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The State Paper: UL-L
The Rivalry
The Record

A long way to Geaux

By Joseph Person
The State
Published: September 2, 2007
It took one game for South Carolina to go from SEC contenders to “average stiffs.”

Imagine Steve Spurrier’s reaction had his team lost to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.

Instead, Spurrier could celebrate a 28-14, season-opening win that featured steady play from a pair of backup quarterbacks and another bend-but-don’t-break effort from a defense that again struggled with a misdirection running game.

“In a way this is real good for our team. Now we know we’re just a bunch of average stiffs,” said Spurrier, who set the goal of an SEC championship in his third year. “And we’re going to have a very average year if we don’t play a lot better. So we don’t need to think we’re any good.”

USC (1-0), which won its eighth consecutive opener, travels to Georgia next week. The 13th-ranked Bulldogs beat Oklahoma State 35-14 on Saturday.

Spurrier improved to 17-1 in opening games, while Louisiana-Lafayette (0-1) fell to 0-48 all-time against SEC teams.

With fifth-year quarterback Blake Mitchell on the sideline serving a one-game suspension for excessive class absences, Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher each threw a touchdown pass and kept mistakes to a minimum.

Smelley’s first-half interception was the Gamecocks’ only turnover. Meanwhile, USC’s oft-questioned offensive line gave up two sacks, one a coverage sack and the other a Beecher scramble that lost a yard.

Smelley, the first USC freshman to start an opener since Todd Ellis in 1986, completed 10 of 14 passes for 101 yards. Beecher, who started the second half, was 11 of 15 passing for 137 yards and directed three of the four touchdown drives.

Though Spurrier said he would announce next week’s starter in a few days, Beecher said he is certain it will be Mitchell.

“I don’t know if (Mitchell) could have done all that differently,” Spurrier said. “Did you see some wide-open guys?”

Beecher said the Ragin’ Cajuns, members of the Sun Belt Conference, showed USC a different defensive look, dropping seven defenders in coverage and forcing the Gamecocks to rely on their running attack.

Junior tailback Mike Davis responded with 94 yards on 15 carries, while fifth-year senior Cory Boyd had touchdown runs of 2 and 4 yards.

The Gamecocks scored on their first two possessions — touchdown throws from Smelley and Beecher.

After pulling down a 33-yard pass, tight end Andy Boyd capped the opening drive with a 2-yard touchdown catch from Smelley. When Beecher’s 19-yard strike to Kenny McKinley put USC up 14-0 six minutes into the game, it appeared the Gamecocks, 29-point favorites, were on their way to a rout.

“We definitely could’ve played better. The way we started out 14-0, I thought things were going to roll there,” Beecher said. “But they stiffened up and we weren’t able to move the ball like we’d hoped.”

The Ragin’ Cajuns responded with a pair of touchdown drives to tie the score at 14. Working without a huddle, Louisiana-Lafayette stayed on the ground and ran at the Gamecocks, who appeared to tire as they missed arm tackles and began substituting liberally.

Touchdown runs by quarterback Michael Desormeaux (14 yards) and Chancellor Roberson (3 yards) evened the score and brought an uneasy hush over the Williams-Brice Stadium crowd of 78,234.

But the second of Boyd’s two touchdown runs gave the Gamecocks a 28-14 edge with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter.

Despite adding several blue-chip newcomers up front, USC’s struggles against the Cajuns’ option-type attack were reminiscent of last year’s Wofford game. The Gamecocks needed a late defensive stand to hold off the Terriers 27-20.

The Ragin’ Cajuns rushed for 252 yards — the bulk of it coming from Desormeaux (21 carries for 116 yards) and tailback Tyrell Fenroy (16-88).

“I think it took us a while to realize we can do things against them and make it happen,” Desormeaux said.

Louisiana-Lafayette twice drove inside the Gamecocks’ 5-yard line in the fourth quarter but came away empty both times.

“We struggled stopping them, but we did stop them down near the goalline,” Spurrier said. “I told our guys sometimes we don’t look very good on defense. But when the game’s over, you look up there and they only got 14.”

USC strong safety Brandon Isaac said the Gamecocks are looking forward to starting conference play next week in Athens. If for no other reason, USC will see a more traditional rushing offense.

“In the SEC we really don’t face teams like that, so we had to focus on how they ran the ball,” Isaac said. “But we got the win.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.
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“I told our guys sometimes we don’t look very good on defense. But when the game’s over, you look up there."  ~Steve Spurrier (on his defense in the opening game)