Steve Spurrier finally found a little fun in the South Carolina offense.
Much of that came because of his new quarterback, freshman Chris Smelley, who threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns to lead the 16th-ranked Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) to a 38-21 win over Mississippi State on Saturday.
"Yeah, it was fun," Spurrier said. "It's a lot more fun seeing the ball in the air."
Smelley got the starting job even before South Carolina cleared out of the lockerroom after last week's 28-16 loss to LSU.
Spurrier, whose "Fun-n-Gun" offense tore up the SEC in 12 seasons at Florida, wasn't able to match the production so far at South Carolina. He thought fifth-year senior Blake Mitchell would be the answer. He wasn't, so Spurrier called on Smelley.
"To get an SEC win out there in my first real big start, it was great," said Smelley, who celebrated his 21st birthday Saturday.
Smelley connected with receiver Kenny McKinley on touchdown passes of 20 and 27 yards, the latter which put South Carolina ahead for good, 24-21, with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
"He made my bad passes look good," Smelley said.
The Gamecocks' defense also looked strong even without injured middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who damaged a knee ligament against LSU and had season-ending surgery.
South Carolina gave up only 45 rushing by halftime in stopping Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2), which came to Williams-Brice Stadium with a three-game winning streak.
"I think it probably shows that a team is more than one person," said Marvin Sapp, who started in place of Brinkley.
Mike Davis added two of his three rushing touchdowns (3, 2 and 12 yards) for South Carolina in the final quarter.
The Bulldogs looked like they had taken the game over in the third quarter. Anthony Dixon's second TD run from 2 yards out put Mississippi State ahead 21-17. Then its defense held, forcing the Gamecocks into a missed 50-yard field goal try.
However, South Carolina defensive lineman Eric Norwood blocked Blake McAdams' punt.
One play later, Smelley hit McKinley with a perfect throw and the junior wideout spun out of a tackle and into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
"That was exciting," said South Carolina assistant Shane Beamer, who spent the past three seasons on Mississippi State's staff. "We've been working at it and it was good to see something good happen."
Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom thought the punt block was crucial.
"At that point the stadium was real quiet. I felt like at that point it felt like we had the upper hand down there on the field, and that changed everything," he said.
McKinley finished with four catches for 107 yards, his second game over 100 yards receiving this season.
Smelley was 19 of 37 with an interception. His previous high in yardage came last week with 174 yards in relief of Mitchell.
Dixon led the Bulldogs with 83 yards and his two rushing scores. Mississippi State didn't do much through the air against the Gamecocks with 118 yards. Quarterback Josh Riddell was 9 of 21 for 101 yards and an interception.