LEXINGTON, KY. — Captain Munnerlyn made some big mistakes Saturday, only to respond with bigger plays while almost single-handedly keeping South Carolina close to Kentucky early in a 24-17 victory.
Munnerlyn's 84-yard kickoff return set up the Gamecocks' first touchdown. Then the junior cornerback scored on an 81-yard return of a blocked field goal.
It was more than enough to take the sting out of a pair of fumbles on punt returns, both of which South Carolina recovered.
"That's the way it is," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said, "when you've got a player like that and you ask him to be a punt returner, you ask him to be a kick returner, you ask him to do all those things and then he's playing defensive back. Captain was on the way to playing one of those 90-play games, and exhaustion can be a factor, too."
Chris Smelley hit Kenny McKinley with a 16-yard touchdown pass immediately after Munnerlyn's kick return. The long dash following a Jordin Lindsey block of Ryan Tydlacka's 21-yard field goal attempt gave South Carolina a 14-7 lead with 13:36 left in the second quarter.
"It was a great thing that (Lindsey) blocked it and that I was there to pick it up and score," Munnerlyn said.
"We said earlier in the week that the game would be won on special teams. They have a great defense and we have a great defense, and coach (Ellis) Johnson told us to out-play their defense, and I feel like we definitely did."
Added Lindsey: "I'm glad he picked up the ball; I don't think I could've gone 90 (yards)."
Succop's 'ab-libbing' it
USC special teams coach Ray Rychleski was kicking himself after the game for sending Ryan Succop out to kick Saturday. Succop sat out practice Tuesday and Wednesday because of an abdominal strain.
Succop missed four of five field goals — as many as he missed in 2006 and 2007, respectively — in Saturday's win here.
Rychleski said, in hindsight, he should have gone with punter Spencer Lanning as the team's kicker.
Succop said he felt the injury during Saturday's game, but he didn't want to use it as an excuse. Spurrier said the missed kicks are like missed putts in golf: They both get in your head.
"You do the same things (on every kick), stick to your routine," Succop said. "I just had a bad day."
He missed from 50, 51, 40 and 39 yards. His one hit, from 42 early in the fourth quarter, did tie the game.
Succop said he couldn't even remember missing four field goals in a game at any level.
A real stinker
Like Succop, admittedly, it wasn't Smelley's day. Some drops didn't help his cause, but the sophomore certainly didn't follow up on his SEC offensive player of the week performance at Ole Miss.
He ended up 9-for-23 for 105 yards, with a touchdown, two interceptions and a fumble — before getting yanked in the third quarter.
"There's no one to blame but myself for the way I played," Smelley said. "Definitely put the blame on me."
McKinley sets record
It wasn't how McKinley had drawn up his record-breaking reception. He hauled in a 9-yard pass to go past Sterling Sharpe's school record of 169 catches. And then he fumbled the ball to Kentucky.
"I've got to have better ball security," McKinley said. "(The record) means a lot. It's a dream come true."
Still, McKinley, in his second game back from a hamstring injury, finished the day with a team-high seven catches for 88 yards and a score. McKinley said afterward his hamstring was "95 percent."
With a half-sack and the blocked field goal, Lindsey had a big-play day for the USC defense. Not bad for a cat on his 10th life, seems like.
"He makes a lot of plays, Jordy does," Spurrier said. "We're glad he came back for that fifth-year. ... I told (him), 'I'm glad you hung around after you flunked out and got your academics together.' "
Vanderbilt's loss at Mississippi State means next week's LSU game will be a 7:45 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. ... South Carolina ran its version of the "Wild Rebel" formation, with Bobby Wallace at quarterback and Smelley out wide. But the play, called "Cocky Right" went for no gain. USC managed just 74 rushing yards, but that was 8 more than Kentucky had. ... USC reported no injuries after the game, although Jared Cook (foot) was limping noticeably.
Reach Travis Haney at email@example.com and check out the South Carolina blog at www.charleston.net/blogs/gamecocks.