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September 16, 2012

USC wallops UAB; Bring on the SEC

For the second straight Saturday, South Carolina squared off with a Conference USA opponent at a nearly sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium.

Different opponent, but a nearly identical score by the time the final gun sounded.

South Carolina hosted UAB on Saturday and Gamecock Central was there in force to bring you the very best coverage.
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After a sluggish start, the Gamecocks erupted for 42 points over the final three quarters, crushing UAB 49-6 in front of a happy crowd of 77,963 fans that enjoyed the new videoboard for the first time at night.

Seven days after walloping East Carolina 48-10 USC out-gained the pass-happy Blazers by a 472-129 margin over the final three periods.

The slow start by the Gamecocks, though, had coach Steve Spurrier contending the game wasn't as disproportionate as the final score indicated.

"This was one of the closest 49-6 games I've ever been around," Spurrier said. "They stuffed us pretty good in the first half. We were fortunate to get what points we could. It was a struggle. We hit some big passes."

USC's offensive output exceeded 500 yards for the second time in two weeks, as the Gamecocks amassed 501 yards, with 322 coming through the air on only 15 completions.

The Gamecocks scored touchdowns on seven of their final 12 possessions.

USC remained perfect at 3-0 with the win and entered a stretch of seven straight SEC games. Spurrier won his 200th game as a college coach and his 58th as coach of the Gamecocks, moving him to within six wins of the school mark for all-time victories held by Rex Enright (64).

USC hosts newly minted SEC member Missouri at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in a nationally televised contest (CBS).

After sitting out last week's game and practicing only sporadically this week, Connor Shaw started and played most of the first half before exiting after aggravating the shoulder injury he sustained at Vanderbilt, completing 8-of-14 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown.

The decision to start Shaw wasn't made until after pre-game warmups.

"The trainers and doctors all cleared him," Spurrier said. "I thought he earned and deserved the chance to start. He struggled early. He seemed to be tentative or maybe hesitant. Connor got hit on that sore spot in his back."

Dylan Thompson was 5-of-10 for 177 yards, an average of 35.4 yards per completion.

"He settled in and made some beautiful throws," Spurrier said.

After being shaken up late in the first half moments before Marcus Lattimore's 3-yard touchdown run, Shaw was taken out and didn't return.

Lattimore had 85 yards on just 12 carries (7.1 yards per carry) to push his season total to 235 yards after three games, keeping him on the path towards the second 1,000-yard season of his career.

Lattimore's second-quarter touchdown allowed him to establish a school record for most career touchdowns (34).

Freshman Mike Davis had 84 yards on just four carries, including an impressive 50-yard scamper to the UAB 36-yard-line.

Four USC quarterbacks combined to complete 15-of-27 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns.

The USC defense was as much of the story, though, as the offense. The Gamecocks limited the Blazers to 27 yards on 42 rushing attempts, an average of 0.6 yards per rush.

USC stymied the Blazers in the red zone, stopping UAB twice on downs inside the 11-yard line. Overall, the Blazers turned the ball over on downs three times in USC territory.

"Our defensive guys were excellent in red-zone defense," Spurrier said. "Holding them to six points all night was a super defensive effort. That's sort of what we expect from our guys. We should be that kind of defense most of the time."

Jadeveon Clowney has one of the finest games of his 16-game career with seven tackles, 3.5 for loss, and two sacks.

"It gets better each week," Clowney said. "I think I was better than I was last week. As the weeks go on, you try to improve each game and just go out there and play hard."

After kicking a field goal on its initial possession, UAB's final 14 possessions produced seven punts, three turnovers on downs, the end of each half and a field goal.

"I'm really proud of our kids," UAB coach Garrick McGee said. "They really hung in there and competed with one of the top teams in the country for a long time in the game. There were some things that went on during the game that got them frustrated."

UAB, which dominated time of possession (36:13) had 89 yards of total offense in the second half.

"We made the corrections at halftime," USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "I have to make sure I put them in the right situation and the right coverages."

Thompson, who went wire-to-wire in last week's victory over East Carolina, quarterbacked USC throughout the third quarter and part of the fourth, and ran for a 6-yard touchdown on the Gamecocks' opening possession of the second half.

