Nunez, Cooper lead South Carolina to 31-14 victory
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Lorenzo Nunez knows he's got a ways to go as South Carolina's quarterback, particularly with his blocking.
Nunez threw for two touchdowns and ran for 123 yards in his first start at quarterback, rallying the Gamecocks to a 31-14 victory over UCF on Saturday.
As South Carolina's third starting quarterback in as many weeks, Nunez grew more confident as the game went on, leading the team to three touchdowns in the third period to overcome a 14-8 halftime deficit.
And the 6-foot-3, 210 pound Nunez was out there front and center on Pharoh Cooper's game-changing 29-yard touchdown run, sealing off a UCF defender. But that was not nearly good enough, in Nunez's opinion.
''I was trying to pancake him,'' he said.
Maybe next time. Right now, the Gamecocks (2-2) will settle for a much-needed victory after dropping two straight in Southeastern Conference play.
''He's a gamer,'' coach Steve Spurrier said of Nunez. ''I think we learned that.''
It appeared Nunez's time behind center might be short, especially when his first pass sailed right to wide-open defensive back Drico Johnson, who dropped the ball - probably stunned to get that opportunity so quickly.
''That was supposed to be an interception,'' Cooper said.
Instead, Nunez got more chances and made them pay off after halftime.
After Cooper's scoring run made it 15-14, Nunez hit tight end Jacob August with a 13-yard touchdown pass. Nunez connected with Cooper on a 35-yard TD later in the period.
Elliott Fry had three field goals, including a career-long 52-yarder to start South Carolina's scoring.
''I think I did a pretty (good) job,'' Nunez said. ''I did better in the second half.''
He finished 12-of-22 passing for 184 yards with no interceptions.
Nunez is the first true freshman to start at South Carolina since Mikal Goodman in 1999.
Spurrier was not sure how Nunez would fare or even if the 70-year-old coach knew how best to call plays for his skillset. Spurrier ceded much first-half play calling to his offensive assistants and took more control after the break.
''This is new for me, with a quarterback who can run like he can,'' Spurrier acknowledged.
Holloman, getting his first start of the season, bolstered a defense that allowed 576 yards last week in a 52-20 loss at No. 7 Georgia. This time, the Gamecocks held UCF to 230 yards.
''This shows we've got a lot of fight in us,'' Holloman said. ''No matter what we have to overcome, we're going to keep fighting.''
Holloman picked off UCF quarterback Bo Schneider on the next drive. Nunez found a wide-open August in the middle of the field to extend the lead.
Holloman again intercepted Schneider three plays later and Nunez ended things on the long scoring pass to Cooper.
UCF was dead last of 127 FBS programs in offense coming in and did nothing to change that in the game's first 20 minutes with just 32 yards in its first four drives. But an ugly mistake by South Carolina's best player, Cooper, cranked up the Knights.
Cooper bobbled a punt at the South Carolina 4 with defensive back T.J. Murcherson recovering at the 1. Receiver Nick Patti, out of the wildcat set, scored on the next play to put the Knights ahead 7-5.
UCF had won the past two American Athletic Conference crowns. However, the Knights opened with four losses for the first time since coach George O'Leary's debut season with the Knights in 2004 when the program went 0-11
''It was a tough one,'' O'Leary said. ''You play a good first half and get things you have to get done. But in the second half you can't turn it over or have missed tackles. Those are the things that will cost you ball games.''
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