Nov. 2, 2007
The South Carolina Gamecocks (6-3, 3-3 SEC), winners of nine of their last 12 games, are back on the road this week in Southeastern Conference action as they travel to Fayetteville to face Western Division rival Arkansas (5-3, 1-3 SEC). Game time is set for 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. CT) at Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000). The Gamecocks are ranked 23rd in the latest Associated Press poll and 25th in this week’s USA Today/Coaches’ poll.
OVER THE AIRWAVES: This week’s game will be televised by ESPN2. Mark Jones will provide the play-by-play, with Bob Davie handling the color commentary. Stacey Dales 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 radio.
A South Carolina win over Arkansas would…
* Be the Gamecocks’ third win in their last four meetings with the Razorbacks, including their second straight win in Fayetteville.
* 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).
* Be the Gamecocks 10th win in their last 13 games dating back to last season. Their only losses in that stretch were a 28-16 setback to second-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge, a 17-6 loss to Vanderbilt and a 27-24 overtime loss at Tennessee last weekend.
SERIES NOTES: This is the 16th meeting between Carolina and Arkansas. The Razorbacks lead the all-time series, 9-6, including a 5-2 advantage in games played in the state of Arkansas. The teams have met every year since 1992 when they both joined the Southeastern Conference. USC won on its last trip into Fayetteville by a 14-10 score in 2005. The Razorbacks returned the favor with a 26-20 win in Columbia last season.
SPURRIER VS. ARKANSAS: Steve Spurrier owns a 4-1 career record against Arkansas, winning twice in Fayetteville (42-7 in 1996 and 14-10 in 2005), once in Gainesville (56-7 in 1997) and once at a neutral site (34-3 in Atlanta in the 1995 SEC Championship Game). His only loss came last season in Columbia by a 26-20 margin. That marked the first time that his teams have allowed more than one touchdown in any of the five games, as his squads won by an average score of 37-8 through the first four tilts. Two of his Florida teams (1996 and 1997) were ranked No. 1 in the country and his 1995 squad was ranked second in the country when it defeated the Hogs.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET: The Gamecocks could not stop the one-two punch of Darren McFadden (a career-high 219 yards rushing) and Marcus Monk (192 yards receiving) and 12th-ranked Arkansas held off a late Carolina rally for a 26-20 victory in Columbia on Nov. 4, 2006. The Gamecocks trailed 26-6 midway through the third quarter before junior quarterback Blake Mitchell came off the bench to lead Carolina to 92 and a 99-yard scoring drives. Mitchell completed 15-of-21 passes in the second half for 213 yards and a pair of scores but, with a chance to take the lead late in the game, threw an interception and the Razorbacks were able to run out the clock. The Gamecocks threw the ball 40 times for 289 yards, but surrendered 495 yards.
THE LAST TIME IN FAYETTEVILLE: Blake Mitchell threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Kenny McKinley on the final play of the third quarter, and the Gamecocks held on for a 14-10 win over Arkansas on Nov. 5, 2005. South Carolina trailed 10-7 when Orus Lambert intercepted Arkansas’ Casey Dick at the Razorbacks’ 42. On the next play, Mitchell found McKinley over the middle to put the Gamecocks ahead. Arkansas had a good chance to score late in the fourth, but freshman Darren McFadden was stopped on fourth-and-1 from the South Carolina 17 with 3:33 remaining. The Razorbacks forced a punt and regained possession with 2:26 to play, but they couldn’t cross midfield. McFadden rushed for 187 yards. The Razorbacks outgained South Carolina 356-187, but struggled in short-yardage situations. Mitchell went 12-of-25 for 142 yards and two touchdowns. His 7-yard scoring pass to redshirt freshman Sidney Rice gave South Carolina a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
THE LATEST RANKINGS: The Gamecocks dropped eight spots in both national polls this week, falling to 23rd in the AP poll and 25th in the USA Today/Coaches poll after falling in overtime at Tennessee. Just two weeks ago 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 11 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, at second-ranked LSU earlier this season and at Tennessee by three points in overtime.
HEARTBREAKER IN ROCKY TOP: The 15th-ranked Gamecocks spotted Tennessee a 21-0 halftime lead, roared back to take a 24-21 lead with just over a minute remaining in regulation, but could not hold on as the Vols escaped with a 27-24 overtime victory in Knoxville last Saturday night. The Gamecocks dominated the statistics, rolling up a season-high 501 yards, 31 first downs and 36:25 time of possession to Tennessee’s 317 yards, 16 first downs and 23:35, but four USC turnovers proved to be the difference. Ryan Succop, who hit from 49-yards out with just 1:54 remaining in regulation, missed a game-tying 40-yard field goal in OT after Tennessee’s Daniel Lincoln connected from 27 yards.
