South Carolina survived a scary first half Saturday and rallied behind freshman quarterback Lorenzo Nunez in the second half to win its first game in 23 days.
“I think he did great for his first start,” linebacker Skai Moore said of Nunez. “He can only get better from here. He’s a gamer, and that’s what we need.”
The Gamecocks improved to 2-2 and kept UCF winless with a 31-14 victory in front of 78, 411 slightly wet fans at Williams-Brice Stadium. South Carolina returns to SEC action this week when it goes on the road to play Missouri.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “I told our guys, ‘This is going to be a tough game.’ We were in trouble at halftime, but I, basically, just told our guys, whoever plays best in the second half is going to win the game, and we played the best in the second half. It was a good win for us.”
South Carolina had 400 yards of offense compared to UCF’s 230. Nunez finished with a team-high 123 rushing yards on 18 carries and completed 12 of 22 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Pharoh Cooper led the Gamecocks in receiving with four catches for 69 yards.
The Knights led 14-8 midway through the third quarter when Spurrier called a trick play that called for Nunez to throw a wide lateral to Cooper and for Cooper to throw the ball. However, Cooper did not immediately see an open receiver and pulled the ball down, reversed field, slipped four tackle attempts and went 29 yards for a touchdown that put the Gamecocks ahead for good. “That’s been a good play for us, just throw it out there to Pharoh,” Spurrier said.
Star of the game: Nunez provided the spark Spurrier was hoping for when he named him his starter earlier this week. Nunez rushed 18 times for a team-high 123 yards and completed 12 of 22 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Stat of the game: South Carolina came into the game next-to-last in the SEC in third-down conversion rate at 33 percent. It converted 7-of-16 against UCF.
Play of the game: Nunez’ prettiest long ball of the day came late in the third quarter when he threw a 35-yard post to a leaping Cooper in the end zone to put South Carolina up 28-14. “He threw the ball a little bit better, I think, than everybody thought, and played very well,” Spurrier said.
Move to the middle: The middle linebacker position in South Carolina’s defense is a busy spot. T.J. Holloman started there against UCF and recorded his first two interceptions of the season. Skai Moore intercepted three passes from the middle linebacker spot in the first three games. Moore played weakside linebacker Saturday to make room for Holloman to start in the middle.
Pressure point: South Carolina’s defense looks much better when it can get pressure on the quarterback. Led by freshman Boosie Whitlow’s first sack, a rejuvenated pass rush had seven quarterback hurries, allowing the coverage behind it to flourish to the tune of two interceptions.
Bad behavior: Several people in the student section expressed their frustration with an official’s call and then with the home team’s play by throwing towels onto the field in the first half. It wasn’t many people, but it’s still a bad look.
Who: South Carolina at Missouri
When: Noon, Oct. 3
Where: Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Mo.
TV: SEC Network