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September 4, 2011
USC-ECU notebook: The unthinkable
CHARLOTTE -- Stop the presses. Hold the phone. Something happened on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium that occurs about as often as Halley's Comet making a visit to Earth.
Something that was positively, absolutely unthinkable only a few days ago.
Steve Spurrier yelled at Marcus Lattimore.
Despite rushing for 112 yards - 72 in the second half - Lattimore angered Spurrier in the first quarter of Saturday's 56-37 victory over East Carolina when he whiffed on a block while trying to pass-protect for Connor Shaw.
"I had to yell at him once because he missed a linebacker blitz on one of those pass protections," Spurrier said afterwards. "But you can yell at Marcus. It doesn't bother him. He didn't miss one after that."
Lattimore also fumbled on the first play of USC's third possession when he lost the handle trying to spin away from a pile of ECU tacklers. The miscue, which led directly to ECU's first touchdown of the night, was Lattimore's second career fumble. Last season, he fumbled once in 249 rushing attempts.
"Seeing him running with the ball and fumbling was so unusual." Spurrier said. "Someone said, 'Marcus fumbled' and I said 'Dang.'"
It was part of what Spurrier described as a slow start for the celebrated sophomore running back from Duncan. Heisman hype? Spurrier didn't want to hear it.
"Marcus ran very well after a sluggish start," Spurrier said. "I was thinking all that Heisman crap, 'Maybe we'd better forget about that for a while and get back to running the ball like you can, Marcus.' But he settled down and ran the ball very well for the entire second half. We weren't going to forget about him, but he did have a couple of runs there that weren't Marcus-like. But he settled in."
Lattimore acknowledged his error in missing the block on the linebacker, but bounced back with a strong second half, helping the Gamecocks storm past the Pirates in the third-highest combined scoring game in USC history.
"I missed a block on a play-action pass," Lattimore said. "I saw him at the last minute but I couldn't get to him. I know what I did."
The 112 yards represents the fifth 100-yard rushing game of Lattimore's career, in 14 appearances. His three rushing touchdowns gave him 20 for his career, pushing his career totals to 20 on the ground and 22 total.
BYRD HAS ISSUES: Freshman wide receiver Damiere Byrd was forced to sit out Saturday's game because of "compliance issues," Spurrier said. GamecockCentral.com first reported the news on Saturday.
Byrd, the fastest player on the team, had been expected to give the Gamecocks a legitimate deep threat at wide receiver. He traveled with the team to Charlotte and was seen on the field before the game, but didn't dress. Spurrier hopes the issues preventing Byrd from playing are resolved prior to Saturday's Border Battle game against No. 19 Georgia.
"Damiere has a little compliance, eligibility issue that we hope gets cleared up before next week," Spurrier said. "We just have to let it work its way out right now."
STILL THE RIGHT CALL?: Even though Shaw struggled in the first quarter and Stephen Garcia helped direct the comeback from the 17-0 deficit midway through the second quarter, Spurrier didn't apologize for starting the sophomore over the fifth-year senior, brushing off the suggestion he was that he was "second-guessing" his decision.
"Second-guess? How could I second-guess myself? I said we were going to have competition," Spurrier said. "Connor outplayed him. I could be like those other coaches who say, 'He's our quarterback for the year.' I never said he's our quarterback for the year. I said he was going to start. It wasn't any big permanent deal. Connor deserved to start.
"He played better in all those scrimmages. All those balls that got tipped tonight, he hit 'em on the dead run in the scrimmages. Tonight, he barely underthrew Alshon (Jeffery). Jason Barnes could have made a great catch but sort of got hit going for it. Connor deserved to start. When you say you're going to do something, you're supposed to do it. Connor won the competition."
Garcia came off the bench for the first time since the 2008 season, when he was a redshirt freshman. The USC offense didn't commit a turnover in the final three quarters under Garcia's direction. Both fumbles in the second quarter occurred on special teams. USC had no turnovers in the second half.
"Stephen took care of the ball very well," Spurrier said. "He got fortunate on a throw that could have been picked, but other than that he played very well. He gave us a lift leading us to a couple of scores."
Nevertheless, Garcia was not awarded a game ball because, in Spurrier's eyes, he can play a lot better than he showed.
"Someone said, 'Let's give Garcia a game ball,' and I said, , and brings us down the field and scores we'll give him a game ball,'" Spurrier insisted. "Don't get me wrong. He played well. But hopefully he'll have a big, big game to help us. He's back in the box. He's our starter. I said it would work its way out and that's the way it's worked out."
Don't look for Garcia and Shaw to share the first half snaps Saturday in Athens, Spurrier said.
"No, we're not doing the second-quarter bit any more. This was the quarter game right here," Spurrier said.
