COLUMBIA -- South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said during the summer that Derek Watson either will fill up an NFL stadium or sweep one out.
If Watson's performance this season serves as any indication, Holtz won't need to buy a broom for the sophomore running back anytime soon.
No one praised Watson as eloquently as his dazzling rushing display did. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder amassed 215 yards rushing and three touchdowns -- all of which came by the 7:53 mark of the third quarter -- in the Gamecocks' 41-6 thumping of Eastern Michigan before 80,922 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
It was the seventh-highest rushing total in school history, and Watson's 422 rushing yards this season surpass the 394 he amassed in all of 1999.
Lost amid the glitter of Watson's performance: three weeks removed from a 21-game losing streak, the Gamecocks improved to 3-0 -- three wins away from qualifying for their first bowl since 1994.
For South Carolina, which plays host to Mississippi State on Saturday, little can go wrong. Life is good.
Facing a 3-0 deficit early in the second quarter, the Gamecocks predictably and thoroughly erupted, reeling off 24 points before halftime to dispense most suspense.
The Gamecocks exploded for 576 total yards, and, as usual, Watson lit the fuse by amassing 125 of his rushing yards by halftime. His 7-yard dash on an inside handoff with 3:33 left in the first half put the Gamecocks up 21-7, then a 65-yard sprint down the left sideline in the third quarter staked South Carolina to a 31-3 stranglehold.
Watson appears at home in the Gamecocks' spread offense, which opens rushing lanes that were ever so clogged in the team's power-rushing days of 1999.
Though Watson served the theatrics, there was little doubt that the defense provided the muscle, holding the Eagles to 233 total yards through three quarters. South Carolina got good penetration up front and tackled well, holding Eastern Michigan to 69 first-half yards -- two of them rushing.
The Gamecocks still have plenty to address before Mississippi State comes to town, and most of it comes on offense. Quarterback Phil Petty (240 yards passing on 19 of 30 attempts) missed open receivers on several occasions, and the Gamecocks have yet to establish a legitimate deep-passing threat.
But there was hope. Junior receiver James Adkisson (eight receptions for 100 yards) was reliable, and Petty connected with Jermale Kelly in the fourth quarter for a 37 yard pickup -- the Gamecocks' longest pass play of the season.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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