2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - ECU at South Carolina
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Sept. 3 South Carolina 56 … East Carolina 37
CFN Analysis: Whether it was a motivational ploy or if Steve Spurrier really did believe that Connor Shaw was the better option, Stephen Garcia ended the debate once and for all. Shaw misfired on two early deep passes that Garcia would’ve connected on for touchdowns, and then Garcia took over the game completing 7-of-15 passes for 110 yards and a score, while running for 56 yards and two scores. Marcus Lattimore was Marcus Lattimore with 112 yards and three scores, but he had to grind it out and didn’t bust out many big runs. The D might have struggled with the high-powered East Carolina offense, but the defensive front looked like it could be really, really good. There weren’t any sacks, but Jadeveon Clowney appears to be the real deal out of the gate with seven tackles and a tackle for loss.
Daniel Drake made 14 tackles, Derek Blacknall broke up four passes, and there were four forced fumbles, and that’s about it for anything positive from the East Carolina defense. Dominique Davis was great early, and he finished with four touchdown passes, but the team couldn’t generate enough offense when the defense wasn’t taking the ball away. South Carolina is a top five-caliber team that’s going to put up big numbers all season long, and while the second half might have been disappointing, ECU showed enough promise to give Virginia Tech a game next week. If the offensive line can keep Davis from getting sacked again, it could be a thriller.
(AP) CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Stephen Garcia succeeded coming off the bench for South Carolina. Getting off coach Steve Spurrier's short leash is another matter.
Garcia ran for two touchdowns and threw for another to rally the 12th-ranked Gamecocks past East Carolina 56-37 on Saturday after sitting out the first quarter and South Carolina trailing 17-0.
"I don't know if this was my best game as a Gamecock, but we needed this win, for sure," the fifth-year senior said, "especially for us to come back and win after that first quarter."
The performance earned Garcia back his starting job, which he had the previous 28 games before this, when South Carolina opens the Southeastern Conference season at Georgia. But it didn't earn him too much praise from Spurrier, famously hard on his quarterbacks.
Spurrier didn't second guess his choice of starting sophomore Connor Shaw and expected Garcia to play better than he did against the Pirates.
No game ball for Garcia from the Ball Coach.
"I said, 'Wait a minute. When he throws for about 300 yards and brings us down the field scoring at the end of the game,'" Spurrier said. "He played well. But hopefully, he'll have a big, big game."
Some might say Garcia's had several through the years, including his three-touchdown, 17-of-20 showing last season in a 35-21 upset of top-ranked Alabama. Spurrier has crowed often of last year's milestone of beating Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida all in the same season -- and all with Garcia as starter.
"The offense just responded to Stephen better," said Ace Sanders, who caught Garcia's lone touchdown pass.
Marcus Lattimore added 112 yards rushing and three TDs.
Garcia was the steadying hand after a butter-fingers first quarter that featured three Gamecocks fumbles, two of which led to East Carolina scores. With Garcia back under center, the offense started to click and South Carolina took control of the season opener.
Garcia had a 32-yard touchdown run his first series and when Lattimore finished the Gamecocks next drive with a 4-yard scoring run, South Carolina fans at Bank of America Stadium began chanting Garcia's name in celebration.
Spurrier said Garcia would start the Gamecocks' Southeastern Conference opener at Georgia next week. "Yeah, he's back in the box," the coach said.
Dominique Davis threw for 260 yards and four touchdowns for the Pirates, but when South Carolina wasn't stopping itself, the Pirates had no answers. The Gamecocks outscored ECU 42-13 in second half.
Garcia opened the second half with a with a 3-yard TD pass to Sanders and put the Gamecocks ahead for good moments later, 28-24, with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Garcia threw for 3,059 yards and 20 TDs last year and was a big reason the team played in the Southeastern Conference title game as Eastern Division champs. But Garcia was suspended twice this spring, upping his career total to five at South Carolina, something that's irked Spurrier to no end.
So the Gamecocks coach put the ball in Shaw's hands, saying the sophomore who'd thrown just 33 college passes had outperformed Garcia throughout the summer.
Garcia left no doubt who the better passer was in this one as the Gamecocks won their 12th straight season opener. Spurrier improved to 42-0 against schools outside the BCS automatic qualifying conferences.
"Stephen's a fine quarterback," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "He led them to the division championship."
Any South Carolina streaks of success looked in danger during an awful first half. The Gamecocks, with their best preseason ranking ever, certainly didn't look ready for the national spotlight.
Even Lattimore -- who's lone college fumble came when he was knocked cold in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last December -- couldn't escape the miscues, getting the ball stripped from his grasp to lead to East Carolina's first touchdown on a 25-yard pass to Justin Hardy.
