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October 6, 2013
The script looked awfully familiar.
However, the ending didn't change either.
Overcoming another worrying spell of porous fourth-quarter defense and the absence of All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina raced out to a three-touchdown lead after 16 minutes before holding on for a 35-28 victory over Kentucky Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 82,313 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.
With the 13th victory over Kentucky in the last 14 meetings dating back to 2000, USC improved to 4-1 overall, 2-1 in the SEC and begins a three-game road swing with a trip to Arkansas next Saturday (12:21 p.m., SEC TV), while Kentucky fell to 1-4 overall, 0-2 SEC in Mark Stoops' first year as head coach of the Wildcats.
The 14th straight home victory, now the second-longest streak in school history and the third-longest active streak in the country, mimicked the wins over Vanderbilt and UCF in numerous ways, too many for most Gamecock supporters compelled to pull out the antacid tablets in the final period.
USC was outscored 21-8 in the fourth quarter, but built a 27-7 cushion through three quarters, so the Gamecocks were able to survive yet another dangerous-looking fourth-quarter rally by the opposition.
"We barely won the game, but it is what it is," Steve Spurrier said afterwards. "We can't slow anybody much in the second half. But we're 4-1 and we're getting ready for Arkansas next week. A lot of guys played super, most of them on offense. It was a good win. It's always fun to be tested."
Mike Davis reached the century mark for the fourth time in five games, finishing with 106 yards on 21 carries, including a pair of touchdown runs of 22 and 1 yard, while Connor Shaw was on the mark all night, completing 17-of-20 passes for 262 yards and one touchdown while leading a turnover-free USC offense.
USC outgained Kentucky, 453-301 even though it ran just two more plays than the Wildcats, which totaled 105 yards in the fourth quarter, including an eight-play, 81-yard drive for the final touchdown of the night with 4:02 left.
However, reminiscent of the Vanderbilt game, USC was able to run out the clock, denying Kentucky an opportunity to force overtime.
"Connor Shaw played a heck of a game and Mike Davis had crucial runs when we needed him," Spurrier said. "You have to move the ball and score every time you touch it if you want to win the game. We've got a good offense. We should go out there and score a bunch of points if we get a lot of possessions."
Spurrier improved to 20-1 all-time against Kentucky, becoming the first active Division I coach to win 20 games against a single team.
USC totaled 178 yards on the ground (a season low) and 275 through the air as Shaw is became the second winningest quarterback in school history with a 21-4 record. He is 13-0 at home.
"It's never frustrating when you win," Shaw said. "I couldn't be more proud of our guys on offense. I thought we battled throughout the night."
Clowney, who suffered bruised ribs in practice this week, missed the first SEC game of his career. Word that Clowney would sit out spread moments before the opening kickoff.
"We found out he wasn't playing right before the game," USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "Coach Spurrier told me that he was having trouble running because his ribs were hurting. We'll see if he'll be ready to play next week."
After building a comfortable 24-7 halftime lead, USC pushed the lead to 20 points with five minutes left in the third quarter when freshman placekicker Elliott Fry booted a 41-yard field goal on USC's initial possession of the second half, an 11-play, 53-yard drive consuming almost six minutes.
In terms of possession time, the drive was USC's longest of the night and the third draining more than four minutes off the clock.
The final 20 minutes saw the Gamecocks battle to hang on as Kentucky scored touchdowns on its final three possessions of the contest.
USC has been outscored, 58-28, in the fourth quarter this season. Saturday's win marked the third straight game in which the Gamecocks have surrendered 15 or more points in the fourth quarter.
They have won all three, so Spurrier could afford to smile.
"We didn't give up any long passes, so that was progress," Spurrier said. "We're still winning, so that makes it not as tough. We don't like it, but if that's who we are, that's the kind of team we're going to be all year it looks like. We're going to try to change it though."
Kentucky drove for a disputed touchdown early in the fourth quarter to slice the deficit to 27-14 with 13:43 left. Initially, the officials ruled the Wildcats receiver had been stopped short of the goal line by Victor Hampton, setting up fourth down, but the replay official reversed the call by ruling the ball broke the plane.
