Spurrier, Gamecocks have renewed hope with freshman QB Nunez
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Steve Spurrier has two things he did not a week ago - a victory South Carolina can build from and hope that freshman quarterback Lorenzo Nunez can lead the Gamecocks to success.
Nunez passed for 184 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 123 yards in his first college start, lifting South Carolina to a 31-14 victory over UCF last week.
The freshman and the Gamecocks (2-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) look to get things going in league play at Missouri (3-1, 0-1).
Nunez was the third different starting quarterback in as many games for South Carolina. But Spurrier said the 6-foot-3, 210-pound true freshman has a chance to stick at the position.
''At least we've got some direction,'' Spurrier said Tuesday. ''We've got some hope.''
Not everything went perfectly.
The Gamecocks struggled through the first half as Nunez was off target with passes and at times waited too long to run. The result was two field goals and a 14-8 halftime deficit to a Knights team that came with the worst offense statistically in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Gamecocks took control with a three-TD third quarter as Nunez and receiver Pharoh Cooper, who had a 29-yard scoring run and a 35-yard TD catch, got things going.
Nunez said it's only a start and understands he will face a stronger test against Missouri, which leads the SEC in total defense.
He acknowledged there are many things he must improve. He believes, though, he can use what he accomplished against UCF as springboard this season.
''I think I can take a big role as a team leader even though I'm a freshman,'' Nunez said. ''I have more confidence playing.''
Spurrier is not concerned with Nunez filling a leadership void. He said Nunez has to pick up the passing game to give South Carolina a truly balanced offense.
The Gamecocks have rushed 163 times and thrown only 101 passes, a disparity the pass-happy conductor of Florida's ''Fun-'n-Gun'' attack in the 1990s isn't accustomed to.
''This is a little different for me,'' said Spurrier, who turned 70 this past April.
What is old hat to Spurrier is winning, no matter what his team does to get it done. If that means an option-like, zone-read scheme with Nunez in charge, so be it.
Last week's game changed when Cooper, the 1,000-yard receiver from a year ago, turned a busted half-back pass play into a nifty cross-field touchdown run to put South Carolina ahead for good.
Cooper received a solid block from Nunez to make the end zone. Spurrier was proud of Nunez's toughness, noticing it a week earlier in a 52-20 loss to Georgia when the quarterback instead of easily stepping out of bounds, stuck his shoulder into a Bulldogs' defender to get a couple of more yards in a contest already out of hand.
''He does a good job of just being tough,'' Spurrier said.
Missouri is where South Carolina was a week earlier, seeking a bounce back after a disappointing loss. The Tigers fell to Kentucky 21-13.
''Any time you come off a game like that, we lock into what we do,'' Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. ''That's something we talk about in August, how we deal with adversity here, and that's what we're doing at this time.''
The South Carolina defense needs to find some toughness of its own, especially in the opening half where the Gamecocks have been outscored 75-38 this season.
The defense has held three of their four opponents scoreless in the second half, leading to comeback victories over North Carolina and UCF.
Linebacker T.J. Gurley thought mental mistakes have led to the early breakdowns. ''It's players not doing what they're supposed to do,'' he said. ''But we're going to get it together for a full game.''