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Special teams shine in South Carolina’s 35-14 season-opening win over Georgia State

A dominant performance from Pete Lembo’s unit stands out as the offense continues to work out its kinks.

NCAA Football: Georgia St. at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina and Spencer Rattler got off to an uneven start to 2022 but ultimately captured a commanding victory over the visiting Georgia State Panthers on Saturday night, defeating Shawn Elliott’s squad 35-14 off the strength of excellent special teams play.

The Gamecocks and Panthers got things started with a largely uneventful and scoreless first quarter, with the main highlights being a fourth down stop by South Carolina and some early indications that Rattler is the best quarterback to set foot in Columbia in quite some time.

The action heated up in the second quarter, with receiver Jalen Brooks making a SportsCenter-worthy grab, the Gamecocks successfully pulling off a fake field goal, and MarShawn Lloyd finally scoring his first touchdown in the Garnet and Black, staking USC to a 6-0 lead after a bad snap botched the point-after attempt. When Georgia State came up empty on its next possession, new kicker Mitch Jeter then drilled an impressive 53-yarder to move South Carolina's advantage to 9-0.

The Panthers weren't going down quietly, though. GSU's next drive was far too easy, with quarterback Darren Grainger and former Gamecock Jamyest Williams carving up the South Carolina defense to make it 9-7.

USC bounced back, though, forcing another stop and clumsily stumbling through an attempt at a two-minute drill that Jeter saved with a 51-yard field goal to give the Gamecocks a 12-7 halftime lead.

The second half got off to an absolutely nightmarish start for South Carolina, as Rattler tossed a pick in Gamecock territory and the Panthers cashed in on a Grainger run shortly thereafter to go up 14-12.

However, Pete Lembo and the South Carolina special teams came up big on the Panthers’ next possession, as the Gamecocks blocked a punt, returned it for a touchdown and then converted the 2-point try to attain a more comfortable 20-12 lead. The best part? The punt block unit wasn’t done: After Rattler tossed his second interception of the half, South Carolina again blocked a punt and housed it for a TD, pushing USC’s advantage to 35-14 to close the scoring. Marcellas Dial then helped the Gamecocks salt this one away when he intercepted Grainger in the red zone.

The offensive line and playcalling left much to be desired in multiple stretches throughout this game, and will surely be the center of debate among the Gamecock faithful over the next week — particularly the 3-of-14 mark on third downs. But Rattler showed flashes, and Brooks dominated in the way fans have wanted to see from him, racking up 88 yards on four receptions.

South Carolina will travel to No. 19 Arkansas next week, facing off at noon on ESPN.