Wilds thing: USC triumphs
USC tight end Rory Anderson (center) is congratulated by teammates Brandon Wilds (left) and Cody Gibson after scoring a touchdown.
KNOXVILLE, TENN. -- Life without Marcus Lattimore might not be so bad after all.
Freshman running back Brandon Wilds did his best Lattimore imitation during his first collegiate start, rushing for a game-high 137 yards, while quarterback Connor Shaw threw for a touchdown and ran for another score to lead 14th-ranked South Carolina past Tennessee, 14-3, Saturday night at Neyland Stadium before an announced crowd of 96,655.
The Gamecocks, who beat the Volunteers in consecutive years for the first time in school history. improved to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the Southeastern Conference. USC can earn its second straight SEC East title and a spot in the conference championship game with wins over Arkansas and Florida in the next two weeks. The Vols fell to 3-5 and 0-5.
Wilds, a true freshman, started the season as the Gamecocks' fifth running back on the depth chart
and there was some discussion about moving the former Blythewood High School star to fullback. But after season-ending knee injuries to Lattimore and freshman Shon Carson, Wilds was thrust into the starting lineup for the first time against Tennessee.
Wilds certainly looked a lot like Lattimore, the Gamecocks' All-America running back, breaking tackles, catching passes out of the backfield, and gaining tough yards between the tackles on third down.
"He's a good back, I mentioned coming in that he's a good back," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. "If we can block for him, he'll make some yards. He runs forward. He's got a good body lean and he can break some tackles."
Wilds seemed unfazed about his first start in front of nearly 100,000.
"I wasn't nervous," Wilds said. "I've been playing football my whole life. This is everything I expected. I worked hard over the summer and during high school. I expected this, I'm not being cocky, I just worked hard."
As good as Wilds was, it was three defensive stands that were key in this sometimes ugly game.
After forcing a three-and-out on the Volunteers' first offensive possession, USC's Ace Sanders fumbled a punt at the 18. But Tennessee couldn't get the ball into the end zone with freshman quarterback Justin Worley, who was making his first collegiate start, and had to settle for Michael Palardy's 21-yard field.
Leading 7-3 in the third quarter, Prentiss Waggner picked off a Shaw pass and returned it 54 yards to the South Carolina 2-yard line. Cody Gibson, the Gamecocks' 6-6, 285-pound starting right tackle, made the touchdown-saving tackle.
"Coach always tells us not to give up on plays," Gibson said.
Two plays later, USC safety D.J. Swearinger intercepted a Worley pass to set up the drive of the game.
The Gamecocks went on an epic 20-play, 98-yard drive that took 11:35 of the third quarter. Shaw capped the drive off with a 5-yard TD run to give South Carolina a 14-3 lead with 47 seconds left in the third quarter. It was the longest drive in terms of plays and time of possession in the Spurrier era.
"Our defense bailed us out with that interception," said Shaw, who threw for 87 yards and rushed for 64 more. "I've never been a part of a drive like that. The offensive line did a great job and Brandon ran hard."
With the game still in doubt in the fourth quarter, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson recovered a Wilds fumble at the South Carolina 27. One play later Stephon Gilmore intercepted a Worley pass in the end zone to end the threat.
"I knew they were going to go to (Da'Rick Rogers) because they'd been going to him all game," Gilmore said. "He gave me a fake outside and I just made a play on the ball."
The Gamecocks' defense limited the Volunteers to 186 yards of total offense, only 35 rushing yards.
"Our defense was super, gosh they were super," Spurrier said. "The keys to the game obviously was holding them to a field goal after we dropped the punt. Cody Gibson running the guy down on the 2-yard line. And then D.J. (Swearinger) got a pick and the next time Stephon (Gilmore) got the pick. So we had three huge defensive stands or they could have gotten 21 points."
The Gamecocks only other score came on Shaw's 23-yard TD pass to tight end Rory Anderson on a 4th-and-1 play that gave South Carolina a 7-3 lead with 7:43 left in the second quarter.