth in the USA Today/Coaches poll. The A.P. ranking is the highest for the Gamecocks since they started the 1984 season with a 9-0 mark and climbed to No. 2 in the country on Nov. 11 before falling by a 38-21 margin at Navy on Nov. 17.

ABOUT LAST WEEK: The seventh-ranked Gamecocks survived a late flurry by North Carolina and left Chapel Hill last Saturday with a hard-earned 21-15 victory in the first renewal of the Border War since 1991. The Gamecocks appeared to have the game well in hand, as they rolled up a 21-3 lead heading into intermission on the strength of three Chris Smelley touchdown passes. The Gamecocks held a 220-112 advantage in total offense in the first half, but the Tar Heels controlled much of the second half, churning up 286 yards while holding USC to just 62 net yards. The Gamecocks won the turnover battle, picking off three passes, two by Emanuel Cook, who led the team with nine tackles, and one by Darian Stewart. Eric Norwood was credited with two of the Gamecocks’ five sacks.

SPURRIER SETBACKS: Steve Spurrier has lost 11 times during his three-year stint in Columbia, but those losses have been to some of the nation’s elite teams. Seven of the 11 losses were to teams ranked in the top 12 in the country at the time of the contest. In addition, seven of the losses have been by seven points or less.

KEEPING THEM OFF THE BOARD: The Gamecock defense remains one of the toughest to score on this season. Carolina has allowed just 116 points in seven games, an average of 16.6 points per game. Four of their seven opponents have scored 15 points or less.The Gamecocks rank third in the SEC and 14th in the country in scoring defense.

BETTER THAN AVERAGE: The Gamecock defense has held each of its seven opponents to fewer points than that team is averaging this season. Overall, the defense has held its opponents to an average of 11 points per game less than their average.

DEFENSIVE SCORES: The Gamecocks have recorded three touchdowns from their defense this season. Nathan Pepper returned an interception for a touchdown against South Carolina State, then Eric Norwood recovered a pair of fumbles and went two and 53 yards for scores against Kentucky. Last year, the Gamecocks did not have any defensive scores.

NO PASSING FANCY: The Gamecocks have been especially solid in pass defense this season. Despite using five different starting quartets and seven different starters in the secondary, they are third in the nation in pass defense and in are fourth in pass efficiency defense. There are only three teams in the country that have allowed fewer than 150 yards per game through the air.

NOT ON THIRD DOWN: The South Carolina defense ranks second in the SEC and sixth in the nation in third-down efficiency, allowing just 26.5 percent of third downs to be converted.

FOR STARTERS: Ten players have made their first career start in 2007. The list includes (first start): Chris Smelley (ULL), Travian Robertson (ULL), Eric Norwood (ULL), Ladi Ajiboye (UGA), Darian Stewart (UGA), Cliff Matthews (LSU), Jason Barnes (LSU), Seaver Brown (Mississippi State), Dion Lecorn (Mississippi State), and Jonathan Williams (Kentucky).

SMELLEY SENSES THE STARTING ROLE: Redshirt freshman Chris Smelley took over the starting quarterback role against Mississippi State. In that contest, his second start of the season, he celebrated his 21st birthday by completing 19-of-37 passes for a career-high 279 yards with two touchdowns and one INT. His performance earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Smelley came back the next week by connecting on 17-of-30 passes for 256 yards and two TD’s to lead the Gamecocks to a win over No. 8 Kentucky, earning his second straight SEC Freshman of the Week accolades. He fired a career-high three touchdown passes in last week’s win at North Carolina. Smelley was also the starter in Week One, when he took the season’s first snap against Louisiana-Lafayette. In that contest, the Tuscaloosa, Ala. native became the first redshirt freshman to start a season-opener at quarterback since Todd Ellis did so in the 1986 season.

MITCHELL IN RELIEF: Fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Mitchell has been relegated to a backup role. The LaGrange, Ga. native is 13-7 in 20 career starts. He is the only Gamecock quarterback to defeat Georgia, Clemson, Florida and Tennessee in his career. Mitchell ranks seventh in the Carolina record books with 4,636 career passing yards. He was the MVP of the 2006 Liberty Bowl.

MCKINLEY MOVIN’ ON UP: Junior wide receiver Kenny McKinley is the top receiving threat for the Gamecocks. He has 37 catches for 446 yards with six of the team’s 13 touchdown receptions. He has scored five TDs in the last five games. He has a pair of 100-yard receiving games this season – a seven-catch, 102-yard performance at Georgia and a four-catch, 107-yard, 2-TD outing against Mississippi State, his third and fourth career 100-yard games. He is tied for fifth in the SEC averaging 5.29 receptions per game and is eighth in receiving yards at a clip of 63.7 yards per game. McKinley caught 51 passes for 880 yards, an average of 17.3 yards per catch in 2006. The receptions (10th) and yards (6th) both figured in USC’s single-season top 10 list. He has also caught a pass in 28 straight games, the 11th longest current streak in the country and the fifth longest in school history behind Sterling Sharpe (34), Jermale Kelly (34), Ryan Brewer (31) and Fred Zeigler (29).

