COLUMBIA - Southern Miss and a national television audience proved to be the right tonic for South Carolina after an offseason filled with questions.
The Gamecocks took the field minus several key players - injuries, suspensions and the ongoing saga of several players staying at a local hotel at a reduced rate - but it didn't seem to matter. South Carolina rolled to a 41-13 victory, its sixth season-opening win in a row under Steve Spurrier.
It was South Carolina's highest output since the 2006 Liberty Bowl, a 44-36 South Carolina win over Houston.
The Gamecocks put together a 7-6 season in 2009, and the highlight was a 34-17 win over archrival Clemson at home. But that feel-good win dissipated a month later with a 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
The key issues coming into this season included the inconsistent play of quarterback Stephen Garcia, the lack of a running game and the loss of several key players on the defensive side of the ball.
One game into the season, Spurrier found answers to his satisfaction in all of those areas.
Garcia, who was pushed for the starting job this summer by freshman Connor Shaw, responded with a solid effort. He didn't turn the ball over, and his highlight came early in the night when he scrambled for a 22-yard touchdown run for the first score of the game. Flushed out of the pocket, Garcia picked up enough yards for a first down, then lowered his shoulder and bounced off Southern Miss defenders at the 4 and scored.
The Gamecocks (1-0) piled up more than 200 yards on the ground, and prized recruit Marcus Lattimore scored a pair of touchdowns to pace the attack.
Lattimore wasn't the only freshman to impress Thursday night. Shaw showed off speed at quarterback with several big runs, and he connected with D.L. Moore in the fourth quarter for his first touchdown pass.
Ace Sanders showed off his speed on a 53-yard reverse, and he made a nice over-the-shoulder catch. Both plays set up South Carolina touchdowns.
The defense was missing Shaq Wilson, last year's leading tackler, because of an injury. Several other defenders, including Ladi Ajiboye, Akeen Auguste and C.C. Whitlock, are among those players who are under scrutiny for staying at the Whitney Hotel in downtown Columbia at a reduced rate.
Tight end Weslye Saunders is also among the players who stayed at the hotel, but he was suspended for the opener because of breaking team rules. Saunders is also part of an NCAA inquiry involving a party in Miami in May.
Despite South Carolina's personnel issues, Southern Miss (0-1) could only muster a pair of field goals until it scored a touchdown late in the game.