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Neighborly knock-down

Gamecocks turn to dominant ground game to run away from scrappy S.C. State

By Kent Babb
The State
Published: September 16, 2007
USC was in no rush to clinch victory against S.C. State. When the Gamecocks did, they rushed their way to a lopsided win.

After a sloppy first half in which both schools’ marching bands received louder ovations than the teams, tailbacks Cory Boyd and Mike Davis high-stepped their way into USC’s record book, carrying the No. 17 Gamecocks past S.C. State 38-3 and continuing a rhythm the pair started last week in an upset at Georgia.

That rhythm came after the Bulldogs sniffed out four interceptions against the Gamecocks’ struggling quarterbacks.

USC, which climbed into the top 25 this week, proved Saturday its two-man rushing unit also might be among the nation’s best.

Boyd and Davis each surpassed 100 yards rushing, the first time a pair of USC backs reached triple digits since Derek Watson (105) and Andrew Pinnock (106) did so against Vanderbilt on Oct. 20, 2001.

“It was a shocker tonight,” said Boyd, who had a game-high 132 yards rushing. “The game started falling in the running backs’ laps.”

The running backs took over and helped the Gamecocks pull away in the second half — USC scored 21 unanswered points after halftime — and that forced coach Steve Spurrier to re-assess his game planning.

“At halftime, obviously, we had to tell our guys, ‘We’re going to have to start running,’ ” Spurrier said.

That’s when the music started.

A one ...

The Gamecocks’ passing attack might be the centerpiece of Spurrier’s Cock ‘n’ Fire offense. But it took more than a half of watching quarterbacks Blake Mitchell and Tommy Beecher combine for six turnovers — Mitchell’s three interceptions and fumble and Beecher’s fumble and interception — to all but scrap his trademark strategy. When he turned Davis and Boyd loose, they were dazzling. Boyd, a fifth-year senior and the Gamecocks’ starter, finished averaging 12 yards per carry.

“We’ve got to re-evaluate our passing game and figure out if we can throw or not,” said Spurrier, who last coached a pair of 100-yard rushers in 1997 when Florida beat Central Michigan 82-6. “I’ve got to figure out whether to call those pass plays or call the old off-tackle play.”

A one, two ...

It was Davis, a junior, who came in late for Saturday’s duet. After rushing for 17 yards in the first half, Davis carried six times for 58 yards in a 10-play drive. He finished it by catching a Mitchell pass and dancing his way 9 yards into the end zone. Davis passed 100 yards rushing on his final carry, an 8-yarder, and finished with 102.

Davis and Boyd brightened a game that appeared to be headed in either direction at halftime. S.C. State’s Markee Hamlin intercepted Mitchell’s first pass, and the Bulldogs hit a 37-yard field goal.

“I guess this game, we kind of took it as, ‘It’s South Carolina State,’ ” freshman receiver Mark Barnes said. “It was probably an easy game or whatnot.”

S.C. State made it look like anything but an easy game. In forcing USC’s six turnovers, the Bulldogs looked far from intimidated by Spurrier’s offense or the Gamecocks, who might enter the nation’s top 15 when rankings are released today.

Ignoring a season-high 14 penalties, the Bulldogs appeared unfazed that administrators had ignored a USC-S.C. State matchup the past 100 years.

“I wanted them (S.C. State players) to come in here and play good, hard-nosed, clean football,” said coach Buddy Pough, a former USC assistant. “I was A-No. 1 for today, and I think we hit that right on the head.”

According to Spurrier, USC did not hit on their scoring potential.

The Gamecocks led 17-3 at halftime, a lead that Spurrier said was the confidence boost the team needed.

“We had a chance to score 60 or so,” Spurrier said, “but we didn’t do it.”

Such a questionable performance could not have come at a worse time. Despite the fact USC is 3-0 for the first time since 2001, the Gamecocks’ next SEC test is at No. 2 LSU, whose offense has proved it will not forgive mistakes. The Tigers’ defense is strong, and its offense is quick ... two things Spurrier is in no rush to think about.

“We’ll worry about that come Monday,” he said.

A one, two, three ...

The Gamecocks do, however, have something to be optimistic about — two running backs that proved they could be among the SEC’s best rushers. Together, they are among the nation’s best tandems.

If USC’s quarterbacks catch up with the team’s tailbacks, the Gamecocks might have something worth dancing about.

Reach Babb at (803) 771-8357.