Defense, Mitchell race South Carolina to 3-0

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Steve Spurrier has adjusted to many things since coming to South Carolina. Now, he's learning how to win without his trademark offense.

The 17th-ranked Gamecocks improved to 3-0 for the first time in six seasons. And while Blake Mitchell threw three touchdowns, it wasn't until Spurrier shut down his passing attack that South Carolina got going in a 38-3 victory over South Carolina State on Saturday night.

"I guess we'll just put our running shoes on," Spurrier said.

Mitchell completed 14 of 21 passes for 147 yards. But he also threw three interceptions and had a fumble. His backup, Tommy Beecher, added a first-half interception and fumble, keeping the Bulldogs (1-2) of the Football Championship Subdivision in the game longer than Spurrier hoped.

"I thought we had a chance to score a whole bunch of points, but we didn't," Spurrier said.

Instead, fifth-year senior Mitchell made error after error that cost the Gamecocks.

"I just go out there and try and play. And tonight I didn't go out there and play like I was capable of," said Mitchell, who looked like the most despondent 3-0 quarterback in the country.

Spurrier made his coaching reputation at Florida with his quick-strike, high-scoring attacks. He hasn't had the chance to go long much with South Carolina. He figures he probably won't this year either.

"If we go to LSU or at Arkansas, we'll probably have to win one of those low-scoring, 16-14 games," Spurrier said with regret.

At halftime, Spurrier had little choice but go to the ground. Cory Boyd finished with 132 yards rushing, including a 29-yard TD run. Mike Davis ended with 102 yards. Despite that, Spurrier said he didn't award an offensive game ball because the two runners had earned them earlier in the season.

"The first half was a little shaky," Boyd said. "But the second half we showed we could play big-boy football and got the job done."

The Gamecocks will need to find a complete attack next week when they travel to No. 2 LSU.

"We definitely have to play better than we did tonight," Boyd said.

Not everything was bad in South Carolina's sixth consecutive win -- its defense didn't allow a touchdown for the 10th straight quarter.

"Every team that's undefeated, there are all these things that you've got to do to get better," South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley said.

Spurrier says he'll work with Mitchell on his confidence. Too often, Mitchell would hold the ball or try and get too precise on throws. Neither tactic worked.

Things picked up in the second half when Spurrier chose to run the ball straight at the Bulldogs.

Davis rushed for 43 yards and finished a 91-yard TD drive with a 9-yard catch from Mitchell.

Two series later, Boyd broke free for his 29-yard scoring run and the Gamecocks were up 31-3.

Spurrier called only six passes halftime. Then again, he didn't have to get creative the way South Carolina's defense played.

"It was kind of like a cat playing with a mouse. He lets you run a little bit and then he stops you," South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said.

The Gamecocks picked off three passes of their own, lineman Nathan Pepper returning one 19-yards for a touchdown to put them ahead for good, 7-3.

South Carolina State had just 46 yards passing through three quarters.

The Bulldogs are celebrating 100 years of football at the historically black college. It's the first time, however, they've played their larger state rivals about 45 minutes up the road.

The 73,000 at Williams-Brice Stadium was the largest crowd South Carolina State had played in front of and it showed.

The Bulldogs got an early chance to make an impact when Markee Hamlin got Mitchell's first interception to set South Carolina State up on the Gamecocks 12.

But penalties for an illegal snap and illegal procedure pushed them back and they took a 3-0 lead on Aaron Haire's 37-yard field goal.

South Carolina settled down after that shaky start -- and looked ready to give Spurrier a Florida-style blowout.

Pepper went 19 yards to the end zone with Cleveland McCoy's interception to put the Gamecocks ahead 7-3.

Ryan Succop added a 40-yard field goal and Mitchell hit Kenny McKinley with a 12-yard touchdown pass on the Gamecocks next two series to increase the lead to 17-3.

Soon enough, though, South Carolina reverted to the "average stiffs" Spurrier spoke of two weeks ago in the opener with Louisiana-Lafayette.

The defense, though, was again above average. It didn't give up a touchdown at Georgia in South Carolina's 16-12 win a week ago and did not yield this time, either.

The closest South Carolina State got after its opening drive came in the third quarter after driving to the Gamecock 12, but Darian Stewart recovered Jonathan Woods' fumble to end the threat.


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2015 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Standings

North Carolina A&T7-19-2
North Carolina Central7-18-3
South Carolina State6-27-4
Morgan State4-44-6
Norfolk State4-44-7
Savannah State1-71-9
Delaware State1-71-10
Florida A&M1-71-10