No. 18 South Carolina 54, Kentucky 3
Football finally got fun again for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. Connor Shaw had a good day, too.
Spurrier opened up his offense Saturday with direct snaps to the running backs, passes to the tight end and even an option run as the No. 18 Gamecocks (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) beat Kentucky 51-3, their biggest margin of victory in an SEC game since joining the league in 1992.
''Gosh, we had over 600 yards,'' said Spurrier, whose team finished with 639 yards, the most since he took over the Gamecocks in 2005.
Spurrier's biggest change paid off the most. He gave Shaw the start over fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia and the sophomore threw four touchdowns, going 26-of-39 for 311 yards.
''I didn't know if we could move it like this or not. But I knew we had to try,'' Spurrier said.
Spurrier concentrated so hard on his offense that he spoke after the game for 30 seconds about the decision to keep defensive lineman Melvin Ingram off the field because of an injured foot before someone broke in and told him Ingram played several downs, making a solo tackle.
''He did?! I thought his uniform was clean,'' Spurrier said, smiling and laughing.
The Wildcats (2-4, 0-3) gained just 96 yards, and their quarterbacks threw four interceptions and just four completions.
''Ugly is how you can describe it,'' Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. ''It was ugly, especially offensively.''
Said Spurrier: ''Kentucky has a heck of a punter, I know that.''
Spurrier took advantage of a Kentucky team that lost its first two SEC games by an average of 33 points, allowing 434 yards a contest. It was the perfect tonic after the turmoil that followed South Carolina's first loss of the season, last week to Auburn. Not only did Spurrier switch quarterbacks after the defeat, he also kept his offensive assistants away from the media and suggested some players might not need to talk to reporters as much.
''It was just time to call some plays and see what happened,'' Spurrier said.
Almost everything worked as the Gamecocks gained more than twice as many yards as they had in the 16-13 Auburn loss.
All-SEC running back Marcus Lattimore only ran the ball twice in the first quarter, while Alshon Jeffery, an all-SEC receiver last year, was thrown to eight times by Shaw.
In the second quarter, Spurrier turned back to Lattimore, who even took a couple of direct snaps. Shaw threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Justice Cunningham in a formation that had the tight end and just three linemen in front of the quarterback. Cunningham caught five passes for 46 yards after having just five receptions in the first five games.
''We had a very good game plan as far as different formations, different strategies,'' Shaw said.
So while Garcia stood on the sidelines in a black baseball cap after 32 starts, chatting with the other quarterback backups and shouting occasional encouragement to his replacement, Shaw carved up a Kentucky defense that came in ranked fourth in the SEC against the pass. It was much better than the 3-of-9 performance when Spurrier let him start the season opener.
''I wasn't as nervous as last time. I'd been there, done that,'' Shaw said. ''My offensive line came to me and told me they had my back.''
Shaw's four touchdown passes were as many as Garcia has thrown all season and the most in a game for any South Carolina quarterback in almost five years.
Jeffery caught five passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns, doubling his season total for TDs. Lattimore ran 22 times for 102 yards.
South Carolina's defense held an opponent under 100 yards for the second time this year, forcing six Kentucky turnovers and holding the Wildcats to just six first downs.
Starting quarterback Morgan Newton was 4 for 21 for 17 yards, so Kentucky turned to backup Maxwell Smith in the third quarter. Smith threw two interceptions his first two passes and nearly had his third pass picked off by blitzing linebacker Damario Jeffery. The Wildcats turned back to Newton, and promptly fumbled three plays later.
The Wildcats ran just six plays in South Carolina territory, all of them after the Gamecocks fumbled the opening kickoff. A 28-yard field goal by Craig McIntosh accounted for all Kentucky's points.
The defense kept giving South Carolina's offense opportunities, so Spurrier kept pouring it on.
Bruce Ellington, moonlighting from his winter job as South Carolina's point guard, atoned for the fumbled kickoff by taking a direct snap 61 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that put the Gamecocks ahead 40-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Shaw got a loud cheer in the fourth quarter when he came out and Andrew Clifford came in for mop-up duty. Clifford got in the action too, throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to D.L. Moore that put the Gamecocks ahead 47-3.
Then, Spurrier put in fourth string quarterback Dylan Thompson with less than four minutes to go in the game and ran a 10-play drive that had three passes, ending with an 8-yard touchdown scramble by Thompson with nine seconds left, after he couldn't find an open receiver.
''We could have picked up 70 or 80 points today,'' Spurrier said smiling. ''But 50 was enough.''