THE GARNET ROAD
Any Gamecock fan will tell you that 2010 was the most victorious athletic year in the history of USC, especially for football. From the outside, this may be a little confusing, considering the Gamecocks came out of both post-season games empty handed, and they were not able to get the rare 10th win for the season. To fully grasp the overall significance of what may seem like just an above-average season, one must fully understand the plight through which Gamecock Nation has long persevered.
Editor’s Note: Laurie is a South Carolina photographer and took every picture in this article. They are from her collection of favorite photos during the 2010 season. Click on any image to enlarge. We hope you enjoy!
THE CHICKEN CURSE
You see, about 150 years ago, two very evil men, by the names of Ben Tillman and Thomas Greene Clemson wanted the state of South Carolina to create a land grant institution (Clemson University) for the state’s poor farmers. The affluent people from Columbia and Charleston, who largely made up made up the State Legislature, did everything in their power to stop that from happening (with good reason), and it was initially denied. Frustrated over the Legislature’s snub, Tillman slammed a pitchfork into the ground of the University of South Carolina’s flagship campus and declared them forever “cursed.” The Curse said that any team that calls itself a Gamecock will be doomed to a life of athletic mediocrity. Year after year, the students, administrators, and fans of the University were plagued with severe heartache and disappointment over the shortcomings and misfortune of their athletic teams.
Gamecock Nation knew that claiming an ACC Championship in 1969 was not evidence that the curse had been lifted, for two reasons. The first is that they knew being the best team in a mediocre conference is not proof that the team has surpassed mediocrity. The second is that the Gamecocks followed up their conference championship victory with a 14-3 loss to West Virginia in the 1969 Peach Bowl.
The most famous of Carolina’s cursed moments came in 1984. The Gamecocks started off the season 9-0 and were ranked #2 in the country. As they traveled up to Annapolis to take on the Naval Academy, the Gamecocks heard the news that #1 ranked Nebraska had fallen, and the Gamecocks were one easy, out-of-conference game away from being #1, and securing a spot in the National Championship Game. Nothing could go wrong…except for the Chicken Curse. Navy beat South Carolina 38-21 in what is still one of the biggest upsets in College Football history.
Gamecock Nation, determined to overcome the debilitating curse, decided they were ready to start building an empire from the ground up. They knew in order to be the best, the Gamecocks would have to play with the best, every week, every season. So in 1992, after 20 years of being a major Independent team, the University of South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference.
Before the season opener against Georgia in 1992, a group of fans who were fed up with the disappointment and heartache that plagued the University for over a century, brought in a bona fide witch doctor to perform an exorcism outside the stadium. Unfortunately, the exorcism only angered the Chicken Curse, and the Gamecocks lost to Georgia that day 28-6.
The USC Athletic Department realized they would need something much stronger than a witch doctor, or a magic spell. After the 2004 season, which ended with a 45 minute brawl during the Clemson vs Carolina game, South Carolina brought in the Ol’ Ball Coach.
This Ol’ Ball Coach, who was arguably the most hated coach of all time, had balls, was very smart, and had deep, devoted love for the game. He was exactly what USC needed to rid themselves of their curse, and lead them to a championship that had been long awaited.
TIMEOUT: SPURRIER’S DECISION
Last year, when I was in Birmingham covering the Papa John’s Bowl, Steve Spurrier’s wife Jerri Spurrier gave me a ride to see the team practice. While we were attempting to navigate around Birmingham in the pouring rain, Jerri asked me why I chose to go to school at USC. I told her that during my visit, the tour guide walked us across Assembly Street from the visitor center. He pointed to Williams-Brice Stadium and said “until last year, the football team was 0-21, but every single home game was sold out”, and at that moment, I was sold on USC. Jerri’s eyes got a little watery as she smiled at me and said “that is exactly why Steve took the job”.
During Spurrier’s first season as the head coach at USC, a tiny, old, evil, gremlin that nobody likes (aka Lee Corso) had proclaimed on national television, on ESPN’s College Gameday, that Steve Spurrier would never win a title at South Carolina, even if he coached there for 400 years. Corso explained that it was because the Ol’ Ball Coach would never be able to recruit to USC, players that were good enough to beat Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, or Clemson. This angered Gamecock nation very much, and the Ol’ Ball Coach wanted to turn the Gremlin’s slanderous comments into motivation. For a few years, the Ol’ Ball Coach used a video of the gremlin’s proclamation to pump up his team before game, and they would show it on the Jumbotron before home games to pump up the fans. Over the next 5 years, the Gamecocks beat each of the teams that gremlin mentioned, at least once, but they were never able to beat them all in the same season.
