COLUMBIA — South Carolina was looking for a spark. It found only more anxiety over a football season already on the brink.
The Gamecocks penetrated the Central Florida 31-yard line three times in the first half Saturday, but had only a pair of Elliott Fry field goals to show for it. And the angst at Williams-Brice Stadium was palpable as UCF went to the locker room with a 14-8 lead over the Gamecocks.
The Knights (0-3) entered the game winless after being beaten by Football Championship Subdivision squad Furman last weekend. And UCF also stood last among all 127 Football Bowl Championship teams in total offense, averaging 248.3 yards per game.
But that didn’t stop UCF from taking the halftime lead over USC (1-2), which is trying to avoid its worst start since the winless 1999 campaign. A muffed punt return by Pharoh Cooper gave the Knights the ball at the 1, where Nick Patti ran in for an easy score to give UCF the lead. Quarterback Bo Schneider then went 5-for-5 on the Knights’ next drive, hitting Tre’Quan Smith for a 30-yard score after the receiver beat USC corner Al Harris Jr. down the sideline.
Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier started true freshman Lorenzo Nunez at quarterback, looking to jump-start an offense that’s been sluggish all season. And Nunez certainly showed flashes, rushing 10 times for 71 yards in the first half and completing 8-of-16 attempt for 95 yards through the air.
But as in its 26-22 home loss to Kentucky two weeks ago, the Gamecocks misfired in close. USC’s first drive reached the UCF 31, where Cooper was dropped for a loss and Fry hit a career-long 52-yard field goal. Its next drive reached the 29, where Nunez was hit for a loss and Fry missed a 49-yard attempt off the right upright.
On USC’s last drive of the half, Nunez looked sharp connecting with Jerell Adams for 17 yards, rushing for a 29-yard gain, and rolling out to find Carlton Heard for a 15-yard pickup. The Gamecocks reached the UCF 10, but a pass into the end zone went through Cooper’s hands, and USC was forced to settle for another successful kick from Fry.
South Carolina held UCF to just 118 yards of total offense, and recorded its first safety since 2009 when freshman end Boosie Whitlow stopped Taj McGowan in the end zone after snapper Drew Williams downed a Sean Kelly punt at the 2. But USC was unable to generate anything on the ensuing series, when backup quarterback Perry Orth saw his only action of the half.