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September 22, 2012

USC welcomes Mizzou to the SEC



South Carolina rudely and noisily introduced Missouri to life on the road in the SEC.

With Williams-Brice Stadium rocking to "Sandstorm" throughout the game, the Gamecocks extended their winning streak to eight games - the second-longest successful stretch in school history - as USC put together a nearly flawless performance, excelling in all phases of a convincing 31-10 victory over Missouri in front of a sellout crowd of 80,836 fans on a warm late Saturday afternoon.

USC-MISSOURI COVERAGE
South Carolina hosted Missouri on Saturday and Gamecock Central was there in force to bring you the very best coverage.
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"We are certainly pleased with the effort," coach Steve Spurrier told the Gamecock Radio network (Spurrier didn't answer questions from other media in his post-game press conference). "We were ready to play. We have improved as a team as we've gone along. But I don't know how good of a team Missouri is. We'll have to see at the end of the season."

Connor Shaw shook off a bothersome shoulder with one of the finest performances of his career as he completed 20-of-21 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He shredded a Missouri pass defense that was content to sit back in a cover-2 for most of the decisive first half.

"They didn't really blitz a whole bunch," Spurrier said. "But they were tough up front. But we made a few yards."

Shaw completed his final 20 throws to spark a USC offense that totaled 396 yards, 144 on the ground and 252 through the air. Shaw also erased doubts about his ability or willingness to run with the football by picking up 41 yards on 12 carries.

"The shoulder felt fine throughout the game," said Shaw, now tied for the second-longest completion streak in SEC history. "I'm sure it will be sore tomorrow."

USC converted 6-of-12 third-down opportunities, a key reason the Gamecocks had five drives of 47 yards or longer on the afternoon and dominated time of possession by controlling the ball more than five minutes longer than Missouri, thus keeping Tigers quarterback James Franklin and the high-tempo offense on the sidelines.

After carrying the ball just 25 times in the previous two games, Marcus Lattimore returned to form with 85 yards on 21 carries and a team-high seven receptions for 60 yards. In the process, Lattimore established a school record for career rushing touchdowns.

"Marcus had a lot of good, tough runs in there," Spurrier said. "Connor had some good runs also. He got off to a slow start when he missed his first (pass). He was sensational today. All the guys played well and the protection was good."

The USC defense manhandled the fast-paced Missouri offense all afternoon behind a dominant defensive line, holding the Tigers to just a field goal until the waning moments of the game, when Missouri scored the first touchdown against the USC defense since the fourth quarter of the East Carolina game.

The Tigers, which snapped the ball 88 times in last week's win over Arizona State, were limited to 58 plays and 12 first downs. Nine of their 11 possessions ended with a punt, turnover or on downs. Missouri's only points in the first 59:42 came on a field goal late in the second quarter.

USC collected three sacks (Jadeveon Clowney had 1.5) and held Missouri to 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. Missouri's longest play from scrimmage was 28 yards, so the Gamecocks allowed few big plays.

"South Carolina is a really good football team. We have to give them a lot of credit", Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Personally, I think they deserved it. They are very well-coached, didn't make many mistakes and in turn took advantage of some of the mistakes we made. That was a pretty dominating performance. We will learn from it and get better."

Missouri was held to 255 total yards, including just 146 passing. Missouri averaged 8.1 yards per completion and a paltry 5.6 yards per attempt.

"You give their front six a lot of credit because they are very talented," Pinkel said. "We are very young and they won that battle. You get in third-and-long situations and it's not the ideal situation to be in with that group up front for them."

After stacking one lackluster performance upon another over the past few years, USC's special teams finally erupted on Saturday. Ace Sanders had punt returns of 49 (one of the most exciting returns in years), 27 and 14 yards en route to gaining 106 yards on punt returns, while Bruce Ellington returned a kickoff 50 yards.

After three quarters, USC had more return yards (156) than Missouri had offensive yards (151).

"It felt real good getting (special teams) on track and it made the coaches excited about the return game," Sanders said. "Not only the punt returns but Bruce had a big kick return. That was our first return of the season, so it was a big upside for our special teams."

Special teams coordinator Joe Robinson and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward each received game balls, Spurrier said.

The eight-game winning streak dating to last season is the longest for the Gamecocks since the unforgettable 1984 "Black Magic" team won the first nine games of the season.

"It was a really good win for our guys," Spurrier said. "A lot of guys played well, but we lost two fumbles. I don't like that. But it was evident we were stronger than Missouri. Our defensive guys were really fast out there today."

USC started 4-0 for the second straight year. The Gamecocks have won 10 straight games against SEC East opponents. The last time USC fell to a divisional foe? Oct. 16, 2010, at Kentucky.

The Gamecocks visit Lexington, Ky., next week (7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN/ESPN2) for the first time since that frustrating loss when USC blew an 18-point halftime lead.