After 5 years of mediocrity, The Ol’ Ball Coach realized that the curse was too strong to overcome on his own. He was going to need some help. Luckily, The OBC heard that there was a great and powerful wizard, who had taken his legendary team to Omaha, NE, and they were one game away from finally burying the Chicken Curse.
The Ol’ Ball Coach travelled out to Omaha, and made sure that he had the best seat in the house for the Chicken Curse’s funeral. The wizard, also known as Ray Tanner, courageously led his baseball team to an extra-inning victory against UCLA, in the final game of the College World Series, and claimed the first National Title for the University of South Carolina. After two long centuries of heartache, the Chicken Curse was finally dead, and for the Ol’ Ball Coach, that meant the winds were a changin’.
2010 – A SEASON OF FIRSTS
When all of Gamecock Nation awoke on the morning of September 2, 2010, the first gameday of the season, they found themselves in a much more colorful world, a world where anything was possible. It was going to be a long and difficult journey, but they were much more hopeful now than they had ever been in the past.
2010 was a season of “firsts” for South Carolina Football, and it was my first season on the field with the Gamecocks.
The season started off explosively. Before the season opener against Southern Mississippi, the last time Gamecocks fans saw the boys take the field, veteran QB Stephen Garcia led his team to a cold, embarrassing defeat against UCONN in the Papa John’s Bowl. Regardless, the Carolina faithful showed up in mass numbers and with high expectations, like they were the defending National Champions. Fortunately, so did the team. The Gamecocks put up an unusually high 41 points against Southern Mississippi. It was impossible not to get excited about the new star running back, Marcus Lattimore, who ran in 2 TDs, and right over everybody’s expectations
One week later, the Gamecocks turned the heads of even the most skeptical critics with their painless and decisive victory over Georgia. The Ol’ Ball Coach had scrapped his typical pass attack, and built a very successful and explosive run game. The Bulldogs never saw it coming. Marcus Lattimore, in what was only his second college football game ever, had 37 carries for 182 yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns, the second of which was a 2-yarder that he ran in while carrying three defenders on his back. The Gamecocks outgained the Bulldogs by 100 yards, and Georgia was not even able to score a touchdown.
October 9, 2010 – Alabama @ South Carolina
Before this day, I just thought that I did not believe in fate. As it turns out, I had just never experienced it. When the Gamecocks returned to Columbia to begin preparing for their battle against Alabama, the Ol’ Ball Coach declared to his team that a victory over the #1 ranked Crimson Tide was their fate, and all they had to do was believe it. I know what you are thinking, that this was just a ploy to invoke the motivation to overcome the disappointing loss at Auburn. It wasn’t. It was fate, and the evidence was insurmountable:
- Last February, the men’s basketball team upset the #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats, in front of a sold out crowd in Columbia. In June, the baseball team swept #1 ranked Arizona State during the College World Series in Omaha, and went on to win USC’s first National Championship in a major sport. By taking down #1 Alabama, the Gamecock football team would complete a historic trifecta of presence.
- The Gamecocks would get to fight this significant battle in their own house and with the support of 80,000+ Garnet-wearing, Cock-yelling, faithful fans.
- The Gamecocks had never beaten a #1 team in football, let alone a defending national champion.
- South Carolina had an unusually early bye week, which gave them an extra week to prepare.
- This game would honor beloved former teammate Kenny McKinley
- The loss to Auburn knocked the Gamecocks down to #19, and a loss in Columbia would end Alabama’s winning streak at 19.
- Most of South Carolina’s 2011 recruiting prospects (including Jadeveon Clowney and the New Jersey gems) were going to be in attendance at the game.
- Earlier in the week, ESPN College Gameday announced that they would be coming to Columbia for the big game, and since the SC State Fair had already begun to set up in the fairgrounds, ESPN was forced to broadcast live from the historic USC Horseshoe, the heart and soul of the campus, and the most beautiful space in the city of Columbia.
- Official Gamecock nemesis Lee Corso (who probably only survived that afternoon because Coach Spurrier begged Gamecock Nation to stay classy) picked Alabama to win.
