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September 28, 2013
ORLANDO - Once Steve Spurrier remembered Mike Davis was on the roster, South Carolina could little wrong offensively.
Unleashing Davis in a high-voltage second half, the Gamecocks overcame a nightmarish first 30 minutes by outscoring Central Florida, 28-15, in the second for a hard-fought 28-25 victory over the pesky Knights in front of a record crowd at Bright House Networks Stadium on the outskirts of this tourist mecca.
Davis, whose only mistake was a late fumble, rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries in the second half for his third 100-yard effort of the season. USC finished with 225 yards rushing, 180 in the second half when USC turned a 10-point deficit into an 18-point advantage with 28 consecutive points before hanging on late and sweating out a late onsides kick that Bruce Ellington grabbed and returned 31 yards to the UCF 15.
The Gamecocks have rushed for 220 yards or more in all four games this season.
Davis had five carries for 17 yards in the first half as Spurrier sought to establish the passing game, a tactic that didn't work effectively in a scoreless first half for the Gamecocks.
In many ways, the game was a virtual replay of the Kentucky game from last season when USC trailed 17-7 at the half in Lexington, Ky., before reversing course in the second half behind the strong running of Marcus Lattimore.
"I'm happy we won the game," Spurrier said afterwards. "It should not have gotten as close as it did, but fortunately Bruce (Ellington) got the onsides kick. Somebody on top is looking out for our team right now because with our mental decisions that we're making right now, we easily could have lost."
Extending their regular season non-conference winning streak to 18 games, the Gamecocks dominated the second half, forcing three UCF turnovers, four in all. Almost five years has elapsed since USC last lost to a non-conference opponent during the regular season.
Even though he left the game in the first quarter with a sprained shoulder, USC quarterback Connor Shaw registered his 20th career victory, tying him with Garry Harper, Stephen Garcia and Steve Taneyhill for second place on USC's all-time list and putting four wins behind all-time leader Todd Ellis (24 wins). Shaw is 20-4 in his career, 8-4 on the road.
Dylan Thompson was 15-of-32 for 261 yards in the relief role. UCF quarterback Blake Bortles finished 25-of-36 passing for 358 yards and two touchdowns, but was harassed into three interceptions and a fumble and was sacked twice.
"It was a game of two halves, obviously," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "We came out and made plays in the first half on defense and offense. In the second half, we couldn't stop the run, which I thought we did a very poor job of, so we had a tough time staying in the game. And when you turn the ball over like we did, it's going to be even harder to stay in the game. We shot ourselves in the foot in the second half."
In addition to Shaw's injury, which Spurrier said will keep the senior quarterback on the sidelines for a week or two, running back Brandon Wilds suffered a dislocated elbow that will likely keep him out of action for at least two to three weeks.
Completions of 73 and 79 yards by UCF in the final 10 minutes dampened the efforts of the Gamecock defense in the second half, though. USC outgained UCF, 490-427, including 225-69 on the ground.
"We'll work on it," Spurrier said about the defense. "I can assure you that we'll have some new defenses. With what we have now, it is not working very well. We'll see if we can't get some fast guys back there."
Wide receiver Damiere Byrd had one of the best games of his career with five receptions for 74 yards, including a 38-yard catch. He needed to step forward because Shaq Roland was suspended for the game due to a violation of athletic department policy.
Bolstered by Davis, USC outgained UCF, 326-231, in the second half and scored four touchdowns on seven possessions and 45 total plays with all four scores coming within a span of 18:20 bridging the third and fourth quarters. The Gamecocks scored their final touchdown with 10:31 left.
"Mike Davis had a heckuva game and the line blocked well, so that was very encouraging," Spurrier said. "We knew we had to try something different in the second half."
The two teams combined for 29 points in the wild fourth quarter.
After rushing the ball just 11 times in 35 offensive snaps in the first half, Spurrier unleashed Davis at the outset of the second half and the sophomore obliged with a 53-yard touchdowns on USC's fourth snap of the second half, cutting UCF's lead to 10-7 less than two minutes into the third quarter.
However, Wilds fumbled on USC's second possession, handing the ball over the Knights at the SC 42 on USC's third turnover of the afternoon. Wilds left the field with an apparent elbow injury.
The USC defense stood tall and forced the second punt in six minutes by the Knights, equaling the number on punts by UCF in the entire first half.
The ball was downed at the SC three-yard line.