Shaw connected with Sanders (23 yards) and Buster Anderson (13 yards) on touchdown throws. The latter scoring came with 2:17 left in the third quarter and concluded a 10-play 47-yard drive that followed the second straight three-and-out forced by the USC defense in the quarter.

Shaw moved to the right, faked a throw to the underneath receiver and found Anderson standing alone in the middle of the end zone for the sophomore tight end's third TD of the season.

Missouri picked up its only first down of the third quarter on the first play of the ensuing possession, but the drive again ended with a punt.

Leading 28-3, USC put an exclamation point on the win with an impressive 12-play, 48-yard drive that consumed 6:49 off the clock and eventually produced a 37-yard field goal by Adam Yates with 4:45 remaining.

Missouri completed the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown pass by backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser to Marcus Lucas with 17 seconds remaining.

By that point, though, many happy Gamecock fans had already vacated the premises, along with most of the 2,000 or so Missouri fans that made the long journey from the "other" Columbia.

Lattimore got the Gamecocks off to a good start with a 21-yard run through the right side on the first snap, but the drive stalled and USC punted. Hull's punt sailed out of bounds at the Mizzou 14-yard-line.

After Franklin's third-down completion to T.J. Moe was negated by a holding penalty, Sutton sacked the Missouri quarterback at the 5-yard line. A poor punt set up USC at the Mizzou 40.

The Gamecocks moved into the red zone by virtue of a facemask penalty on Lattimore, but Damiere Byrd fumbled on a bubble screen pass and the Tigers recovered at the 16 to deny USC.

When Shaw's 80-yard touchdown scramble was wiped out by a clipping (chop block) penalty on Mike Matulis, USC converted a third down on a well-executed middle screen to Byrd for 10 yards.

At that point, Justice Cunningham took over the game with three straight receptions to move the ball from the Mizzou 42 to the 10-yard line. On one completion, Shaw scrambled away from the Missouri blitz and flipped the ball left-handed to Cunningham.

The first quarter ended with USC at the Mizzou 1-yard line ready to snap the scoreless tie. However, Shaw was twice tackled short of the end zone and the Tigers took over at the 2-yard line with 14:15 left in the second quarter.

Initially it appeared that USC tackled Franklin in the end zone for a safety, but replays showed his forward progress was about to the half-yard line.

When Mizzou punted, Sanders turned in one of the most thrilling punt returns at Williams-Brice Stadium in recent memory. Sanders fielded the punt at the USC 47, shook off multiple Mizzou tacklers and even kept churning after running into a teammate.

By the time Sanders was brought down, he had raced 49 yards all the way to the Mizzou 4-yard line. Acknowledging his play-calling mistakes from the previous possession, Spurrier called for two handoffs to Lattimore and the result was a short 2-yard touchdown run by the junior with 11:08 left in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead.

Missouri quickly gave the ball back to the Gamecocks when rusher Rus Hansbrough was separated from the football at the Mizzou 30 by USC linebacker Reginald Bowens. Initially, Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham fell on the football, but it squirted free and Devin Taylor fell on it at the Mizzou 37.

Spurrier loves to go for the jugular immediately following a turnover in the opposing team's territory. He didn't disappoint. Shaw tossed a 36-yard pass down the right sideline for Nick Jones, who dove out of bounds at the 1-yard line.

Lattimore completed the lightning two-play drive with another short touchdown through the middle to give USC a 14-0 lead with 10:14 left in the second quarter.

Another brilliant punt return by Sanders set up USC at its 37 with just over eight minutes remaining. But the Gamecocks went three-and-out.

Missouri drove 76 yards on 12 plays to the USC 4 before a third-down fade pass sailed out of the end zone. The Tigers settled for a 21-yard field goal by Andrew Baggett with 1:20 left in the second quarter.

Bruce Ellington made his presence felt with a 50-yard kickoff return to midfield, as USC's special teams continued to stand out in an impressive first half.

The return led to another dazzling play by Sanders as he stretched out to catch a 23-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone with 24 seconds left in the first half.

"We recognized it was cover-1 in the corner because he walked up to Ace," Shaw said. "He made a great move off the line and got open. I threw it on time and he made a great catch."

Was Sanders' amazing catch the final dagger into the Tigers? Perhaps.

"Ace had a big game, no question," Spurrier said. "His touchdown catch put us in good position. Missouri might have lost some of their fight after that."

Shaw was 14-of-15 for 170 yards and one touchdown in the first half, while Lattimore had 52 yards on 10 carries and four receptions for 27 yards.

Sanders returned four punts for 91 yards (22.8 yards per return) to go along with the spectacular TD catch in the waning seconds of the second quarter.

USC outgained Missouri 231-130 in the first half. The Tigers threw for just 51 yards on 5-of-10 passing by Franklin.

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