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Oct. 26, 2007

The South Carolina Gamecocks (6-2, 3-2 SEC), winners of nine of their last 11 games, are back on the road this week in Southeastern Conference action as they travel to Knoxville to face Eastern Division rival Tennessee (4-3, 2-2 SEC). Game time is set for 7:45 p.m. ET at Neyland Stadium (102,038). The Gamecocks are ranked 15th in the latest Associated Press poll and 17th in this week’s USA Today/Coaches’ poll. They are No. 16 in the BCS Standings. Both teams are coming off losses – USC to Vanderbilt and Tennessee at Alabama.

OVER THE AIRWAVES: This week’s game will be televised nationally on ESPN. Mike Patrick will handle the play-by-play call with Todd Blackledge providing the analysis from the booth. Holly Rowe 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 can also be heard on SIRIUS channel 140.

SERIES NOTES: This is the 26th meeting between Carolina and Tennessee in a series that dates back to 1903. The Volunteers lead the all-time series, 20-3-2. The teams have met every year since 1992 (a 24-23 South Carolina victory), with Tennessee winning 13 of the 14 meetings since that game, including a 31-24 win in Columbia last October. The Gamecocks snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Vols and won for the first time ever in Knoxville when they came away with a 16-15 win in 2005. USC’s other win over Tennessee came in the first meeting ever in 1903 (24-0).

SPURRIER VS. TENNESSEE: South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier owns a 10-6 career record against Tennessee, including a 5-4 mark in Knoxville. He is the only coach to take three different schools (Duke, Florida and South Carolina) into Knoxville and leave with a victory. He faced the Vols every year from 1988 to 2001, the first two with Duke (where he was 1-1) and the final 12 when he was the head coach at Florida (8-4). Tennessee is one of seven schools in which he has posted double figures in wins. He also owns double-figure career wins over Kentucky (15), Vanderbilt (14), Georgia (12), LSU (11), Auburn (10) and South Carolina (10).

SPURRIER AND FULMER: Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer are two of the active Division I coaches who have won national championships. Spurrier has won 143 games in the SEC (122 at Florida and 21 at South Carolina), while Fulmer has won 141 games as the head coach at Tennessee. Coach Spurrier has the better of it in head-to-head meetings, holding an 8-4 advantage over Coach Fulmer.

THE LAST TIME THEY MET: The Gamecocks won the statistical battle but lost the game in a 31-24 setback to eighth-ranked Tennessee on Oct. 28, 2006 in Columbia. Carolina outgained the Vols, 395-325, including a 165-71 advantage on the ground. Tennessee took advantage of three Gamecock turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown, and also won the special teams battle to escape with the win. Syvelle Newton threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 85 yards and another score to keep the Gamecocks in the contest. Ryan Succop hit a 50-yard field goal.

THE LAST TIME THEY MET IN KNOXVILLE: South Carolina won for the first time ever in Knoxville on Oct. 29, 2005. Josh Brown kicked a 49-yard field goal with 2:45 left and the Gamecocks hung on for a 16-15 victory. South Carolina (5-3, 3-3 SEC) snapped a 12-game losing streak to Tennessee (3-4, 2-4 SEC). On a night when Tennessee great Peyton Manning had his No. 16 retired, Blake Mitchell finished 22-of-36 for 242 yards, and Sidney Rice had eight catches for 112 yards for South Carolina. The Gamecocks overcame two lost fumbles, an interception and being pinned inside their 5-yard line three times. South Carolina scored first on Rice’s 19-yard touchdown catch from Mitchell in the first quarter. The Vols tied it on Arian Foster’s 1-yard plunge and then went ahead with a field goal and safety in the second quarter. The Gamecocks regained the lead by one on Mitchell’s second TD pass to Rice, a 5-yarder with 11:33 remaining. James Wilhoit put Tennessee back into the lead, 15-13, with a 43-yard field goal with 7:39 left. Tennessee’s defense prevented South Carolina from moving past the Vols’ 32, but that was close enough for Brown’s game-winning field goal.

THE LATEST RANKINGS: The Gamecocks dropped nine spots in both polls this week, falling to 15th in the AP poll and 17th in the USA Today/Coaches poll. Prior to last Saturday’s loss to Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks were ranked sixth in the A.P. poll, their highest mark since they climbed to No. 2 in the country on Nov. 11, 1984 with a 9-0 record before falling by a 38-21 margin at Navy on Nov. 1.

ROAD WARRIORS: The Gamecocks have done some of their best work on the road in the Steve Spurrier Era. South Carolina has won eight of its last 10 games in a hostile road environment since the middle of the 2005 season, winning at Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Georgia and North Carolina in that stretch, with their only losses coming at national champion Florida by one point and at second-ranked LSU earlier this season.

