As the start of the 2012 season nears, GamecockCentral.com's David Cloninger takes a look back at the top plays of 2011, South Carolina's finest year. The No. 1 play from last year will be revealed on Aug. 30, USC's season-opener.
NO. 1: Run Melvin Run
The game: No. 12 South Carolina at Georgia, Sept. 10
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The scene: Georgia 13, South Carolina 7, 2:20, second quarter
The cast: Defensive end Melvin Ingram
The setup: The Gamecocks needed to wake up. Their offense was middling, and while their defense had done well to hold Georgia to field-goal attempts through the first two quarters (one of which missed), USC was plodding through the game.
A touchdown catch from Alshon Jeffery (who else?) stirred USC to life, but Georgia came right back with a TD of its own. The Gamecocks seemed shell-shocked, and punched back into their malaise - Stephen Garcia tried to throw on first-and-10 from his own 29-yard-line, but the first attempt was dropped (D.L. Moore), the second was incomplete and the third yielded a scant 3 yards.
Georgia needed no script, calling timeout to preserve as much time as possible before halftime. With over two minutes to go, there was plenty of time to get the punt and score again, putting the Gamecocks well behind.
Steve Spurrier knew it and in a stadium where he is just as hated now as he was when he hung "half a hundred" on the Bulldogs in 1995, he began to think. There was that one play - nicknamed "Garnet" -- that they had worked on, and if ever the Gamecocks needed a spark, this was it.
Spurrier called it in. It looked good. It was designed for a first down, more if it could get it.
It got it.
The play: The Gamecocks lined up in standard punt formation, with their three "protectors" standing in front of Joey Scribner-Howard. Ingram was on the right, with Justice Cunningham in the middle and Byron Jerideau on the left. If there was a hint of something epic about to happen, it was that Ingram, perhaps so excited about what he was about to attempt, was shading toward the middle, almost into Cunningham's space.
The snap came and Ingram immediately stepped in front of Cunningham, cradling the ball into his arms and starting to run. Jerideau was already at full-speed, leveling his man on the right side of Georgia's line as the hole to the sideline opened.
Ingram quickly passed Cunningham and was into the second level of Georgia's defense so fast that it took the crowd and the Bulldogs a second to catch on. Ingram, 276 pounds and who had never touched an offensive ball in four previous seasons at USC, was suddenly past the first-down marker. Another would-be tackler on the side was taken out by Reginald Bowens, and Ingram was in the clear.
Shocked at seeing a man that big move so fast, Georgia started to pursue. The Bulldogs only had two men left as Ingram was in a full sprint down the left sideline - Corey Campbell, who was being pushed out of the way by DeVonte Holloman, and returner Brandon Boykin.
Boykin lined up on the sideline, aiming to trip up Ingram, push him out of bounds, do something so that the behemoth was knocked off track and not allowed to score. The day could still be saved.
Boykin went low and Ingram saw him coming. He skipped over Boykin's low tackle, popping Boykin's helmet with his outstretched hand as he did ("Why would a little guy like that try to tackle me?," Ingram cracked later), and emerged, still running, as Bowens and Holloman escorted him ever forward.
Ingram trotted into the end zone and through the back, almost heading into USC's locker-room tunnel, as his teammates whooped and congratulated him. The priceless shot was Georgia's guy-in-a-suit mascot, Hairy Dawg, clutching the sides of his face. Even with a fixed expression, the Dawg looked stunned.
The aftermath: USC won, 45-42, helped in large part by Ingram, who played the game of his life. He scored two touchdowns and caught Georgia's last-gasp onside kick attempt.
"We had it in all year. Just didn't run it till today," Ingram said of the fake punt. "I was supposed to read the block and I seen Jerideau kick it out, and I was like, 'Home free.'"
Ingram used the momentum from that game to propel him to an All-American year, just the third player in school history to be named a consensus All-American, and a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Spurrier proved that there are still tricks under that visor - Ingram's freaky athleticism (he routinely cut standing backflips in practice, and Spurrier had pointed out that he was an excellent long snapper as well) had spawned the idea, and the Head Ball Coach picked the right time to unveil it.
In a year where almost everything went right for the Gamecocks, that was the play that stood out. USC played the rest of the season knowing that if it needed a big, momentum-switching play, then it would probably happen.
That's the kind of confidence inspired only when it's worked once, and worked oh so well.
Top 25 plays of 2011
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