Monday, January 15, 2007

REVIEWAPALOOZA -- South Carolina Season, Part II

The good thing about the SEC is that, whenever you have a disappointing early-season game, there is always some hapless out-of-conference opponent waiting just around the corner. So, when South Carolina had a tough fight against, cough cough, the Wofford Terriers, all hope was not lost.

Bring on the Owls!

Florida Atlantic comes to town.

Now, the stage was set. South Carolina fans knew -- or at least hoped -- this was going to be a victory. All they needed was the stats.

And the stats were encouraging. Five TDs for Sidney Rice. From the quarterback, even. An offense that -- gasp -- scored points.

Why, the Gamecocks were beginning to look like a team. A team that could win games, even. A Steve Spurrier team? Okay, let's not get carried away here. It's Florida Atlantic.

And Auburn is coming.

Suddenly, South Carolina fans felt like bleating. And since the game was scheduled on Thursday, the humiliation would be nationally televised. Recruits -- avert your eyes! Now!

Whew! That was close!

But something unexpected happened. South Carolina put an offense on the field. And then the Gamecocks put a defense on the field. And an upset ... didn't seem so far-fetched at the half, with the score 14-10 in favor of the Tigers.

Then, it happened. The most bizarre set of events I have seen in football in a long, long time. And I once watched Lou Holtz run a fake punt from inside his own 30.

Auburn took the opening drive of the half and converted a FG, making the score 17-10. South Carolina fans anticipated. Auburn kicked off. And South Carolina fans watched in horror as Auburn recovered the on-sides kick.

By the time it was over, Auburn had controlled the ball for the entire third quarter and then picked up a TD right after the fourth quarter began, leading to a 24-10 advantage.

South Carolina was officially dead.

Then the Gamecocks scored. And got the ball back. And drove to the Auburn 6. And the fourth-down pass to Rice ...

... was incomplete.

It turned out that South Carolina fans had more to be relieved about in the end than Auburn fans. A computer stolen from the Tigers was not taken by a Gamecock.

Sadly, when your accomplishments over more than a century amount to an ACC title -- back when the ACC was even worse than it is now -- and a Heisman Trophy, you take what you can get. So Steve Spurrier had to shame the fans for clapping after a loss.

Normally, in South Carolina history, something good is immediately followed by something bad. So it was inevitable that the game against Kentucky would be an abject failure. Their passing offense, we were beginning to find out, was one of the best in the nation. And the game was in Lexington.

Fortunately, South Carolina didn't give this one away. Lord knows, the defense tried. But Kentucky wouldn't take the game.

And then ... Spurrier took the postgame press conference as an opportunity to interrogate his secondary coach.

You are going to tell me where the coverage broke down.

South Carolina was 4-2. Wins against Vanderbilt and any of the remaining teams -- Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, MIDDLE TENNESSEE or Clemson -- would guarantee a bowl berth.

Nothing could stop that from happening.

Could it?

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