After two weeks of less-than-flattering reviews, South Carolina’s offensive line responded without saying word Saturday.
“I am just so proud of everybody and the offensive line and how everybody just really stepped up,” said Hutch Eckerson, who returned after missing two games with an ankle injury and started at right tackle. “We really deserve this.”
South Carolina’s offensive line cleared the way for Marcus Lattimore to gain 93 yards on the ground and allowed quarterback Stephen Garcia to be sacked just once in a 35-21 victory over No. 1 Alabama.
“The offensive line, that was the best game they’ve played since I’ve been here,” said Garcia, who took advantage of the line’s protection to complete 17-of-20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
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Head coach Steve Spurrier, the line’s harshest critic after a loss to Auburn, said, “Our guys blocked super.”
Spurrier was particularly impressed that his line cleared the way for the Gamecocks to run the ball into the end zone on two first-and-goal situations in the second half. Alabama had allowed just one rushing touchdown in the red zone in the previous four games.
“That was something we couldn’t do since I’ve been here to run the ball in the end zone in three plays against Alabama,” Spurrier said.
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott watches the offensive line on goal line plays and has the opportunity to ask Spurrier to change the play if he doesn’t like what he sees, Spurrier said.
“Coach Elliott had confidence in those guys,” Spurrier said. “He said, ‘Run it.’”
When the victory was sealed, no one of the Gamecocks’ sideline was happier than Elliott, who jumped onto the team bench and gestured for an already raucous crowd to get louder.
Elliott “just said what he always does, stay positive,” Eckerson said. “We really played four quarters tonight, and that was the key to our success.”
SECOND PLACE ALL ALONE
The victory was Spurrier’s 107th SEC win, moving him into sole possession of second place in that category behind former Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who won 159 SEC games.
“It was sort of neat to get it against Alabama,” said Spurrier, who said none of his players were aware of the record when he mentioned it after the game.
The only blemish for Garcia was a safety to start the second half. After T.J. Johnson’s snap went over Garcia’s head, the quarterback turned, chased down the ball and tossed it out of bounds for a safety. It appeared Garcia had time to salvage at least an incompletion out of the play, but he said afterward that he was concerned he was going to be tackled immediately.
“That was one crazy play,” Spurrier said. “He said he thought he had a guy right on his back. I said, ‘Well Stephen, it’s a safety either way.’”
Garcia blamed himself for not catching the high snap and joked about the play after the game.
“They said that was my first incompletion of the game,” he said. “I think I hit the goalpost.”
Freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore, who gained 93 yards on 23 carries, almost didn’t finish the game. Lattimore suffered numbness in his left hand after hitting his elbow, Spurrier said.
“At one time, the trainer said he was out,” Spurrier said. “He was OK moments later.”
Spurrier speculated that Lattimore simply hit his funny bone.
South Carolina sacked Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy seven times on Saturday and many of those came when McElroy had plenty of time but could not find an open receiver downfield.
“I tell you now, we had some great coverage down the field several times,” South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. “He stood back there like he was eating a sandwich and couldn’t find anything.”
... Garcia’s grandfather Augie Garcia, who is in a nursing home in Tampa, Fla., turned 84 on Saturday, and the quarterback told his grandfather he would win the game for him.
South Carolina observed a moment of silence before the game in honor of former wide receiver Kenny McKinley, who died three weeks ago in Colorado.
The Gamecocks are the second team known to have beaten the nation’s No. 1 team in football, men’s basketball and baseball in one calendar year. The only other one was Florida in 2007.