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Saturday Recap: Game balls to Garcia, Munnerlyn, Culliver

Stephen Garcia. The second-year quarterback showed fans what all the hype was about. The right-hander came off the bench in the second half and was near perfect, completing 10-of-14 passes for 169 yards and the game-winning touchdown — a 7-yard pass to Weslye Saunders on a tackle-eligible play.

Captain Munnerlyn. The junior was electric with the ball in his hands — when he held on to it. Munnerlyn overcame two muffed punts and another punt he bobbled by returning a blocked field goal 81 yards for a touchdown and setting up another score with an 84-yard kickoff return, USC’s longest in six years.

Chris Culliver. The sophomore free safety snagged the first two interceptions of his career, the second of which sealed the win with about a minute left. Culliver added six tackles, including one for loss.

What went right

The Gamecocks dominated the fourth quarter, outgaining the Wildcats 139-12 in total yardage and holding a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession. USC owned third down: The offense was 6-for-13 on third-and-8 or longer, while Ellis Johnson’s defense allowed Kentucky to convert 1-of-16 third-down situations. Receiver Jason Barnes looks like the solution to the problems that plagued the downfield passing attack.

What went wrong

For the second consecutive week, USC failed to ice the game on offense when it could not convert a short-yardage situation. The Gamecocks committed four first-half turnovers and are minus-7 on the season in turnover margin, tied for 107th among 119 teams in the country. Ryan Succop’s four missed field goals were as many as he missed in each of the past two seasons.

Injury report

Succop was shot up with painkillers before the game for an abdominal strain that prevented him from kicking most of last week. Special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski said if Succop remains “gimpy,” punter Spencer Lanning would kick against LSU.

The buzz

As he prepares for his first career start, Garcia — even with USC limiting media access to him — likely will dominate the headlines this week. But the defense continues to shine, giving up one offensive touchdown and holding Kentucky to 55 second-half yards. The Gamecocks are second in the nation in pass defense (allowing 132 yards per game) and third in total defense (240.9 ypg).

Extra points

USC’s nine-game winning streak vs. Kentucky matches its longest against a major college opponent: The Gamecocks won nine in a row against Virginia from 1952-60. USC counts 15-game win streaks against Erskine, The Citadel and Wofford. ... The Gamecocks had not scored on a blocked field goal since Rashad Faison’s touchdown against Boise State in 2001. ... USC had not blocked a field goal since Orus Lambert, now a graduate assistant, did so vs. Clemson in 2005.

Scouting report

LSU fell 10 spots to No. 13 in The Associated Press poll following its worst loss under Les Miles. The 51-21 defeat at Florida was the Tigers’ most lopsided since a 31-0 loss to Alabama in 2002. The last time LSU allowed more points was in 1996 when Steve Spurrier’s Florida team rolled over the Tigers 56-13.

— Joseph Person

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