As Lorenzo Nunez was preparing to start the first game of his collegiate career, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told Nunez and everyone else the freshman didn’t need to win the game by himself.
“Just take care of the ball, play smart,” Spurrier said before the Gamecocks played UCF on Saturday afternoon in Williams-Brice Stadium.
On Sunday, the day after a 31-14 win against the Knights, Spurrier said, “As it turned out, I was wrong. I think he had to win the game for us.”
Nunez, who was playing at Harrison High in Kennesaw, Ga., at this time last year, rushed for 123 yards on 18 carries and threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-22 passing.
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“Without Lorenzo, I don’t know if we could have beat these guys,” Spurrier said.
While Spurrier still plans to play Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia this season, Nunez clearly took over the starting job and the team with Saturday’s performance. And it came at just the right time for a team that had lost two in a row entering the game.
“It gives all of us life, that maybe better days are ahead,” Spurrier said. “I think it gives the entire team hope that the offense is going to be better, and it gives the defense life and hope that good things can happen.”
The freshman’s next test will be on the road against Missouri (3-1, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday at noon. South Carolina (2-2, 0-2) already has two losses this season to Eastern Division teams – Kentucky and Georgia.
“I think what I was most impressed with was the way he threw the ball,” Spurrier said. “He took his steps, put the ball where he was supposed to. The guys were not wide open, as you probably could tell. He had to make a good throw to make the completion a lot of times. That was encouraging.”
Nunez will have more passing plays at his disposal as the season progresses, but the Gamecocks don’t want to keep him in the pocket too much.
“That’s why Connor Shaw was so good here. He could take off running and keep the drives going and so forth,” Spurrier said. Nunez “did about everything, really, the other guys would have done if they were in there. Our offense is not that vast right now, as you know.”
On Saturday, the offense was, basically, Nunez, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper and a couple of key catches from the tight ends. Nunez had 57 percent of South Carolina’s running yards, and Gamecock running backs David Williams and Shon Carson averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Cooper caught four passes for 69 yards, and the rest of the wide receiving corps combined for three catches for 47 yards.
“You try to get the ball to your best players,” Spurrier said. “We still hope the other guys can get involved. Hopefully, some of those other receivers can come around and contribute.”
The Gamecocks are 10th in the SEC in plays per game (66) and that pace is just right for the makeup of this team, Spurrier said. South Carolina moved quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus from the sideline to the press box during Saturday’s game and let Mangus call most of the first-half plays to take advantage of Nunez’ running abilities.
“We are probably going to do the same format (against Missouri),” Spurrier said. “If the guy up top sees something that looks better in the run game, then let’s go with it. Then down below, I try to make sure we get our game plan called, get a few balls out to Pharoh (Cooper).
“Sometimes, you have to call a pass play and let Lorenzo take off running.”