South Carolina has one game to play, but here’s a look at the plays that made the 2013 regular season successful.
1. FOURTH AND GOLDEN
Synopsis: Nick Jones leaped, and had the ball in his hands, but Randy Ponder reached up and knocked it loose. The pass fell incomplete, Jones knew he’d let one get away, and Bruce Ellington, who was running a pattern behind Jones, slammed his hands together in disgust.
The Gamecocks had come all the way back against Missouri, forcing overtime, but were now in serious trouble. Connor Shaw had been dropped for a loss on first-and-goal from the 9 and had thrown two consecutive incompletions.
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Fourth down and goal, 15 yards away. Don’t get it, and it becomes a game that USC was so close to winning.
No timeout. Shaw stood in the shotgun, patting the air with both hands as the crowd screamed its loudest. The snap rifled into his hands as he saw Ellington breaking parallel to the goal line.
Ellington, who won the Outback Bowl with a final-seconds grab, had a step on Ian Simon in the right front corner of the end zone. Shaw put every bit of touch he’d ever learned into a strong spiral.
Ellington leaped, and Simon was as cooked as the morning bacon. The ball nestled into his hands as he landed with the black paint of Mizzou’s end zone beneath him.
Why it ranks: The “Miracle at Mizzou” had a lot of outstanding plays, but none finer than this one.
2. SENIOR MOMENT
Synopsis: Florida would not go away. Even after Elliott Fry knocked in another three points to make it 19-14 Gamecocks, the Gators picked up two first downs with 90 seconds to go.
Skyler Mornhinweg ran from pressure, rolling right, and saw Latroy Pittman down the sideline. He’d been good all game, and if he could be great on this one throw
Mornhinweg learned the hard way that it’s tough to throw an on-target pass while running, and elevating off the back foot. His pass was 5 yards short, and Jimmy Legree was waiting to wrap his hands around it, and put the win on ice.
Why it ranks: Mornhinweg is no all-star, but had been solid all day. The Gators get that first down, or that pass falls incomplete, and they have a chance to score a touchdown and ruin the home winning streak.
Synopsis: Another game that appeared over, when USC led UCF 28-10 with a little more than 10 minutes to play. Fifteen unanswered points later, the Gamecocks were leading 28-25 and staring at a Knights onside kick attempt.
The onside kick bounded to Ellington, he snatched it and galloped 31 yards to the UCF 15. USC called for the victory formation.
Why it ranks: UCF recovers, USC doesn’t get the long return to burn more seconds, maybe the Knights are playing for the national championship.
4. GET LOOSE
Synopsis: The first play of the fourth quarter began the legend.
Shaw faced fourth-and-4 from Missouri’s 46. There were 15 minutes to play, but Shaw and everybody knew that if the Gamecocks didn’t get something going soon, a 17-0 deficit was going to be too much to overcome.
One down from starting the path to extinction, Shaw locked onto his go-to target, the man with magnet hands. Shaw fired, Ellington caught and had a first down.
That drive became a touchdown to start the comeback.
Why it ranks: No first down, no touchdown. USC might still have pulled the comeback, but
5. LITTLE BRO
Synopsis: Ahead 27-7 going to the fourth, USC was going to beat Kentucky again (yawn). The Wildcats made it 35-28 with four minutes to play, and lined up for the onside kick.
The bullet shot toward Shamier Jeffery, a player known more for his older brother than what he’s done for himself, but he didn’t back down. Jeffery caught it, and the Gamecocks ran out the clock.
Why it ranks: If Jeffery doesn’t get that recovery, Kentucky has all the momentum and a short field.
6. SMALL FRY
Synopsis: Fry passed a major test when he booted the PAT to send USC’s game at Missouri into a second overtime. But USC’s offense conked out on the next drive, so Fry was summoned to kick a go-ahead field goal.
It was 40 yards, the same distance he’d missed from in the first quarter. If USC didn’t score, Mizzou could kick a field goal and win.
Fry knocked it through with room to spare.
Why it ranks: If Fry misses, Mizzou just has to kick to win.
7. JUMP, JUMP!
Synopsis: USC was trying to put away its unprecedented fifth consecutive win against Clemson, and facing third-and-2 at the Tigers’ 26, freshman Pharoh Cooper checked in.
Brandon Wilds curled around the line as Cooper ran right a few steps. Seeing the defensive backs converge, Cooper hopped and tossed a floater to Wilds. Wilds gathered it in and raced past the suckered Tigers for the game-over touchdown.
Why it ranks: Clemson contributed to its own demise with two turnovers after that touchdown, but without USC’s score, the Tigers would have been down only seven points.
Synopsis: The Gamecocks had come back from a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime at Missouri, and then another overtime. After Fry delivered a go-ahead field goal, the Tigers’ Marcus Murphy jetted 17 yards to the USC 8.
On third-and-goal, Jadeveon Clowney flushed Maty Mauk from the pocket, and Mauk ran left. Seeing nothing but a wall of white, Mauk stepped out-of-bounds before Legree and/or Brison Williams could de-cleat him.
The Tigers had to settle for a field goal to force a third overtime, a 24-yarder.
Why it ranks: Mizzou touchdown wins the game. If Mauk is allowed to sit in the pocket, or throws, perhaps USC doesn’t get that all-important fourth down.
9. HE CAN SCOOT
Synopsis: In a game where many expected the Gamecocks to roll, they trailed offensively challenged Florida as the fourth quarter began. As the clock ticked under 10 minutes, many began thinking the worst.
USC faced a first-and-15 on its 5. Mike Davis was on the sideline, Brandon Wilds was ailing, Connor Shaw was gimpy.
Shon Carson was healthy.
A routine draw play revealed a wide-open hole and Carson burst through it. His 58-yard run led to a go-ahead field goal, then another field goal, as USC survived.
Why it ranks: USC goes three-and-out there, Florida has great field position, the lead and a winding clock.
10. SWEET JIMMY
Synopsis: Never-say-die Vanderbilt lived up to its reputation, turning a 28-0 deficit to 35-25 in the fourth quarter. Two fumbled kick returns led to Vanderbilt setting up at the USC 9-yard-line.
Figuring that star receiver Jordan Matthews would draw the most coverage, Austyn Carta-Samuels called for a quick-strike corner route for freshman Jordan Cunningham. He took one step and fired, only to watch as Legree snagged the pass in the end zone.
USC iced the game with a 17-play drive.
Why it ranks: If that pass is completed, Vanderbilt would have had all the momentum.