RECORD NUMBERS: The Gamecocks posted some impressive offensive numbers in the loss at Tennessee:
* Wide receiver Kenny McKinley tied a school record set by Zola Davis against Vanderbilt in 1998 by catching 14 passes for 151 yards. The 151 yards receiving was also a career high for McKinley, surpassing his previous best of 112 against Houston in the 2006 Liberty Bowl. He extended his string of consecutive games with a reception to 30, the fourth-longest streak in school history. He also caught his seventh touchdown pass of the season and 13th of his career, tying for seventh on the Gamecocks’ all-time list.
* Running back Cory Boyd netted a career-high 160 yards rushing on 20 carries, the fifth 100-yard game of his career. Boyd’s effort was the first 150+ effort by a Gamecock since Demetris Summers ran for 158 against Tennessee in 2003. He also became the 13th player in school history to rush for 2,000 yards in a career.
* Quarterback Blake Mitchell came off the bench to complete 31-of-45 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown. He became the first Gamecock to complete 30 passes in a game since Dondrial Pinkins hit 30 against Tennessee in 2004. The 31 completions tied for fourth-highest in school history. The 45 attempts was the most since Steve Taneyhill attempted 51 passes against Georgia in 1995.
* The Gamecocks notched 31 first downs, threw 50 passes, completed 34 passes and kept the ball for 36:25 against Tennessee, all team bests in the Steve Spurrier Era. The 501 yards of total offense was the most against an SEC opponent in Coach Spurrier’s tenure at Carolina.
WORKING OVERTIME: The Gamecocks played just their second overtime game in school history last Saturday at Tennessee, falling to the Vols by a field goal in the extra stanza. It was deja vu all over again for the Gamecocks, as their only other overtime contest had the same result – a three-point loss at Tennessee, that one by a 23-20 margin in Knoxville on Sept. 27, 2003. Every other SEC team has played at least three OT games since the rule was established in 1996.
KEEPING THEM OFF THE BOARD: The Gamecock defense remains one of the toughest to score on this season. Carolina has allowed just 160 points in nine games, an average of 17.8 points per game. Five of their nine opponents have scored 17 points or less. The Gamecocks rank fourth in the SEC and 16th 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. 2 in the nation in pass defense and are fourth in pass efficiency defense. There are only three teams in the country that have allowed fewer than 160 yards per game through the air.
NOT ON THIRD DOWN: The South Carolina defense ranks second in the SEC and fifth in the nation in third-down efficiency, allowing just 27.2 percent of third downs to be converted.
START ME UP: The Gamecocks have had just nine players start in all nine 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).
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME: Eleven 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), Jonathan Williams (Kentucky) and Chris Culliver (Tennessee).
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. With the exceptions of Pepper and Brinkley, the Gamecocks enter the Arkansas game very healthy with every other regular contributor expected to be available.
BACK TO BLAKE: Fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Mitchell looks to get back into the starting role this week after coming off the bench with an impressive performance at Tennessee. He completed 31-of-45 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown against the Vols. The completions and pass attempts were both career highs. The LaGrange, Ga. native is 13-7 in 20 career starts. He is the only Gamecock quarterback in history to defeat Georgia, Clemson, Florida and Tennessee in his career.
SMELLEY NOTES: Redshirt freshman Chris Smelley has been the starting quarterback in each of the last five games and in six of nine games overall this season. He is 4-2 as a starter. 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 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. For the season, he has completed 92-of-162 passes (56.8 percent) for 1,176 yards and nine touchdowns with seven interceptions.
BOYD BY THE NUMBERS: Senior tailback Cory Boyd is coming off his best game in the Garnet & Black. The fifth-year senior carried 20 times for a career-high 160 yards and a touchdown at Tennessee. It was his second 100-yard rushing game of the season (he went for 132 on just 11 carries against South Carolina State) and the fifth of his career. Boyd leads the team with 691 yards rushing, averaging 5.4 yards per carry with five touchdowns. He is averaging 76.8 yards per contest which ranks eighth in the SEC. He is also second on the team with 29 receptions for 275 yards. He has 110 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 2,000 yards rushing (2,055) and haul in 100+ receptions (110), joining Brandon Bennett (3,055 yards rushing, 111 receptions). He has also gone over the 1,000-yard plateau in both rushing (2,055) and receiving (1,173), joining Stanley Pritchett (1,178 rushing and 1,097 receiving) as the only players in school history to accomplish that feat. He is just the 13th player in school history with 2,000 yards rushing in a career.
