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August 31, 2010
USC Hopes to Overcome Past Openers
Steve Spurrier has had a solid run at South Carolina, compiling a 35-28 record in his first five years. That is the most wins in a five-year stretch of any period in Gamecock football history, and Spurrier is also the first USC coach to take his team to four bowl games.
But man, that first game.
Two days away from his sixth USC season-opener, Spurrier is hoping to avoid the pitfalls of the first five. The Gamecocks are 5-0 in their openers under Spurrier, but the way they got to 5-0 has been anything but comfortable.
"Just the wrinkles that we've got to get out," mused senior running back Brian Maddox, who has been on the field for three season-opening wins. "Just like going out playing golf and you haven't played in two months or so. You've just got to get those wrinkles out."
A look back at Spurrier's other five openers:
2005: USC 24, UCF 15 The first game of the Spurrier Era opened with a bang, another Thursday-night ESPN tilt that for a moment, at least, had everyone thinking the Head Ball Coach would immediately do at USC what he did at Florida. That moment, when Blake Mitchell dropped back on the game's fifth play and arched a 49-yard in-stride touchdown pass to Noah Whiteside, quickly re-introduced the Gamecocks to a national audience.
Ahead 17-3 at halftime and 24-3 midway through the third quarter, though, USC fritted away its momentum. A fumbled punt by Johnathan Joseph became a UCF touchdown drive; the Gamecocks' next possession did nothing and the Golden Knights converted two fourth downs on the way to a field goal.
Only ahead 24-13 with 6:03 to play, Syvelle Newton dropped a punt and UCF recovered. Ricardo Hurley and Ryan Brown stopped Kevin Smith's fourth-and-goal plunge from the 1-yard-line to keep the Knights at bay, then Josh Brown intentionally ran out of the end zone for a safety to set the final score.
"They outplayed us," Spurrier said then. "We got to get better on defense. We got to get better on offense. But we won the game. What's everybody so down about?"
2006: USC 15, Mississippi State 0 It was a shutout on the road at an SEC opponent to begin the year.
Save one Gamecock, nobody was too pleased with the performance.
Place-kicker/punter Ryan Succop almost single-handedly won USC's 2006 opener, kicking three field goals, punting six times for an average of 48.7 yards and turning in one heads-up play. Receiving a snap to punt, Succop noticed the crashing defense and realized his kick was about to get blocked.
Instead of trying to follow through on the kick, Succop put his leg down, tucked the ball and ran 16 yards to continue a drive that ended in his second field goal.
"I just told him, I know I've coached a lot of games and I've never seen a kicker/punter have the game he had tonight," Spurrier said. "That was probably the pinpoint play ... they block it, pick it up and score."
The lone touchdown, a double-pass trick play where Mitchell screened to Newton, who threw downfield to Cory Boyd for a TD, helped dispatch the Bulldogs. The USC defense also did a sterling job, holding MSU to 161 yards and only allowing it to cross midfield one time after the first quarter.
2007: USC 28, Louisiana-Lafayette 14 Spurrier said before the season that he thought 2007 was really the first year he thought his team could challenge for the SEC title.
The first game foreshadowed the miserable end.
The Gamecocks beat ULL after squandering a 14-0 first-quarter lead, getting two second-half Boyd touchdowns to settle the final score. Playing without suspended quarterback Mitchell and linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who sprained his ankle in the second quarter, USC's quick momentum vanished.
Tommy Beecher directed a touchdown drive just before halftime, breaking a 14-all tie on the strength of a 20-yard pass to freshman Weslye Saunders and then handing off to Boyd for a 2-yard run. The defense survived two Ragin' Cajuns possessions inside the 5-yard-line before it was settled.
"Hopefully, we can become a smarter team here in the next week," Spurrier said. "We made a lot of mistakes out there. "Hopefully we can learn a lot from this."
The Gamecocks used the game as a springboard to a 6-1 start, then dropped five straight games to result in the only bowl-less year under Spurrier.
2008: USC 34, NC State 0 With such a massive final score, why the long faces?
Because it was anything but pretty.
Beecher, the anointed starter since 2007 had ended, threw four interceptions in the first half as the Gamecocks' chaotic quarterback rotation began. USC managed a Succop field goal for a 3-0 halftime lead, then leaned on the defense.
Eric Norwood recovered a fumbled snap to set up Succop's field goal and the defense only allowed 138 yards to the Wolfpack. Beecher, who left the game in the final quarter with a head injury and never played for USC again, was replaced by Chris Smelley, who threw for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and handed off to Taylor Rank for another.
2009: USC 7, NC State 3 Again, it was a win, but yikes.
Maddox's 1-yard touchdown run was just enough as USC overcame an evening of futility. The defense, just as it was in 2008 against the Wolfpack, was magnificent, holding NC State to 133 yards, but the offense sputtered and misfired all night.
Several Wolfpack miscues -- one dropped pass in the end zone and another where USC's Stephon Gilmore ripped a touchdown from the hands of a receiver -- cost them dearly and the Gamecocks had just enough left in them to take advantage. Stephen Garcia's 33-yard pass to a leaping Moe Brown late in the game allowed USC to run out the clock and stay perfect in season-openers under Spurrier.
2010: USC vs. Southern Miss To be announced.
The Gamecocks are enthusiastic, despite the looming clouds of an NCAA investigation that could cost them several players for the first and/or second games of the year. But the players not involved seemed ready, and also ready to erase the sour memories of the past with a dominating season-opener.
"The first game, we approach every year the same way," left tackle Kyle Nunn said. "We all want to win the first game, all want to get the ball rolling. First week, last week, we all want to win the game, no matter what week of the season it is."
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