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UK fumbles, Norwood rumbles

Defensive end’s opportunistic touchdowns match NCAA record

By Joseph Person
The State
Published: October 5, 2007
Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson did not lose the Heisman Trophy on Thursday.

Eric Norwood and the South Carolina defense took it from him.

The USC defensive end scored on a pair of fumble returns and the 11th-ranked Gamecocks harassed Woodson into three turnovers to belt No. 8 Kentucky 38-23 before a Williams-Brice Stadium crowd of 76,220 and a national television audience watching on ESPN.

The win moves USC (5-1, 3-1 SEC) into sole possession of first place in the SEC East for at least two days. The Gamecocks hold a half-game lead on Georgia and Florida and own the tiebreaker with the Bulldogs by virtue of a 16-12 win in Athens last month.

“We’re still in it,” said Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, who improved to 15-0 against the Wildcats. “If we’d have lost, we would not have been in it very well.”

The Gamecocks could break into the top 10 for the first time since 2001 when The Associated Press poll is released Sunday. USC, which has won eight in a row against Kentucky, had not beaten a team ranked No. 8 or higher since a 23-10 win against No. 6 Georgia on Sept. 24, 1988.

Kentucky (5-1, 1-1) was seeking its first 6-0 start since 1950, when the Bear Bryant-coached Wildcats won the SEC.

Woodson’s Heisman hopes took a hit against a USC pass defense that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation. The fifth-year senior, who threw 325 passes without an interception before getting picked by Florida Atlantic last week, fumbled twice and was intercepted by Captain Munnerlyn.

Woodson, who joined Jared Lorenzen and Tim Couch as the only Kentucky passers to surpass 7,000 passing yards, completed 23 of 40 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. But the right-hander overthrew Keenan Burton on what could have been a certain touchdown in the first half and was sacked three times.

While Woodson’s stock dropped, Norwood vaulted into contention for postseason honors and proved the Gamecocks’ defense has leaders besides injured linebacker Jasper Brinkley.

Norwood became the fourth player in NCAA history to return two fumbles for touchdowns in a game, and the first since SMU’s Alvin Nnabuife against Nevada in 2004.

“That was some game he had. He had an All-American type game,” Spurrier said. “He is an active player that makes things happen. ... I have to slow him down sometimes in practice.”

Asked if he ever had a two-touchdown game at any level, Norwood said: “Not two scores on defense. Maybe on offense.”

Norwood, a sophomore who entered as the Gamecocks’ leader in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks, finished with five tackles, two pass breakups and a quarterback pressure.

Despite all the pre-game Heisman talk surrounding Woodson, it was a comment by ESPN analyst Mark May that had USC defenders breathing fire when they ran out to “2001.”

“The guy from ESPN motivated us the most when he said we didn’t have a pass rush,” Norwood said. “That challenged us.”

Spurrier gave game balls to defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix and secondary coach Ron Cooper for throwing a variety of coverages and blitzes at Woodson.

Though Kentucky outgained USC 384-342 in total yardage, the Gamecocks limited the Wildcats to a 3-for-11 mark on third downs and held them to half of their SEC-leading scoring average (46.6 points).

Kentucky, which came into the game ranked ninth nationally in turnover margin, had four giveaways against the Gamecocks.

“We definitely made a lot of mistakes, especially me personally. It’s something we haven’t been doing all year,” Woodson said. “I was pretty disappointed, because we definitely thought we could compete in this game.”

USC led 17-10 early in the third quarter when Norwood struck for the second time.

Under a heavy rush by defensive end Casper Brinkley, Woodson tried to fire a pass to fullback John Conner in the left flat. But the play went as a backward lateral, and Norwood scooped it up and sprinted 53 yards for the score.

While USC’s offense stalled, Kentucky’s Lones Seiber kicked field goals of 41 and 23 yards to pull the Wildcats to 24-16 early in the fourth quarter.

After being outgained 161 to minus-15 in total yardage in the third quarter, the Gamecocks created breathing room with an 8-play scoring drive on their first fourth-quarter possession.

Freshman fullback Patrick DiMarco made a diving 7-yard catch with a defender draped on his back to put the Gamecocks up 31-16 with 11:01 left. It was DiMarco’s first career touchdown.

After Woodson hit Steve Johnson with a 6-yard touchdown pass to get the Wildcats to within 8 points, USC’s Cory Boyd iced it with a 27-yard touchdown catch with 3:28 remaining.

Norwood, whose 2-yard return gave USC its first touchdown, shrugged when asked about his chances for postseason hardware. Though Emanuel Cook does not get a vote, the USC safety gave Norwood the ultimate compliment.

“He’s a beast,” Cook said. “He’s an animal.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

“That was some game he had. He had an All-American type game.  He is an active player that makes things happen. ... I have to slow him down sometimes in practice.”  ~Steve Spurrier (on Eric Norwood)