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November 10, 2012
Life without Marcus Lattimore is OK so far for South Carolina.
Minus their injured All-America running back, the Gamecocks remained unbeaten at home this season, parlaying a late first-half touchdown by Bruce Ellington and a dominant third quarter into a 38-20 victory over Arkansas in front of nearly 80,000 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium and a CBS national television audience on Saturday.
By snapping a three-game losing streak to Arkansas, the Gamecocks, coming off a bye week, improved to 8-2 and finished 6-2 in the SEC for the second straight season.
Ahead 21-10 at intermission, USC piled up 113 yards and scored 17 points in the third quarter to take a commanding 38-13 lead into the final period.
"Overall it was a good win for us," coach Steve Spurrier said. "We just didn't play super. As a coach, you'd like for your guys to really play well. We played well enough to beat them. Hopefully, we can keep trying to get better."
When freshman running back Mike Davis barreled into the end zone from 2 yards out on an option play with 2:19 left in the third quarter, USC capped a surge that saw the Gamecocks score 24 points within a span of 14:11.
The stretch included a 42-yard touchdown catch by Ellington, a 41-yard field goal by Adam Yates and a 69-yard interception return by D.J. Swearinger moments after he was flagged for two straight personal fouls.
In extending its home winning streak to 10 games - third-longest in school history - USC must beat Wofford next week (1 p.m, pay-per-view) to lock up an unbeaten home record for the first time since 1987.
"We've had some bumps in the road, but 6-2 (in the SEC) isn't bad," Spurrier said. "We would really like to win that one next week. There are still some opportunities out there for us. We'll see how it all plays out."
USC improved to 26-3 in its last 29 home games and secured eight or more wins for the third straight year, yet another first in Spurrier's eight-year tenure.
After scoring 10 points in the opening 4:19 of the third quarter to take a commanding 31-10 lead, the Gamecocks cruised home. Only a touchdown with less than a minute remaining by the Razorbacks made the final score appear somewhat respectable.
Thirty-nine seconds after Yates' 41-yard field goal, Swearinger swiped a pass by Tyler Wilson over the middle and raced 69 yards for a touchdown to give USC a 21-point lead and drain most of the drama - and tension - out of the stadium.
"The bye week gave everybody a chance to mourn about Marcus and get some time to go home, relax and get away from football for a little bit," running back Kenny Miles said. "A lot of guys went home. When we came back, we were a lot more focused and ready to go."
Arkansas fell to 4-6, 2-4 SEC and must now beat Mississippi State and LSU in its final two games to attain bowl eligibility.
"South Carolina is an awfully good football team," Arkansas coach John L. Smith said. "They didn't make any mistakes during the game. We made a lot of mistakes. The pick-six was a big momentum-changer that really hurt us. We will continue to fight and remain together over these next two weeks."
USC quarterback Connor Shaw completed 14-of-22 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns as he outdueled more highly touted quarterback Wilson (26-of-41 for 277 yards and two touchdowns). Shaw's foot - he sprained it late in the Tennessee game - started bothering him late, so Spurrier inserted Dylan Thompson into the game in the fourth quarter.
The Gamecocks amassed 383 yards of total offense compared to 360 for Arkansas. Davis, seeing his most extensive playing time of the season, led USC with 53 yards on 13 carries.
"Mike Davis had some pretty good runs," Spurrier said.
Even without Lattimore, the Gamecocks remained committed to running the football, rushing 41 times for 104 yards while holding Arkansas to 83 yards on the ground. USC averaged just 2.5 yards per rush, though.
"We didn't run the ball very well, but we ran a few here and there and hit some good ones here and there," Spurrier said.
Bruising back Dennis Johnson was held to 41 yards on 11 rushing attempts. USC forced three turnovers by the Razorbacks - including a pair of interceptions (Swearinger and Akeem Auguste) and a fumble by Johnson inside the red zone.
The Razorbacks managed just 139 yards on 31 offensive snaps in the second half, 58 of those yards coming on a meaningless touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter with USC ahead by four touchdowns.
"We decided to do something totally different than we did in the first half," USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "Coming into this game, we played a lot of three-deep and we only did two or three plays of that this week. We played a lot of zone coverage. We played very well in the second half."
Arkansas drove into the red zone five times, but three of those possessions ended with a pair of short field goals and a turnover.
"In the second half, our defense settled in and played pretty well until that last drive," Spurrier said. "They had to settle for field goals. Fortunately, when we were down there, we were getting touchdowns most of the time."
Swearinger finished with a season-high 13 tackles (10 unassisted) to go along with the pick-six.
Penalties for holding and illegal formation sabotaged Arkansas' opening drive, which consumed eight plays and more than five minutes but resulted in a punt.
USC took over at its 23-yard-line and raced down the field with a nice blend of running and passing. Justice Cunningham's brilliant's one-handed grab over the middle moved the Gamecocks into Arkansas territory for the first time.
On second-and-15 from the 29, Shaw lofted a pass to a wide-open Jerell Adams over the middle for the first touchdown of the afternoon - and the freshman tight end's first career scoring catch - with 5:47 left in the first quarter.
USC outgained Arkansas 93-31 in the first quarter. Shaw was 5-of-9 passing for 86 yards.
Arkansas marched into the red zone early in the second quarter but the USC defense ripped the ball from Johnson's grasp at the five-yard line and Reginald Bowens fell on it for USC's 15th takeaway this season.
It was the third turnover forced by USC in the red zone in 30 trips by the opposition.
After a three-and-out by the USC offense, Arkansas regained possession at midfield and drove inside the 10-yard line when Wilson fired a bullet over the middle for a game-tying 6-yard touchdown pass to Keon Hatcher, a millisecond before Wilson was leveled by Jadeveon Clowney.
USC responded with a six-play, 70-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a 36-yard pass to Ellington. The Berkeley High School graduate almost broke free before being dragged down. A personal foul (late hit on Shaw) added 15 yards, putting the ball at the Arkansas 14.
On third down from the 10-yard-line, Shaw grabbed the shotgun snap, hesitated for a moment and took off around the right side. He beat the Arkansas defender to the pylon for his third touchdown of the season, giving USC a 14-7 lead with 5:28 left in the second quarter.
Wilson completed two passes as the Razorbacks moved quickly into USC territory. Eventually, the Hogs had first-and-goal inside the 5-yard-line, but the Gamecocks' defense stiffened (a nice pass breakup by Auguste on third down) and Arkansas settled for a 20-yard field goal by Zach Hocker with 3:28 left in the second quarter.
Ahead 14-10, USC faced fourth-and-5 from the Arkansas 42. Spurrier's gamble to go for it rather than punt paid off enormously when a wide-open Ellington got behind the Arkansas secondary and caught a pass around the 20-yard line. He sidestepped one Razorback defender en route to the end zone for a stunning touchdown.
Ellington's fourth touchdown of the season gave USC a 21-10 lead with 1:30 remaining until halftime.
"It seemed like that sort of deflated Arkansas," Spurrier said.
Statistically, the teams were practically even at halftime with USC gaining 222 yards on 30 offensive plays compared to 221 yards on 37 snaps by Arkansas.
Shaw was 9-of-15 passing for 192 yards and two touchdowns in the opening half, while Wilson was 14-of-22 for 192 yards. Wilson was sacked three times, including the final two snaps of the half.
Miles led USC in rushing with 28 yards on eight carries. Ellington caught three passes for 86 yards, while Miles added three receptions.
USC was 4-of-7 on third down in the first half, overcoming poor field position when it started consecutive possessions inside the 6.
"Our field position was horrible," Spurrier said. "We did some dumb things there for a while, but somehow or another we got away it."
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