Columbia, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - After a disappointing start to the season last week, the 21st-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks will try to bounce back against the East Carolina Pirates in non-conference action at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Building off the momentum of a 10-win season in 2013, ECU began the new campaign in fine fashion last weekend with a convincing 52-7 triumph over FCS foe North Carolina Central.
"I think everybody thought it was going to be a magical beginning," head coach Ruffin McNeill said. "What I'm really proud of is the commitment to the team concept."
South Carolina came into the 2014 campaign with high expectations, as it was selected to win the Eastern Division in the preseason SEC media poll. The Gamecocks kicked off the season on Aug. 28 in a primetime showdown with nationally-ranked Texas A&M, but they were embarrassed in front of their home crowd by getting blown out, 52-28. It marked the first loss in a season opener in 10 seasons under head coach Steve Spurrier and it snapped the nation's longest home winning streak at 18 games.
"It was obvious the odds makers don't know what they're talking about," said Spurrier, whose team was heavily favored. "(Texas A&M) was so much better than us it wasn't funny. They out-coached us, out-played us, they were better prepared and they knew what they were doing."
South Carolina owns a 12-5 advantage in the all-time series with ECU. The Gamecocks won in 2011 (56-37) and 2012 (48-10), the only two meetings this century.
ECU's offensive attack was in full-swing in its opener, as it racked up 582 yards and 32 first downs while scoring touchdowns on 5-of-6 red zone opportunities.
Shane Carden shined under center by completing 26-of-37 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns in just three quarters of work. Kurt Benkert (6-of-8, 50 yards, INT) finished the game out.
Justin Hardy proved to be one of the nation's premiere receivers last season with 114 catches for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns, and he picked up right where he left off with another outstanding performance (eight receptions, 87 yards, two TDs). His playmaking ability was also utilized on a trick play in the first quarter when he threw a 41-yard touchdown pass.
As strong as Hardy was out wide, Isaiah Jones was even better, finishing with 10 receptions for 150 yards, and he was on the receiving end of Hardy's touchdown toss.
In the rushing attack, Marquez Grayson (78 yards) and Anthony Scott (61 yards, TD) both made a lasting impression despite earning just seven carries apiece.
The Pirates' defense had no trouble stifling NCCU, as the unit allowed a mere 174 yards.
Zeek Bigger tallied a game-high 11 tackles, Montese Overton had 2.0 TFL and a sack and Dervais Brunson forced a fumble and blocked a kick.
The Gamecocks finished their opener with solid offensive numbers (433 yards), but a lot of that production came late in the game already down multiple touchdowns. The unit was just 2-of-9 on third down and had less than 23 minutes of possession.
Dylan Thompson completed only 50 percent of his passes (20-of-40), threw an interception and was sacked three times, but he still threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs.
Nick Jones was Thompson's primary target, hauling in five passes for 113 yards with two touchdowns. Pharoh Cooper (three receptions, 58 yards, TD) and Rory Anderson (three receptions, 52 yards) also showed some explosion out wide.
While South Carolina found some success through the air, the rushing attack was stagnant. Brandon Wilds was solid with 45 yards on nine rushes, but the team totaled just 67 rushing yards on 3.0 ypc.
Simply put, the Gamecocks' defensive performance against Texas A&M was one of the worst in school history. The 52 points allowed was the most since giving up 56 to Auburn in the 2010 SEC Championship Game, and the program has never yielded more than the 680 yards the Aggies piled up.
"We have no pass rush, coverage was so-so and (Texas A&M) knew what they were doing," Spurrier said.
The defense failed to force a single turnover. Chris Moody led the way with eight tackles, while Skai Moore was also solid with six stops and a sack.