Columbia, SC – Having posted two emotional victories in as ranked South Carolina Gamecocks aim for a convincing win conference affair.
Navy was dominant last week, as the club moved to 2-0 with a 40-14 romp over Western Kentucky. Ken Niumatalolo became the fastest coach to 29 victories for the Midshipmen, surpassing Paul Johnson's record of 28 wins in his first four seasons. Navy is now 24-2 when scoring first during Niumatalolo's tenure.
As for South Carolina, it shook off the rust in week one to eventually steamroll its way to a 56-37 victory over East Carolina. The Gamecocks had their hands full with a desperate Georgia team last weekend in Athens, and it took big plays from all three phases to knock off the Bulldogs in a 45-42 final to open SEC play. This weekend's affair marks the first of what will be four consecutive home games for coach Steve Spurrier's squad.
South Carolina holds a 4-3 all-time record versus Navy, and the most recent meeting took place in 1988.
Each week, Navy runs the ball on almost every down and dares the opponent to make a stop. Last week, Western Kentucky had no answer for the Midshipmen, who racked up 410 yards on the ground at a clip of 7.2 yards per attempt. John Howell led the charge with 113 yards and two scores on only three carries, while Alexander Teich posted 102 yards on the ground. Kriss Proctor only completed three of his seven passes, but he finished with 100 passing yards and two touchdowns.
The news was not all positive for the Navy offense, however, as Aaron Santiago, a senior slotback, suffered a serious arm injury and may miss the rest of the season.
"I'm a little subdued," said an emotional Niumatalolo after the game. "To be honest, I was in a daze in the second half. To lose someone like Aaron Santiago, who is such a phenomenal human being, is hard to see. Just a great leader and a great kid."
Defensively, Navy allowed just 277 total yards to Western Kentucky, and while the club did yield two rushing touchdowns, five takeaways were notched in what was an impressive overall effort.
Through two contests, Navy is averaging 40.0 ppg and 473.5 total ypg, including 400.5 ypg on the ground. Proctor has thrown for three scores and run for three more, as he has been tremendous under center. Meanwhile, the club is holding opponents to 15.5 ppg and 320.0 total ypg.
South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore, a sophomore, was billed as a Heisman candidate coming into this season, and he certainly looked the part against Georgia last week. Lattimore punched in a three-yard touchdown with roughly three minutes remaining that proved to be key to the win, and he finished with 176 yards on the ground.
Stephen Garcia threw for 142 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 11- of-25 passing, while Alshon Jeffery pulled in five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown for the Gamecocks.
"It feels good to get a win in a hostile environment," Garcia said. "The non- offensive touchdowns that we got were the difference in the game. Definitely, the most bizarre win I've ever gotten in college, but all that matters is that we got the win."
Through two outings, the Gamecocks are producing 50.5 ppg despite a far less impressive output of 373.0 ypg. The ground attack has clearly been a strength of the offense, accounting for 236.5 ypg. Lattimore has rushed for 288 yards in averaging 5.8 ypc and he has four rushing scores to his credit. Garcia has run for three touchdowns and has thrown a pair, while Jeffery has 10 catches for 177 yards and a score.
The biggest play of the game for South Carolina came from the defense, as a fumble was picked up by defensive end Melvin Ingram and brought into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown. Ingram also scored on a fake punt, as the Gamecocks took a serious gamble in their own end that paid huge dividends.
"We had it in the playbook all year," Ingram said. "We called it a couple times earlier in the game but it wasn't on so we didn't run it. This is another stepping stone. We're trying to get better every week."
Opponents are scoring 39.5 ppg against USC, which is yielding 390.5 total ypg. The Gamecocks have yielded 10 touchdowns to opposing offenses, eight of which have been passing scores. Obviously, they will be facing far more running plays than passes this weekend.