COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina shook off suspensions to three starters and motored past Southern Miss 41-13 in the season opener Thursday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Here’s an instant analysis from the game:
How the game was won: The Gamecocks unleashed the kind of balanced offense on the Golden Eagles that Steve Spurrier was famous for at Florida, but hasn’t been able to produce at South Carolina on a consistent basis. After Southern Miss pulled within 7-3 late in the first quarter, South Carolina went on a 27-3 spree to put the game away. The Gamecocks had touchdown drives of 92, 85, 62 and 48 yards in the first three quarters.
Player of the game: South Carolina junior quarterback Stephen Garcia played one of the most efficient games of his career. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 193 yards and no interceptions and also had a pair of rushing touchdowns. The first of those was a 22-yard scamper where he ran over a Southern Miss safety.
Unsung hero of the game: Let’s go with the entire South Carolina first-team offensive line, a group of guys that’s been beaten on relentlessly the last couple of years. Even without starting left tackle Jarriel King, the guys up front paved the way for more than 200 rushing yards and also did a better job of protecting Garcia. First-year offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has done a nice job with this unit.
What it means: Spurrier, still fuming from that awful performance against Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl to end last season, vowed that this would be a different team. Well, the Gamecocks looked like it in the kind of complete effort it’s going to take on down the road if they’re going to contend in the East. The offense was on top of its game, but so was the defense. The Golden Eagles never really threatened to score a touchdown until the closing minutes of the game, and even then, the Gamecocks held. All in all, this is exactly the way South Carolina wanted to go into Georgia this week, and the Gamecocks will have a couple of extra days to prepare, too.
What South Carolina learned: No doubt, it had been a crazy past few weeks with the Whitney Hotel investigation, all the stuff with Weslye Saunders and all the rumors floating around. But the Gamecocks refused to allow any of that to become a distraction -- a sure sign of maturity.