CHARLOTTE -- South Carolina senior defensive back Antonio Allen knew he was having a good game against East Carolina Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium.

Allen finished with a career-high 16 tackles, caused two fumbles, recovered two fumbles, returning one 25 yards for a touchdown, and had one tackle for loss.

"When you play against a spread offense they're going to test the secondary," Allen said. "You know you're going to be involved in a lot of plays. I knew I was around the ball, but I didn't think I'd made that many tackles."

His fumble return for a TD gave South Carolina a 35-24 lead early in the third quarter and capped a 21-point scoring burst for USC that broke the game open.

"Antonio made some big plays. I think his fumble return kind of gave us the momentum for good," said South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

Clowney's debut

To no one's surprise, freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney started in his first collegiate game.

The nation's No. 1 overall recruit a year ago had seven tackles, including a half-tackle for loss and nearly had an interception in the third quarter.

"The game was fast, faster than I though it was going to be," Clowney said. "It took me until the third quarter to get used to it, but I thought after that I settled down and played OK."

"Jadeveon did some good things and he made some mistakes," Johnson said. "Kind of typical for a freshman playing in his first game."

Byrd out

South Carolina freshman wide receiver Damiere Byrd didn't play Saturday because of an NCAA compliance issue. Byrd was expected to see action against the Pirates as a third-string receiver and possibly on special teams.

His status for next week's game with Georgia is uncertain.

"It's something to do with compliance and we hope to get it cleared up before next week," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

Ellington's impact

Former Berkeley High School star Bruce Ellington made his presence felt from the opening kickoff.

Ellington, who led the Gamecocks' basketball team in scoring last year, returned the opening kickoff 35 yards. He had a 53-yard return called back because of a holding penalty.

Ellington came in at quarterback two different times in the Gamecocks' version of the Wildcat formation. He ran twice for 15 yards.

He also had two tackles on the kickoff coverage team.

"We want to get him in there two or three times a game in the wildcat," Spurrier said. "We need to get him the ball more."

Garcia on the run

Stephen Garcia showed off his running skills Saturday night.

After watching from the sideline for the entire first quarter, Garcia wasted little time in marking his presence felt.

Five plays after entering the game, Garcia ripped off the longest run of his career -- a 32-yard TD run -- for the Gamecocks' first score of the night.

Garcia added a 10-yard TD run in the third quarter for good measure.

"The last time I had a run like that was probably back in high school," Garcia said. "When you've got Marcus Lattimore beside you in the backfield and you make a fake to him, everyone runs to him. The offensive line opened up a huge hole and all I saw was the end zone."

Return game

Ace Sanders and Ellington give the Gamecocks a return game that they haven't had since Spurrier arrived in Columbia. Sanders' 68-yard punt return for a TD was the first for the Gamecocks since 2003. That's pre-Spurrier.

"Those guys make a difference for us," Spurrier said. "I think Ace made eight guys miss on that punt return."