NO. 14 SOUTH CAROLINA 41, THE CITADEL 20
WHOA NELLY: Oh yeah, that Alshon Jeffery guy. He's OK. It was a concentrated effort to get the ball to Jeffery right away, and Connor Shaw did, completing his first two passes on the game's first two plays to Jeffery for a combined 31 yards. Sure, it mostly calmed down from there, but then Shaw wound up and tossed long for the corner of the end zone and watched what the most productive receiver in USC history does so well - he makes the impossible look routine. His one-handed leaping catch and then cradling the ball to his chest as he hit the turf went for six points and what should be a spot on ESPN's Top 10 plays. What's more, it added to a highlight reel that would make any kid who tugs on a helmet work that much harder to be what Jeffery is. Nice to see Jeffery in action, very good to see him grab an important touchdown, great to see him get into a rhythm with Shaw the week before the biggest game of the season.
MR. TOUGH GUY: Say what you want about Shaw (sometimes his decisions make one cringe) but he continues to do the job well - at least, well enough to get by, despite what the all-pros watching in the stands or on TV think he should be doing. Saturday was probably his best all-around game, Shaw running for 90 yards (including a 60-yard jaunt for a touchdown that probably had his dad hollering, "Look at the wheels!") and passing for 217 and three touchdowns while only missing two of 18 passes. He does what needs to be done, and while it was The Citadel, Shaw needed to have a big game where most everything went right to boost his confidence. He did that, and he really had to, since Bruce Ellington was quickly on the shelf with a sprained ankle and the Gamecocks' defense was being dragged around the entire first half. Next up - Shaw's biggest test. Win this one, and he's a legend forever.
THE ANSWER: So Shaw makes his only mistake of the day, throwing an interception right to the linebacker with the intended target behind the guy (still don't know what that was about), and The Citadel marches right downfield and scores to tie the game at 7. Shaw and the Gamecocks needed to answer, because trailing even three points to a ball-control team that chews clock like Les Miles chews grass is just asking for trouble. So, Shaw did. He directed the Gamecocks downfield, picking up two huge fourth downs by himself, and then handed off to Brandon Wilds for his second touchdown of the day. The Bulldogs never seriously threatened again and USC, for once, could believe in its offense.
AND HOW 'BOUT THAT: Shaw picked up two fourth downs, and the Gamecocks made it 3-for-3 on the day when they sent out the punt team and snapped the ball to - you guessed it - Melvin Ingram. The big man (with apologies to Clarence Clemons) rumbled for another first down on a fake-punt direct snap. Sure, maybe it's warned teams to be on the lookout for it since it's been called - and worked - twice, but it's still going to be tough to stop.
IT'S LIKE BUTTAH: Shaw spread the ball around to Jeffery, Wilds, Ace Sanders, Rory Anderson, DeAngelo Smith and Justice Cunningham and did it at least four times each to the first three. The more options the Gamecocks show right now, the better.
WILDS LIFE: Fourth career start, third career 100-yard game. Marcus Lattimore never did that. And neither did George Rogers.
LAST MAN STANDING: With the Gamecocks' linebackers going down quicker than the plastic heads over at the nearest Whack-a-Mole, Rodney Paulk stepped up. USC's defensive line was getting cleared out of the way rather handily, leaving the duties of stopping The Citadel's option to a sixth-year senior who has been deemed a step too slow. Maybe he is, but he still got to enough runners to make a difference. Twelve tackles, one for loss - ain't nothin' wrong with that.
WHAT'D I DO?: First drive, 10 plays, 69 yards, touchdown. USC broke the scoreboard first for the first time all season, and the first time in 13 games. Sure, it'd didn't last too terribly wrong, but it was there.
HOW IT SHOULD BE: Gamecock fans left Williams-Brice Stadium early enough to congregate at the nearest tailgate/pub/restaurant/buddy's house to see what they really cherish on every Saturday - a Clemson loss. The Tigers were pounded by NC State, which combined with the rest of Saturday's craziness, cost them whatever remaining chance they had to get into the top reaches of the BCS standings. And while Kentucky teased every USC fan worse than the "Black Swan" trailers, that and Clemson's loss set up what we all knew the season was coming down to - two teams with great records but perhaps not-so-great play, combining for one evening next week for the biggest prize. Braggin' rights, ladies and gentlemen - the chance to stick your chest out for one whole year to your co-worker, family member, anybody you come across who wears the other color.
Or rather, for a third straight year.
SEVEN: The number of plays it took Steve Spurrier to launch his play card as if he was trying to put it into the halftime fly-over. That's because Shaw saw the sack coming, tried to hang in and was smothered for an 11-yard-loss. As well as Shaw continues to play - as in, most of the time not foolishly - there are still some freshman moments from the sophomore quarterback. He saw the sack. Saw nobody open. Saw Brandon St. Randy from Edgemoor over there in the front row wide open for a pass, and didn't throw it to him, preferring to eat a mouthful of freshly-planted grass. Just not a smart play.
AND SPEAKING OF … : The pick. What was that? Cunningham was sitting behind the linebacker and Jeffery was running open in the middle of the field. Yet, Shaw threw underneath to Cunningham, and tried to bounce-pass it through the guy's legs like he was John Stockton feeding Karl Malone for the eight millionth time. Right in the numbers, intercepted, The Citadel uses the momentum to tie the game, after it had gone three-and-out on its first possession.
AGAIN?: Ellis Johnson spoke of not letting fullback Darien Robinson warmed up, and boy, was he right. After an awful first series, Robinson anchored a touchdown drive on the second. The Bulldogs knew their system would work given time, and they did it. Problem is, there are a lot of Robinsons and a lot of option systems in the near future, which is why the powers that be need to do whatever to get them off the schedule. Nothing good comes from it. So something needs to be done before Nov. 17, 2012, when Wofford comes to town.
COME BACK HERE: Those fumbles and turnovers that had gone USC's way through 10 games weren't there in the 11th. The Citadel had four fumbles and recovered every one, including one that went for a touchdown and one that Antonio Allen had in his sights for a six-point swing and couldn't grab. Do not want to see luck running out at this stage of the year.
CLANG: How many of y'all thought it? I certainly did. Jay Wooten's PAT whipped into the upright and fell back, leaving USC only a 20-10 lead, and I stated, "That could come back to haunt them." It didn't, but who can blame me or anyone else for thinking it - those kind of things have traditionally done a 360 and bit USC right in the tenders in these close games.
OH, COME ON!: Reginald Bowens dinged up his shoulder on the opening kickoff. It happens, especially to a guy that has spent more time on the medical list than off it during his career. Bruce Ellington sprained his ankle on a kickoff return. He is a small guy, playing a contact sport in a position where he would receive the most contact.
Then DeVonte Holloman got "sick," perhaps from re-aggravating a concussion that kept him out last week. And Jadeveon Clowney was so woozy that Ingram was walking him off the field and asking for assistance. And Qua Gilchrist has a concussion. And Damario Jeffery hurt his ankle so severely that he was grimacing in pain for quite a while and Johnson said it was unlikely he would play next week, even before the X-ray.
Injuries are part of football, but USC has gotten red cross after red cross on its chart this year, to some rather key players. That the Gamecocks keep winning is a testament to them.
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