Thompson, though, went to work, beating the UCF blitz with a short pass to Busta Anderson that the junior tight end converted into a 28-yard gain.
The junior signal-caller then scrambled to his left and hit Byrd for 38 yards down to the four-yard line. One third-and-goal, Thompson rolled right and, not seeing an open receiver, won the foot race to the pylon for a two-yard TD run, giving the Gamecocks the lead for the good at 14-10.
The 11-play, 97-yard march was USC's longest of the season after stringing together a pair of 90-yard drives in the Vanderbilt victory two weeks ago.
When Jimmy Legree intercepted an ill-advised flea flicker pass by the Knights, USC was positioned to expand the lead.
And it did. After Thompson plunged forward for a first down on fourth-and-inches from the UCF 11, Davis powered through a gaggle of UCF defenders into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon, increasing USC's lead to 21-10 with 14:09 left in the fourth quarter.
When Gerald Dixon outfought Bortles for the ball on a fumble at the UCF 31, USC promptly drove for a touchdown as Davis registered his third rushing TD of the afternoon on a 13-yard jaunt through the middle of the UCF defense.
The Knights quickly responded with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to Rannell Hall, and converted the two-pointer to slice the lead to 28-18 with 9:48 left in the contest.
USC went three-and-out and a long punt return started the Knights at the SC 38. But T.J. Holloman intercepted a poorly thrown pass, USC's third pick of Bortles on the afternoon, and USC converted a key third down to drain some more of the clock.
But a fumble by Davis inside the five-yard line gave UCF hopes and Bortles hit on a 73-yard touchdown play to pull to within 28-25.
The onsides kick bounced the arms of Ellington and he returned the ball deep into Knights territory. With no timeouts, UCF couldn't stop the clock and three kneel downs sealed the victory.
Little went right for the Gamecocks in a nightmarish first half, as the Knights dominated both sides of the ball and Shaw exited early with the shoulder sprain.
"UCF is a good team," Spurrier said. "I thought we would be a little bit better offensively (in the first half). They were controlling a lot of the clock in the first half. I give them credit."
O'Leary said he wanted his team to grab the lead early and the Knights offense accommodated him by taking the opening kickoff and driving 75 yards in 10 plays for the opening touchdown of the game.
Bortles was 5-of-6 for 31 yards on the drive, including a short pass to Storm Johnson on third-and-10 in which he sidestepped a couple of Gamecocks defenders en route to a key first down. Bortles then scrambled 19 yards to the one-yard line, setting up Johnson's TD plunge.
After generating a pair of first downs on USC's first possession, Shaw scrambled beyond midfield, but coughed up the fumble when he was hammered by UCF linebacker Terrance Plummer.
Worse, he suffered a right shoulder sprain and was taken to the locker room. He didn't return.
Thompson took over the quarterback duties on USC's second possession, and the Gamecocks began to rely on Davis (two straight rushes, 14 yards) to move the football. But USC was eventually forced to punt.
Bortles led UCF beyond midfield until Clowney and a surge of Gamecocks sacked Bortles for a 14-yard loss on third down to force a punt. However, Victor Hampton made the mistake of catching the ensuing punt at the three-yard line and was tackled, pinning Thompson and USC deep in the own territory.
Thompson coolly stepped back and completed a 15-yard pass to Byrd, pulling the Gamecocks out of immediate danger. USC continued to throw the football and Thompson connected with Ellington for a 27-yard gain on third-and-10.
Moments later, another pass attempt on third down fell incomplete and the Gamecocks punted. USC threw seven times on the seven-play possession, effectively abandoning the run.
Continuing to carve up the USC defense, Bortles led UCF on a 13-play, 80-yard march towards a 27-yard field goal by Shawn Moffitt with 4:26 left in the second quarter.
USC safety Brison Williams was flagged for targeting the possession, but his ejection was overturned on review. The penalty stood, though, setting up the Knights in field goal range.
Special teams malfunctioned when Tyler Hull couldn't handle the snap, got a short kick off (officially four yards) that was caught by UCF tackle E.J. Dunston and returned to the SC 36.
However, Hampton picked off a Bortles pass over the middle for the first turnover of the game by the Knights, and the junior's first interception of the season.
USC drove into UCF territory and looked to set up a long field goal attempt until a personal foul penalty on left tackle Corey Robinson pushed the Gamecocks back to the 46.
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