It was a truly amazing day from beginning to end. Garcia, who is constantly under scrutiny, was once again blamed for the heartbreaking loss to Auburn two weeks earlier. During Garcia’s previous 3 years with the Gamecocks, many people accused him of not caring enough. I never really believed that. I saw Garcia crying during the post game presser at the Papa John’s Bowl, and that is when I realized that he does care a great deal, he probably just hides it as much as he can because the media is vicious and they really love to tear him apart. Spurrier has always seen something special in his veteran QB, and has really taken Stephen under his wing, so I was not surprised that despite how many fans felt, Stephen would lead his team into this battle. Any trace of doubt in my mind went away as soon as I saw this reaction from Garcia after Marcus Lattimore caught his 9-yard TD pass, giving South Carolina an early 3-point lead. After that, Garcia played a nearly perfect game (except for a strange safety which was actually pretty funny in hindsight) and many journalists were forced to retract the statements they had made after the loss to Auburn.
The atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium that day was almost indescribable. A few weeks later when I met Damiere Byrd, a 2011 WR recruit from New Jersey, at his commitment announcement, he described that atmosphere as “electric”. Although it is definitely an understatement, there is just no other word for it. This was the first time I really understood how powerful the fans are, and how much impact the atmosphere has on every game. It was also the first time I had really seen the solidarity of this team, something I felt was missing in previous years. The moments in between plays, filled with small celebrations and gestures of camaraderie, were the moments that turned this bunch of talented guys into a team, and everything else just fell into place.
My favorite moment of this game was the first few seconds of the 4th. The 2001 Space Odysee was played for a second time that day in Williams-Brice Stadium. If you think you get goose bumps when the team runs on to the field to 2001 before the game, you should hear when the Gamecocks are up 28-14, and they are 15 minutes away from beating the #1 team in the country for the first time in school history. I warn you, just like being a Gamecock fan, it is not for the weak at heart. 2001 was followed up with Sandstorm, and topped off with Dynamite. The fans, the players, media, and all of the useless extra people who are on the field every week for no apparent reason, were dancing and celebrating. I have never shared such an electric and passionate experience with 100,000 other people before. It was magnificent. Moments later, the music had ceased but the 100,000 people remained on their feet and only got louder. Then, with the first snap of the 4th quarter, McElroy completed a 51-yard TD pass to Darius Hanks. For one tiny fraction of a second, everything stopped. The Gamecocks on the sideline next to me fell silent, but just long enough for Offensive Line Coach Shawn Elliott to leap in front of his guys, throw his arms in the air, arch his back, and let out what can only be described as a ferocious ROAR, which snapped the team back into action, and all seemed right in the world again. Everything after that is history.
In the locker room after the game, Coach Spurrier was so proud of himself that he told the guys he was giving the game ball to himself. One of the guys suggested that they give the ball to fate, so The Ol’ Ball Coach laughed and explained to his team that he would be accepting it on behalf of fate.
Telling his team that the victory was their fate was a risky proclamation, but it was genius. That day, Spurrier made his team believe in fate, believe in their coaches, and most importantly, he made them believe in themselves. The critics said Coach Spurrier no longer had it in him, and he would have to hire some brains before he could outsmart a Nick Saban, and take down a #1. But in the end, it turned out that Spurrier had the brains all along.
October 30, 2010 – Tennessee @ South Carolina
After an extremely heartbreaking trap game against Kentucky, followed by a quick and easy recovery on the road against Vandy, the Gamecocks returned home to take on the Volunteers. The last time these teams met was Halloween 2009. The Vols were wearing “surprise” black jerseys, which is not one of their colors, and they were led by a loud mouth jackass with criminal tendencies, otherwise known as Lane Kiffin. That was not a good night for the Gamecocks. It was cold, rainy, and they lost 31-13, causing Florida to clinch the division.
This year was a completely different story. I would just like to say that I love living in a world where Lane Kiffin is 3,000 miles away, and South Carolina opens as a 21-point favorite over Tennessee. I’m just saying. Anyway, the Vols, looking for their first conference win of the season, brought their ‘A’ game, and the Gamecocks had a bit of a slow start. In the opening drive, Garcia threw an interception in the end zone, and the Vols scored first with a field goal. Tied at 3 in the 2nd, the defense stepped up in the red zone and stopped Tennessee from scoring the first TD, thanks to a pair of Sacks from Cliff Matthews, the second of which forced a fumble.
