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New day provides no solace to USC

In its biggest game of the year, South Carolina came up woefully short.

While crediting his former team, USC coach Steve Spurrier said he was embarrassed by the Gamecocks’ 56-6 loss at No. 3 Florida, the worst of Spurrier’s storied career.

Other than the play of the defense early in the game, Spurrier had a difficult time finding much good to say about his second trip to the Swamp with the Gamecocks.

USC finished with 120 passing yards, the fewest in the Spurrier era, went 1-for-15 on third down and committed four turnovers that resulted in 28 points.

Defensively, the Gamecocks allowed 519 yards — more than twice their average — and gave up nine plays of 20 yards or longer, including four of their eight touchdowns.

“It was sort of a big stadium, big game, big TV audience and we didn’t play very well for some reason,” Spurrier said Sunday.

It was USC’s worst loss since a 63-7 defeat to Florida in 1995 when Spurrier was the Gators’ coach. Saturday’s blowout dropped the Gamecocks (7-4, 4-4 SEC) out of the top 25 and continued their misery against ranked teams.

USC is 0-3 against top-25 schools this season and could earn a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl game without beating a ranked team. The Gamecocks are off this week before their Nov. 29 regular-season finale at Clemson, which is 5-5 following a 31-7 victory against Duke.

“The schedule is what it is. At the beginning of the year we thought we would play more than three ranked teams,” said Spurrier, who is 5-12 against top-25 opponents at USC. “It doesn’t matter if they’re ranked or unranked right now. We’re 7-4.”

With the SEC’s top-ranked defense an improving offense, Spurrier hoped the Gamecocks could go to Gainesville and keep the game close as they did two years ago before falling 17-16 when the Gators blocked a field goal on the final play.

But three USC turnovers in a span of 1 minute, 4 seconds gave the Gators a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and the rout was on.

“We were talking about it being our best team going down to the Swamp. But certainly the (2006) team was very competitive. We made over 400 yards down there two years ago. We ran the ball, threw it, stayed on the field a while,” Spurrier said.

“Even though we only got 16 (points), we did what we needed to do to give us a chance to win — and that was stay on the field and move the ball and make some yards. We didn’t come close to doing that (Saturday) night. We didn’t give our defense a chance with the early turnovers and so forth.”

The quarterback platoon of Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley produced the lowest single-game passing total of the Spurrier era, eclipsing a 126-yard effort in a 30-22 upset of Florida in 2005.

In the two games Spurrier has alternated them, Smelley and Garcia have combined to complete 48 percent of their passes (32 of 67) for 339 yards and two touchdowns, with four interceptions.

Prior to the rotating quarterbacks approach, the Gamecocks had completed 59 percent of their passes for an average of 230 yards a game.

Spurrier said he might scrap the rotation and stick with one quarterback against Clemson. He would not elaborate, saying he would make an announcement later.

“It didn’t work quite as well this week,” Smelley said of the quarterback platoon system. “Florida’s a great defensive team, and you have to give them credit.”

In fact, nothing worked all that well for the Gamecocks on a long, wet night at the Swamp.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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