BOYD BY THE NUMBERS: Senior tailback Cory Boyd is back for his fifth and final season in the Garnet & Black. Boyd leads the team with 482 yards rushing, averaging 4.7 yards per carry with four touchdowns. He is averaging 68.9 yards per contest. He rushed for a career-high 132 yards on just 11 carries in the win over South Carolina State, averaging 12.0 yards per carry. It was his fourth career 100-yard rushing game. He is also third on the team with 18 receptions for 195 yards. He has 99 career receptions. The Orange, N.J. native was the team’s leading rusher a season ago when he totaled 823 yards on the ground in 164 carries, an average of 5.0 yards per carry. He also caught 35 passes out of the backfield for 406 yards, an 11.6 yard average.

BOYD AMONG THE BEST: Cory Boyd is just the fourth player in school history to log 1,000 yards rushing (1,846) and haul in 90+ receptions (99). The others are Stanley Pritchett, Brandon Bennett and Harold Green. He has also gone over the 1,000-yard plateau in both rushing (1,846) and receiving (1,093), joining Stanley Pritchett (1,178 rushing and 1,097 receiving) as the only players in school history to accomplish that feat. He needs 154 rushing yards to become the 13th player in school history with 2,000 yards rushing in a career.

DAVIS MAKES IT A SOLID DUO: Junior Mike Davis has matched Cory Boyd nearly yard-for-yard this season, giving the Gamecocks a solid one-two punch in the running game. Coach Spurrier has said that he thinks the Boyd-Davis tandem is as good as any twosome he’s coached. Davis, who eclipsed the 100-yard rushing plateau for the third time in his career against South Carolina State, has rushed 84 times for 411 yards and five touchdowns this season, an average of 4.9 yards per carry. He tied the school record with three rushing touchdowns in the win over Mississippi State. He has rushed for 1,551 career yards for his hometown school. He is also the Gamecocks’ second-leading receiver with 19 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.

TIGHT ENDS CONTRIBUTE: While searching for a solid second wide receiver to go to, the Gamecock offense has turned to its tight ends. A trio of tight ends, Jared Cook (15 catches for 256 yards and one touchdown), Weslye Saunders (eight catches for 106 yards) and Andy Boyd (five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown) have combined for 24 receptions for 417 yards. Meanwhile, the wide receivers not named McKinley have combined for just 23 receptions for 289 yards.

PLAYING SHORT-HANDED: Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix has had his Gamecock defense playing short-handed most of the season. Starting defensive end Nathan Pepper suffered a season-ending knee injury when he scored on an interception against South Carolina State. Starting middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, the Gamecocks only pre-season all-SEC performer, was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in the loss at LSU. Projected starter at defensive end and the Defensive MVP of the 2006 Liberty Bowl, Jordin Lindsey, has been sidelined all season due to academic issues.

ERIC BRINGS THE WOOD: Sophomore defensive end Eric Norwood has performed at an all-league level for the Gamecocks along the defensive line. A Freshman All-American last season, Norwood is second on the squad with 41 tackles this season, including 10.0 tackles for loss, fourth in the SEC. He has 5.0 sacks this season, which places him fifth in the league, and 12.0 sacks in his career in the Garnet & Black. He also has been credited with five quarterback hurries and three pass break ups. A big-play performer, Norwood has a blocked punt and two fumble recoveries for touchdowns to his credit this season.

COOKIN’ WITH EMANUEL: Another Gamecock who deserves post-season accolades and is one of the Gamecocks’ toughest players is safety Emanuel Cook. One of the surest tacklers on the team, the sophomore missed the season opener after being sidelined with an appendectomy, but returned just two weeks later to play against Georgia. Despite missing one game and most of a second, he leads the team with 46 tackles, including 36 solo stops. He has at least seven tackles in each of his five starts, including a team-high 11 at LSU, totaling 43 tackles in that span, an average of 8.6 per game. He is currently seventh in the SEC, averaging 7.7 tackles per game.

PICKIN’ AND GRINNIN’: The Gamecocks picked off three passes in the win at North Carolina, including two by Emanuel Cook, the first two of his career. He became the first Gamecock to have two INTs in a game since Fred Bennett picked off two against Alabama on Oct. 2, 2004. The Gamecocks have 10 interceptions this season in seven games, including two each by Cook, Darian Stewart, Captain Munnerlyn and Jasper Brinkley. Last season, the Gamecocks picked off 14 passes in 13 games.

