Tight end Justice Cunningham makes big catch on South Carolinas winning drive
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After South Carolina’s 17-13 win Thursday night at Vanderbilt, USC coach Steve Spurrier walked by a group of media crowded around tight end Justice Cunningham just outside the Gamecocks’ locker room.
“Play of the game — Justice Cunningham,” Spurrier said as he strolled on.
Cunningham’s drive was indeed big for the nine-play, 66-yard drive on which USC went up 17-13 on Marcus Lattimore’s 1-yard run.
Cornerback Andre Hal popped Cunningham immediately after he caught the ball for a gain of 20 yards — an obvious helmet-to-helmet penalty. Cunningham held on, jumped up quickly and nodded his head in defiance. He had turned a 15-yard gain, via penalty, into a 35-yard gain that put USC on the Vanderbilt 17-yard line.
“I saw him coming,” Cunningham said. “I knew I caught the ball. I had to hold onto the ball.”
What was he saying on the field as he jumped up and nodded his head?
“This is what I worked all summer for,” Cunningham said.
Redshirt freshman left tackle Brandon Shell (Goose Creek High School) was benched after giving up a sack in the second half. The Gamecocks flipped Mike Matulis from right tackle to left tackle and went with Cody Gibson at right tackle.
“(Shell) just got tired,” Spurrier said. “It was hot and humid out there.”
With 9:48 left in the second quarter, true freshman tailback Mike Davis appeared on the field for the first time. That means he will not be able to redshirt this season unless he suffers a season-ending injury. And even if that happens, he wouldn’t qualify for the redshirt if he plays too many games.
USC coaches had said they would play Davis if he could help them and weren’t thinking one way or the other about the redshirt year. He entered the game as USC’s No. 3 tailback because of injuries to Shon Carson (wrist) and Brandon Wilds (ankle). Davis was the highest-rated recruit in USC’s Class of 2012 – No. 63 overall by Rivals.com.
Fifth-year senior Adam Yates connected from 20 yards on his first career field goal attempt, which put USC up 10-0 with 11:44 left in the second quarter.
Yates didn’t play the past two seasons and was the kickoff specialist in 2009. He earned a scholarship in the preseason by making a field goal during a scrimmage with the entire team crowded around him and yelling.
This and that
Jimmy Legree (Beaufort High School), a junior making his first start at cornerback, had a career-high seven tackles. He started in place of Akeem Auguste, out with a thigh injury. … Linebacker Shaq Wilson and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles led South Carolina with eight tackles apiece. … The Gamecocks have won nine straight games against SEC East Division foes. … Ray Tanner attended his first South Carolina football game as athletic director. He came to the game with new head basketball coach Frank Martin. … South Carolina is 79-36-4 in season openers with 13 straight wins. … Since the beginning of last season, USC is now 5-1 in games decided by five points or fewer. Vanderbilt is 1-6 in that span in games decided by seven or fewer. … Vanderbilt is now 5-100 all-time against top-10 teams. Its last win came in 2007 at home over No. 6 USC. Vanderbilt’s other top-10 wins came in 1937, 1941, 1955 and 1974.