COLUMBIA - A new starting quarterback leading a nationally-ranked team to a key season-opening victory over a conference foe? That was supposed to be the plan for South Carolina.
It turned into the plan for Texas A&M.
No Johnny Football turned out to be no problem for the 21st-ranked Aggies, who used a record-breaking night from unheralded quarterback Kenny Hill to ambush No. 9 South Carolina 52-28 Thursday before a stunned crowd of 82,847 at Williams-Brice Stadium and a national audience on SEC Network.
"It was a mismatch, coaches and players," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "It was a mismatch. I don't know what else you can say. If we played them again, they'd be a three-touchdown favorite. We tried everything we could to slow them down."
And nothing worked. An 18-game home winning streak, a 14-year run of season-opening victories, Spurrier's first shot at a 200th career triumph in the SEC - all gone, vanquished by the right arm of Hill, a sophomore who entered the night with 22 college pass attempts, and finished with the greatest individual passing effort in school history - surpassing even his predecessor, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
On a night when Dylan Thompson succeeded Connor Shaw behind center for the Gamecocks, Hill finished 44-of-60 for 511 yards, breaking the Texas A&M mark set by Manziel against Alabama last year. For South Carolina, the broken records were all of the wrong kind - Hill's passing total was the most ever recorded against the Gamecocks, as was A&M's 680 yards of total offense, which broke the previous high of 651 set in a loss to Arkansas in 2007.
South Carolina couldn't get pressure on Hill, couldn't finish off open-field tackles, couldn't keep the Aggies from rolling up yards in open space. The 52 points allowed were the most given up by the Gamecocks since the 56-17 loss to Auburn in the 2010 SEC Championship Game, and most at home in Spurrier's tenure with the program. Prior to Thursday, the Gamecocks' most recent home loss had been a 16-13 defeat to Auburn on Oct. 1, 2011.
"It's got to start with me as a coach," said USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. "I didn't have our guys ready to play like I thought I did. We have to take responsibility for our players as coaches. It's our fault."
USC's last season-opening loss was a 10-0 defeat at North Carolina State in 1999, and last setback in a home opener was two decades ago in a 24-21 loss to Georgia - which set a single-game passing mark against the Gamecocks which stood until Thursday night. Those Bulldogs loom in two weeks, after USC's non-conference home game against East Carolina next Saturday night.
"I think our players are better than they showed, but I don't know," Spurrier said. "No pass rush, and our coverage was so-so."
Thompson kept the Gamecocks in it early with big plays, including a 69-yard scoring strike to Nick Jones and a 46-yard touchdown to Damiere Byrd. But South Carolina's defense was unable to contain Hill, who took advantage of a game plan that used short passes to thwart the pressure of the Gamecocks, who started three new players on the defensive line and two in the secondary.
"It caught us off-guard by the way they came out playing against us, but we should have known they were going to come out ready to play," said cornerback Brison Williams, who was moved from safety. "They had a chip on their shoulder."
It showed. Hill set up Texas A&M's first score with a 23-yard strike to Ricky Seals-Jones, later added a two-yard TD to Jones, and then hit a slanting Edward Pope on a 14-yard scoring strike. Right before the half, he marched the 21st-ranked Aggies downfield and cashed in with a three-yard option pitch to Tra Carson. He had 299 yards passing by halftime, and kept it going in the third quarter with a five-yard strike to Josh Reynolds that blew the game open.
"Just missing layups and not executing when we had the opportunity to," said USC linebacker Skai Moore. "That's pretty much it."
Thompson threw for 366 yards and four TDs, but the Gamecocks (0-1, 0-1 SEC) weren't able to mount much of a running game to help him, or keep the Aggies (1-0, 1-0) off the field. Brandon Wilds started at tailback in place of Mike Davis, who had missed some time in preseason camp with bruised ribs, and would leave the game in the third quarter with the same issue. But Davis was hardly the only one in garnet and black feeling battered after Thursday night.
"We got manhandled. We got clobbered tonight," Spurrier said. "That's all we can say."