DAVIS MAKES IT A SOLID DUO: Junior Mike Davis provides the Gamecocks with 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 102 times for 457 yards and five touchdowns this season, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. He tied the school record with three rushing touchdowns in the win over Mississippi State. He has rushed for 1,597 career yards for his hometown school. He is also the Gamecocks’ fourth-leading receiver with 21 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown.
MCKINLEY MOVIN’ ON UP: Junior wide receiver Kenny McKinley is the top receiving threat for the Gamecocks. He had his career-best game last week against Tennessee, hauling in 14 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. It was his third 100-yard receiving game of the season and the fifth of his career. Overall, he has 55 catches for 676 yards with seven of the team’s 14 touchdown receptions. He has scored six TDs in the last seven games. He also had 100-yard receiving games this season at Georgia (7 catches, 102 yards) and against Mississippi State (4 catches, 107 yards). He is third in the SEC averaging 6.11 receptions per game and is sixth in receiving yards at a clip of 75.1 yards per game. He has also caught a pass in 30 straight games, the 10th longest current streak in the country and the fourth longest in school history behind Sterling Sharpe (34), Jermale Kelly (34) and Ryan Brewer (31).
TIGHT ENDS CONTRIBUTE: A trio of tight ends, Jared Cook (22 catches for 326 yards and one touchdown), Weslye Saunders (nine catches for 120 yards) and Andy Boyd (seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown) have combined for 38 receptions for 534 yards. Meanwhile, the wide receivers not named McKinley have combined for just 36 receptions for 422 yards.
STEPPIN’ UP: Jared Cook caught a career-high five passes for 55 yards at Tennessee, while Freddie Brown (4 catches, 41 yards) and Dion Lecorn (3 catches, 37 yards) both matched their career highs for receptions in a game.
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 51 tackles this season, including 14.0 tackles for loss, second in the SEC. He has 5.0 sacks this season, which places him seventh in the league, and 12.0 sacks in his career in the Garnet & Black. He also has been credited with a team-high 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 67 tackles, including 53 solo stops. He has at least seven tackles in each of his seven starts, including a career-high 11 each at LSU and versus Vanderbilt, totaling 64 tackles over the last seven games, an average of 9.1 per start. He is currently fifth in the SEC, averaging 8.4 tackles per game.
CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: Sophomore cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is considered the Gamecocks best cover corner. He logged a career-high and team-leading 11 tackles, including 10 solo stops, at Tennessee. Two of the tackles were in the backfield. He also picked off his team-leading third pass of the season and was credited with another pass break up. He is fifth on the team with 42 tackles, including 36 solo stops.
PICKIN’ AND GRINNIN’: Captain Munnerlyn picked off his team-leading third pass of the season against Tennessee. The Gamecocks have 12 interceptions this season in nine games, including two each by Cook, Darian Stewart, and Jasper Brinkley. Last season, the Gamecocks picked off 14 passes in 13 games. The Gamecocks picked off a season-high 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.
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 10-for-14 in field goal attempts this season. Three of his four 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 26-for-36 in field goal attempts in his career. He has converted 19 of his last 23 attempts from inside 47. Succop also handles the kick off and punting duties for South Carolina. He is averaging 41.5 yards per punt this season, fifth in the SEC, with a long of 58 after averaging 43.7 yards per punt in 2006, and is averaging 65.7 yards on his kickoffs. The Gamecocks are third in the SEC in kickoff coverage with a net mark of 42.9 yards. He is on both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy watch lists.
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.
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 ESPN.com, sixth by Rivals.com and seventh by Scout.com. 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 freshman 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.
GAME CAPTAINS: The Gamecocks select captains for each game. Here’s the list:
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.
VANDY: Kenny McKinley, Emanuel Cook, Rodney Paulk and Andy Boyd.
UT: Cory Boyd, Cody Wells, Casper Brinkley and Andy Boyd.
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).
UP NEXT: The Gamecocks return home for their final SEC game of the season when they host the Florida Gators at Williams-Brice Stadium on Nov. 10. The Gators lead the all-time series, 20-4-3, including an 8-4-1 advantage in Columbia. Carolina won by a 30-22 margin on Nov. 12, 2005, the last time they met in Columbia.