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September 7, 2013
ATHENS - It was a tough night for South Carolina as it traveled to Athens hoping to extend a three-game winning streak over the Georgia Bulldogs, but the Bulldogs were able to power through the Gamecocks defense and defeat USC 41-30.
The score indicates that both teams were pretty good offensively, and they were.
Questions emerge each off-season around each program, as the limited eligibility of college athletes creates a culture of constant turnover. "Who will be the next...'fill in the blank?'" For the Gamecocks, one of the units of concern has been the wide receiving corps. The loss of Alshon Jeffery two seasons ago and Ace Sanders this past season has the Gamecock faithful waiting for their next star to emerge.
Saturday night, that star was Nick Jones. Jones is another Byrnes product and was a teammate of the ever-popular Marcus Lattimore at Byrnes. Jones has quietly worked himself into the starting lineup in his fourth year on the team, and Saturday was his night. This was his opportunity, and Jones delivered. He answered the question. He answered the bell.
With six receptions for 97 yards and two first-half touchdowns, Jones told his teammates and his quarterback, 'You can count on me.' His first score came on an out route in the corner of the end zone. Jones ran the route well, Shaw placed it in the right spot and Jones squeezed it. His second came with seconds remaining in the half to the other corner of the end zone. When asked what if felt like to be the go-to guy for his team in the first-half, Jones said, "It felt pretty good, but it doesn't matter because we didn't win the game."
He remained humble, saying, "I'm kind of the underdog of the receiving corps and I don't mind it but, like I said earlier, it wasn't enough to win the game. So, I guess I didn't do enough."
Jones had a good week of practice leading into the Georgia game but did not have any expectations to see the ball as often as he did. He prepared this week as he does each week and was ready when his number was called.
"I had a few plays we (worked on) in practice this week but (my catches) just came within the offense today," he said.
Steve Spurrier was very happy with "Nicky" Jones following this game, praising Jones, Mike Davis and Connor Shaw. Spurrier lamented that he had hoped to get the ball to Jones more in the second half, but the defense's inability to turn the ball back over to his offense limited his snaps and made it difficult to get Jones more touches.
"(He) had a hell of game," said Spurrier. "Thanks for reminding me. He had two touchdown catches in the first half. We probably should have thrown the ball his way more often, but we didn't see it too much in second half."
His quarterback was complimentary of his play as well. Shaw had six of his 16 completions go Jones' way, making Jones a vital part of the offense. "Nick stepped up and had a huge game," Shaw said. "I think he had almost 100 yard receiving. Like I said, I'm really proud of how the offense bounced back series after series. We just fell little short."
Jones has made himself valuable to this team by learning to play all three wideout positions. He is a heady player that runs his routes properly and holds onto the ball when it comes his way. Saturday in Georgia, the fruits of his hard work and dedication to the position and the team paid off, but Jones was not the only receiver to step up.
Sophomore Shaq Roland came to USC with so much hype surrounding him. He hails from just down-the-street in Lexington and was Mr. Football in South Carolina in 20100. Roland brings an athleticism to a position where it can be displayed. Now folks want to see him on display. After opening college football with the first touchdown of the 2013 season, Roland had just one more catch in the win over North Carolina. He made a rare appearance in the first half against Georgia. In fact, we never really saw him until USC's final drive of the evening.
Trailing by 11, he entered the game. He caught a quick slant for 16 yards. First down. He caught a jump ball for 13 more. First down. His final catch may have been his most impressive. A poorly thrown ball was behind him and he used his hands to reach back, snag it, and then pick up several more yards for a 19-yard gain and a first down.
It was a sign of good things to come. The Gamecocks did not win Saturday, but they did answer some questions. Neither Jones nor Roland were pleased with the loss. But maybe, just maybe, these guys are ready to emerge as the strength of the receiving corps and maybe, just maybe, Shaw (and Dylan Thompson) have some more reliable weapons to work with.
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