Of all the surprises in South Carolina’s offense Saturday, the emergence of the tight end may have been the biggest.
Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for six catches and 92 yards. They entered the game with seven catches for 66 yards in the previous five games combined.
“We were sitting around and somebody said, ‘Why don’t we throw to the tight ends more?' ” Spurrier said. “No, that was just the game plan. If they did this, do this.”
Cunningham had a career-high five catches for 46 yards and scored his first collegiate touchdown.
“Give Justice a little praise,” Spurrier said. “I heard one of our coaches say, ‘He may hustle more than any guy on the offense.’ He blocks and he blocks and he blocks.”
Cunningham, a junior who has 19 career catches, caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of South Carolina’s 54-3 win over Kentucky.
“It’s always nice to get a catch or two, but I’m here to do my job, whatever they need me to do,” he said.
Senior quarterback Stephen Garcia didn’t take out any frustration from his demotion on his replacement, sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw said.
“Before the game he kept telling positive things,” Shaw said. “I would come off the field and he would congratulate me and say, 'Keep your head in the game,' stuff like that.”
After Shaw left the field, the Gamecocks played Andrew Clifford and Dylan Thompson at quarterback.
After fumbling away the game’s opening kickoff, sophomore wide receiver Bruce Ellington atoned with a 61-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation in the fourth quarter.
“It was a great run,” he said. “The line did a great job blocking. It was exciting to get in the end zone in college.”
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott made the play call, coach Steve Spurrier said.
He “said why don’t we just put him out there and let him run the sweep,” Spurrier said. “He looked like he was going to make 8 or10 yards and the next thing I know he turned the corner and somebody up top said, ‘He’s gone. They can’t catch him.’”
Spurrier was so locked in on the offense Saturday that he missed Melvin Ingram’s tackle and pass breakup. In fact, Spurrier missed Ingram’s appearances on the field entirely.
Ingram was questionable for the game due to a sprained foot. After the game, Spurrier was asked about the health of his star defensive end.
He replied: “He actually could have played today. The trainer said he can play if you need him badly so we had him on reserve in case it got real tight. He was going to go in there, but we didn’t need him.”
Spurrier was then informed Ingram did play.
“He did? I thought his uniform was clean,” Spurrier said. Coming off the field, “I said, ‘Guess what Melvin? You ain’t getting a game ball today,’ and he looked at me kinda funny. How many plays did he play? He did? Did he make a tackle or two? He did? OK.”
Starting offensive tackle Rokevious Watkins, starting cornerback Marty Markett and reserve safety Corey Addison all suffered concussions, the team announced after the game. The severity of the concussions and the players’ status for next week’s game were not immediately known.
Reserve running back Eric Baker suffered a sprained ankle.
... Spurrier scored more than 50 points against SEC opponents at Florida. Five of those came against Kentucky, the victim of his first 50-plus point outing at South Carolina.
Alshon Jeffery’s first touchdown catch was the first time South Carolina has scored on its opening drive this season.
Marcus Lattimore had his eighth 100-plus yard rushing game. The Gamecocks are 10-0 when he has 20 or more carries in a game.
Sophomore defensive end Chaz Sutton made his first career start.
“I thought we could throw on them. I usually think we can throw on everybody we play, but then it doesn’t happen.” -- Spurrier