USC notes: 1980 Heisman winner George Rogers stands tall again; Connor Mitch injured

George Rogers, who won the 1980 Heisman Trophy at South Carolina, stands next to his statue unveiled Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. (Staff)

COLUMBIA — When University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides traveled to other schools that had produced Heisman Trophy winners, he often noticed a statue. And when he returned to USC, he was often asked if a Gamecocks player had ever won college football’s top individual prize.

“After today, we will never have that question asked again,” Pastides said Saturday, when USC unveiled the cornerstone of its Springs Brooks Plaza project — a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, standing near the boulevard which bears his name.

The statue by Florida-based sculptor Sandy Proctor, who also carved the statue at Florida honoring former Heisman winner and current Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier, depicts Rogers on the sideline, standing on a bench. “He’s sitting back there watching you guys,” Proctor said, motioning to several of Rogers’ teammates in the crowd.

“When you think of me, think of all the other guys who played with me,” Rogers, a native of Duluth, Ga., said at the unveiling prior to USC’s home opener Saturday night against Kentucky. “Those are the guys who made me look good.”

Rogers’ 5,204 career rushing yards remain a record at USC. He rushed for 100 yards or more in each of his final 22 games at South Carolina, before the New Orleans Saints chose him No. 1 overall in the 1981 NFL draft. Rogers led the NFL in rushing in 1981, when he was also named Rookie of the Year and to the Pro Bowl. He was also on the Washington Redskins team that won the Super Bowl in 1987.

“It’s hard to tell people about George Rogers and how good he was if they’ve never seen him play,” said Eugene Warr, a classmate of Rogers’ and chairman of the USC Board of Trustees.

Patti Shelley, a former USC cheerleader and a widow of one of Rogers’ former teammates, supplied the donation that paid for the statue. It sits in the northwest corner of Springs Brooks Plaza, a $14.5 million project which transformed the former parking lot surrounding Williams-Brice Stadium.

USC announced at halftime that starting quarterback Connor Mitch would miss the remainder of the Kentucky game with a sprained right shoulder. The redshirt sophomore suffered the injury late in the second quarter.

Perry Orth started the third quarter for USC. Orth had also relieved Mitch in the second and fourth quarters of last week’s opener against North Carolina, after the starter had suffered a hip pointer being tackled on a carry. Mitch had completed 4-of-7 attempts for 43 yards Saturday night before leaving the game.

True freshman quarterback Lorenzo Nunez finally made his debut for the Gamecocks — but it couldn’t have been in the manner he had envisioned.

The dual-threat signal-caller entered with four seconds remaining in the first half, and USC behind 24-7. With starting quarterback Connor Mitch in the locker room nursing a sprained shoulder, Nunez was called on to heave the ball on the Gamecocks’ final play.

Instead, he did what he does best — dazzle with his feet, scrambling for 33 yards until the Wildcats brought him down. Nunez returned to the game during a drive in the third quarter.

Gamecocks linebacker Skai Moore continues to intercept passes at what could be a record-breaking rate.

The junior’s pickoff of Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles in the first quarter Saturday was his third of the season, following a pair of interceptions in the end zone against North Carolina. Moore now has 10 interceptions for his career, four short of tying the school record set by Bo Davies from 1969-71.

Moore also has six interceptions in his past four regular-season games, including one in last year’s finale at Clemson, and two against South Alabama the week prior. His pick Saturday set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mitch.

The Gamecocks played Saturday without starting left cornerback Chris Lammons, whom Spurrier said twisted his knee in practice earlier in the week. Al Harris Jr. started in place of Lammons, who had five tackles in the opener against North Carolina.

Also, Kentucky tailback Mikel Horton left the game in the first half with a neck injury. The sophomore scored the Wildcats’ first touchdown Saturday night on an eight-yard rush in the opening quarter.