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September 8, 2012
Even though he was forced to rely upon a backup quarterback that struggled in the season-opener last week, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was adamant about throwing the ball in Saturday's matchup with East Carolina.
His persistence paid off as USC produced the highest single-game passing total (397 yards) in his eight seasons as coach during a 48-10 trouncing of East Carolina in the home opener in front of more than 77,000 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Pressed into duty when a bruised right shoulder kept Connor Shaw on the sidelines, backup quarterback Dylan Thompson flourished in his first career start, completing 21-of-37 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns.
With Shaw sidelined, most thought that USC would focus on running the ball with Marcus Lattimore and the deep running back corps.
Instead, happy Gamecock fans were treated to vintage Spurrier as Thompson came out firing from the opening bell and he continued throwing the ball for four quarters. In fact, the Gamecocks' final play from scrimmage was a 51-yard touchdown pass from Seth Strickland with less than a minute remaining.
"We felt coming in we'd have a chance to get the ball off and see what happens," Spurrier said. "Today, the ball was in the air for probably more distance than any game I've coached here. We got it down there. We didn't hit them all, but at least we got them in the air. Our receivers had fun going after them."
USC improved to 2-0 and will host UAB, another Conference USA opponent, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 15.
USC scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions to grab a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and cruised to the win. The 48 points represented the fourth-highest single-game output in Spurrier's eight years.
"We were determined to throw the ball around this week," Spurrier said in his post-game interview with the Gamecock Radio Network. "Dylan played very well and hit just about everything. He had a few sacks. The defense played well. It was a good win and a lot of guys got the chance to play."
Spurrier improved to 57-35 at USC.
The Gamecocks literally flew over ECU's 3-4 defensive alignment with 528 total yards, a sum exceeded only once in Spurrier's tenure at USC. The Gamecocks had 545 yards against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 16, 2008.
USC quarterbacks combined to complete 23-of-40 passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions. Buster Anderson and Bruce Ellington led USC's receivers with four catches apiece.
Eleven different Gamecocks caught at least one pass, including highly touted freshman Shaq Roland, who had two receptions for 25 yards.
Thompson's performance was nearly flawless, although he did fumble inside the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter when he lowered his helmet and collided with a ECU defender. The ball tumbled from his grasp.
"Dylan was ready to play and he had a lot of confidence," Spurrier said. "He was in command out there. He had a few bad plays. Hopefully he can learn from them, especially that collision on the 2-yard line. That was scary. We never tell him to duck his head like that."
USC led 35-0 before East Carolina finally scored its first points of the game on a 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
Spurrier is a perfect 45-0 against non-BCS schools in 23 years as a collegiate coach, including 19-0 at USC.
The Gamecocks have started 2-0 for the fourth time under Spurrier, who has now won 199 games as a collegiate coach.
The defense forced five turnovers and overpowered the fast-paced ECU offense for most of the afternoon. USC enjoyed a plus-four advantage in turnover margin.
The two teams combined for 87 passes and 730 passing yards in a contest that took 3:19 to complete and was played in sweltering temperatures that reached the low 90s by the second half.
Only three penalties were called in the game, two on the Gamecocks.
By averaging 7.1 yards per play, USC extended its winning streak to six dating to last season, tying for the third-longest in school history. The Gamecocks also pushed their regular-season non-conference winning streak to 13 games.
USC scored six touchdowns on 13 offensive possessions and had five drives of 70 yards or more in the game. However, just one of those drives lasted longer than 10 plays and took more than three minutes.
"They coached me up tremendously all week," Thompson said. "Coach Spurrier and coach (G.A.) Mangus did what they do. They're great coaches and gave me the chance to succeed. My job as the backup is to always be ready. All week I had my mind focused on,'It's my week to show what I can do.' We got off to a great start."
The current six-game winning streak is the longest since the Gamecocks put together a similar six-game stretch in 2006-07, and marks the seventh time in school history that USC has won as many as six straight games.
The school record for consecutive wins is nine, set in 1984 by the celebrated Black Magic team that held the school record for most wins in a single season until last year.
The lopsided win continues USC's dominance at home over the past four seasons. The Gamecocks have won 21 of their last 24 games in Columbia after snapping ECU's three-game winning streak at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Prior to Saturday, USC's last home win over the Pirates came in 1993.