Coming out of halftime, the game was tied at 10. Antonio Allen sacked Tyler Bray and forced a fumble that was recovered by DE Devin Taylor, which the Gamecocks turned into 7 points. Tyler Bray took two snaps before giving it right back to Devin Taylor, who intercepted and ran it back 24 yards for another touchdown.
Tennessee just refused to give up. They tied it up again at the beginning of the 4th, but Garcia wouldn’t give up either. In my favorite play of the game, Garcia tossed it up the middle to Alshon Jeffrey, who turned around and took off, ran right through all of the defenders, and 70-yards, and right into the end zone. “Game speed” is what Alshon calls “the ability to break away from defenders even if you’re not that quick”. He says he works on it all the time and, it has definitely paid off when the Gamecocks need him the most. The final nail in the coffin came from Stephen Garcia, after a 40-yard run from Marcus Lattimore, who ended up with 184 yards for the day. Gamecocks roll…
WRITING THE BOOKS
November 14, 2010 – South Carolina @ Florida
This battle had been fought many times, but never had the stakes been so high, or the environment so hostile. To the victor of this battle would go the SEC East Crown, an honor that had never been bestowed upon the Gamecocks, and for many years been monopolized by the Florida Gators, the wicked witch of the east.
The Ol’ Ball Coach knows more than anybody that familiarity breeds contempt. All of the attention is always on Spurrier whenever he returns to his alma mater, where he was a two-time All American QB, won a Heisman, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player, then came back to win six SEC Championships and a National Championship as a coach. Although Spurrier always urges fans and the media to focus on the team, and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, it is hard not to wonder how it must feel for him to have never been able to come back and win at Florida since he took over at South Carolina. It wasn’t just Spurrier though, the Gamecocks had never been able to pull off a win in Gainesville. In 2005, Spurrier led them to their only win against the Gators since joining the SEC in 1992.
This was my first time at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, but I had always heard that it had one of the most intimidating atmospheres in the country, and that it was.
The stadium was originally built on a shallow sinkhole, so the actual playing field is below ground level. Over the years, many expansions of the stadium have made it enclosed on all sides by very steep stands, like a large canyon, and the fans on the bottom level are very close to the action. During day games, the field level of the stadium has been known to reach temperatures of over 105 degrees.
While he was the head coach at UF, Spurrier had unofficially renamed it “The Swamp” because ” a swamp is where Gators live. We feel comfortable there, but we hope our opponents feel tentative. A swamp is hot and sticky and can be dangerous. Only Gators get out alive.”
It definitely wasn’t just inside the stadium. Florida has one of the best fan bases in the country as well, they travel very well, and they throw one hell of a party every Saturday in the fall. I always had a great time with Florida fans when they visited Columbia, but it was probably because they always knew they were going to win, so it was easy for them to be nice. This time was different however; the Florida fans were extremely hostile and unwelcoming.
The Gators were on a roll, after an overtime victory against Georgia, and then a dominating 55-14 victory over Vandy, a team that the Gamecocks struggled with earlier in the season. Although they had momentum, they were favored, and they certainly had history on their side, the evidence of their fear was mounting. Not only were the fans excessively hostile, and Urban Meyer had to make a statement urging fans to wear all blue to the game for extra intimidation, but the UF media relations department played every dirty trick in the book to keep South Carolina media representation to an absolute minimum.
After a very exciting mind game with the media relations department, I entered The Swamp for the first time. The architecture definitely made it intimidating, but the fans, who have sold out every game since 1979, made it loud and hostile. Standing on the field was like standing on a busy airport runway because of the constant buzz in your ears. For decades, teams have unsuccessfully attempted to win in the swamp by “taking out the crowd”, the factor that gives the Gators such a dominating home field advantage. However, Spurrier found another way to use his home field to his own advantage.
The Gamecocks won the toss, and chose to defer because the defense supposedly said they wanted to get on the field first. However, that did not happen because Jay Wooten’s 69 yard kickoff was returned by Andre Debose for a 99 yard TD. I was standing next to the team, and I saw the reactions of Spurrier’s are coaching staff. They showed no signs of worry or disappointment. I have also watched the replay at least 100 times, and it seemed like nobody even tried to stop Debose with any real effort. Although this may seem far-fetched to some, my strong belief that the kickoff return for a TD was part of Spurrier’s plan.
