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August 31, 2006

Gamecocks grind out win over Mississippi State

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STARKVILLE, Miss. Without the high-powered offense he's used to, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier resorted to trickery to earn his 150th career victory.

Wide receiver Syvelle Newton threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Cory Boyd after a lateral from quarterback Blake Mitchell early in the fourth quarter to seal the Gamecocks' 15-0 win over Mississippi State on Thursday night.

"I really didn't see him," Newton admitted after the game. "I caught the ball (and) I know what spot he was supposed to be in."

Spurrier, whose Fun-n-Gun offense helped Florida rule the Southeastern Conference for most of the 1990s, relied on his kicker to build a 6-0 lead in a lethargic performance that opened his second season with the Gamecocks.

Ryan Succop finished with three field goals and was the team's leading rusher midway through the third quarter after converting a botched punt for a first down with a 16-yard run. He also averaged 48.7 yards on six punts, pushing the ball out of deep Gamecocks' territory several times.

"Our offense was worse than I expected," Spurrier said.

It wasn't until the Bulldogs freshman Anthony Dixon was dropped for a yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Gamecocks' 45 that South Carolina showed life. The pass on the next play to Boyd, who slipped undetected out of the backfield down the right side of the field with 13:43 left, was South Carolina's longest play of the game and made up for an apparent touchdown that had been overturned by the NCAA's new instant replay rule.

The gimmick play is simply called double pass and it couldn't have worked mush better. Two receivers lined up on the left side of the field, drawing Mississippi State's secondary. When Mitchell tossed the ball to Newton, the linebacker assigned to cover Boyd was nowhere to be found.

"Sure enough, they chased it," said Spurrier, who picked up his first win in this eastern Mississippi town on his third visit.

Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom took the blame for the loss, Mississippi State's first shutout in a season opener since 1967.

"Coach lost the game on fourth-and-1," Croom said. "It's that simple."

Mississippi State's defense rattled South Carolina from the opening play when linebacker Quinton Culberson picked off Mitchell at the 26. But the Bulldogs' Adam Carlson missed a 38-yard field goal attempt and Mississippi State never threatened to score again.

The Bulldogs' deepest foray into Gamecocks territory after the first-quarter interception was the South Carolina 45 the scene of their ill-fated fourth-and-1.

Both offenses were brutalized in the first half, earning just four first downs apiece and having their quarterbacks knocked from the game.

Mitchell returned after being cut on his left ankle, but Mississippi State's Michael Henig broke his left collarbone in the second quarter and won't be available to the team for weeks.

South Carolina was held to zero yards rushing on 14 attempts in the first two quarters. And half of the team's 86 total yards came on backup quarterback Chris Smelley's 42-yard pass to Kenny McKinley, which set up the Gamecocks' only first-half points Succop's 39-yard field goal with 12:11 remaining in the second quarter.

Croom said he saw encouraging things on the field from his offense. But with redshirt freshman Tray Rutland now calling plays, the team will have to capitalize on a handful of opportunities it missed if it has any chance of beating No. 4 Auburn, due in town on Sept. 9.

"When the plays were there, we just did not make them," Croom said. "We've got to work on making plays."



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