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October 8, 2011

Carolina game balls



NO. 18 SOUTH CAROLINA 54, KENTUCKY 3

GAME BALLS

Connor Shaw
If you think about it, he had every excuse to fail. Shunned from his coach's thoughts after a middling start in the season-opener, even as the guy promoted over him played badly, Shaw could have quit. He didn't, to have a chance like Saturday's. Shaw did exactly what he was supposed to do - not lose the game. He didn't turn it over, threw smart passes until the deep routes opened and used all of his receivers (10 guys caught at least one pass). Shaw ended with a 26-of-39 afternoon for 311 yards and four touchdowns (the first USC quarterback to throw four TDs in a game since Blake Mitchell in 2006, and a total matching Stephen Garcia's touchdowns for the season). He also rushed for 42 yards on 15 carries (actually 62, with 20 less due to sacks). Shaw directed and earned the confidence and support of his teammates, and will no doubt start again next week at Mississippi State. Not because Garcia isn't playing well, but because Shaw deserves to start.

Alshon Jeffery
While it was never Jeffery's fault that he couldn't get the ball thrown to him, his body language and pouting because he couldn't get the ball was often evident, even from the pressbox. Jeffery was the Jeffery of old on Saturday, being excited, jumping around and most of all, being effective. Shaw found him for six catches and 95 yards, including two pretty touchdown throws, and Jeffery was once again in the scoring column. That should remove any further doldrums that Jeffery may have had when he couldn't get the ball over the first five games.

Bruce Ellington
After fumbling the opening kickoff, which led to a Kentucky field goal, Ellington frustratedly sat on the sideline as D.J. Swearinger took his place. It's OK to screw up, as long as a player can make up for it on his next chance; Ellington knew it and prepared to go to work. He caught three passes for 22 yards and then came into the game in the "Wildcat" package, which has by and large been non-existent this year. He took his only snap in the formation, and it was just like high school again - Ellington hit the corner, found a step and turned on the jets. Coach Steve Spurrier said that somebody radioed from the box and told him that nobody could hope to catch him - he was right, as Ellington went 61 yards untouched into the end zone.

Justice Cunningham
It was discussed before the game that maybe Garcia's problem had something to do with not having Patrick DiMarco to throw to anymore - DiMarco was always there, always ready and the connection between the two (former roommates) was clear. Cunningham showed that he may not be as explosive as DiMarco, but could match him - he caught five passes for 46 yards, including a quick-snap-lob-for-a-touchdown that was shown at Kentucky three years ago. Cunningham can be that safety valve if given the chance, and Saturday showed why.

C.C. Whitlock
After intercepting a pass, Whitlock beelined for the sideline and admitted why. He didn't want what happened to him last week - having the ball punched out and recovered for an opposing first down - to happen again. He was also in on another pass breakup, tipping a ball that hung up long enough for Swearinger to grab. That's three interceptions in two games for the senior, and him playing confidently couldn't come at a better time.

Ellis Johnson
He says he doesn't pay strict attention to statistics, because they often are misleading, but Johnson's defense continues to put up huge numbers. For the second time in three weeks, it held an opponent under 100 yards for a game, and also had four interceptions to improve the season total to 12. The Gamecocks' pass-rush is a beast, and the secondary maintains its No. 1 SEC ranking after Kentucky managed just 17 passing yards.

Steve Spurrier
Admit it. Spurrier showed there's still some life under that visor yet. He switched formations, kept using formations when they worked and changed it around so often that Kentucky couldn't guess what was coming. That produced 54 points and a game where everybody got to play and have a good time doing it. He also managed the clock well to end the second half - USC couldn't score because it couldn't pass-block. After a week of being criticized for non-imaginative plays, USC got the ball to its speed guys in space, broke out an option pitch or two and finally found a way to consistently throw the ball. Much-needed.

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