I called a friend shortly after the game and told him as the third quarter was nearing an end, that I was already writing the lead for my column, and that I was going to use a lot of m's – like “Missouri too much for Gamecocks, who made too many mistakes and missed too many opportunities.” He said, “You can add one “m” – miraculous.”
What other “m” fits Carolina's marvelous 27-24 double overtime win over unbeaten and 5th-ranked Missouri in the other Columbia? Fans I ran into on the trip home all asked me if I could remember a game with a comeback and a finish like the one we had just witnessed? My answer was “no” because there has never been one quite like it.
There is no fairytale, no knight in shining armor saving the damsel in distress story, better than Connor Shaw's. He rode into town with a bad knee, shot down the bad guys, and rescued his team from what would have been an embarrassing defeat.
A week after the worst game in his career, in which he suffered a knee injury, after standing on the sidelines for over three and half quarters, Shaw did what senior leaders do, he stepped up his game. Those of you who watched it on TV, saw his remarkable performance, his poise, his confidence, but what you didn't see was that the minute he entered the game, not only didn't the offense perk up, but every player on the sideline immediately became reengaged.
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It was so much fun to watch. A 20-for-29, 201-yard, three touchdown performance, is a great game for any quarterback, but Conner did that in 21 minutes. It was one of the most amazing displays of leadership and a never-say-die attitude I have ever witnessed.
I say embarrassing, because from the start, with no disrespect to the Tigers, they did not look, to me like a top 5 team. Yes, their defense was good, but the Gamecocks matched them in size and physicality. Yes, they had some weapons on offense, but it was obvious that freshman quarterback Maty Mauk was still feeling his way in his second game as a starter.
Now, a team doesn’t get to 7-0 without being a good team, but early on, it was obvious from a talent standpoint, it was a good match up for the Gamecocks.
It was one of those games where the stats don't tell the story. Carolina had 498 yards of total offense, ran 91 plays, made 28 first downs and had a nine-minute advantage in time of possession. Yet, USC had to have 17 fourth-quarter points to have a chance to win the game.
Despite Missouri’s 96-yard touchdown pass, I thought the defense really played well. To my eye, it was the most sustained effort I have seen this season. Several players who needed big games had them. Kelcy Quarles led the defense with five solo tackles and an assist. Jadeveon Clowney fought double teams all during the game, but he still had four solo tackles, one assist, one for loss, with one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry. Cornerback Vic Hampton had four solo and one assist, and tackles J.T. Surratt and Gerald Dixon had four total tackles.
Obviously, to win and win the way they won, is a big confidence boost for the Gamecocks. But at the same time, they, in Coach Spurrier's words, “stunk it up” for three-quarters of the game. They know they were extremely fortunate to come away with the win.
I remain very impressed with the play of the offensive line. Missouri, at times, ran this stack three defense with the down linemen and three linebackers behind them. It was very effective against Carolina's zone-read running game, but I thought the pass protection was solid all game.
Receiver Bruce Ellington had a huge night with 10 catches for 136 yards and two TDs, and Damiere Byrd had four receptions for 76 yards. The tight ends were very involved, as Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams both caught three balls. Because of Missouri's scheme, Mike Davis had a tough night, rushing with just 51 yards on 19 carries, but he was outstanding as a receiver with 10 catches for 99 yards, mostly on screens.
It appears that the secondary is bound to have at least one blown coverage that results in a touchdown every game, but Mauk was 10-of-25 for 249 yards, with just the one big touchdown throw. As I said, I think overall, the defense played closer to its potential.
The test will be to see if the Gamecocks can feed off the emotion of this very emotional victory, and carry that momentum into their preparation for Mississippi State on Saturday. Missouri has four conference games remaining (Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas A&M), USC has the Bulldogs this weekend, and after a week off, Florida. So the Cocks are very much still in the East Division title hunt.
In any event, it's good to be back home for this final four-game stretch of the season.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!