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September 25, 2011

USC-Vandy Notebook: Ingram Again!



Melvin Ingram has 15 tackles in four games.

Yet, he has become one of the most talked about defensive players in the country over the last three weeks.

Why? He keeps finding different ways to score touchdowns.

Ingram scored his third touchdown of the season early in the second quarter of Saturday night's 21-3 victory over Vanderbilt when he recovered an Antonio Allen fumble in the end zone. The scoring play followed, of course, his two-touchdown night in Athens two weeks ago when he raced 68 yards on a fake punt and scooped up a fumble caused by Jadeveon Clowney and ran five yards for the game-clinching touchdown.

"I just try to go out and play hard for my team," the soft-spoken Ingram said. "This week we worked on being relentless and getting to the ball. We have success when we have all 11 guys going to the ball. We're not going to dwell on this too long. It's just another stepping stone for us."

Together, Ingram and Allen have five touchdowns, four fumble recoveries, three interceptions, four tackles for loss and two pass breakups. Clowney has three forced fumbles in four games, two of which have resulted in Ingram scoring a touchdown.

Three of Ingram's 15 tackles have been for a loss

"Coach (Johnson) is always telling us to trust our speed and get to the ball," Ingram said. "We trusted our speed tonight."

With three touchdowns, Ingram actually has one more touchdown in the first four games than the entire USC receiver corps. Ace Sanders has two touchowns and Alshon Jeffery has one, but Sanders' first TD of the year came on a punt return. That means USC's wideouts have caught two passes for TDs in four games.

"Melvin made a nice recovery in the end zone," Steve Spurrier said. "He got his hands on it and did it the way we coach it up. That's why we do that fumble recovery drill. It paid off right there. A lot of times, those guys dive on it and the ball scoots out of the end zone. Had that occurred, it would have been their ball at the 20-yard line. That, obviously, was a huge play in the ballgame the way our offense was sputtering around.

"Melvin was on the spot there, no question about it, on the fumble recovery. He seems to be around the ball. Antonio is around the ball, too. Those two guys combined for that play, which was sort of neat because they're the ones making the interceptions and the picks and this, that and the other all year."

DEBUTS AND FIRST TIMES: Cornerback Victor Hampton made his long-awaited debut for USC on Saturday, finishing with two tackles. Both tackles came on Vanderbilt's final possession of the game in the fourth quarter.

"I thought he played pretty well," Ellis Johnson said. "I wasn't able to keep my eyes on him constantly. There were no major mistakes. There was one time where we thought he bailed out of his technique a little early. But for the limited amount of practice time he's had with us, I thought it was pretty decent. If he does continue to improve, it will be welcome news. We can get some guys off the field and get them rotated and we can also get some guys that need to be pushed out of their comfort zone."

Freshman tight end Rory Anderson caught his first career pass in the first quarter for a two-yard gain and also snagged a 19-yarder from Garcia late in the third quarter.

The most emotional moment of the night might have come in the first quarter when Eric Baker replaced Marcus Lattimore in the lineup and rushed for two yards. It was the first of three attempts on the night, and his first carry in two years. Baker has battled back from an assortment of injuries and was the No. 2 running back in the game because Kenny Miles was sidelined with a wrist/hand injury incurred at Georgia.

Freshman running back Brandon Wilds of Blythewood carried three times for 22 yards on USC's final possession, including a 16-yard scamper for a first down at the VU 31. Wilds and DeAngelo Smith picked up their first receptions of the season during USC's opening drive of the third quarter.

WHO'S THE QUARTERBACK FOR AUBURN?: Because he's a fifth-year senior and has by far the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, Stephen Garcia will "probably" start next Saturday's home game against Auburn even though he threw a career-high four interceptions against Vanderbilt and looked sluggish all night. Spurrier left the door open, though, for another quarterback to walk through. Problem is, no one has done that.

Connor Shaw completed 1-of-2 passes for eight yards in his first action since the season opener against East Carolina, while Dylan Thompson saw the first action of his career and carried once for one yard. Neither quarterback, though, has outperformed Garcia in practice, Spurrier said.

"We'll put whoever out there we can to help us win the game," Spurrier said. "He (Garcia) probably will with the way we're looking at things now. But if one of those other guys look great in practice, yeah I'll put them in there. If they look like they're ready to play, shoot we'll put them in there. But they haven't really impressed us all that much in practice. As coach, you just put the best guy out there you think gives you the best chance to win the game."

A possible solution? Spurrier talked afterwards about simplifying the offense "to help our guys". But he was also quick to spread the blame around for the offensive's struggles, even pointing to a pair of penalties incurred by Marcus Lattimore. USC finished with nine penalties for 67 yards.

"This is not all on Stephen," Spurrier said. "We had a lot of penalties. Even Marcus had two penalties. He got called for holding and pushing a guy in the back. We had some big penalties after a big gainer."

Spurrier pointed the finger at Alshon Jeffery for Garcia's second interception of the night. Jeffery was supposed to run a comeback route, Spurrier said, and Garcia threw to the spot he thought Jeffery would be. But Jeffery turned the wrong way and "drifted down the field."

Despite his difficulties throwing the ball, Garcia recorded his 20th victory as a starting quarterback for USC, tying him with Steve Taneyhill for second place all-time, four wins behind Todd Ellis.

UNDEFEATED IS STILL UNDEFEATED: The performance by the USC offense Saturday night frustrated Spurrier, but he also understands USC is 4-0 even though they've fallen far short of playing to their full potential on both sides of the ball, though the defense came close.

"We'll regroup and see if we can get some ball plays ready for Auburn this week," Spurrier said. "Winning and not playing at the top of our game. Hopefully, we have a top of our game. We still have some games to play to see if we can play at a high level of performance."

USC had been 3-0 on two other occasions (2007, 2010) under Spurrier, but they lost their fourth game each time. This time, though, they managed to crash through the barrier. They will have to beat Auburn on Saturday to match the 5-0 start by the 2001 team that ended up 9-3 and beat Ohio State in the Outback Bowl.

"We're 4-0 and we're going to start getting ready for Auburn," Spurrier said. "We're going to enjoy this victory. We're not going to go into the jar. We're not going to point fingers at anybody. We're going to try to regroup and see if we can't play better next week. Everybody is healthy. We're going to keep our positives up. We'll see if we can't get our guys to play better. If our defense keeps playing like this, we won't have to score too many points."

THIRD DOWN DOMINANCE: USC came into the game allowing opponents to convert 51.1 percent (23-of-45) of third down chances, the second highest percentage in the league. But that figure dipped to 40.7 percent (24-for-59) after the abysmal Vanderbilt offense was able to convert just 1-of-14 opportunities on third down.

Because of those third down woes, the Commodores were able to sustain just a few drives. Vanderbilt had 13 meaningful possessions on the night, but ran just 48 offensive plays. USC converted 10 of 19 third downs, giving them a huge edge in that important statistical category.

"One out of 14, that really helps our third down conversion percentage," Spurrier said. "I think we had 51 percent coming into the game."

ALSON NOW IN SECOND: Jeffery had two receptions for 34 yards, and almost made a spectacular catch in the end zone for a touchdown but his left foot was on the line. Jeffery passed Sterling Sharpe for second place on USC's all-time receiving yardage list when he caught a 12-yard pass from Garcia in the first quarter. Jeffery has 2,526 receiving yards in his career and needs 255 yards to catch the late Kenny McKinley and become the all-time leader. Here are USC's all-time leaders in receiving yards:

1. Kenny McKinley (2005-08) - 2,781 yards
2. Alshon Jeffery (2009-Present) - 2,536 yards
3. Sterling Sharpe (1983-87) - 2,497 yards
4. Zola Davis (1995-98) - 2,354 yards
5. Sidney Rice (2005-2006) - 2,233 yards.

HOME SWEET HOME: USC has now won 16 of its last 18 home games after Saturday's 21-3 victory over Vanderbilt, posting an 9-2 record against SEC opponents over that same span. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, USC is 19-4 at home, a remarkable turnaround from Spurrier's early years as USC head coach when the Gamecocks struggled to establish a foothold at home. In 2006-2007, USC was 2-6 against conference foes at Williams-Brice Stadium. Here's the win-loss breakdown in Columbia since the 2008 season:

2008: 5-2 (Wins - NC State, Wofford, UAB, Tennessee, Arkansas; Losses - Georgia, LSU)
2009: 6-1 (Wins - Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, SC State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Clemson; Losses - Florida).
2010: 6-1 (Wins - Southern Miss, Georgia, Furman, Alabama, Tennessee, Troy; Losses - Arkansas).
2011: 2-0 (Wins - Navy, Vanderbilt).

TOTAL: 19-4.

TEXAS A&M MOVE BEING FINALIZED: Texas A&M may have blown a huge lead in Saturday's 30-29 home loss to Oklahoma State, but school president R. Bowden Loftin told CBSSports.com and the Dallas Morning News that he expects the Aggies' move to the SEC will be finalized "shortly". Loftin said most of the legal hurdles to the shift have been removed and the remaining nine teams in the Big 12 were "firmly committed" to going forward "without us."

Four Big 12 schools had threatened to sue Texas A&M had they left. But that was before the Pac-12 declined to add any more teams and Commissioner Dan Beebe was fired and replaced on an interim basis by former Big 8 Commissioner Chuck Neinas.

"I expect to be in the SEC soon," said Loftin, who expects to listen to a last-minute plea from Neinas to stay in the Big 12, though he doubts the plea will be successful in getting Texas A&M to change its mind. "I'd be willing to talk to Chuck anytime he wants to talk to me. But we've made a very firm decision about our future here and we're going to stick with it."

SEC SCORES (Sat. 9/24):
Georgia 27, Ole Miss 13
Alabama 38, Arkansas 14
South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 3
Florida 48, Kentucky 10
Auburn 30, Florida Atlantic 14
Miss. State 26, Louisiana Tech 20
LSU 47, West Virginia 21
Open: Tennessee.

SEC EAST STANDINGS: USC 2-0, Florida 2-0, Georgia 1-1, Vanderbilt 1-1, Kentucky 0-1, Tennessee 0-1.

MISCELLANEOUS:

-- Spurrier reported no major injuries after the game.

-- USC is 17-4 all-time against Vanderbilt and now has a three-game winning streak over the Commodores. USC holds an 8-2 edge over VU in Columbia.

-- Stephon Gilmore recorded his first interception of the season.

-- Junior LB Quin Smith had the first fumble recovery of his career when Clowney somehow dodged a blocker and managed to strip the ball away from Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith.

-- Devin Taylor picked up his first sack of the season in the first quarter.

-- Marty Markett led USC in tackles with five. Thirteen players had two or more tackles for the Gamecocks.

-- Spurrier said Assistant Head Coach for Defense Ellis Johnson and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney received game balls. Clowney doubled his season sack total to four, putting him on pace for 12.0 sacks in the regular season.

-- ESPN.com blogger Edward Aschoff awarded Ellis Johnson a game ball for the USC defense's outstanding performance against Vanderbilt: "Johnson's group had been criticized after every game up until Saturday night. The Gamecocks were constantly out of position. They couldn't tackle. They were overrated. Well, none of that was the case against Vanderbilt as the Gamecocks forced three turnovers, had a defensive touchdown, had six sacks and allowed 77 total yards of offense, including 4 net yards of rushing in a 21-3 win. Johnson's group was more aggressive and terrorized Vanderbilt's backfield all night long."

[Complete USC-Vanderbilt game coverage: Click here]

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D. McCallum


Florida State NEWS

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