Stephen Garcia came off the bench in the second quarter with his team down 17-0. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for another to lead South Carolina to a 56-37 victory over East Carolina in last season's matchup in Charlotte, N.C.
It is time to let nature take its course regarding South Carolina and Vanderbilt—and time to start thinking about South Carolina vs. East Carolina.
Just think for a moment about how the "battle of the directional Carolinas" transpired: East Carolina leads 14-0 at the start of the second quarter and has a 24-14 lead at halftime. By the end of the third quarter, South Carolina led 42-31, on its way to a 56-37 victory.
This was a crazy game—but fun to watch—with many twists and turns.
The high drama involved fifth-year quarterback Stephen Garcia, who had been benched in favor of sophomore Connor Shaw. The performance was enough to earn him the starting job back, something he had held for the previous 28 games.
Connor Shaw and his South Carolina teammates had turned the football over three times in the first quarter, the predominate factor in allowing East Carolina to jump out to a 17-0 lead.
Unfortunately for East Carolina, the only team that could stop the Gamecocks was themselves. Once they stopped doing that regularly, they outscored the Pirates 42-13 in the second half.
That game turned into a familiar story for third-year East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill. Their defense could not hold its opponents out of the end zone in 2011. As a result, their record last year was 5-7.
Toward the end of last season, the Pirates got their defensive leaks plugged and were playing pretty good football. Unfortunately again, it was against some tough opponents, and the wins just didn't come frequently enough for them to make it to a bowl game.
This season, the Pirates return 15 starters, seven on defense. If their defense can play the same way it left off last year, that issue is pretty well solved.
East Carolina's offense did a good job against the stout South Carolina defensive unit in 2011. The Pirates did especially well throwing the ball—quarterback Dominique Davis completed 37-of-56 passes, for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
This year, Ruffin McNeill is breaking in a new quarterback but still has a group of experienced receivers. His squad also has something else that was missing last season—one of the most improved offensive lines in the country.
McNeill learned how to coach by spending 10 years as an assistant to Mike Leach at Texas Tech. He will always have a good offensive team.
If the defense improves enough, East Carolina could be dangerous this season.