Columbia, SC – If they can knock off the visiting UAB Blazers on Saturday night, the eighth-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks will give coach Steve Spurrier his 200th career win,
The Ol' Ball Coach has seen his Gamecocks notch six straight wins dating back to last season -- their longest winning streak since early in the 2007 campaign and tied for the third-longest in school history. A win this week would also give USC a 3-0 start for the third straight year.
UAB is coming off a bye week after suffering a 39-29 setback to Troy in the season opener. The Blazers went just 3-9 a year ago and are now led by first- year head coach Garrick McGee, who was hired last December after four seasons at Arkansas, the last two as offensive coordinator.
South Carolina has won both prior meetings in the series with UAB, the most recent of which being a 26-13 decision in Columbia in 2008.
Gamecocks sophomore quarterback Dylan Thompson made his first career start against ECU, and it was a banner one as he threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns. Spurrier wanted Thompson to be in command of the offense, and so the first-year starter was allowed to take some shots downfield.
"Probably (against ECU) the ball was in the air more distance than any game I've coached here," Spurrier said. "We got it down there. We didn't hit them all. At least we got them in the air. Our receivers had fun going after them."
Spurrier noted that if regular starter Connor Shaw is 100 percent recovered from a shoulder injury, then he will be the guy. Still, the coach said it's good to know that if Shaw is unable to suit up, Thompson can go in there and throw it around.
"We'll get Dylan ready," Spurrier said. "If Connor is 100 percent to practice Wednesday or Thursday, Connor will be the starter. Now we have the confidence that we have a couple of quarterbacks that can play around here."
Whoever starts under center will surely lean on junior running back Marcus Lattimore, who needs one more touchdown to break the school record (he is currently tied with George Rogers and Harold Green with 33). Lattimore has worked his way back from a season-ending left knee injury suffered against Mississippi State last October and has 150 yards and three TDs through two games.
USC's defense enters the weekend ranked 15th nationally against the run (66 ypg) and 18th in points allowed (11.5 ppg). Additionally, the Gamecocks have shown a penchant for creating takeaways. They forced five turnovers against the Pirates (four interceptions, one fumble recovery), and a week earlier they bottled up Vanderbilt's offense to the tune of 276 total yards and held the Commodores to 3-of-15 on third down.
UAB quarterback Jonathan Perry threw for 317 yards and a pair of scores against Troy two weeks ago, but that effort was spoiled by two late turnovers in a span of 24 seconds, both of which led to touchdowns for the Trojans. With UAB down by two points and driving midway through the fourth quarter, Perry threw an interception that set up an eventual Troy TD. On the first play of UAB's next drive, Perry got hit and lost a fumble inside the 10-yard line.
"You can't make the mistakes that we made; you can't snap the ball over your head, you can't drop the ball, you can't fumble the ball on the one-yard line, you can't get the consistent penalties that we got and win football games," a dejected McGee said after his first game at the helm.
"I am proud of them, but I am not interested in moral victories. I expect us to play better and win, but we didn't. I do think we have a good football team."
UAB must do a better job defensively if the team hopes to hang around against a top-10 opponent on the road. The Blazers had no answer for Troy running back Shawn Southward, who reeled off a career-high 204 yards and three TDs on the ground. In fact, a trio of Trojan running backs combined to average a whopping 7.1 yards on 37 carries.
USC's Lattimore figures to be chomping at the bit after coming off a rather light 13-carry workload in his last outing. Linebackers Greg Irvin (12 tackles) and Marvin Burdette (10 tackles, 1.5 TFL) will likely be quite busy once again.