College Sports

A rusty beginning

South Carolina players, from left, Jasper Brinkley, Marque Hall, Nathan Pepper and Gerrod Sinclair celebrate a Hall sack of Louisiana Lafayette quarterback Michael Desormeaux, bottom, in the second quarter.
South Carolina players, from left, Jasper Brinkley, Marque Hall, Nathan Pepper and Gerrod Sinclair celebrate a Hall sack of Louisiana Lafayette quarterback Michael Desormeaux, bottom, in the second quarter.

COLUMBIA -- Another year under Steve Spurrier, another so-so season-opener.

But just like the two that preceded it, it wasn't quite bad enough for South Carolina to lose.

The Gamecocks beat Louisiana-Lafayette 28-14 Saturday, surviving a few too many nervous moments and way too many missed tackles. Yes, it was a win, but like the 2005 opener against UCF and last year's against Mississippi State, there was a subdued celebration after.

Simply put, for a team that went through the offseason hearing about how it finally had the talent to compete for a conference title, Saturday's performance wasn't championship-caliber.

"Well, it was an interesting ballgame, as we knew it would be," Spurrier said. "It was a little bit like the Central Florida game two years ago.

"Similar game -- we're happy to get the win."

The Gamecocks (1-0) knew they'd be without starting quarterback Blake Mitchell, suspended one game for missing too many summer classes, and they lost top tackler Jasper Brinkley to a sprained ankle in the second quarter, although he returned. The two stars' absence didn't matter at first, after Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher checked in for a series under center apiece and produced two touchdowns.

But even with a 14-0 lead, gained on their first two possessions, USC couldn't hold the momentum. The Ragin' Cajuns (0-1) began carving up USC's defense in Brinkley's absence, and after Smelley threw an end-zone interception, ULL marched 80 yards to score.

ULL tied the game one possession later, again using a wealth of running and spinning through broken tackles.

Beecher checked in for the last possession of the half and methodically screen-passed the Gamecocks down the field, nailing freshman Weslye Saunders for a 20-yard completion at the Cajuns' 2-yard-line. Cory Boyd finished it with a touchdown jaunt and USC went into the locker room up 21-14.

Beecher stayed in for the second half and drove for another touchdown, after he'd been almost intercepted on consecutive plays at the beginning of the third quarter. The redshirt sophomore shook it off after USC's defense popped two big stops and began throwing downfield more, finding Moe Brown for 17 yards before Boyd took in his second touchdown.

Ahead 28-14, USC again allowed the Cajuns to march unchecked downfield before forcing a fourth-and-4 at the end of the third quarter. A stop and a clock-winding scoring drive could have salted the game.

Instead, the Gamecocks had to survive two Cajuns possessions inside the 5.

Beecher was shook up on one play and Smelley came in to finish, running out the clock.

"They did OK," Spurrier said, discussing his QBs. "It started off like we were going to score a bunch of points. It is what it is, and our team needs to really improve if we're going to have a chance to win next week and the week after that."

Not that it was a complete debacle. Beecher looked calm under pressure, despite playing behind a patchwork line; tight end Andy Boyd, usually injured by the second series of the year, caught three passes and a touchdown; Jared Cook caught a couple of tough passes; and defensive back Brandon Isaac played the game of his life, collecting several tackles and constantly making the big stops.

It was about what you'd expect from a program that hasn't had much glory -- didn't play that well, but played well enough. That would have probably been good for any other Gamecock team.

But this one is supposed to be the one that challenges for the SEC championship. And "well enough" doesn't cut it, according to Spurrier.

"Hopefully, we can become a smarter team here in the next week," Spurrier said. "We made a lot of mistakes out there. We come in here talking about we're going to be better on special teams, we can't even get 11 guys out there.

"Hopefully we can learn a lot from this."

n NOTE: Beecher left the game after being "dinged up" pretty good in the fourth quarter. Officials were hesitant to call it a concussion and Beecher was reportedly OK.

• Starting lineman suspended • 3D

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald