LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - As Captain Munnerlyn lined up to return
his first kickoff of the season, he said he had a feeling it was
going to be a "wacky day."
"I saw the ball bouncing to me and just kept thinking, 'I can't
let the kicker get to me,"' Munnerlyn said. "I turned on the
speed and felt like I had it. And then, I got tackled."
Not until 84 yards down the field, though, setting up an easy
touchdown. The return was the first of Munnerlyn's two
game-breaking plays that propelled South Carolina to a 24-17
victory over Kentucky on Saturday, improving Steve Spurrier's
record against the Wildcats to 16-0.
In addition to the kick return, Munnerlyn picked up a blocked
field goal and ran it 81 yards for a score.
South Carolina (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) won its ninth
consecutive meeting against Kentucky (4-2, 0-2), which came in with
momentum after nearly upsetting Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Instead, the
Wildcats' string of futility against Spurrier remains longer than
any in the country against coaches not named Joe Paterno.
"It was a good victory, even though we played lousy
offensively," Spurrier said.
The game, billed as a field position showdown between two of the
Southeastern Conference's top defenses, lived up to that hype, at
least until midway through the third quarter. That was when
Spurrier, always quick with the hook on his quarterbacks, looked at
backup quarterback Stephen Garcia on the sideline and told him to
"I was pretty excited, and pretty nervous," Garcia said.
Garcia replaced a struggling Chris Smelley and led four
consecutive drives into Wildcats territory, which the Gamecocks
turned into 10 points. It could have been more if not for three
missed second-half field goal attempts by Ryan Succop, one of the
nation's top kickers.
"The team certainly bailed me out," Succop said.
With the game tied at 17, South Carolina took the lead for good
when Garcia found Weslye Saunders open in the end zone off a
play-action pass from 7 yards out. The play was set up by a 37-yard
completion from Garcia to Jason Barnes. Garcia completed 10 of 14
passes for 169 yards in limited duty.
Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline got the ball back with an
opportunity to tie the game, but the second interception of the day
by Chris Culliver clinched it for the Gamecocks.
"It was like we were making mistakes, and then we corrected
those mistakes and stopped them," Culliver said.
The teams combined for six turnovers. Kentucky's defense got
three of its four takeaways in the first quarter but still trailed
by a touchdown at the beginning of the second.
First, Smelley appeared to connect with Kenny McKinley for an
8-yard gain, but Kentucky's Trevard Lindley ripped the ball out of
his hands and took it 28 yards to put the Wildcats ahead 7-0.
It didn't take long for South Carolina to respond. Munnerlyn
returned Tim Masthay's kickoff 84 yards and was stopped only when
Masthay shoved him out of bounds at the Kentucky 16.
Given new life, this time Smelley threw the ball to a place only
McKinley could get it - the corner of the end zone, tying the game
It was one of few highlights for Smelley, coming off an SEC
offensive player of the week performance at Ole Miss. He completed
9 of 23 passes for 105 yards and two interceptions. Spurrier has
already named Garcia as the starter next week against No. 4 LSU.
"There is no one to blame but myself for the way I played,"
Hartline wasn't much better, completing 23 of 43 passes for 152
yards and two interceptions.
"We were a little off on the pass and a little off on the
reception," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "We have got to work
to get better. We are close, and we need to execute."
That was partly due to an injury to Dicky Lyons Jr., the team's
top receiver. Lyons tore his medial collateral ligament during a
second-quarter reception and will be sidelined indefinitely, Brooks
"You have to play with the guys you have and hope it goes
well," Hartline said. "We have to persevere as an offense."
On South Carolina's next drive, McKinley broke Sterling Sharpe's
South Carolina record with his 170th career reception but
immediately coughed up the ball up again. It was recovered by
Kentucky's Marcus McClinton.
After the teams combined for three turnovers, the Wildcats had a
chance to grab momentum. But Ryan Tydlacka's 29-yard field goal
attempt was blocked by Jordin Lindsey and returned 81 yards for a
score by Munnerlyn.
Tydlacka later connected on a 51-yard attempt - the Wildcats'
longest since 2004 - to put Kentucky ahead 17-14 at halftime.