For the Gamecocks, getting any victory on the road was a struggle, and up to this point, getting a victory on the road at Florida was impossible. Coming off of a horrible Homecoming beatdown by Arkansas, during which they were abandoned by 90% of their fans after halftime, the Gamecocks needed a little support and encouragement, and whether the Gators were winning or losing, the Gator fans were not leaving this game early, So instead of trying to eliminate the crowd, Spurrier reeled them right in. Scoring on the opening kickoff not only made the crowd deafening, it gave Florida fans the little bit of hope they needed to stay loud the entire game, even though the Gators were completely dominated from that point forward. A loud stadium is a loud stadium regardless of what color the fan are wearing. All the Gamecocks had to do to feel at home is not look up.
After Stephen Garcia pushed the game out of reach for the Gators early in the 4th, with an 8-yard rush for a TD, the Gamecocks began their celebrations on the sidelines, which were playfully disorganized. There was a lot of hugging, fist bumping, and even some tears, not just among the team and coaches, but among the South Carolina media as well. One of my favorite moments was Tori Gurley snatching a camera out of the hands of a USC photographer and saying that he wanted to take some pictures of us this time. Spurrier admitted later that since the Gamecocks were not used to winning championships, he had to coach them a little on the Gatorade bath procedure, but with that, the Gamecocks had their first win in the Swamp, and their first SEC East Division Title.
Later, Spurrier corrected the statement he made back in the 90’s and said “sometimes Gamecocks get out alive.” Before the time ran out and the media circus began, I looked up and saw Coach Spurrier standing there, drenched in Gatorade, looking up at his name on the top tier of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and I have never seen him look so proud. After the game in the locker room, Spurrier congratulated his team on not doing anything stupid and said “big time players make big time plays in big time games”.
Click Clack, the wicked witch of the East at last was dead. The team returned to Columbia where they were met by thousands of fans at Williams-Brice Stadium at 2:00 am to celebrate the new “Beast of the East”.
Many critics said Spurrier no longer had the balls to come back to his former home, where he will always be a legend, and pull off a win with the Gamecocks. But in the end, it turned out that he had the courage all along.
THAT GARNET SWAGG
November 20, 2010 – Troy @ South Carolina
Many people were actually worried about this game. I think some articles I had read actually used the phrase “upset watch”. The Gamecocks had proven that they could win on the road when it really mattered, but they still hadn’t convinced everybody that they were able to handle success, especially when this game was for the most part, meaningless.
This was hands-down my favorite game of the season. It was senior day, it was fun, it was emotional, almost the entire team got to play, it was just perfect.
Until I was reviewing my photos after the game, I did not even realize that the stadium had become almost empty after halftime. This time, it didn’t matter. The team was playing for their families, their coaches, themselves, and each other.
There was nothing not to love about this game. Marcus Lattimore reached 1,000 rushing yards for the season, Alshon Jeffery reached 1,000 receiving yards for the season, D.J. Swearinger and Chaz Sutton both had a pick-6, and the Gamecocks scored the most points ever under Coach Spurrier, before halftime.
In the second half, most of the guys that don’t get to play all year, got to show off some moves. True Freshman QB Connor Shaw got to play almost the entire second half, giving fans a good preview for next year. Seth Strickland, a great walk-on QB from Laurens, SC, threw an outstanding 15 yard pass to Ace Sanders for the last TD of the game, and Jay Wooten got to kick the extra point. It was as much fun to watch the 2nd and 3rd string guys play, as it was to watch the starters cheering them on. They all congratulated each other after every play, and many of them got really emotional by the end of the game. Senior day could not have gone better.
My favorite part of the day, and one of my favorite moments of the season, was during the post game press conference. One of the older writers pointed out to Stephen Garcia how South Carolina has had a history of not handling success well, and since the Gamecocks were able to win a big game in Gainesville, and then come back to Columbia and win an even bigger one, he asked Stephen what was different this time. Now, the media like to hound Stephen regardless of whether they won or lost, so I have no doubt that this writer was looking for an answer describing something the team did differently in practice to prepare for the game, or some inspirational speech that one of the coaches gave them. Instead, Stephen just smiled and said “we got our swagg back”. The room, which was completely filled with middle-aged male journalists got completely silent. The same writer tried to get him to elaborate and he said “no, we just got our swagg back” and then laughed. Next, D.J. Swearinger came in to the presser to talk about his defensive TD. The same writer asked D.J. about the swagg that Stephen mentioned, and then asked him to elaborate, clearly hoping for a better answer. D.J. said they called it “Goon Squad”, it was their swagg, and they had lost it for a minute, but they finally got it back. The writers were not happy with either of their answers, but I honestly don’t think they could have answered the question any better. I could not have been happier to hear that the Goon Squad was back, and I hoped it was back for good.
