David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s win over Florida.
SOUTH CAROLINA 23, FLORIDA 20 (OT)
RE-IGNITED: The hot fire had been doused despite some pretty solid numbers. Dylan Thompson was playing well, but thanks to USC’s defense being an absolute train wreck and him making just enough mistakes to haunt, he was looked at as the “BUT” guy. You know what I mean – “Dylan’s a great kid, great kid, the kind of kid I’d want dating my daughter BUT (fill in the blank).” Through three quarters, it was there again. He consistently failed to see wide-open players in the middle of the field on third down (like Busta Anderson doing jumping jacks). He wouldn’t set his feet and make an accurate throw. He again took too many hits and when he didn’t, USC missed a field goal on the next play. But redemption comes in unlikely places – the devout Thompson may be the world’s foremost authority on that – and when he was lit up pretty good on the play that (luckily) led to the game-tying touchdown, he had a chance. He didn’t have any pressure on him to make a big throw in overtime, and when the perfect play-call came in, he perfectly ran it. Florida over-loaded to its left, Thompson ran to his left, David Williams and Cody Gibson cleared the lane and Thompson, the much-scorned, cast-upon, pelted-with-open-faced-sandwiches Thompson, scored the game-winning touchdown on a Connor Shaw play. Then when his teammates tried to carry him off the field, he was motioning for them to put him down. “Team win, not individual win,” he said afterward. I swear I heard every female and coach on Earth swoon, and it was the most dramatic moment I’d personally viewed since Dumbo found out the magic feather was just a fake.
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THE OLD DOG AND NEW TRICKS: USC’s defense has straight blown three games it could have had but during all three, there was at least one possession where if the Gamecocks would have just run the ball and bled the clock, maybe it would have prevented one more opposing play. Handed a gift six weeks before Christmas, Steve Spurrier didn’t let this one get Grinch’ed. He mostly sent in run plays in overtime, controlling the ball until he had the play he wanted.
THEY CALL ME JOEROB: Joe Robinson had been persona non grata since the Vanderbilt game, rumored to be keeping his stuff in a cardboard box just in case another kickoff got run back. On Saturday, he was getting everybody’s desserts from the post-game box lunch passed to him on the team plane. The squib kicks to keep away from Andre Debose mostly worked. The Gamecocks blocked a field goal and a punt when they absolutely had to. Special teams can win a game. Who knew?
TFL: Tools For Loki? Toddle Foot Loose? Things Feel Low? No, it’s “Tackles For Loss.” USC nearly had as much against Florida (six) as it had in its last two games (seven).
BEASTLY: I think it was the play where Mike Davis got his helmet ripped off that really changed his game. He was once again banged-up, leaving the field, not finishing runs and then that happened and it seemed to channel his hometown, Atlanta, a city not known for taking crap from anybody. From then on, it was “Bring it.” He dared Florida to stop him and still kept coming.
PEOPLE OF THE SUN: Perhaps the good fortune of the last three years is comin’ back around again. That fumbled option was Pinnocked all the way but somehow it sat there on the open field, blap, where only Davis could jump on it. USC’s special teams actually made plays. Brison Williams forced and Jordan Diggs recovered a fumble the possession after Shaq Roland put it on the ground. The Gators’ game-clinching touchdown run was called back. The Gamecocks’ defense bent but didn’t quite break. Maybe it will never replicate the last three years, where USC waited for the break to come because it knew it would, but after a season where this team was allergic to lucky bounces, Saturday was welcomed.
NASHVILLE?: The season went from hoping to be bowl-eligible to looking pretty solid for seven wins and perhaps a holiday week wearing cowboy boots and trying open-mic night. South Alabama’s got to be a win and have you seen Clemson’s quarterback situation? Think “DeMasi.”
AND SUDDENLY: Despite the three inexcusable losses, despite the horrendous defense, despite all of it the season feels good now. One 4-yard run didn’t erase any of the previous stink but it sure made everyone feel a lot better while suffering. Three more wins are possible and while that is pale when compared to preseason projections, “just going to a bowl game” should never be chastised considering this program’s overall history. I now know how Bill Clinton felt during the 1992 presidential run, when despite all of the dirt, he still was judged an OK guy.
KEEP ROLLIN,’ ROLLIN,’ ROLLIN’: What was going on at center? Clayton Stadnik and Alan Knott each had their adventures skipping the ball to Thompson’s feet, helmet, butt, knees and elbows instead of his hands. Stadnik had a high snap on USC’s third possession and it was like a light switch – the Gamecocks couldn’t do anything offensively after that and Florida tied the game by halftime. Knott snapped a Derek Jeter grounder to Thompson on the game-tying touchdown run, a play that could have been disastrous had Thompson not been able to pick it up. Both those guys are capable of playing the spot and playing it well, which is why they’ve rotated this year. But they each have to be more consistent in placing the ball on Thompson’s navel, every time.
SHAQ LOW-LAND: Yikes, did Shaq Roland have an awful day. It’s the story of his career, really – the mind-bending talent is always trumped because he won’t get out of his own way. Thompson nailed him with a perfect pass and the chance to break a long run was right there, but Roland hesitated. He looked at the defender closest to him before he started running, and then when he did cut to the middle of the field, he didn’t lock the ball in and fumbled. That could be somewhat excused because USC got the ball back a few plays later. But then I’m still trying to figure out what exactly Roland was trying to do on an option pitch to Brandon Wilds on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter. You can say what you want (and you’d be right) about calling an option pitch to Vernon Hargreaves’ side, but it was 2 yards and had Roland done anything to block Hargreaves, it would have worked. Forearm his chest. “Accidentally” trip and roll into his legs. Do anything to put a body on Hargreaves instead of the timid effort Roland actually did do, which allowed him to not only tackle Wilds short, but blast him in the knees for what looked like a very bad injury at the time. Roland was rightfully hammered on the sideline for that and who knows how far in the doghouse he is. There’s no question he has the talent to play on Sundays, but goodness, is it frustrating trying to get him to display it.
STRIPES: Two plays. Anderson had a completion broken up because he was knocked in the back. Chris Lammons was judged to have pass-interfered only because the crowd hollered for it. The officials are supposed to police the game, not take it over.
THE LITTLE THINGS: The bad snaps. Standing around and watching as a fumbled ball spun in the middle of the field. Those are things that lose ballgames. USC didn’t lose this one because of them, but that doesn’t mean the next game will be as kind.
GOT TO BE THAT GUY: This comeback was more glorious and more improbable than “The Miracle at Mizzou” last year. But man it is face-palm frustrating, even angry, to look back at the Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee games and realize what USC gave away. Win those and it’s a two-loss season with the SEC East championship (I still think Auburn would have won that game). Get one of the defensive stops from the Florida game. Get one big play off a busted play from the Florida game. Get one more sideline decision to run the ball from the Florida game. Put any one of them in those other three fourth quarters and this season is right where it was expected to be. The year certainly seems as if it will turn out OK, and again, a bowl season at USC should never, ever be scoffed at when it was a futile dream for so long. But man.
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