South Carolina needed to win and see exactly what it had in quarterback Lorenzo Nunez.
It did both, thanks to a curious blessing in disguise.
Top rusher Brandon Wilds went down with a cracked rib against Georgia last week, putting him out this week. Right away, the Gamecocks knew they probably weren’t going to be able to run the ball very effectively – Shon Carson is not an every-down back and David Williams, for whatever reason, was not taking advantage of his opportunities. UCF knew that Nunez, not known for his arm, was going to hand off or try to scramble, so the Knights filled the box with defenders and dared him to throw.
Steve Spurrier could have kept running, switching Pharoh Cooper or any of his other runners under center. It seemed a wise plan, after Nunez’ first pass was a dropped interception and he threw a few others that were striking turf 10 yards from where they were supposed to be.
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But the running game was going nowhere and the Knights were up 14-8 at the half. The Knights, owners of the worst offense in FBS. Something needed to happen.
The scramble plays began hitting. Nunez’s passes became sharper. A couple of defensive stops and a Cooper make-something-out-of-nothing TD restored the Gamecocks’ lead, and then Nunez saw a play.
He was supposed to look for Cooper in the corner. Tight end Jacob “Dan” August was on a drag right over the middle with nobody around him.
“In practice, the defense actually leaves August wide open all the time,” Nunez said among chuckles. “I ran that play a lot in high school, so I looked at Pharoh and looked back inside.”
August caught, August scored and USC took off. Nunez only completed four passes in the second half but they were much crisper than in the first half.
Nobody’s calling the kid Taneyhill just yet, but he did a lot more than he was expected to in a game designed not to throw much at him. The plan is that when Wilds returns, USC has its tailback stable restored, a scrambler at QB and a guy that just may be able to throw a few passes.
The Gamecocks found an answer Saturday. Next exam’s in a week.
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