Many critics had said that Steve Spurrier didn’t have the heart to coach the Gamecocks, and that he would never really care about them as much as he cared about the Gators. On the way into the locker room at halftime, Spurrier got a little emotional when he told the media “we have never had a game like this before”. I have never seen Spurrier smile so much, or give so many fist bumps. He could have easily kept the starters in the game and scored 100 points, but he chose to reward the guys by letting everybody get some time on the field. So, in the end, it turned out that he had the heart all along.
November 27, 2010 – South Carolina @ Clemson
Ah, Rivalry Week, always a good time. I don’t think too many people were particularly worried that USC would lose this game, but stranger things have happened, and Clemson was certainly seeking revenge after they were blown out in Columbia before their conference title game in 2009. South Carolina had not had back-to-back victories over Clemson since 1970, which some writer pointed out to Stephen Garcia during the post game presser after Troy.
TIMEOUT: THE ELEVATOR INCIDENT
I wish I could have been at Williams-Brice Stadium on Thanksgiving Day when 17 Gamecocks got trapped in one of the stadium elevators for 2 hours. I am not sure what part of cramming 17 200+ lb football players into an elevator sounded like a good idea, but it turned out to be a good team-building exercise, maybe one that Spurrier should include in his practice schedule for next year. The 17 trapped players said although they were starting to get a little worried by the time they were rescued, they actually had fun bonding with their teammates. In an interview later, Tori Gurley said that he learned a few new things about each of his teammates in the elevator, and when they were finally rescued, they were very happy to see the rest of the team standing outside of the elevator cheering for them. They said the whole experienced proved what they already knew, that this was the closest team they had ever seen at USC, which has most likely contributed a great deal to their unprecedented success.
After the team’s bus was welcomed outside the stadium by their faithful following, I decided to go into the stadium early and watch them start to get loose on the field. It was great to see some of the guys go up to the top of the hill and touch Clemson’s beloved “Howard’s Rock”, while it was supposedly being guarded by the Clemson Army ROTC. In 1992, a few Gamecock fans broke into Memorial Stadium with plans to steal the rock. They were unsuccessful in removing it from its pedestal, but they did manage to damage part of it. Since then, the Clemson Army ROTC has been given the responsibility of guarding the rock with a steady drum cadence, for the 24 hours prior to the start of the Palmetto Bowl every year. The Gamecocks seemed to not be frightened at all by the drum beat, those brave soldiers.
Anyway, since this was just the last stop on the way to Atlanta, this game was all business. The game started off just like the Florida game, with Clemson scoring on the opening drive, but then on Carolina’s first 4th down, Clemson, being the intelligent and classy bunch of guys that they are, got a really stupid unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, gave the Gamecocks a free first down, and that was pretty much the end of Clemson’s chances to win the game. Overall, the Gamecocks played a great game, with standout performances from TE Patrick DiMarco and Justice Cunningham, FG Kicker Spencer Lanning, and Safety Antonio Allen with a 37 yard interception return for a TD. In 2009, the Gamecocks held Clemson’s Heisman hopeful RB, C.J. Spiller, to just 18 yards, which must’ve been the reason that Clemson’s defense spent all of their practice time finding a way to stop Marcus Lattimore in 2010. Maybe they should have moved on to other skills, because although the Tigers were able to stop the run, the defense was completely dismantled by Stephen Garcia and Alshon Jeffrey.
After their 29-7 victory, Gamecock fans stormed the field. Over the past year, South Carolina has been screwing Clemson over at every chance they get, starting with the 2009 Palmetto Bowl in Columbia, and the most recent being Jadeveon Clowney choosing USC over Clemson. Maybe the Chicken Curse is not dead, maybe it just lives in that rock now.
WHO SAYS WE CAN’T GO DOME??
