USC victorious in Will Muschamp's first game at Williams-Brice
South Carolina started freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain on Saturday against East Carolina, but the story of the game was how the Gamecocks finished.
Namely, by making McIlwain’s fast start hold up with remarkably opportunistic red zone defense. South Carolina (2-1) beat the Pirates 20-15 in front of 80,384 fans in Williams-Brice Stadium despite being outgained 519 yards to 312 yards.
“You are going to look at the stat sheet and go, ‘That’s 519 yards, these guys stink.’ That’s not right ,” said Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp, who snapped South Carolina’s three-game home losing streak in his first home game. “It’s not about (total) yards, it’s yards per play. I think they had three explosive plays in the game, an offense like that and you hold them to 5.7 yards per play and they only have three explosive plays, that is an outstanding defensive performance. It only counts when they score. I don’t look at the stat sheet and say, ‘How many total yards did they have?’ I look at the scoreboard. I could care less how many yards they have as long as we win the game.”
The Gamecocks have now beaten East Carolina (2-1) four straight times, but this one didn’t come easy. After racing to a 17-0 lead in the first 7:02 of the game, South Carolina went 46 minutes and 32 seconds of game time without scoring again until senior place-kicker Elliott Fry gave them a little breathing room with a 39-yard field goal that put the Gamecocks ahead 20-9 with 6:24 left in the game.
The Pirates had no trouble moving the ball but couldn’t find the end zone. In six trips inside the 20-yard line, East Carolina totaled nine points. Three of the Pirates’ red zone trips ended in turnovers -- an interception by Jamarcus King in the end zone, an interception by Chris Lammons at the 1-yard line and a fumble that was forced by Antoine Wilder and recovered by Ulric Jones in the end zone.
“If they don’t big play you, they can’t beat you because when they get in the red zone, they struggle to run the ball,” Muschamp said. “It’s Football 101.”
East Carolina pulled within five in the fourth quarter, but South Carolina sealed the win by picking up a fourth-and-1 with 1:44 left in the game to run out the clock.
McIlwain, a true freshman making his first collegiate start, finished 16-of-28 passing for 195 yards and added 34 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Senior quarterback Perry Orth, who started the first two games of the season, will be the team’s backup quarterback moving forward and McIlwain will be the team’s starter, Muschamp said.
“We felt like we have to continue to generate things in the run game and we felt like the quarterback legs create some things for us,” Muschamp said. “We are going to continue to progress our offense. We need to.”
The Gamecocks came into the game reeling from last week’s 27-14 loss to Mississippi State and needed something good to happen early. Freshman running back A.J. Turner provided it on the opening kickoff. Turner raced 80 yards to the Pirates’ 18-yard line. A personal foul against East Carolina moved the ball to the 9-yard line, and McIlwain took it from there, rushing for a touchdown on the first play of his first collegiate start. “That was an outstanding job by A.J.,” Muschamp said. “He hit the crease just like we asked him.”
Star of the game: With apologies to all the South Carolina defenders who made critical plays in the red zone, East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones was the day’s standout. Jones, a senior wide receiver, set a Pirates’ single-game record with 22 catches for 190 yards. Jones finished one catch short of the NCAA’s single-game record. “I’m glad he didn’t get the record,” Muschamp quipped. “His long was 15 yards. That was the key.” The Gamecocks don’t have a wide receiver on their roster with 22 catches in his career.
Play of the game: Junior college transfer Jamarcus King made his first career interception at an opportune time. The Pirates had a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line and all the momentum when Philip Nelson threw a fade route toward the back of the end zone that a diving and turning King intercepted to maintain South Carolina’s 17-6 lead. “That was a huge momentum play for us,” Muschamp said.
Stat of the game: South Carolina won the turnover battle 4-0. In addition to the three red zone turnovers, the Lammons forced a fumble from ECU quarterback Philip Nelson that was recovered by D.J. Smith, setting up Fry’s first field goal of the game.
Lammons response: After last week’s game against Mississippi State, it looked like Lammons would lose his starting job. Muschamp was critical of the junior cornerback’s willingness to tackle, but Lammons responded well during the week of practice, Muschamp said, and he had eight tackles, an interception and a forced fumble against the Pirates. “We did a couple tackling drills this week for him and several guys, and he displayed great toughness,” Muschamp said. “I said, ‘Why don’t you do it on game day?’ That goes back to coaching. You have to get it out of your players. That’s my fault, not his.”
David Williams sighting: After not seeing the field against Mississippi State, junior running back David Williams was the backup against East Carolina. He finished as the team’s leading rusher with 71 yards on seven carries and he had a 25-yard run to clinch the game in the fourth quarter. “If he continues to do that, he’s going to get a bunch of snaps,” Muschamp said. “David and I had a good talk this week about the things he needed to continue to improve one. Give David credit. It takes a mature young man to respond and he responded the right way.”
Worn out: Muschamp never considered punting on fourth-and-one with two minutes left in the game because his defense had already played 91 snaps. “I didn’t want to put our defense back on the field,” he said.
Who: South Carolina at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 10
Where: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.
TV: SEC Network
How they scored
USC: McIlwain 9 run (Fry kick), 14:48
USC: McIlwain 10 run (Fry kick), 10:53
USC: FG Fry 37, 8:03
ECU: FG Plowman 32, 3:41
ECU: FG Plowman 43, 12:11
ECU: FG Plowman 45, 8:48
USC: FG Fry 39, 6:30
ECU: D.Anderson 4 pass from Nelson (pass failed), 2:35
Time of Possession
East Carolina: Summers 11-71, A.Scott 10-48, Z.Jones 2-11, D.Anderson 2-5, Nelson 9-(minus 12).
South Carolina: Da.Williams 7-67, McIlwain 9-34, A..Turner 6-13, Davis 1-7, (Team) 2-(minus 4).
East Carolina: Nelson 44-57-2-400.
South Carolina: McIlwain 16-28-0-195.
East Carolina: Z.Jones 22-190, Q.Johnson 7-59, D.Anderson 5-33, Farrier 3-58, Ji.Williams 2-44, Baggett 2-18, A.Scott 2-4, Summers 1-(minus 6).
South Carolina: Edwards 5-68, Crosby 4-31, Hurst 2-43, Davis 2-32, August 2-5, Da.Williams 1-16.
MISSED FIELD GOALS
East Carolina: Plowman 25.