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Norwood noble at end of farewell tour

South Carolina #40 Eric Norwood tackles Connecticut #2 Andre Dixon in the second half of the Papa John' Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL on Sat. Jan. 2, 2010. Uconn won 20-7.
South Carolina #40 Eric Norwood tackles Connecticut #2 Andre Dixon in the second half of the Papa John' Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL on Sat. Jan. 2, 2010. Uconn won 20-7.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Eric Norwood returned for his senior year in part because South Carolina's season-ending skid in 2008 left a bad taste in his mouth.

The Gamecocks' All-American linebacker did not go out with a win, but said he had no regrets following USC's 20-7 loss to Connecticut in Saturday's Bowl.

Norwood tied for the team lead with 10 tackles, including nine solo stops. And though he did not record any sacks or tackles for loss against the Huskies, he leaves USC as the career leader in both categories.

"The last four years here have been great," Norwood said. "I've gotten a lot of support from the South Carolina fans and fans from other places, and I wouldn't have traded any of it for the world."

Though Norwood did not get choked up, quarterback Stephen Garcia - who was sitting next to Norwood in the interview room - did. Garcia wiped away tears and struggled to get through his responses because the Gamecocks did not send the seniors out as winners.

"I think I'm a lot closer with the seniors on this year's team and that's what makes it harder than anything, playing the way we did," Garcia said. "It just doesn't feel right."

As they stood to leave, Norwood hugged Garcia. Then the senior from Georgia went to the locker room to take off his USC uniform for the last time.

Life after Wolford. In their first game without offensive line coach/run game coordinator Eric Wolford, who left last month to become Youngstown State's coach, the Gamecocks gave up four sacks and rushed for 76 yards on 26 carries.

But USC coach Steve Spurrier said Wolford's departure had no impact on the line's performance.

"Our guys practiced the same things. Our guys practiced fairly decently. They played about like they have all year," Spurrier said. "I don't know that those guys were terrible. They were decent most of the game."

With interim offensive line coach Andy Boyd stationed in the press box, the linemen received instructions or pep talks from a number of people on the bench, including former USC player Terry Cousin, the sideline reporter for the radio broadcasts.

At one point, offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins, who is being redshirted, was drawing up formations on the dry-erase board.

"It was very different, not having one guy to sit there and talk to the whole time," center Garrett Anderson said. "I don't think it hindered us at all. I just think we didn't play as well as we could."

Drop zone. The Gamecocks dropped at least six passes, including three on one second-half series. USC coach Steve Spurrier was asked whether the cold weather - the temperature at game time was 34 degrees - affected the Gamecocks' receivers.

"You've got to ask those guys. They had gloves on," he said. "I saw their guy (Kashif Moore) make a nice, little one-handed grab on that little wheel route they hit on us for the first touchdown."

USC senior receiver Moe Brown said the problem was lack of focus and unrelated to the weather.

Staying put? In the minutes after the Outback Bowl last year, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and Norwood announced they were leaving for the NFL (though Norwood changed his mind days later).

There were no such announcements Saturday, although the juniors who have asked to be evaluated by the NFL's underclassmen advisory committee did not speak to the media.

But assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson expects defensive end Clifton Geathers and safety Chris Culliver to return, while tight end Weslye Saunders has indicated he likely will be back.

"None of them that I know of really lean toward wanting to (enter the draft)," Johnson said. "And I don't know that there'd be anything coming through any kind of committee that would give them a different feeling. I couldn't see it."

Extra points. With 38 passes against UConn, Garcia tied Todd Ellis' single-season record with 432 pass attempts. He ranks eighth on USC's career list with 3,694 yards. ... D.L. Moore's 38-yard reception late in the game was a career long. ...

Fifth-year defensive tackle Nathan Pepper became the first player in USC history to play in four bowl games. ... Defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye had a career-high 10 tackles.