Another special teams blunder - this time a fumble by Bruce Ellington as he was fighting for extra yardage - gave Kentucky the ball on the SC 35.
A foolish unsportsmanlike penalty on Kadetrix Marcus (spiked ball when he thought he had a fumble recovery) moved the ball inside the red zone and Kentucky scored moments later on a third down pass to a wide-open Ryan Timmons in the left corner of the end zone.
Just when USC needed somebody to stabilize the wobbly fourth quarter ship, Shaw raced through the middle for 31 yards and a short pass to Davis turned into a 18-yard gain.
Out of the Wildcat, freshman Pharoh Cooper raced 23 yards around the left side to the UK 3, setting the stage for Shaw's two-yard plunge for the touchdown. Leading by 12 points, Spurrier decided to go for two points and Shaw rolled right and fired a pass to Damiere Byrd for the two-point conversion.
However, the fourth-quarter migraines first experienced against Vanderbilt and UCF reared their ugly head again when Kentucky rocketed 81 yards down the field in eight plays to cut the lead to 35-28 with 4:02 left.
But Davis spun his way for a first down with 2:20 left, forcing Kentucky to start exhausting its priceless supply of timeouts. When the Wildcats were flagged for a substitution infraction to give USC a first-and-5 at the UK 44, the Gamecocks could smell victory.
Davis clinched the victory with a seven-yard run for a first down with 1:59 left, putting him over the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season.
"Our guys are trying hard and that's all you can say as a coach, just keep trying as best you can," Spurrier said. "We're happy with the players, effort-wise."
Just as it did against North Carolina in the season opener, USC struck early with a long touchdown pass within the first two minutes of the game.
This time, Shaw connected with Byrd for a 62-yard bomb over the middle for the junior receiver's first touchdown of the 2013 season and fourth of his career, lifting USC into a quick 7-0 lead.
Byrd, experiencing a renaissance over the past two games with 10 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns, led USC in receiving for the second straight week. Sophomore Shaq Roland sat out the second of a three-game suspension for violating university policy.
"We came out strong," Byrd said. "That is what we want to do every game. We expected the game would be a dogfight and that's what it was. (The touchdown) was a great throw by Connor. We got the coverage we wanted. He threw it out there and I was able to go get it."
USC's next possession, Shaw scrambled for a first down past midfield and flipped a swing pass to Davis for 23 yards to the UK 25.
Davis did the rest from there. Catching the Wildcats in a blitz, Davis rumbled through the middle for a 22-yard touchdown run with 6:36 left in the first quarter to cap a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
The next time USC touched the football? Another long touchdown as Davis sailed over the top from two yards out to increase the lead to 21-0.
Laser-perfect on the drive, Shaw was 3-for-3 for 49 yards passing, while Davis ran the final four plays in the red zone for 18 yards.
When that scoring drive ended with Davis' second touchdown of the night and his eighth of the season, USC enjoyed a 228-34 edge over Kentucky in total yards.
Seemingly down and out, the Kentucky offense showed some life for the first time as the Wildcats turned, appropriately enough, to the Wildcat offense during a 14-play, 75-yard march towards a short touchdown run by Raymond Sanders.
In spite of scoring three touchdowns on three possessions with Shaw at the controls, Spurrier inserted backup Dylan Thompson into the game midway through the second quarter, but USC punted after picking up one first down.
Shaw returned for USC's fifth possession of the first half and his scramble to the UK 23 set up Fry's 40-yard field goal with 12 seconds left in the second quarter to give USC a 24-7 halftime lead.
Shaw sprayed the ball to five different receivers on the drive - Pharoh Cooper (1st career catch for 12 yards), Kwinton Smith (8), Byrd (11), Rory Anderson (5 yards and lateraled to Davis) and Ellington (7).
Four Gamecock receivers caught two or more passes in the first half, including Byrd, who had three receptions for 86 yards.
USC outgained Kentucky, 297-100, in the first half, propelling it to within 180 yards of 2,000 total yards in a five-game stretch for the second time in school history.
Shaw was 13-of-16 passing for 211 yards and one touchdown in the opening 30 minutes, while Davis carried 10 times for 62 yards, placing him in position to surpass 100 yards for the fourth time in 2013.
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