A trick play by a receiver ignited South Carolina's rushing attack, and once the Gamecocks started rolling Saturday, they were nearly impossible to stop.
Moe Brown's 50-yard run on USC's first offensive play paved the way for a big day for the Gamecocks, who racked up 287 rushing yards in a 38-16 victory against Florida Atlantic before a crowd of 72,017 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Freshman tailback Jarvis Giles rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries to pace a ground game that produced the highest single-game rushing total in Steve Spurrier's four-plus seasons at USC.
After finishing last in the SEC in rushing the past two seasons, USC's revamped rushing attack combined for 222 yards the first two games. The Gamecocks surpassed that total in the third quarter and averaged 8.2 yards per carry.
"We felt like we wanted to give the run game a good opportunity, and we did most of the night," Spurrier said. "We were able to run the ball a bit and hit a few (passes) here and there."
USC (2-1) improved to 7-0 against teams from the Sun Belt Conference, with two of the wins coming against Florida Atlantic. The Owls (0-2) fell to 1-16 against BCS conference schools, including an 0-15 mark on the road.
The crowd was the smallest to see a USC home opener since 1995, when 70,411 turned out for the Gamecocks' 68-21 win against Louisiana Tech. But the 75-year-old stadium figures to be jumping for Thursday night's matchup with No. 5 Mississippi, which drubbed Southeastern Louisiana 52-6 on Saturday.
"I know our crowd will be much more into next week's game maybe than (Saturday's)," Spurrier said. "But our crowd was fine."
Fans were still settling in when Brown came in motion, took a pitch from Stephen Garcia on an end-around and followed the lead blocks of center Garrett Anderson and fullback Patrick DiMarco to the Owls' 27-yard line.
Three plays later, junior tailback Brian Maddox plowed in from 3 yards for the first of his three short touchdowns to give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead after 81 seconds - USC's fastest score to start a game since joining the SEC in 1992.
"That was a tone-setter," Maddox said of Brown's run. "Moe did a great job on that reverse and opened up other things for our running game."
Garcia, who was 20-of-27 passing for 222 yards and a touchdown, said the Gamecocks ran variations of the opening play - with Brown motioning behind Garcia in the shotgun - about 10 times. With the Owls mindful of Brown, USC backs found gaping holes in the middle of the FAU defense.
On USC's second series, redshirt freshman Kenny Miles carried five times for 56 yards to set up a Spencer Lanning field goal. When Miles left with a shoulder injury, Giles stepped in and had the first 100-yard rushing game of his young career.
After managing two plays longer than 25 yards the first two games, the quick-strike offense came to life with five plays covering 35 yards or more. Giles and receiver Tori Gurley (four catches for 100 yards) each contributed two big plays while becoming the first USC freshman tandem to hit the 100-yard mark in rushing and receiving since Mike Davis and Sidney Rice did it twice in 2005.
Despite running 20 fewer plays than in last week's 41-37 loss at Georgia, USC finished with 516 total yards, the second most under Spurrier. The Gamecocks have 943 yards the past two games.
USC appeared to be on its way to a laugher after scoring on three of its first four possessions to take a 17-3 lead. But the Owls answered with a pair of Rusty Smith touchdown passes and would have gone into halftime with the score tied if not for a missed extra point.
But after getting no pressure on Smith, the Gamecocks switched to a four-man front and shut out the Owls in the second half.
USC's pass rush forced Smith into two second-half turnovers in FAU territory, both of which led to touchdowns. Freshman corner Stephon Gilmore snared his first career interception on a broken coverage on FAU's first play of the half.
"That kills your momentum and puts your confidence level in the tank," Smith said of the pick. "For a half there, we looked good, like we could hang with them. And then in the second half, we shot ourselves in the foot again."
While lamenting the squandered lead, Spurrier was encouraged by the strong rushing performance. Garcia believes the Gamecocks will be tough to beat if they continue to run well, beginning next week against the Rebels.
"The fans here are going to be out of control, I would imagine. It's going to be very exciting for us," Garcia said. "We've got practice (today). We're just going to take it very, very serious this week and go out there and beat 'em."