December 4, 2010 – SEC Championship Game – Atlanta, GA
It was the Gamecocks’ first appearance in the Dome for the SECCG, and it was much anticipated. USC was playing for their first SEC Title in school history, but Auburn was playing for much more. In hindsight, there was no way Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers were going to lose this game, and give up their chance to play for the National Championship. It seemed like the Gamecocks were going to be able to keep it a close game. They answered Auburn’s first TD with a TD on their next possession. Late in the 2nd, the Gamecocks were down 21-7, and they knew they had to score again before halftime to stay in the game. Using five different receivers , the Gamecocks had an 80-yard drive that resulted in an Alshon Jeffery TD to cut their deficit to 7 with 12 seconds left in the half. I had already started walking towards the tunnel for halftime when it happened. Cam Newton’s 51-yard Hail Mary pass was caught by Darvin Adams for a TD. Everything was downhill from that point forward. I will never forget this look on Coach Beamer’s face, and I can’t even imagine what was said in the locker room during halftime. I have heard many analysts say there is no such thing as momentum, that after you do something good, you just have to get back out there and do it again. I don’t believe that. I think a downward momentum can be stronger than human will, like quick sand.
For me, it was the first time I realized that some battles can’t be won just with positive thinking and sheer force of will. I had been saying the whole week that this battle would be won by the team that wanted it the most, and maybe that is still true. Maybe the Tigers did want it more since they knew it would lead them to so much more, but something tells me that Auburn just had the better team in 2010, and it was just their fate to be National Champions. Either way, it was a great experience, and I don’t think any of the Gamecocks regret being part of it.
This was also the first time I had to do locker room interviews after the game. I felt terrible asking any of them questions about such a huge loss, so I tried to give my questions a positive spin. I asked Patrick DiMarco, Spencer Lanning, and Stephen Garcia the same initial question, “is there anything positive you guys can take from this game?” Patrick and Spencer both had great answers about going over the mistakes they made, and hopefully learning from them in preparation for a bowl game. Stephen Garcia’s response was “No. Just no.”
BOWL GAME RICOCKULOUSNESS
December 31, 2010 – Chick-Fil-A Bowl – Atlanta, GA
This was the first time the Gamecocks played in the Bowl formerly known as the Peach Bowl, since 1969 when South Carolina won its first and only Conference Championship, in the ACC. Compared to the Papa John’s Bowl, this was like a trip to paradise. Bowl games are always fun because fans get to see the guys just be human for a few days, and it is just a very chill environment. Players, coaches, families and media were treated like royalty all week, and everybody had a great time. Chick-Fil-A did a fantastic job with this bowl. Everything was organized down to the second, the activities were fun and entertaining, they had amazing players’ lounges and media suites, and the best part was everything was catered with Chick-Fil-A. We even got to try the Spicy Chicken Biscuit before it was officially released, which by the way is amazing.
The game itself was not at all representative of the season, although it did slightly resemble the Kentucky game. Florida State knew just how to beat the Gamecocks, they took out Marcus Lattimore. From that point on, it was all defense for the Gamecocks. They were outstanding.
Probably my favorite photo all season, that is CB Brandan Davis and Special Teams Coach Shane Beamer with a mini celebration of awesomeness, after Brandan and Quin Smith forced a FSU fumble on a kickoff return.
This was the best pass defense the Gamecocks played all season. Unfortunately, it was probably the worst offense they played all season. The Gamecocks had 5 turnovers, and it cost them the game.
In the long run, losing the game did not matter all that much for the future of the team. The unfortunate side effect to losing this game is that analysts are now ranking FSU annoyingly high, and think they actually have a shot at a National Title.
In the post game press conference, Spurrier was asked if the team would be even better next year, and Spurrier said to ask him again in February. Well, it is now February, and Spurrier got all but one recruit they wanted, including Jadeveon Clowney.
This was the best year ever for Gamecock football, and fans must not forget that South Carolina plays in the best and toughest conference is the country. It takes time to build an empire, and the Gamecocks are well on their way to doing that. It is almost better that the Gamecocks did not win the SEC Championship. Not just because it allowed Auburn to win the 5th consecutive National Title for the SEC, but also because I strongly believe that when the Gamecocks do win the conference, they will go all the way. This year was just the beginning.
Although Atlanta was not kind to the Gamecocks this year, this story is far from over, they will be back because…well, there’s no place like dome.