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Statement Game

Norwood steals show with two defensive TDs; Gamecocks victorious in SEC East showdown

Published on 10/05/07
BY TRAVIS HANEY
The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — South Carolina now has two victories against top-11 teams this season. And, for the second time, the Gamecocks can thank their defense.

Charged by two defensive scores by end Eric Norwood, USC's

defense stood up against a most stern test, carrying No. 11 South Carolina past No. 8 Kentucky, 38-23, at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"I felt like we had a better team than Kentucky," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "A lot of defensive guys played their hearts out."

Guess who'll likely be back in the top 10. Eleventh was already the highest the Gamecocks (5-1,

3-1) had been ranked in Spurrier's three seasons in Columbia.

They'll rise higher by Sunday.

"We're excited about it," said end Casper Brinkley, who applied a ton of pressure all night to UK star quarterback Andre Woodson. "We want to stay there."

Spurrier improved to 15-0 against Kentucky (5-1, 1-1), which hasn't beaten South Carolina in its last eight tries.

This was to be USC's toughest challenge against UK during that run. On a night when the defensive line shined on national television, repeatedly getting in Woodson's face, Norwood stood out brightly.

"He had an All-American-type game," Spurrier said.

The blossoming sophomore jumped on a Woodson fumble early for a 2-yard score to put USC up 7-0. With a seven-point lead just into the second half, he scooped up an errant Woodson lateral pass and went 53 yards to stake the Gamecocks to a 24-10 advantage that was never really threatened.

South Carolina had only one defensive touchdown since Oct. 8, 2005, and it came Sept. 15 against South Carolina State.

Norwood blocked a punt last week against Mississippi State, turning the tide in a relatively easy win for USC.

He did it again Thursday through the course of the game, becoming just the fourth player in NCAA history to score twice on fumble recoveries in the same game.

The third-quarter play was key since the Gamecocks' offense decided to take the period off. USC had three three-and-outs, four plays for negative yards and racked up a whopping minus-14 yards in

South Carolina knocks off No. 8 Kentucky

the quarter.

"We stumbled, bumbled around a lot," Spurrier said. "We were searching around for some ballplays."

The offense found them at just the right time. South Carolina's 62-yard drive, finished by fullback Patrick DiMarco's 7-yard touchdown catch from freshman quarterback Chris Smelley, staked the Gamecocks to a 31-16 lead.

It was the most promising possession since a 10-play, 89-yard drive just before intermission.

USC saw only one third down on the drive, which included a 25-yard Cory Boyd run and three consecutive completions by Smelley to three different targets.

After Woodson led a touchdown drive to cut the lead to eight with seven minutes to go, South Carolina again answered when Smelley hit Boyd out of the backfield for an icing 27-yard touchdown

reception.

Smelley finished with 256 yards and two touchdowns. And, importantly, no interceptions.

"We had a funny night offensively," Spurrier said. "We either scored touchdowns or went backward."

But it was Norwood, Brinkley, Emanuel Cook and the South Carolina defense — also huge in the Sept. 8 win at Georgia — that made the difference when the offense sputtered.

The unit kept Woodson peering over his shoulder because of the pressure.

"It all started up front with the D-line," Brinkley said. "We made things happen to get this win."

On Kentucky's second offensive play, tackle Jonathan Williams smacked Woodson to jar the ball loose at the 10-yard line. Norwood pounced on it for the score.

There was a shred of karma in the play since Gamecocks tight end Weslye Saunders had fumbled at the goal line on the previous possession, giving Kentucky the ball with a touchback.

Midway through the second, with the score tied at 10, Woodson led a healthy-looking drive to the Gamecocks 9-yard line.

With end Brinkley bearing down on him on second down, Woodson fired wildly toward the goal line, where the ball was picked off by corner Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn returned the interception to the USC 38, staving off a Wildcats score.

Woodson went an NCAA-record 325 pass attempts before throwing an interception last week against Florida Atlantic.

Brinkley was again harassing Woodson when he committed his third turnover, throwing a lateral in the general direction of fullback John Conner. Norwood picked up the ball and sprinted half the field to put the Gamecocks up 14 and significantly change momentum.

Woodson, thought to be a Heisman frontrunner coming in, finished 23-for-40 for 227 yards, with two touchdown and the three turnovers.

"I thought we did the job on him," Brinkley said. "This was a big win for us."

Reach Travis Haney at

thaney@postandcourier.com.

"I felt like we had a better team than Kentucky.  A lot of defensive guys played their hearts out."  ~Steve Spurrier