By posting its seventh straight victory, USC matched the second-longest winning streak in school history (1958-59). Only the 1984 "Black Magic" team has a longer winning streak (9-0 start).

After taking a 21-6 lead into halftime, USC parlayed a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Blazers into an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the opening minutes of the third quarter.

The penalty negated an interception by UAB.

Moments later, Thompson hit Bruce Ellington for an 11-yard gain on third-and-10 and then the same duo hooked up for a 43-yard pass to the UAB 6. However, Ellington suffered a shoulder sprain on the play and left the game. He finished with five receptions for 98 yards.

Spurrier said after the game that Ellington "should be fine" and ready to play against Missouri next week.

Thompson ran up the middle for a touchdown from 6 yards out on the next snap with 12:57 left in the third quarter.

The most exciting moment of the game occurred midway through the third quarter when Thompson hit Damiere Byrd for a 94-yard touchdown pass to give USC a 35-6 lead, all but ending the drama on a beautiful evening in Columbia.

On third-and-9, Thompson lofted a deep pass towards the right sideline. Byrd shook his defender, who stumbled while trying to pursue the Gamecocks' fastest player.

Bad mistake. Byrd caught the pass in stride and cruised into the end zone for the fourth-longest pass completion in school history.

Shaq Roland grabbed his first career touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 42-6, assuring the Gamecocks would surpass the 40-point plateau for the second straight weekend against a C-USA opponent.

Davis powered over from 3 yards out with 10:05 left to push the Gamecocks to within one point of the half-century mark, 49-6.

The lopsided final score belies the fact that UAB dominated the first quarter, but it was all Gamecocks over the final 45 minutes.

After a short kickoff led to a 52-yard return by the Blazers, UAB drove as far as the 16-yard line before settling for a 33-yard field goal with 12:41 left in the first quarter.

USC moved into UAB territory on its opening possession as a result of completions to Ellington (wide receiver screen) and Ace Sanders (catch-and-run), but a major miscommunication gifted an easy interception to the Blazers. Shaw threw to a spot and nobody was there except for a UAB defensive back.

Tyler Hull's 51-yard punt pinned the Blazers at the UAB 19, but Jonathan Perry rifled three passes to receivers, gaining 53 yards to the USC 23. The Blazers looked set to put some more points on the board.

Then one of the more bizarre plays ever seen changed momentum just when the Gamecocks needed it the most.

Perry dropped back and started his arm motion as if to attempt a pass, but the ball popped into the air and free safety D.J. Swearinger was Johnny-on-the-Spot. He grabbed it out of the air and raced 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:17 left in the first quarter.

"I was on the blitz and we got pressure from the front side," Swearinger said. "I think it was Devin (Taylor) that got the pressure. We saw they lost the ball and I picked it up and took it the distance. It was a game-changing moment and we needed it to give us a boost in the game."

After UAB failed on a fourth-and-11 (Perry was forced to throw ball away) from the USC 36, Shaw directed a nine-play, 64-yard touchdown drive to put the Gamecocks ahead 14-3 with 11:15 left in the second quarter.

Sanders capped the drive by catching a pass towards the left sidelines, shedding a would-be tackler and out-racing another defender to the end zone for his first touchdown of the season.

Sanders had two receptions for 41 yards on the drive while Lattimore carried four times for 15 yards, including a powerful 7-yard run through the middle for a first down at the UAB 21.

Hull's poor punt (18 yards) set up the Blazers at their 42-yard line with 8:24 left in the second quarter. Continuing to execute the passing game behind the strong-armed Perry, the Blazers drove as far as the USC 31 until the Gamecock defense stiffened.

Tyler Long booted a 46-yard field goal with 4:34 left in the second quarter to slice USC's advantage to 14-6.

Two minutes later, USC received a major break when UAB was called for pass interference on fourth-and-10 from the UAB 37. The penalty led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Lattimore as the junior from Duncan registered his 34th career TD in 23 career games to establish a school record, snapping a tie with George Rogers and Harold Green.

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