College Sports

'Cats declawed

South Carolina defensive end Eric Norwood, right, covers a fumble and rolls into the end zone for one of his two touchdowns.
South Carolina defensive end Eric Norwood, right, covers a fumble and rolls into the end zone for one of his two touchdowns.

COLUMBIA -- Eric Norwood will receive more handshakes, e-mails and congratulatory phone calls this week than he's ever thought possible.

He may get a fruit and flower arrangement, complete with season tickets to any team he chooses and a three-year lease on a new car, courtesy of South Carolina's offense.

Norwood returned two fumbles for touchdowns Thursday, taking the burden off Chris Smelley and the rest of the Gamecocks' offense and allowing No. 11 USC to upset No. 8 Kentucky 38-23. Gazing at the field afterwards, in between the ESPN cameras asking for a second of Norwood's time, the majority of offensive players were going to Norwood and slapping his shoulder pads.

Deservedly so. The program's first win over a Top-10 opponent since 2000 wouldn't have come close to happening if it weren't for the Gamecocks' sophomore defensive end.

"I just told Eric Norwood I think that's the first time I've ever had a defensive player score two That was some game he had," said coach Steve Spurrier, who improved his lifetime record against Kentucky to 15-0. "That was an All-American type game."

Norwood's first touchdown came after the Gamecocks (5-1, 3-1 SEC) blew a prime opportunity in the first quarter. Tight end Weslye Saunders was rumbling downfield, clear sailing to the end zone, when Kentucky's Trevard Lindley popped the ball out of Saunders' hands and it rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.

Fleeced out of a quick 7-0 lead, Norwood got it anyway two plays later.

Wildcats quarterback Andre Woodson was sacked by Jonathan Williams and lost the handle, the ball tumbling end over end to the 2-yard-line.

Norwood pounced on it, scooped it up and ran it in just 44 seconds after Saunders' flub.

He was at it again just after halftime, USC holding a 17-10 lead. Casper Brinkley plowed Woodson at the Gamecocks' 36, leaving just enough time for Woodson to dump a desperation pass.

The throw went behind the line to fullback John Conner, who dropped it.

Norwood shoved Conner aside, again snared the loose ball and hightailed it for the end zone, 53 yards away.

USC led 24-10 with 13:03 to go in the third quarter. No one expected the Gamecocks to completely shut down Kentucky's high-octane offense for the duration, but most figured if USC could just add one more score, it wouldn't matter.

The Gamecocks couldn't do it at first. The offense had three straight three-and-outs, mostly filled with Smelley being crushed, and the bedraggled defense had no choice but to head back on the field.

"Offensively, we stumble-bumbled around a lot," Spurrier said. "We had some big plays here and there."

But drawing inspiration from Norwood's heroics, the defense held. It bent

several times -- in many cases, bent almost double -- but hardly ever broke.

After a fumble by Anderson native Rafael Little on the Gamecocks' 4 forced a Kentucky field goal, Smelley regrouped to march USC downfield and finished with a 7-yard touchdown toss to Patrick DiMarco. The Wildcats (5-1, 1-1) scored a touchdown with 6:59 to go and cut the lead to 31-23, but USC took over, hit a couple of first downs and then Smelley spied Cory Boyd with a lane.

Boyd took the swing pass and out-ran everybody 27 yards for the cushioning touchdown.

Norwood finished with five tackles, one for loss, two pass break-ups and a quarterback hurry. He also tied an NCAA record only held by three other players for fumble recoveries for touchdowns in one game.

And it wasn't a fluke, either. Against Mississippi State last week, Norwood blocked a punt that turned into a touchdown one play later, helping erase a 21-17 Bulldogs lead and sending USC to a 38-21 win.

• NOTES: Several former Gamecock all-stars were present, including Fort Lawn native Sheldon Brown. Brown was among a crowd of Sidney Rice, Troy Williamson and Dan Reeves. ... Wrestler Ric Flair filmed a short spot for USC's "The Game is On" promotion. ... Yvan Banag, Gerrod Sinclair and Freddie Brown were banged up during the game.