THE WILD COCK OFFENSE: Bruce Ellington ran the "Wild Cock" for several plays in Saturday's win and finished with two rushes for 18 yards. On USC's first possession of the second half, Ellington entered the game after Garcia connected with Jeffery on a 25-yard pass to the ECU 9-yard-line. Ellington took the next handoff and ran up the middle for 4 yards.
"I've said it a million times. He's an electric player," Lattimore said. "He can hurt you in any phase of the game. He is going to be a big part of our offense this year. I'm so glad to have him."
Earlier in the game, Ellington came on with USC in the red zone and raced over right end for 14 yards to the ECU 4. Lattimore pushed over the touchdown on the following play to make it 17-14 Pirates with 5:44 left in the second quarter.
Spurrier saw enough of the package to say it will become a fixture in USC's game plan.
"(Ellington) is very good in that," Spurrier said. "That will be two or three plays a game, hopefully. Bruce is a very good runner with the ball. I wish we could have gotten a couple of quick screens or something else to him, but it just didn't work out. We only threw 25 passes."
CLOWNEY DEBUTS: Jadeveon Clowney became the first freshman defensive lineman to start a game for USC since Travian Robertson on Sept. 1, 2007. Clowney wreaked havoc all night, finishing with seven tackles, one pass breakup and one hurry. USC didn't have a sack, but that's not a surprise considering the Pirates allowed just 15 sacks in 13 games last season while running their quick-throw "Air Raid" offense, that typically calls for two and three-step drops.
"I guess he did OK," Spurrier said when asked to assess Clowney's performance. "Their quarterback is hard to get to. He catches it and throws. We got some pressure here and there, but when he held it for a moment we hit him right when he was throwing."
SPURRIER TIES CARLEN: With Saturday's win, Spurrier tied Jim Carlen for second place on USC's all-time wins list with 45. Rex Enright has remained in first at 64 career wins since 1955. The six winningest coaches in Gamecock history:
Rex Enright (1938-42; 1946-55): 64
Steve Spurrier (2005-present): 45
Jim Carlen (1975-81): 45
Paul Dietzel (1966-74): 42
Billy Laval (1928-34): 39
Joe Morrison (1983-88): 39
UP NEXT: USC squares off with Georgia on Saturday in Athens, Ga. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. and the game will be televised by ESPN2. The Bulldogs fell to Boise State, 35-21, on Saturday in Atlanta. By all accounts, UGa was dominated by the Broncos in every phase and the heat on coach Mark Richt only got hotter. Freshman running back Isaiah Crowell, whom UGa fans expect will be their version of Lattimore, had 60 yards on 15 carries.
-- Spurrier is now 22-1 all-time in season-opening games. The lone loss came in 1989, when he was the coach at Duke, and came to USC.
-- With five catches for 92 yards in Saturday's game, Jeffery moved past Zola Davis (1995-98) into third place all-time in career receiving yardage. Jeffery now has 139 receptions for 2,372 yards in his career. He has had three or more receptions in 23 straight games dating to Oct. 20, 2009, vs. Kentucky.
-- With 110 passing yards, Garcia pushed his career passing yardage total to 6,863 yards, 137 yards short of the 7,000 yard mark.
-- Melvin Ingram registered his first career interception with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter. His pick helped set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Lattimore that made it 49-31.
-- Who was USC's best defensive back on Saturday? Spurrier said it was C.C. Whitlock. The Chester native finished with four tackles and was seemingly around the ball all night. Whitlock was given a game ball.
-- Redshirt freshman Nick Jones caught his first career pass on Saturday. "It was great seeing my boy out there," Lattimore said. "There should be many more to come for him."
-- USC now leads the all-time series 11-5 against East Carolina, though it was just the second win in five tries against the Pirates. Prior to Saturday, the last victory by USC over ECU had been in 1997, when it blanked the Pirates 26-0 in Greenville, N.C.
-- The punt return for a touchdown by Ace Sanders was the first allowed by ECU in four years. The last player to go the distance with a punt return against the Pirates was North Carolina's Brandon Tate on Sept. 8, 2007. "That was a heck of run by Ace," Spurrier said. "He juked about eight of them." Overall, Spurrier was pleased with the performance by USC's special teams.
-- ECU has now surrendered 40 or more points in seven straight contests, dating to 2010, when it averaged 44.0 points allowed per game.
SEC SCORES (Thursday-Saturday)
South Carolina 56, East Carolina 37 (at Charlotte)
Auburn 42, Utah State 38
Alabama 48, Kent State 7
BYU 14, Ole Miss 13
Tennessee 42, Montana 16
Arkansas 51, Missouri State 7
Florida 41, Florida Atlantic 3
Vanderbilt 45, Elon 14
LSU 40, Oregon 27 (at Arlington, Tex)
Boise State 35, Georgia 21 (at Atlanta)
Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3
Mississippi State 59, Memphis 14
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