Morris: For Gamecocks, there’s no place like home

rmorris@ thestate.comNovember 2, 2013 

STEVE SPURRIER SAID his South Carolina football team has begun conducting its weekly Monday evening practices at Williams-Brice Stadium, partly because it means not having to walk across Bluff Road to the practice fields.

It also has to do with dressing in the locker rooms at the stadium, and generally feeling more comfortable with the home-field surroundings. These days, USC is feeling darned right at ease within its truly friendly confines.

“Our guys play well here,” Spurrier said. “The fans are very helpful. They scream and yell. You just feel comfortable.”

That feeling has translated into 15 consecutive home wins, a streak that stretches over parts of three seasons and one that ties the program record set by the 1978-80 clubs.

Saturday’s 34-16 victory against Mississippi State was like most during the current streak: lopsided. The only close games during the streak were by 5 points against Florida in 2011, 3 points against Tennessee a season ago and 7 against Kentucky earlier this season.

“First of all, the schedule has to favor you a little bit,” Spurrier said by way of explaining the streak. “But really, two and a half years worth right now, we’ve played well at home.”

There is no taking away the fact that USC has played well before mostly capacity crowds since the streak began with a 54-3 decision against Kentucky midway through the 2011 season. The Gamecocks finished that home season with wins against Florida, The Citadel and Clemson.

Then the streak kicked into full gear in 2012 when USC did not lose any of its seven home games, turning back East Carolina, UAB, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Wofford.

Add in home victories this season against North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Mississippi State and USC has created an atmosphere and advantage that is the envy of at least one opposing coach.

“We need to have the same atmosphere as they do right here,” said Mississippi State sixth-year coach Dan Mullen, whose club was unhinged Saturday by five turnovers that turned into 20 USC points. “It forces other teams into making mistakes, and that’s how you win at home and become a contender in the SEC.”

This kind of home streak has been a while in coming for USC, whose previous long home winning stretch under Spurrier was six games. It was not that long ago that Spurrier admonished the home crowd for applauding when his team nearly pulled off an upset of No. 2-ranked Auburn during the 2006 season.

Since the 2008 season, USC has been difficult to beat at home, winning 31 of its past 34 games at Williams-Brice Stadium. Included during that stretch was the 35-21 decision against No. 1-ranked Alabama in 2010, the only time USC has defeated a top-ranked team.

Of course, what it most takes to build the kind of streak that ranks second nationally — Michigan’s current active streak stands at 19 — is to field an excellent team, and USC has been nationally ranked for every one of its 15 consecutive home wins.

As Spurrier mentioned, scheduling helps as well, and USC counts two wins against ranked opponents during the streak. The most impressive of those was a 35-7 decision against No. 5 Georgia in 2012. The other was against No. 18 Clemson in 2011.

By comparison, the 1978-80 teams included three ranked opponents among its 15 consecutive home wins. Those wins all came during the 1979 season, over No. 21 Western Michigan, No. 17 Wake Forest and No. 13 Clemson.

Average margin of victory might be one way to determine which of the program’s two long home winning streaks is most impressive, but that is a virtual wash. USC reeled off its 1978-80 streak by an average margin of 21.5 points, and the winning margin during the current streak is 21.2.

Of course, USC can put all that discussion to rest by setting the record against Florida in two weeks or extending it in the final two home games against Coastal Carolina and Clemson.

“Our players love to play at home,” USC quarterback Connor Shaw said. “There is no place like it. Our fan base is the best in the country, and I think we’ve proven that with 15 in a row here. So, I’m thankful that we get to finish the season at home.”

Home, sweet home, it is.

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