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September 3, 2011
NO. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA 56, EAST CAROLINA 37
Steve Spurrier said Garcia didn't get one, because he didn't throw for 300 yards. Sorry, coach, but he didn't need to. It was night and day comparing when Connor Shaw and Garcia were quarterbacking on Saturday, and while Spurrier and Garcia were quick to say it was bad luck on Shaw's part - and some of it was - there was no denying how well USC clicked once Garcia took over. His statistics weren't mind-blowing - a mere 7-of-15 for 110 yards and a touchdown - but he rushed for two more scores and 56 yards besides, and once he took off on a 32-yard jaunt on third-and-3 while USC was trailing 17-0, East Carolina's ship started sailing back to Greenville. Love him or hate him, but Stephen Garcia is this team's quarterback. Shaw's a great kid, but the proof was on Saturday - with Shaw, down 17-0 and every bit of momentum dressed in purple. With Garcia, the Gamecocks' season of promise begins with a win.
Starting the game after Akeem Auguste's sore foot flared up last week, Whitlock began his last season at USC with his strongest performance to date. Spurrier singled him out in the post-game and said he got a game ball, and it was deserved - Whitlock did as much as he could against an offense, like Ellis Johnson said, that really can't be defended. Or defended well. Whitlock only had four tackles but was blanketing his men, which was badly needed as Dominique Davis kept passing side-to-side, all the way down the field. He was also in on one of the fumble recoveries that popped loose and ended in the hands of Reginald Bowens after it squirted past Whitlock.
After an uncharacteristic first-quarter fumble (Lattimore's only other fumble to date was in last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl, when he was knocked out on a tackle and lost the ball), Lattimore regrouped and began doing what he does. As Spurrier said, maybe all the "Heisman crap" had taken its toll, but Lattimore, after Spurrier had to raise his voice a bit, returned to form. Needing to grind clock after the Gamecocks took the lead, Garcia kept handing to Lattimore on play after play. He ended with 23 rushes for 112 yards and three touchdowns, making it all but certain he will very soon be USC's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.
Nobody had a better second half in 2010 than Allen, who finished with a magnificent showing. It didn't end there. In Allen's first game of 2011, he racked up an incredible 16 tackles. His previous career-high was eight, and nobody on the team had 10 or more tackles in any game last year (on Saturday Allen had 16 and Stephon Gilmore had 10). He contributed to the turnaround in the second half, snatching a ball from ECU's Michael Dobson and racing 25 yards for a touchdown. As beat up as the Gamecocks' secondary is, it has a star in Allen.
He could have been merely ordinary and it would have been OK, since the hype was so, so massive. Clowney was good, not great, but he still showed what's to come. He started and played almost every snap, recording seven tackles and being in on one tackle for loss. His one pass break-up was batted in the air and he had a bead on it for the interception, but Davis batted it away before Clowney could get a hand on it. He'll definitely play a lot, and as he goes against more traditional defenses and really learns what he's doing, watch out.
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