Nov. 9, 2007
The South Carolina Gamecocks (6-4, 3-4 SEC), look to snap a three-game losing streak as they wrap up their 2007 SEC slate against Eastern Division rival Florida (6-3, 4-3 SEC) on Saturday, Nov. 10. Game time is set for 7:45 p.m. ET at Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) in Columbia. The recent slide has dropped the Gamecocks out of the national polls, but they still have won nine of their last 13 contests. The defending national champion Gators are ranked 17th by the A.P., 18th in the USA Today/Coaches’ poll and 15th in the BCS Standings.
OVER THE AIRWAVES: This week’s game will be televised nationally by ESPN. Mike Patrick will provide the play-by-play, with Todd Blackledge handling the color commentary. 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 as a sideline reporter. The game will also be on SIRIUS channel 130.
SERIES NOTES: This is the 28th meeting between Carolina and Florida in a series that dates back to 1911. The Gators lead the all-time series, 20-4-3. Florida owns an 8-4-1 advantage in games played in Columbia and is a perfect 11-0 when hosting the Gamecocks in Gainesville. They are also 1-0-2 lead in games played in Tampa. Florida had its 14-game winning streak over the Gamecocks snapped in 2005 in Columbia in a 30-22 Carolina win. It was USC’s first win in the series since Nov. 4, 1939, a 6-0 decision in Columbia. The Gators blocked three kicks, including a potential game-winning field goal as time expired, to pull out a 17-16 win over the Gamecocks last season at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field.
FOREVER TO THEE: The University of South Carolina football team will continue to pay tribute to the seven victims, including six USC students, who died in a tragic fire at a North Carolina beach house Oct. 28 by wearing a special helmet decal for the remainder of the season. “It was a terrible tragedy for our university and the families involved,” said Head Coach Steve Spurrier. “For parents who have had teenagers go to college – I’ve had four now – you trust that they’ll be safe and make good decisions. It’s a terrible tragedy any time a family has to bury one of their children. We’ll remember these students and hopefully we can recover, but for the families it will be forever,” said Coach Spurrier. “There’s a phrase in our alma mater, `Forever To Thee.’ That will be on the back of our helmets.”
ALMOST ALWAYS A WINNER: South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier has almost always been on the winning sideline when Florida and Carolina get together. He is 11-1 in these contests, including a perfect 10-0 when facing the Gamecocks when he patrolled the Gator sidelines. He has split the first two games against his alma mater as the Gamecocks’ head coach.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET: The Gamecocks battled sixth-ranked Florida to the wire, but came up one point short in a 17-16 decision at “The Swamp” in Gainesville on Nov. 11, 2006. Blake Mitchell, starting at quarterback for the first time since the second game of the season, had one of his finest days as a Gamecock, completing 24-of-33 passes for 275 yards with no turnovers. Mike Davis logged his top rushing day of the season, carrying 16 times for 94 yards, as the Gamecocks outgained the Gators, 410-401. The game came down to special teams play, as Florida blocked two Gamecock field goal attempts and an extra point. The Gamecocks also had a 55-yard field goal taken off the board due to a penalty. Jasper Brinkley led the USC defense with a season-high 13 tackles, including 11 solo stops.
THE LAST TIME IN COLUMBIA: With Mike Davis and Daccus Turman both running for two touchdowns, South Carolina and head coach Steve Spurrier beat 12th-ranked Florida 30-22 on Nov. 12, 2005. It was Coach Spurrier’s first meeting against the school where he won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship as a coach. The win broke the Gators’ 14-game winning streak in the series and was USC’s school-record fifth-straight SEC win. USC’s defense got things going on the first series with an interception and a 48-yard return by defensive lineman Chris Tucker. Florida rallied to cut the score to 20-19 on its first drive of the second half. Sidney Rice, though, spun free from two defenders on a short pass from Blake Mitchell to gain 64 yards to Florida’s 1. Davis finished things off on the next play to give the Gamecocks a 27-19 lead. Gators’ coach Urban Meyer chose to have Chris Hetland kick a 43-yard field goal with 2:51 left to make it 30-22. But the onside kick was unsuccessful and the Gators never got the ball again.
THE LATEST RANKINGS: The Gamecocks have fallen out of the national polls after their third straight setback. Just three 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. They had been ranked for eight straight weeks, their longest consecutive stretch since the 2001 season.
