Notebook: Special teams sputter for Gamecocks

Defense improves on third downs; Hampton makes brief return to return game

dcloninger@thestate.comSeptember 15, 2013 

It was hit-and-miss last year, but due to the brilliance of returner Ace Sanders, South Carolina’s special teams finished on the positive side of the ledger.

Even if he was still around, the Gamecocks would have a hard time making this look good.

Three special-teams gaffes — Tyler Hull’s 18-yard punt, Shon Carson’s fumble on a kickoff return and a bouncing punt that hit T.J. Gurley’s heel and was recovered by Vanderbilt after a three-and-out — turned a comfortable 35-10 USC lead into a 35-25 cliffhanger with under nine minutes to play Saturday. Vanderbilt, on third-and-goal, then threw into the right side of the end zone — only to see Jimmy Legree come up with the year’s first interception.

“Our special team play, I told coach Joe Robinson, we got to get you some better players out there,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “I don’t know what we’re doing, but we don’t make anything happen. We got to get better there. Turnovers can turn the game around, as we know.”

That’s more like it

After Georgia converted 6-of-14 third downs last week, USC allowed 2-of-12 on Saturday.

“I think that was the biggest stat of the night,” Lorenzo Ward said. “When we’re getting off the field on third down, I think you’re seeing our offense can score some points.”

Short rest

Ward declared after the season-opener that Victor Hampton was going to be relieved of his punt return duties. He was on the sideline against Georgia but was out there for two returns against Vanderbilt.

He didn’t touch the ball on one as it went out of bounds. His other was returned for minus-4 yards.

Bruce Ellington handled the other returns, and Carson was on kick returns until his fumble. Ellington replaced him afterward.

Switching it up

The change went in last week but wasn’t used. On Saturday, offensive lineman Mason Zandi started at tight end, wearing No. 83.

Zandi began working at tight end last week but didn’t play. He also carries his No. 74 jersey if he needs to play offensive line.

Keep the party going

Dawn Staley, honored last week for her election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, was honored again at halftime. Giant letters spelled out “Dawn Staley Hall of Fame” on the field while videotaped messages from Spurrier and USC president Harris Pastides played on the videoboard.

Staley was presented a framed picture at midfield.

In memoriam

USC held a pregame moment of silence for former coach Warren Giese, who passed away last week. Giese was 89.

Helping out

The Gamecocks each wore a bracelet in support of “Players Curing Kids Cancer.”

The coaching staff wore gold whistles on red lanyards during warm-ups.

To learn more about the organization, which was founded by a USC graduate, visit curingkidscancer.org.

Captains

USC’s captains were: Jadeveon Clowney, Kadetrix Marcus, Nick Jones and Rory Anderson.

No empties

Attendance was announced as 81,371, USC’s second sellout of the season (two home games). The Gamecocks have announced that the Florida and Clemson games also are sold out.

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