Following a heart-breaking 41-30 defeat in Sanford Stadium at the hands of an explosive Georgia Bulldogs team, the South Carolina football team, once again, seems to be unable to catch a break.
Despite beating Georgia the past two years, the Bulldogs, and not the Gamecocks, have gone on to the SEC Championship game. Finally, in a year in which the Gamecocks have a favorable schedule, a win against the Dawgs in Athens would have almost certainly meant a trip to Atlanta. Even in the event of a late slip up, South Carolina would have owned the tiebreaker, and while Georgia would be facing LSU and Florida away from home—though a neutral site is much more hospitable than the Swamp—South Carolina would face UF at home and struggling Missouri and Arkansas from the West.
Unfortunately for the Gamecock faithful, it is a moot point. Now, the only realistic shot of the Gamecocks making it to Atlanta is a UGA loss to LSU—never out of the realm of possibility with a Les Miles coached team—and a loss to a lesser East team, most likely, Florida. Stranger things have certainly happened; however, all South Carolina can do at this point is win the rest of their games.
The SEC schedule for the Head Ball Coach’s group is favorable down the stretch, save a 3-game road stretch, which, even though it is against lesser SEC foes, is never a cakewalk.
Arkansas kicks off that road trip, and considering that since joining the SEC in 1992, the Gamecocks are 2-8 in Fayetteville, Spurrier should have his team excited about going on the road and making some noise in Razorback Stadium.
Their road trip ends in Columbia…Missouri. This is the farthest that the Gamecocks have to travel, and it is fair to count on some injuries and fatigue playing a factor in that Missouri game, it being their third road game in the SEC in as many weeks. If they can make it through that stretch relatively unscathed, they will face Mississippi State at home before getting two weeks to prepare for a tough matchup at home against the Florida Gators.
South Carolina showed what they are capable of doing to opponents during the first half of Saturday’s matchup against the Vanderbilt Commodores, who are an improving team no doubt, but one who still cannot quite matchup with the depth and physicality of upper level SEC teams.
En route to scoring 28 points in the first half and running their offense almost flawlessly, the Gamecock defense held Vanderbilt to 49 yards of total offense, until the Commodores mounted their last drive of the first half. While the stats may indicate that the defense played poorly, giving up 25 points—mostly in the second half—to Vanderbilt at home, it was the offense, sputtering late, that continually set Vandy up and let them get back in the game.
As was an issue in the Georgia game, the young linebacking corps often looked out of position and missed a few tackles; however, Vanderbilt’s longest drive of the night was 49 yards, and as a whole they only accumulated 268 yards of total offense.
A Dylan Thompson interception set Vanderbilt up on the 1-yard line late in the second quarter, while a Shon Carson fumble on a kickoff gave Vanderbilt the ball at the 19-yard line. Both of these turnovers led to touchdowns and 15 of their 25 points.
As long as South Carolina can hold onto the ball, their myriad of offensive weapons will continue to put them in a position to win. For the first time in several years, the offense, not the defense of USC—which has looked vulnerable at times this year—looks like they will be the unit that gets things done late in games. Fortunately, Spurrier has two quarterbacks that he can count on, who are proven commodities and true field generals. In addition to being able to command the offense, both quarterbacks have proven themselves clutch when the occasion arises.
As long as they avoid the turnover bug and continue improving on defense, this team has the talent, depth, and kind scheduling to be 10-1 with Clemson—who has no reason to not win the remainder of their games—coming into town November 30, presumably with a chance at a National Title berth. This South Carolina team would love nothing more than to knock off their hated rivals and reach the 11-win mark for the third year in a row, an unprecedented mark for a program historically mired in mediocrity. Even if Georgia wins out, an 11-1 South Carolina team, finishing strong with wins against Florida and Clemson to close out the season, would be a hard sell for a BCS Bowl berth…if they can catch a few breaks along the way.