Rebels win with secret triple-QB rotation

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- In a season where two-quarterback rotations are in vogue, Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe went one better, shuttling three signalcallers in and out in a 31-28 victory over South Carolina (No. 25 AP) on Saturday

Ethan Flatt became the hero, finding Bill Flowers in the corner of the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 1:05 left.

Cutcliffe kept the plan secret from his team, only telling the three quarterbacks "to have their helmets on and straps buttoned because we might play them anytime."

Running back Vashon Pearson didn't even realize what was up until the opening series when Flatt took the first snap, backup Micheal Spurlock was behind center on the next play and third-stringer Robert Lane replaced Spurlock on third down.

"It seemed so crazy. I wasn't sure it was going to work," Pearson said. "But now I think we need to do it all the time."

Cutcliffe rotated his quarterbacks on a play-by-play basis.

Flatt often came in on passing downs and finished 18-of-27 for 214

yards. The other two quarterbacks mainly ran the ball, with

Spurlock gaining 34 yards on eight carries and Robert Lane running

for 16 yards on four carries.

The quarterback platoon stumped the Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2

Southeastern) early as the Rebels quickly took a 14-0 lead late in

the first quarter and led 21-14 at half.

And it could have been worse. On two other drives, Mississippi

quarterbacks overthrew receivers with a step or two on the

secondary and a clear path to the end zone and late in the second

quarter, fumbled the ball away deep in South Carolina territory.

"They came out and did different things we haven't seen

before," linebacker Ricardo Hurley said. "We had to adjust to it

at halftime."

The Gamecocks' defense -- first in the SEC in rushing defense and

third against the pass -- gave up 319 yards in the first half. South

Carolina came in allowing 256 yards a game.

The defense stiffened in the second half, holding Ole Miss (3-3,

2-1) to 95 yards. But most of those came on the winning drive.

While Cutcliffe wasn't shy about switching quarterbacks for most

of the game, Flatt got the ball for all the final drive as he

marched the Rebels 73 yards in less than 90 seconds.

Two plays before the winning touchdown, Flatt overthrew Mario

Hill in the end zone. With Ole Miss facing fourth-and-10 at the

South Carolina 29, the coaches decided to run the same play, called

"X-Takeoff."

This time Flowers sprinted behind South Carolina's secondary,

then made a tough catch on an underthrown ball, just staying

inbounds.

"I knew I had to make a different type of throw," Platt said.

"But I wasn't surprised it was open. It was open the first time."

South Carolina had one more chance, getting the ball down to the

Ole Miss 31 with 30 seconds to go. But after Syvelle Newton spiked

the ball, Corey Mills sacked him on second down, then the Rebels

broke up two passes in the end zone.

The loss ruined an excellent performance by Newton, who was

starting his first SEC game. Newton was 12-of-27 for 291 yards and

a touchdown. He also led the Gamecocks in rushing, gaining 65 yards

on 19 carries.

But a bad decision by Newton on a risky call by coach Lou Holtz

might have cost South Carolina some precious points.

The Gamecocks drove to the Ole Miss 12 with 7 seconds left in

the first half. Holtz decided to run one more offensive play

instead of going for the field goal. Newton scrambled a bit too

long and Noah Whiteside dropped the pass in the end zone as the

clock expired.

"We probably should have kicked a field goal there," Holtz

said.

Newton looked shaky when the game started and didn't get on

track until Holtz jolted him with a quarterback switch of his own.

Freshman Blake Mitchell came in after the team failed to get a

first down in the first quarter and immediately led the Gamecocks

to the end zone, completing all three of his passes on the drive,

including a 17-yard touchdown strike to tight end Andy Boyd.

"You can tell we came out a little flat," Newton said.

Newton then led the Gamecocks on three touchdown drives, and

Demetris Summers' 17-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter

gave South Carolina a 28-24 lead.

But the Ole Miss defense stiffened and the Gamecocks couldn't

run out the clock.

Known as a conservative coach, Cutcliffe said he figured the

unusual strategy was worth the risk after his Rebels struggled to

beat Arkansas State last week.

"When you're not playing any better than we are, not too many

decisions are difficult," Cutcliffe said.

And he may never do it again. "It will be a week-by-week

decision," Cutcliffe said.