Connor Shaw stood on the sidelines watching his last chance to reach the SEC Championship seemingly fade away Saturday night in Columbia, Missouri. The South Carolina Gamecocks’ first game in the “other” Columbia was turning into a nightmare as USC found itself in a 17-0 hole going into the fourth quarter. Mike Davis had two fumbles and Dylan Thompson was having a pedestrian game in relief of the injured Shaw.
Head coach Steve Spurrier turned to his senior quarterback and asked for him to give it his all for one quarter. The banged up Shaw led his team to seventeen straight points while the Gamecocks defense allowed no more points in regulation. No one expected for USC to force overtime. Announcers were even talking about South Carolina potentially being shut out for the first time since 2006.
Carolina may have forced overtime, but down by seven and facing fourth and goal from the 15, most everyone had the Gamecocks written off again. Shaw knew he had one more chance to preserve Carolina’s SEC East title hopes, and he pulled off the impossible one more time. A dime of a pass to Bruce Ellington in the end zone allowed the Gamecocks to stay alive and win in the second overtime period.
The crazy outcome in Columbia blew open the SEC East. Missouri (7-1, 3-1) still controls its own destiny, but South Carolina (6-2, 4-2), Georgia (4-3,3-2) and Florida (4-3,3-2) are all lurking waiting for the Tigers to make another mistake. Had Mizzou won on Saturday, the East would have effectively been won.
During the first half of Saturday’s game it looked as though Missouri was the overwhelming favorite to win the East. Missouri was the only undefeated team in the East and had the Gamecocks down and out. It is now very hard to say who has the advantage in the East.
Mizzou obviously has the luxury of controlling its destiny, but after a fourth quarter collapse Saturday there is no guarantee that the Tigers will win their four remaining SEC games. A trip to Ole Miss and a visit from Johnny Manziel and the Aggies stand in between Missouri and winning the East. Both of those games will be extremely tough tests that may prove too much for a team with an inconsistent freshman quarterback.
Georgia is currently coming off a bye week and trying to get healthy after losing two straight and many of their starters. They are still in the SEC East race, but must win this week against the Gators. Aaron Murray has proven to be a stellar quarterback in this league, but he will need to find more weapons to help him out if the Bulldogs expect to return to Atlanta this year. If the Dawgs prevail against the Gators they will have a very tough, must-win game against impressive Auburn to end their season.
Florida is in a very similar position as Georgia. Injuries have hurt their offense and they have lost two SEC games in a row. The Gators have a great defense, but the offense will need to click on all cylinders to be able to beat the Dawgs this weekend. A trip to play the Gamecocks may decide who finally prevails in the SEC East.
South Carolina may actually have the best chance to reach Atlanta. The Gamecocks have the weapons on offense, have a defense with immense talent and have shown they have the will to win. Obviously the team will need to play more consistently, but there is no reason this team cannot win out this season. Mississippi State and Florida at home are the only two remaining SEC contests for the Gamecocks.
Don’t give up on Carolina yet and expect the Gamecocks to make some noise this year behind the fearless leadership of Connor Shaw.