David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s win over No. 5 Missouri.
NO. 20 SOUTH CAROLINA 27, NO. 5 MISSOURI 24 (2OT)
I’LL BE BACK: There is no describing what Connor Shaw has done and continues to do. Saturday night was just another chapter. I really think he’s the model for the “Terminator” film franchise – cold-blooded, mechanical, eyes forever on his mission, which in his case, is to win football games. But it’s not as if the boy don’t have heart – his is big enough to sustain the entire team, after doing what he did against Missouri. Knee “significantly sprained?” Forget it, I can play. Stomach virus the day before, and missing breakfast that morning? Forget it, I can play. Down 17-0, on the road, where he has never beaten a ranked opponent, USC already out of toes to shoot off and nearly out of fingers and ribs? Look, man, there’s the ball, there’s the field – get out of my way. As one scribe said, there was no better player in the country than Shaw on Saturday night. He took on a near-impossible situation, one where one tiny break for the opponent would have wiped out everything he was trying to do, and succeeded. The Gamecocks won a game they absolutely had no business winning, the way the first three quarters unfolded. Shaw has at least five games left to play, but this one just may be his hallmark.
STONES: The big play eluded USC at Tennessee. Perhaps it was just warming up for Missouri, because the Gamecocks definitely had their season’s portion.
* Missouri missed two field goals, including one to force a third overtime.
* Missouri, for whatever reason, seemed hesitant to throw the ball around like it did in the first half. The offense bogged and got USC back in the game.
* Victor Hampton broke up a third-down pass to the end zone, leading to a Missouri field goal and a 17-0 lead, instead of 21-0.
* Shaw hit Bruce Ellington on two fourth-down passes, one for 10 on fourth-and-4 and one for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard-line. Ellington also had the Gamecocks’ first TD on an incredible catch, where it looked like he snared it while about to sit down on an out-of-bounds chair.
* Shaw found Jerell Adams for 17 yards on third-and-7.
* Shaw screened to Mike Davis for 19 yards on, you guessed it, third-and-19 (and it was mystifying why Missouri kept blitzing and leaving the screen option wide-open).
* Elliott Fry booted the game-winning field goal and another field goal during the comeback despite missing his first attempt (and second straight on the year).
* Sharrod Golightly popped Henry Josey for a 4-yard loss on third-and-2, when a Mizzou first down may have meant the game.
* Nick Jones’ leaping turnaround touchdown catch that was the tying score.
GONNA WIN THIS THING?: USC keeps hanging around in the SEC East race, despite being written off as dead at least twice before (after the Georgia loss and after the Tennessee loss). The Gamecocks have a great shot to win it, too, but still need some help. I’m sure I could translate ancient Japanese directly into Southern Drawl within an hour easier than I could figure out the convoluted tiebreakers, but put it this way – it’s a three-step process for a simple solution. 1. USC wins out. 2. Georgia loses to Florida on Saturday. 3. Missouri loses another SEC game (Ole Miss and Texas A&M seem to be the likely culprits).
THE LITTLE ’UN: Put it this way – wouldn’t it be the most South Carolina thing ever to score 16 points in the fourth after trailing 17-0, and then miss the tying PAT? It has happened before. Fry made sure that wouldn’t happen, being perfect on USC’s three PATs and knocking in two field goals after missing his first one.
WE’RE STILL HERE: USC’s tight ends are still on the roster after all. Rory “Busta” Anderson and Adams caught six balls for 86 yards between them on Saturday, and that was after a couple of early drops.
THAT’LL DO: Take away L’Damian Washington’s 96-yard catch-and-outclass for a touchdown, and USC’s defense played a great game. The Gamecocks held Mizzou to 308 yards other than that play and Kelcy Quarles had an outstanding game, with six tackles, three for loss, and two sacks (and he has seven sacks this year, incredible considering that he’s being viewed as having a so-so season). It’s a common theme – USC’s defense is actually pretty good (it ranked third in the SEC coming into the game). It’s just that big plays and big quarters where it hasn’t been strong have defined the season.
BACKUP: For whatever reason, Dylan Thompson just wasn’t sharp on Saturday. While his numbers were decent (15-of-27 for 222 yards and an interception), he didn’t look very comfortable. He wasn’t stepping into his throws and was lobbing rather than passing the ball. It didn’t end up hurting the Gamecocks, but it’s not what USC wanted to see when a big part of the season was having two capable quarterbacks ready to play.
HUMAN: Davis fumbled twice in Mizzou territory, once on the 2-yard-line. As a result, Steve Spurrier was (understandably) very hesitant to hand him the ball anymore. Can’t have the most reliable offensive weapon on the team handing the ball away. Now, perhaps it was just one bad game (Davis wound up catching 10 passes for 99 yards and didn’t drop a one). Perhaps it wasn’t. USC can’t think that it wasn’t, though – it’s got to hand Davis the ball in small and large situations next week and let him get in the end zone, not to mention get his confidence up.
SPIRAL: Maty Mauk threw to the flat and Jimmy Legree was there, all alone. Not only was that a clear-cut interception, it was going to give Legree a solid chance to build a full head of steam and try to score on it. But Legree dropped it. Just dropped it. The next play, Mauk found Marcus Lucas for 32 yards. A few plays after that, Marcus Murphy ran around left end and skipped through three tackles (Skai Moore, Hampton, Jadeveon Clowney) for a touchdown. You see how things just get out of hand?
FACEPALM: You know there was one USC fan who shelled out the money for plane and game tickets, two nights in a hotel, a rental car, gas and a nice meal who left near the end of the third quarter. You just know there was, and it’s hard to blame him.
But hey, perhaps it’s a lesson learned.
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