KICKIN’ WITH RYAN: The Gamecocks have one of the nation’s best all-around kickers in Ryan Succop. Succop, a 6-2, 214-pound junior from Hickory, N.C., is 7-for-10 in field goal attempts this season. All three of his misses have come from at least 47 yards out (47, 48 and 50). He was the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week against Georgia after drilling all three of his field goal attempts in the 16-12 win. He is 23-for-32 in field goal attempts in his career. He has converted 17 of his last 20 attempts from inside 47. Succop also handles the kick off and punting duties for South Carolina. He is averaging 41.7 yards per punt this season with a long of 57 after averaging 43.7 yards per punt in 2006, and is averaging 65.5 yards on his kickoffs. The Gamecocks are second in the SEC in kickoff coverage with a net mark of 44.0 yards. He is on both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy watch lists.

PRE-SEASON ACCOLADES: Jasper Brinkley was the only Gamecock to earn pre-season first team All-SEC honors by both the media and the coaches. Ryan Succop earned first team honors as a placekicker by the media, but was a second team selection by the coaches. Succop also earned second team honors by both the media and coaches as a punter. Tight end Andy Boyd was a second team selection by the coaches, while tailback Cory Boyd and defensive end Casper Brinkley gained third team recognition by the league’s coaches.

THE OLDEST GAMECOCK: Despite turning 24 years old on August 15, sixth-year senior Andy Boyd is not the oldest Gamecock on the roster. That distinction goes to walk-on linebacker Marcus Davis, who turned 28-years-old on Aug. 28. He was a 1997 graduate of Columbia’s Eau Claire High School. It is believed that Davis is the oldest Division I football player in the country this year, although he is not in the “Tim Frisby” category.

CALL `EM AS I SEE `EM: Steve Spurrier is one of 14 Division I-A head coaches who calls his team’s offensive plays. The others? Turner Gill (Buffalo), Bill Cubit (Western Michigan), Troy Calhoun (Air Force), Todd Dodge (North Texas), Jeff Tedford (California), Bob Toledo (Tulane), Art Briles (Houston), Bill Callahan (Nebraska), Ralph Friedgen (Maryland), Paul Johnson (Navy), June Jones (Hawaii), Charlie Weis (Notre Dame) and Hal Mumme (New Mexico State).

GAME CAPTAINS: The Gamecocks select captains for each game.

ULL: Captain Munnerlyn, Brandon Isaac and Justin Sorensen.

UGA: Cory Boyd, Eric Norwood, Marque Hall and Andy Boyd.

SCSU: Mike Davis, Darian Stewart, Casper Brinkley and William Brown.

LSU: Cory Boyd, Emanuel Cook, Jasper Brinkley and William Brown.

MSU: Chris Hampton, Lanard Stafford, Eric Norwood and William Brown.

UK: Kenny McKinley, Emanuel Cook, Cody Wells and Andy Boyd.

UNC: Ryan Succop, Marque Hall, Andy Boyd and Jonathan Williams.

EARNING HIS KEEP: Prior to the start of the season, Steve Spurrier placed former walk-on Bryan Kingrey on scholarship. Over the past three years, Coach Spurrier has rewarded 10 former walk-ons on scholarships.

RECRUITING SUCCESS: The Gamecocks are coming off the most successful February signing day in school history. The class was ranked fourth in the country by, sixth by and seventh by It was the Gamecocks’ first top-10 class since 2003 (8th) and is the highest-ranked class in school history, bettering the 2002 class that was ranked as high as No. 7 by ESPN’s Tom Lemming. This year’s class features five players on the Rivals100 list including WR Chris Culliver (19), DE Cliff Matthews (32), QB Stephen Garcia (90), DE Travian Robertson (96) and OT Quintin Richardson (99).

FRESH FACES: The Gamecocks have played 15 members of their highly-touted recruiting class. Travian Robertson started in the season opener against ULL. The others who have seen action are wide receivers Jason Barnes, Mark Barnes, Matt Clements, Dion Lecorn, Chris Culliver and Joe Hills, tailback Brian Maddox, fullback Patrick DiMarco, tight end Weslye Saunders, defensive linemen Clifton Geathers and Ladi Ajiboye, linebackers Melvin Ingram and Cliff Matthews and cornerback Addison Williams.

NEW DECADE, DIFFERENT RESULTS: The Gamecocks have a 54-37 record since the calendar turned to 2000. The 54 wins is 13 more 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.

OVERTIME: USC has played one overtime game in its history, falling to Tennessee 23-20 in Knoxville on Sept. 27, 2003. Every other SEC team has played at least three OT games since the rule was established in 1996.

UP NEXT: The Gamecocks are back on the road in the SEC when they travel to Eastern Division rival Tennessee on Saturday, Oct. 27. The Volunteers lead the all-time series, 20-3-2, including a 12-1 mark at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. However, the Gamecocks won on their last trip into Neyland, knocking off the Vols by a 16-15 score on Oct. 29, 2005.