THE LAST TIME OUT: The Gamecocks had no answer for the one-two punch of Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in a 48-36 Razorback win in Fayetteville last Saturday night. McFadden rushed for an SEC-record-tying 321 yards on 34 carries, while Jones added 165 yards and three touchdowns on 13 rushes. For the second week in a row, the Gamecocks dug themselves an early deficit but fought back in the second half to make things interesting. Blake Mitchell, making his first start since Game 4 at LSU, completed 27-of-51 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, as the Gamecocks put up 26 second half points.
CAROLINA SUPERLATIVES FROM ARKANSAS:
* The Gamecocks scored 26 second-half points, the most points they have scored in a half this season.
* Blake Mitchell threw a career-high 51 passes, matching the third-highest single game mark in school history and the most since Steve Taneyhill threw 51 passes against Georgia in 1995.
* Blake Mitchell threw for 364 yards, the second-biggest day of his career, topped only by the 388 he had last season against Middle Tennessee.
* Freshman wide receiver Dion Lecorn had his coming out party, collecting game highs with eight receptions and 109 receiving yards. He also scored a touchdown. He entered the game with just 11 catches for 100 yards.
* The 57-yard pass completion from Blake Mitchell to Mike Davis was the longest play of the season for the Gamecocks.
OFFENSE STARTING TO CLICK: After being held in check for eight quarters (the second half at North Carolina, the Vanderbilt game and the first half at Tennessee) in which they tallied just six points (an average of 0.75 points per quarter), the Gamecock offense seems to have found its stride with Blake Mitchell back at the helm. Over the past six quarters (the last two at Tennessee and the Arkansas game), the Gamecocks have put 60 points on the board, an average of 10.0 points per quarter.
MORE CLICKING NOISES: Over the last two games, the Gamecock offense is starting to gain traction. Against Tennessee and Arkansas, the Carolina offense has generated 60 first downs, completed 61 passes and made 101 pass attempts. All three of those totals are comprised of the top two single-game marks in the Steve Spurrier Era. They threw for 694 yards (the second and third single game totals under Coach Spurrier), and totaled 990 yards of offense in those last two contests.
TOUGH SLEDDING: The Gamecocks have faced a very difficult schedule this season. Of their 12 opponents, only two – Louisiana-Lafayette and North Carolina – have losing records. The 12 opponents have combined for a 65-43 record, a .602 winning percentage. Seven of the 12 opponents have been ranked in the top 25 this season, including six that are currently in the AP top 25.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD(S): The Gamecocks are looking for more consistent play from their offensive guards. Through the first 10 games they have started three different left guards (Garrett Anderson, Gurminder Thind and Seaver Brown), and four different right guards (Lemuel Jeanpierre, Garrett Anderson, James Thompson and Heath Batchelor). Brown and Batchelor started last week at Arkansas. Both are redshirt freshmen.
WORKING OVERTIME: The Gamecocks played just their second overtime game in school history on Oct. 27 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.
THIS `N THAT:
* Cory Boyd has rushed for 785 yards this season and has a chance to become the Gamecocks first 1,000-yard rusher since Derek Watson ran for 1,066 in 2000. His single season high is 823 rushing yards, set last year.
* True freshman Chris Culliver is fifth in the SEC in kick returns, averaging 25.7 yards per return, with three 44-yard returns. He has logged 643 kick return yards, the most since Boo Williams had 760 in 1998. The school record is 880, set by Dick Harris in 1970.
* Captain Munnerlyn is sixth in the SEC in punt returns, averaging 9.2 yards per return. He has logged 165 punt return yards, the most since Ryan Brewer had 202 in 2000.
* Despite allowing Arkansas to convert 10-of-13 third-down situations, the Gamecocks are second in the SEC in stopping third downs, allowing an average of just 31.5 percent.
* Junior placekicker Ryan Succop has scored 151 points in his career. He needs seven points to tie Jeff Grantz for 10th on the USC career list for points scored.
NO PASSING FANCY: The Gamecocks have been exceptional 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 are 10th in pass efficiency defense. There are only three teams in the country that have allowed fewer than 160 yards per game through the air.
START ME UP: The Gamecocks have had nine players start in all 10 games in 2007. 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: A dozen 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), Chris Culliver (Tennessee) and Heath Batchelor (Arkansas).
