David Cloninger

August 27, 2013

Who Else? First scores of Steve Spurrier Era at USC

I always like to trot this one out when it’s a few days from the season-opener.

David Cloninger

All things Gamecocks, especially basketball and football

“I remember when,
I remember, I remember when.”
------------------------------------------ GNARLS BARKLEY

I always like to trot this one out when it’s a few days from the season-opener. I think we all like to reminisce, and we all, no matter how old we are, like to pick up the football occasionally and pretend that we’re throwing or catching the game-winner.

It’s also fun to think back of what we thought was going to happen and what actually did. There were some of these that I still wouldn’t call even with advance notice of what would happen.

The first scores of the Steve Spurrier Era at South Carolina:

2005 (USC 24, UCF 15)
Noah Whiteside 49-yard pass from Blake Mitchell

Remember that first drive? Two runs that went nowhere and two screen passes to Syvelle Newton (Bobby Wallace carried on the first play of the Spurrier Era – that will win you some bar bets). Everyone was so excited that the Head Ball Coach was back in the game and could quickly envision the high-flying pass-happy offense that he had at Florida, and seemed to be a little shocked that he was playing so conservatively right off the bat. I remember I had made a bet, that we were all going to talk about how exciting the offense was going to be under Spurrier, and his first play would be the Lou Holtz staple – the quarterback draw (I wasn’t far off). But then on the fifth play of the drive, Mitchell dropped back and chunked it to the goalpost, and just as he let it go and Whiteside broke past his man, I remember a voice in the pressbox saying, “Ol’ Ball Coach ” Boom. Whiteside gathered it in in stride and the fans in the north end zone went nuts (or as nuts as they could before the advent of “Sandstorm.”)

2006 (USC 15, Mississippi State 0)
Ryan Succop 39-yard field goal

This game was memorable for three reasons. One, Succop played the game of his life, with three field goals, an average of 50 yards on five punts and having the presence of mind that he was about to get one punt blocked, and running for a first down (halfway through the third quarter, he was still the team’s leading rusher with 16 yards). Two, the only touchdown was a double pass from Mitchell to Newton, who then threw a 53-yard bomb to Cory Boyd (and the rather foolish comment Boyd said to the camera after he scored). Three, I distinctly remember sitting in the pressbox, looking at what USC had coming back and the schedule in front of it and thinking, “You know, there’s no reason that they can’t go undefeated this year.” Immediately after, on the first play of the game, Mitchell was intercepted.

2007 (USC 28, Louisiana-Lafayette 14)
Andy Boyd 2-yard pass from Chris Smelley

First, it was great for Boyd, one of my all-time favorite kids, to get himself the first score of the year after basically playing his career held together by spit and duct tape. Second, at the time, it looked as if Smelley was going to become a terrific quarterback. Sure, it was against the Ragin’ Cajuns, but Smelley was mixing his plays well, Cory Boyd running and even Freddie Brown catching a pass to set up the touchdown. That year, though, was a constant headache for those of us in the media. There was so much going on off the field, from the first two incidents of The Stephen Garcia Saga in the spring to the opener, when Mitchell was suspended for the ULL game and Emanuel Cook was caught packing a gun. When the year ended with five straight losses to tank a 6-1 start, it seemed poetic.

2008 (USC 34, NC State 0)
Ryan Succop 29-yard field goal

One of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen. USC handily won, but to talk to the fans afterward (and for good reason), they had no idea what was going on. To put it mildly, it was a horribly played rout. Spurrier’s anointed starter, who had been chosen in the spring and groomed to take over all summer and preseason, threw four interceptions (this game has often been labeled the “Tommy Beecher Game”). The rest of his USC career was four pass attempts against UAB later that season. Despite the final score, the halftime score was 3-0. Playing devil’s advocate, the reason USC won so handily was because late in the first half, the Wolfpack quarterback took off on a keeper and was nailed by Jordin Lindsey. The hit carried the QB’s head into the knee of Cliff Matthews, and the poor guy was knocked unconscious and left the field on a stretcher. Four years later, that poor guy won the fans’ vote for NFL Rookie of the Year. Russell Wilson.

2009 (USC 7, NC State 3)
Brian Maddox 1-yard run

I believe the remarks after this one centered on, “Well they won.” Another badly played game, one that was marked by two things – a snakebit USC and an outstanding USC defense. The Gamecocks bottled up Wilson (a paltry 133 yards for the entire team) but nearly shot themselves out of the win. Tori Gurley caught a touchdown and it got wiped because he pushed off. Spencer Lanning missed one 27-yard field goal and an attempt at another got thwarted on a low snap. But three things happened for the win: God or Satan or somebody tipped a ball off Jay Smith’s hands, which was lofted over four USC mitts, in the end zone with four minutes to go, Garcia hit Moe Brown for a 33-yard completion to keep the clock moving late in the game and a redshirt freshman helped set up the only touchdown. Devin Taylor, playing in place of the suspended Clifton Geathers, forced a fumble on his very first collegiate play and USC recovered the ball.

2010 (USC 41, Southern Miss 13)
Stephen Garcia 22-yard run

The one game in the Spurrier Era where the Gamecocks did what they were supposed to do: Win the opener, and win comfortably. Larry Fedora – who will bring a new team to Columbia in two days – popped off in a summer speaking engagement about how nice it would be to beat the Gamecocks and show everyone that his Golden Eagles were for real. USC got the ball first and had to punt, but DeVonte Holloman intercepted a pass to squelch USM’s first drive. Garcia methodically moved the Gamecocks down the field, called his own number and took off for a touchdown. USC rolled up 449 yards.

2011 (USC 56, East Carolina 37)
Stephen Garcia 32-yard run

Like the 2008 game, USC was scratching its head. Won the game, sure, but it went everything but according to plan. Trailing 17-0 after Connor Shaw had been beaten all up and down the field in the first quarter, Garcia leaped upon the white stallion reserved for heroes and saved the day. He quickly got the Gamecocks in position, then sprinted up the middle, out-running the converging safety for a touchdown. The ECU turnovers mounted (I still can’t believe Antonio Allen’s strip for a six wasn’t blown dead) and USC handily won. For one night in Charlotte, Garcia had fulfilled all the promise that he’d been labeled with ever since he signed. After that game

2012 (USC 17, Vanderbilt 13)
Marcus Lattimore 29-yard run

Remember that first carry? The one we were all waiting on, to see if Lattimore could be himself after that knee injury? Fumble. And the next time USC got the ball, the Gamecocks ran one play, then Shaw threw a pick. But it’s almost like Lattimore, for the first time of his career, was feeling the pressure of the moment, because the next time he got the ball, he did what he does. Shaw kept for 20 yards (after Shaq Wilson had squelched a Vanderbilt drive with an interception), Lattimore got the ball. Right up the gut, cut back at the 10, score. Vintage.

Any lobbies for what’s first this year? I got my money on Drew Owens in the left corner, anywhere from 5-8 yards.

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