East Carolina was back at it a series later, Davis tossing a 19-yard scoring throw to Lance Lewis for a 14-0 lead. When the Pirates tacked on a field goal following a fumbled kickoff by Kenny Miles, South Carolina was down 17-0 and in serious need of a familiar face at the controls.
Enter Garcia, who despite his troubles had the most passing yards of any returning SEC quarterback. He quickly showed that he has learned a thing or two under Spurrier.
"Someone on the sideline told me you can't win it in one drive," Garcia said. "Just take it one drive at a time."
Garcia found Lattimore for a 20-yard completion, then broke free on a 32 yard TD run, the longest of his time at South Carolina, to give the Gamecocks some offensive life. Garcia hit Alshon Jeffery on a 22-yard pass the next series, which ended with the first of Lattimore's scoring runs.
Garcia was 7 of 15 for 110 yards in three quarters of work.
East Carolina had hoped to tap into its curious history against South Carolina. The teams last met in 1999, the Pirates won 21-3 in Columbia as Hurricane Floyd flooded camps. East Carolina remainied in town the following week, training at a local high school in preparation for one of the biggest wins in school history -- a 27-23 victory over then ninth-ranked Miami.
McNeill showed his players tape of that game this week as the campus was closed for two days because of last weekend's Hurricane Irene.
But those Pirates had 30 NFL draft picks including Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard. This group gave up the most yards per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season and they couldn't hold together against the Gamecocks.
The game also marked the debut of highly touted defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's top college prospect who signed with the Gamecocks. Clowney was credited with seven tackles, third most for South Carolina.
East Carolina (0-0) vs. South Carolina (0-0) Sept. 3, 7:00, Fox Sports Net
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Here’s The Deal … East Carolina and South Carolina share a border, yet haven’t met in over a decade. The two schools will renew acquaintances in an intriguing neutral site match up at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium. Although head coach Steve Spurrier might disagree with lofty prognostications, the Gamecocks begin 2011 ranked and favored to capture the SEC East for a second consecutive year. After going 9-5 last fall, the program is determined to scale new heights by earning a BCS bowl bid and reaching 10 wins for the first time since 1984. The Pirates have high hopes of their own in Ruffin McNeill’s second season on the sidelines. East Carolina was a curious program in 2010, bowling in a presumed rebuilding campaign, but imploding down the stretch. Its Air Raid offense will once again be the catalyst in Greenville, while the defense attempts to rebound from one of the worst seasons in school history.
Why East Carolina Might Win: Coordinator Lincoln Riley did a remarkable job in 2010 of installing an up-tempo passing game at a school that had been accustomed to conservative offenses. From the eighth-ranked passing team that averaged almost 37 points a game returns prolific QB Dominique Davis and all-star WR Lance Lewis. Riley’s potent offense is the reason that the Pirates are such a dangerous draw for an SEC team. And although South Carolina features talented defensive backs, such as S D.J. Swearinger and corners Stephon Gilmore and Akeem Auguste, the sum isn’t always greater than the individual parts. The Gamecocks can be sloppy in coverage, too often allowing receivers to get behind them.
Why South Carolina Might Win: For an East Carolina D that’s desperately seeking a pulse, looking across the field at the fellas in garnet and black will be a harrowing sight. The Pirates are in the unenviable position of trying to contain one of the nation’s best one-two skill position punches in RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffery. And as if the challenge isn’t already difficult enough, they’ll be playing without their best defender, suspended all-star CB Emanuel Davis. When ECU has the ball, it’ll have to contend with a terrific D-line that’s going to make a bee line to the pocket all night. Not only will doubling star DE Devin Taylor not work, but it’ll make life easier for teammates Travian Robertson and Melvin Ingram. Oh, and mega-recruit Jadeveon Clowney cannot be ignored as he makes his highly-anticipated debut for the Gamecocks.
What To Watch Out For: Stephen Garcia’s body language will say a lot about how far South Carolina ascends in 2011. The oft-troubled senior quarterback has been suspended five times as a Gamecock, most recently in April. He’s back in Spurrier’s good graces, and reportedly a changed young man. The program needs that to be the case, beginning in Charlotte for the opener. While Garcia doesn’t have to be the hero in Columbia, he does need to be an accountable leader if USC is going to win its first conference championship since 1969.
What Will Happen: You’ll have to forgive South Carolina if it doesn’t look like a contender for the SEC throne in the opener. Next week’s pivotal showdown with Georgia between the hedges is guaranteed to be a distraction on Saturday evening. The Gamecocks will slog through the first 30 minutes and frustrate the heck out of Spurrier before their immense talent edge simply takes over. East Carolina just doesn’t possess the defensive might to corral Lattimore and Jeffery, who’ll both get in the end zone twice.
CFN Prediction: South Carolina 35 … East Carolina 20
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South Carolina -20.5 O/U: 61.5
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