BREAKING DOWN THE STARTERS: Here’s a breakdown of Carolina’s 220 starters through 10 games by class:
Seniors: 63 starts (28.6 percent)
Juniors: 57 starts (25.9 percent)
Sophomores: 64 starts (29.0 percent)
All Freshmen: 36 starts (16.4 percent)
Redshirt Freshmen: 13 starts (5.9 percent)
True Freshmen: 23 starts (10.5 percent)
Freshmen and Sophomores: 100 starts (45.5 percent)
BACK TO BLAKE: Fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Mitchell returned to the starting role at Arkansas 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. He came out firing at Arkansas, completing 27-of-51 passes for 364 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The 51 passes again set a personal career high. Over the past two games, Mitchell has completed 58-of-96 passes for 654 yards and three touchdowns. The LaGrange, Ga. native is 13-8 in 21 career starts. He is the only Gamecock quarterback in history to defeat Georgia, Clemson, Florida and Tennessee in his career. He is just the fifth quarterback in school history to throw for over 5,000 yards in his career.
BOYD BY THE NUMBERS: Senior tailback Cory Boyd is finishing his Garnet & Black career with a flurry. 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. He followed that up with a team-high 94 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Arkansas last week, so over the last two games he has rushed 37 times for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Boyd leads the team with 785 yards rushing, averaging 5.5 yards per carry with six touchdowns. He is averaging 78.5 yards per contest which ranks eighth in the SEC. He is also second on the team with 32 receptions for 313 yards. He has 113 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 (2,149, 11th on the all-time list, just 85 yards behind Warren Muir for 10th place) and haul in 100+ receptions (113, 9th on the all-time list, just 3 behind Stanley Pritchett), joining Brandon Bennett (3,055 yards rushing, 111 receptions). He has also gone over the 1,000-yard plateau in both rushing (2,149) and receiving (1,211), 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 110 times for 495 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 1,635 career yards for his hometown school. He is also the Gamecocks’ fourth-leading receiver with 23 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown, including a season-best 57-yard reception at Arkansas.
MCKINLEY MOVIN’ ON UP: Junior wide receiver Kenny McKinley is the top receiving threat for the Gamecocks and has played like an all-conference performer. He had his career-best game 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 62 catches for 748 yards with seven of the team’s 16 touchdown receptions. 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 second in the SEC averaging 6.20 receptions per game and is fourth in receiving yards at a clip of 74.8 yards per game. He has also caught a pass in 31 straight games, the 10th longest current streak in the country and tying Ryan Brewer for the third longest in school history behind Sterling Sharpe (34) and Jermale Kelly (34).
STEPPIN’ UP: The Gamecocks are starting to get some much-needed help in the receiving game for Kenny McKinley. While McKinley has still be the top target with 21 receptions for 223 yards and a touchdown in the last two games, Jared Cook has stepped up with nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, including a career-high five receptions at Tennessee, while true freshman Dion Lecorn has added 11 receptions for 148 yards and a score in that two-game stretch. Lecorn had career-bests with eight catches and his 109 receiving yards, his first 100-yard receiving game, at Arkansas.
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.
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 56 tackles this season, including 16.0 tackles for loss, third in the SEC. He has 5.0 sacks this season, which places him tied for ninth 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 76 tackles, including 61 solo stops. He has at least seven tackles in each of his eight starts, including a career-high 11 each at LSU and versus Vanderbilt, totaling 73 tackles over the last eight games, an average of 9.1 per start. He is currently sixth in the SEC, averaging 8.4 tackles per game.
CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: Sophomore cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is considered the Gamecocks best cover corner. He had one of his best games as a Gamecock against Tennessee when he logged a career-high and team-leading 11 tackles, including 10 solo stops. 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 sixth on the team with 47 tackles, including 40 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 10 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 12-for-16 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 28-for-38 in field goal attempts in his career (74 percent), but is 16-for-17 (94.1 percent) inside 40 yards. He has converted 21 of his last 25 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 64.1 yards on his kickoffs. 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 had their 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: 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. UA: Cory Boyd, Kenny McKinley, Emanuel Cook and Casper Brinkley.
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: Carolina wraps up the 2007 regular season when they host Clemson on Nov. 24. Clemson leads the all-time series 63-37-4, including a 48-29-3 lead in games played in Columbia, but the Gamecocks snapped a four-game losing streak to the Tigers with a 31-28 victory in Clemson last season. The Gamecocks will be looking for back-to-back wins over the Tigers for the first time since they won three straight from 1968-70.