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MTSU- The Post and Courier
The Rivalry
The Record

'We were clicking'

Gamecocks club Raiders

Published on 11/19/06
The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — After three consecutive weeks of down-to-the-wire finishes and gut-wrenching disappointments against nationally ranked teams, South Carolina found relief against Middle Tennessee.

South Carolina took care of business Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium, beating the Blue Raiders 52-7 and leaving the only unfinished business next week's game at 25th-ranked Clemson.

"We wish we had beaten the big guys, but we haven't," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose team has lost four games to nationally ranked teams this season by a touchdown or less. "We've got one last chance to beat a really good team. One last chance. Who knows if we can or not?"

Middle Tennessee was a team the Gamecocks were expected to beat, just as in victories over Mississippi State, Wofford, Florida Atlantic, Kentucky and Vanderbilt that leave them bowl eligible at 6-5 but nonetheless feeling somewhat incomplete.

But the Gamecocks' play of late

at least has Spurrier encouraged.

While South Carolina just missed in a 31-24 loss to Tennessee, a 26-20 loss to Arkansas and a 17-16 loss to Florida, the Gamecocks were able to take out their frustrations on the Blue Raiders (7-4) of the Sun Belt Conference.

South Carolina rolled up 545 yards in total offense and never had to punt.

Junior quarterback Blake Mitchell completed 21 of 28 passes for a career-high 388 yards and four touchdowns.

"I played a decent game," Mitchell said. "I could have done a few more things. It seemed today like things were getting better and we were clicking. The games we lost were tough. We came out there and did things together today. We were clicking and there was good play-calling."

Wide receiver Sidney Rice caught six passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns, and Cory Boyd ran for 76 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.

"Overall, it was a good game," Spurrier said. "We've got to realize it was Middle Tennessee. They're a pretty good team, but we should have been able to beat these guys. I wish we had played this well the prior three games, or at least close to it."

There were a few anxious moments for the Gamecocks early on.

Middle Tennessee scored on its first play from scrimmage on a 73-yard pass from Clint Marks to Desmond Gee, sending a nervous ripple through the partisan Gamecocks crowd of 70,442.

Then, on South Carolina's third play, Kenny McKinley fumbled after a 24-yard reception with the Blue Raiders recovering at the Middle Tennessee 42.

However, the Gamecocks' defense got a stop, and it was all South Carolina from that moment on.

"Things weren't really looking super duper early in the game," Spurrier said. "But sometimes it's good those things happen. No panic. Just keep playing the game. We think we're better than this team.

"Let's just keep playing, and that's what happened."

South Carolina led 28-7 by halftime after scoring on four consecutive possessions.

The onslaught continued unabated in the second half, giving Spurrier a game to enjoy in a season of what-ifs.

"I couldn't help thinking every time one of those extra points went roaring right up through the middle, 'Why couldn't it have gone last week?' " Spurrier said. "And when Blake took us down a lot of good drives to score, 'Why couldn't we have done that against Arkansas when we were six down?' We had our chances this year in the conference and it didn't work out lots of times. I really think our team has improved. I really think our guys are learning how to play."

Reach Charles Bennett at

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"We had our chances this year in the conference and it didn't work out lots of times. I really think our team has improved. I really think our guys are learning how to play."  ~Steve Spurrier (on his team's improvement)