South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper first got the sense something might be wrong as he swooped down the sideline, in the clear for a 94-yard game-winning score, and no teammates joined to celebrate. Quarterback Perry Orth said he heard a whistle on fourth down with less than a minute to go, but just kept on playing.
The crowd noise rose and suddenly died when the video board locked in on the yellow flag, the Gamecocks’ miracle play wiped out before it even began.
“I saw the throw, I saw the catch, I saw the run for a touchdown,” Gamecocks interim coach Shawn Elliott said. “I didn’t even know they threw a flag until somebody came and grabbed my shoulder.”
The play was undone by a slot receiver adjusting his footing just before the snap. The officials called an illegal shift, saying not all the players were set, and like that, the Gamecocks’ miraculous life-preserver was gone.
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It let slip a game where the team got more than the usual production from its top pass-catchers. Even without the late catch, Cooper still had 191 receiving yards and tight end Jerell Adams posted career highs with six receptions and 105 yards.
The Gamecocks came into Saturday with a patchwork offensive front, and it showed in the production. True freshman Blake Camper was playing right tackle for the injured Mason Zandi, and senior guard Mike Matulis was injured (coaches declined to say how), leaving true freshman Zack Bailey to fill in.
The Gamecocks averaged only 2.9 yards per carry, and that number was not deflated by any sacks. Third and fourth downs stood out the most, as the Gamecocks converted 3 of 7 with three or fewer yards to go.
“The bottom line is we didn’t get them blocked,” said Elliott, the offensive line coach before Steve Spurrier left.
Coaching search gameplan
Gamecocks athletics director Ray Tanner spoke with SEC Network analyst Paul Finebaum before Saturday’s game on the television broadcast, updating the coaching search process. At the time before the game, Tanner said he is looking for specific qualities and Elliott was still a candidate for the job. He also laid out a timeline.
“The search is going really well,” Tanner said. “Hopefully, we’ll be somewhere to settle it in early December, ideally, because (that’s) two months before the signing day. So, hopefully we’ll land in early December.”
As he basked in the victory, The Citadel coach Mike Houston had a small bone to pick. A year ago, as his team prepared to face Florida State, Finebaum boldly declared the Seminoles would have been better off scheduling a high school team.
Houston admitted the comment “pissed” him off. But pulling off an SEC upset, and therefore all but clinching an FCS playoff spot, brought it up. Finebaum happened to be the sideline reporter for the day, and Houston said they had a talk before the game.
Reserve quarterback Lorenzo Nunez didn’t dress Saturday. Elliott said it was becuase of a lingering shoulder injury.
Cooper said he suffered a minor foot injury early in the game, but played through. Wide receiver Terry Googer had a concussion, the team announced after the game.