ABOUT LAST WEEK: The sixth-ranked Gamecocks could never get untracked in a 17-6 home loss to Vanderbilt last Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks turned the ball over on each of their first two possessions, digging themselves a 17-0 deficit after the first period. The defense did yeoman’s work after that, holding the Commodores to just 169 yards of offense over the final three quarters, but the offense turned the ball over twice more and could only muster a pair of second-quarter field goals from Ryan Succop. The Gamecocks gained 282 yards to Vandy’s 269, but the four turnovers and a 1-for-12 performance on third down conversions spelled defeat for just the second time this season.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: The Gamecocks face Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida over the next three weeks. A sweep of the three games would give South Carolina it’s first-ever SEC Eastern Division title. Certainly a challenging task, but one the Gamecocks successfully navigated in the 2005 season – a 16-15 win at Tennessee, a 14-10 victory at Arkansas and a 30-22 win over Florida.

KEEPING THEM OFF THE BOARD: The Gamecock defense remains one of the toughest to score on this season. Carolina has allowed just 133 points in seven games, an average of 16.6 points per game. Five of their eight opponents have scored 17 points or less.The Gamecocks rank second in the SEC behind only LSU and 12th in the country in scoring defense.

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 No. 1 in the nation in pass defense and in are fifth 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 26.9 percent of third downs to be converted.

PENCIL THEM IN: The Gamecocks have had just nine players start in all eight games this season. The nine include five on offense (Kenny McKinley, Jamon Meredith, William Brown, Justin Sorensen and Cory Boyd) and four on defense (Eric Norwood, Casper Brinkley, Rodney Paulk and Captain Munnerlyn). BREAKNG THEM IN: 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 has been the starting quarterback in each of the last four games and in five of eight games overall this season. He celebrated his 21st birthday by completing 19-of-37 passes for a career-high 279 yards with two touchdowns and one INT against Mississippi State on Sept. 29 to start the current streak. 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 the win at North Carolina before suffering his first loss as a starter last week against Vanderbilt. 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 recently. 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.

MCKINLEY MOVIN’ ON UP: Junior wide receiver Kenny McKinley is the top receiving threat for the Gamecocks. He has 41 catches for 525 yards with six of the team’s 13 touchdown receptions. He has scored five TDs in the last six 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 fifth in the SEC averaging 5.12 receptions per game and is eighth in receiving yards at a clip of 65.6 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 29 straight games, the 10th longest current streak in the country and tying Fred Zeigler for the fourth longest in school history behind Sterling Sharpe (34), Jermale Kelly (34) and Ryan Brewer (31).

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 531 yards rushing, averaging 5.0 yards per carry with four touchdowns. He is averaging 66.4 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 second on the team with 23 receptions for 250 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 second player in school history to log 1,500 yards rushing (1,895) and haul in 100+ receptions (104), joining Brandon Bennett (3,055 yards rushing, 111 receptions). He has also gone over the 1,000-yard plateau in both rushing (1,895) and receiving (1,148), joining Stanley Pritchett (1,178 rushing and 1,097 receiving) as the only players in school history to accomplish that feat. He needs 105 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 is right behind Cory Boyd in rushing 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 90 times for 427 yards and five touchdowns this season, an average of 4.7 yards per carry. He tied the school record with three rushing touchdowns in the win over Mississippi State. He has rushed for 1,567 career yards for his hometown school. He is also the Gamecocks’ third-leading receiver with 21 catches for 164 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 (17 catches for 271 yards and one touchdown), Weslye Saunders (eight catches for 106 yards) and Andy Boyd (six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown) have combined for 31 receptions for 458 yards. Meanwhile, the wide receivers not named McKinley have combined for just 29 receptions for 344 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 46 tackles this season, including 13.0 tackles for loss, second in the SEC. He has 5.0 sacks this season, which places him sixth in the league, and 12.0 sacks in his career in the Garnet & Black. He also has been credited with six quarterback hurries and three pass break ups. A big-play performer, Norwood has a blocked punt and three fumble recoveries, two of which he’s returned for touchdowns 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 57 tackles, including 45 solo stops. He has at least seven tackles in each of his six starts, including a career-high 11 each at LSU and versus Vanderbilt, totaling 54 tackles over the last six games, an average of 9.0 per start. He is currently sixth in the SEC, averaging 8.1 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 11 interceptions this season in eight games, including two each by Cook, Darian Stewart, Captain Munnerlyn and Jasper Brinkley. Last season, the Gamecocks picked off 14 passes in 13 games.

WATCHING FROM ABOVE: Steve Spurrier, Jr. and Ron Cooper are the only full-time Carolina coaches that work from the press box during the game.

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 9-for-12 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 25-for-34 in field goal attempts in his career. He has converted 19 of his last 22 attempts from inside 47. Succop also handles the kick off and punting duties for South Carolina. He is averaging 41.8 yards per punt this season with a long of 58 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).

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.

NEW DECADE, DIFFERENT RESULTS: The Gamecocks have a 54-38 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.

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.

UP NEXT: The Gamecocks remain on the road in the SEC when they travel to Western Division rival Arkansas on Saturday, Nov. 3. The Razorbacks lead the all-time series, 8-7, including a 5-2 mark in games played in Arkansas. However, the Gamecocks won on their last trip into Fayetteville, knocking off the Hogs by a 14-10 score on Nov. 5, 2005.