Like the South Carolina Gamecocks' other games, this was a tale of two halves, but this time, the end result was a victory as they topped the UCF Knights, 31-14, Saturday afternoon at WIlliams-Brice Stadium.
This one started ugly with both teams struggling to put some points on the scoreboard. The Gamecocks opened the game with an Elliott Fry career-best 52-yard field goal in the first quarter, but Fry missed his second attempt on the next drive. After Sean Kelly's punt pinned the Knights deep into their own territory, Boosie Whitlow burst through the line and dropped Taj McGowan in the end zone for a safety to make it 5-0. But UCF got on the board due to a special teams disaster: a muffed punt return by Pharoh Cooper, putting the Knights at their own one yard line and leading to a Nick Patti punch-in to put themselves up 7-5. On their next drive, they marched down the field in a 93-yard, seven play touchdown drive reminiscent of many similar ones allowed this year for the Gamecocks, who found themselves down 14-8 at the break.
Things opened up for them in the third quarter, though. And it was thanks to some timely defense.
After forcing the Knights to punt on their first two possessions of the second half, Carolina made their way into the end zone with four straight runs (started by a 23-yarder by Lorenzo Nunez and capped by a 29-yard scamper by Cooper that was actually a failed trick play...no, they didn't draw it up that way) to make it 15-14. Then, following a T.J. Holloman pick at the UCF 40, they were back in the end zone in just four plays. Nunez found Jacob August for a 13-yard score to run the lead up to 22-14. Same story in the next UCF drive: another Holloman pick, this time returned to the Gamecocks' 46, opened the door for the quarter's third touchdown: a nice 35-yard Nunez to Cooper strike to make it 28-14 with the missed two-point conversion. Fry added a field goal for good measure midway through the fourth quarter as the Gamecocks pitched a shutout in the final two stanzas, allowing just 107 yards of total offense in the half.
Gamecocks fans certainly had to have been very encouraged by what they saw from Lorenzo Nunez. The true freshman was poised and confident in the pocket during his first career start, going 12-22 for 184 yards and two touchdowns, one to Cooper (who finished with 69 yards on four carries and atoned for his bad miscue earlier in the game). But Nunez' skill at running the ball was impressive: eighteen carries and 123 yards. In a game where the rushing attack was lacking one of its weapons (Brandon Wilds), Nunez filled a significant void. On the other end, much has to be made about the game both Holloman and Whitlow had today defensively: Holloman had the two big interceptions in the third quarter while Whitlow added a sack and a TFL for a safety to the final stat line.
Can the Gamecocks continue their winning ways next week? We'll find out as they travel to Mizzou to take on the Tigers in the other Columbia. That one is a noon (ET) kickoff as well.