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September 15, 2012

Ugly still wins



So, so ugly.

But winning is so, so pretty.

Eighth-ranked South Carolina trampled UAB 49-6 on Saturday to improve to 3-0, but the Gamecocks weren't celebrating too loudly. It's tough to apply the "luck" label to USC's win, but there were definitely some sets of strange circumstances that triggered the win.

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"This was one of the closest 49-6 games I've ever been around," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Anyway, it's over now."

Yes, but the memory lingers.

Consider:

* D.J. Swearinger was credited with a 65-yard fumble recovery after Blazers quarterback Jonathan Perry lost the ball in the first quarter. Nobody hit him, nobody touched him - the ball just popped out of his hand, Swearinger snatched it and was off and running.

* Trying to get another score before halftime, USC ran four straight pass plays, the last on fourth-and-10, after the first three were incomplete. Connor Shaw underthrew to the corner, and was rewarded with a pass interference call. Shaw, on his last play of the game, then found Bruce Ellington for a 20-yard completion (Shaw was knocked goofy and re-injured his tender shoulder on the play) and then Marcus Lattimore did what Marcus Lattimore does, with a short touchdown run.

* Dylan Thompson looked rough early, misfiring all kinds of ways. He threw one interception that was nullified by a roughing-the-passer call, then threw another pass so far over DeAngelo Smith's head that Smith never jumped, and Jake Ganus somehow dropped a ball right in his stomach with open field in front of him. That was on the same possession.

Also on the same possession, immediately after that dropped pick, in fact, Ellington ran under a Thompson pass for 43 yards and then Thompson scored from 6 yards out. Kind of like a possession two series later, when Kenny Miles got 1 whole yard on two carries with USC in the shadow of its own goalpost. So Thompson heaved to a streaking Damiere Byrd, who caught it in stride and raced for a 94-yard touchdown, the fourth-longest pass play in school history.

"I've never had a touchdown drive where we threw one interception, they dropped another and then we scored a touchdown," Spurrier said.

"It was an ugly start, that's for sure," Thompson said.

The rest of the game was a mix of questionable calls, silly turnovers, some awful whistles and non-whistles on personal fouls and USC's defense playing mean. With Shaw ailing on the sideline just as it seemed as if the Gamecocks had him back for Missouri next week, the defense and some big plays made sure that his absence wasn't missed.

USC won ugly all last season and rode it to 11 wins. Saturday at least showed that the Gamecocks haven't lost their touch for that, and a win is always a win, no matter how it looks.

Spurrier wants it to look much prettier, but with Shaw back on the injured list - and unable to play to his usual if he does take the snaps - the Gamecocks may be forced to keep winning ugly. Their game plan this season was to have Shaw and Lattimore zone-read the opponents to death, with some mixed-in play action passes to a plethora of wide receivers.

On Saturday, the receivers got open for some grand, if not fluke-y, receptions. If that keeps happening, who knows how far USC can go?

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