Spurrier didn't wait long to get Thompson involved in the game after the much-awaited decision was made to rest Shaw's ailing shoulder.
After a reverse by Ellington picked up a first down, Thompson fired and completed a 53-yard pass to sophomore Damiere Byrd, who beat his defender by a step, and caught the ball in front of the USC bench.
"I hit Damiere Byrd and it helped my confidence," Thompson said. "I told the receivers to be ready."
Moments later, Lattimore powered through the middle for his 33rd career touchdown on a 6-yard burst, tying the school record held by George Rogers and Harold Green. It was also his 30th career rushing touchdown, one shy of the school mark.
Lattimore's touchdown opened the scoring just 73 seconds into the contest.
East Carolina started its second drive at the USC 49 and moved inside the 30-yard line before the drive stalled and place-kicker Warren Harvey missed a 46-yard field goal.
Thompson fired touchdown passes to Anderson from 7 yards and DeAngelo Smith from 30 yards on USC's next two possessions to give the Gamecocks a 21-0 lead with 11:58 left in the second quarter.
After USC gave the ball to Lattimore three times but went three-and-out on its second possession, Spurrier turned his attention back to the passing game and the USC offense responded with a five-play, 71-yard drive, culminated by the 7-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to Anderson with 5:54 left in the first quarter.
The TD toss marked Thompson's first career touchdown pass. The Boiling Springs native was 4-for-4 for 64 yards on the scoring drive.
"We're all proud of Dylan in his first start," Spurrier said. "The confidence he played with was thrilling for all of us to see."
Two passes on the drive were completed to Ellington for a total of 40 yards as he continued to play a prominent role in the first quarter offensive attack. By the end of the third possession, the redshirt sophomore from Berkeley County had two catches for 40 yards and one carry for 16 yards.
"Bruce Ellington had a very good game," Spurrier said.
USC had 182 yards of total offense in the first quarter, with Thompson completing 7-of-11 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown.
Thompson continued to shine early in the second quarter when he connected with Smith on a 30-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone, culminating an impressive 10-play, 70-yard drive that took 4:13 to unfold.
Smith did a good job using his body to gain the positional advantage on the ECU defender and made the scoring catch in front of the student section to give USC a 21-0 lead with 11:58 left in the second quarter.
The remainder of the first half was dominated by the USC defense, which intercepted a pair of Rio Johnson passes and forced a fumble on three straight ECU possessions within a span of 8:42.
The defense created its first turnover of the game when Brison Williams stepped in front of an ECU receiver at the USC 7-yard line and grabbed the ball for his first career interception, stopping a promising Pirates drive just when it seemed ECU was about the get on the scoreboard.
Pressured by Jadeveon Clowney, Johnson (18-for-29, 193 yards) threw an interception right into the arms of safety D.J. Swearinger with 1:12 left in the second quarter.
The defense continued to set the tone in the third quarter by forcing turnovers on ECU's first two possessions.
Shaq Wilson's second interception of the season on the second snap of the third quarter soon led to Thompson's 29-yard touchdown pass to D.L. Moore to make it 28-0.
Four snaps later, cornerback Jimmy Legree continued his solid early-season play by picking off a pass and racing 34 yards down the left sideline for USC's fifth touchdown of the afternoon, increasing USC's advantage to 35-0.
"Jimmy Legree had his best game ever as a Gamecock," Spurrier said. "Some of our youngsters that got in late didn't do much to stop East Carolina, but it was good to have a lot of guys playing. We try to win the fourth quarter around here."
East Carolina finally got on the scoreboard and avoided the shutout with a short field goal with 1:44 left in the third quarter. But the Gamecocks responded with a seven-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 16-yard double pass from Thompson to Ace Sanders to a wide-open Moore to make it 41-3.
ECU scored a late touchdown on a 34-yard pass with just over nine minutes remaining.
The Pirates finished with just 70 rushing yards on 24 carries, as USC kept the opponent under the century mark for the second straight week.
But the Gamecocks knew they had to find a way to contain ECU's prolific passing game. The Pirates had 333 yards throwing the ball, but the five turnovers neutralized that figure.
"Going into the game, we knew they would throw the ball a lot," Legree said. "It was a good opportunity for our defense to make plays and that's what we did today."
Strickland came on as quarterback in the final stages and promptly hit Anderson for a 51-yard touchdown pass with 54 seconds left for his second career TD pass.
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