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September 28, 2013

Five key plays

South Carolina defeated UCF 28-25, and here are five key plays that led the Gamecocks to victory.

Down goes Shaw

On South Carolina's first possession, already trailing 7-0 with the hostile crowd going crazy, the Gamecocks' worst fears were realized. They were working their way down field to answer the score. Connor Shaw took a shotgun snap and ran right for the speed option. It was bottled up so he reversed field and got through the line of scrimmage.

He was tackled from behind, jarring the ball loose. UCF recovered, but more importantly, Shaw stayed down on the turf. There was nothing particularly violent about the tackle, but Shaw strained his right, throwing shoulder on the tackle and was done for the game. Backup Dylan Thompson struggled to find a rhythm and the Gamecocks were mostly unable to move the ball in the first half.

It is unclear how long Shaw will be out, but he is arguably South Carolina's second most important player. As good as Thompson is, he is the backup quarterback for a reason. Shaw gives Carolina its best chance to win. The Gamecocks need him, if not against Kentucky next week, then down the stretch.

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Jones and Byrd cannot make the play

Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the first half for USC. Yet, they trailed only 10-0 at halftime. But for mistakes on a pair of deep passes, the Gamecocks could have led 14-10. First, from midfield Nick Jones got open on a deep post. Thompson's pass to Jones was not perfect, but it still hit Jones in the hands with no defender to get in the way. But Jones, inside the 10-yard line, dropped the pass.

Then, late in the half, Damiere Byrd got wide open on a corner route. But Thompson dropped the shotgun snap and by the time he recovered the ball there was no time for him to set and throw, and the pass sailed over Byrd's head. Both plays were typical of the Gamecocks in the first half, when the focus and execution were just not quite there.

Brandon Wilds up the middle for 5 yards

On the second play of the second half, Brandon Wilds took a handoff and powered up the middle for 5 yards. It was the second running play, out of two total plays, in the second half, matching the total for the entire second quarter. With Thompson and the passing game struggling to get anything going, Steve Spurrier nonetheless abandoned the run game in the first half. In the second half, he recommitted, and it took just four plays for Mike Davis to break a long touchdown run and seize momentum.

Thompson to Byrd for 38 yards

Thompson is a streaky quarterback. That is one of the reasons Spurrier has constantly praised him and made sure he has gotten a few snaps each game. You know there is always a chance Shaw will get sidelined, and you cannot afford to have Bad Dylan as the backup (see: Vanderbilt, 2012). Well, the Gamecocks got Bad Dylan in the first half. In the second half, Good Dylan found the field. After relying heavily on the running game to open the half, Thompson made a big play to get going. In the shotgun, he took the snap and stood in the pocket. Nobody got open and a defender came roaring in from the left side. Thompson spun out of the sack and rolled left. He hugged the line of scrimmage, then set his feet and lofted a pass down the sideline to Byrd for a 38-yard completion. It was vintage Thompson: the pocket presence, the roll left (he throws while rolling left as well as any right-handed quarterback), and buying time for his receiver to get open. That throw got Good Dylan going, and he capped the drive with the go ahead touchdown run.

The Knights' last gasp

Trailing 28-18, UCF drove inside the Gamecock 30. Then Jadeveon Clowney sealed the deal, even though it won't show up in any stat book. Clowney ran a stunt with Kelcy Quarles. Both blockers went with Clowney, leaving Quarles with a free path to the quarterback. Blake Bortles got rid of the ball before Quarles could get the sack, but the hurried throw went straight to T.J. Holloman. The interception effectively iced the game. The play was just another example of how Clowney can dominate a game without any stats to show it. If UCF's offensive line weren't so worried about stopping Clowney, Quarles probably doesn't get to Bortles, and the throw doesn't go straight to the defense.

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