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. 2: You Don't Hunt, You Don't Eat
The game: No. 15 South Carolina at Mississippi State, Oct. 15
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The scene: South Carolina 14, Mississippi State 10, 1:52, fourth quarter
The cast: Free safety D.J. Swearinger, Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell, Mississippi State wide receiver Arceto Clark
The setup: Alshon Jeffery's magnificent catch, where he hauled in the go-ahead touchdown despite having his helmet rather forcibly removed, had ended a dogfight (pardon the pun). Mississippi State, slogging through a season that began with great expectations and ended with a 2-6 SEC record (although the Bulldogs did win their bowl game), was done.
Not with 3:45 to go. Not with the Bulldogs sensing that this may be the best chance to turn the season around. Not with MSU realizing that if it could just score a touchdown, USC wouldn't have the time nor the personnel - Marcus Lattimore was on the bench with an injured knee - to equal or surpass it.
Russell and tailback Vick Ballard got to work.
Starting at his own 30-yard-line, Ballard rushed for 2 yards and then Russell hit Clark for 22 more. Ballard ran for 3, Russell went for 11.
Less than two minutes remained. USC could see the victory slipping away.
The play: Russell took the shotgun snap, Melvin Ingram came in on a delayed blitz. Russell sought a 1-on-1 matchup with Clark and a USC defensive back; he found it as Clark ran down the left side of the field and C.C. Whitlock picked him up.
Whitlock was on Clark as the ball was thrown. The two were tussling as the ball headed toward the 10-yard-line. It was going to be a jumpball or a flag; each seemed to favor Mississippi State.
Swearinger made sure that neither would be the case.
Running full-speed parallel to the 10, Swearinger leaped from the 8, soaring in front of Clark and Whitlock as they fought. If that ball had been thrown 100 times, chances are excellent that in 99 of them, Swearinger would have been just a hair off, or the ball would have been a tad too high or low, or anything else that could have happened would have happened to prevent what did happen.
What did happen was Swearinger sprung from the 8, both arms bent at the elbows as he flew through the air, and the ball plopped neatly into them. Swearinger landed on the 12 and tumbled over so fast to his feet that there was no time to replay it; Swearinger immediately flipped the ball straight up and danced to the sideline.
The man who cheerfully calls himself the "Jungle Boi," because he says that if you don't hunt, you don't eat, had made sure that he could add the "Swagg" to his name.
The aftermath: Swearinger skipped down the sideline as Russell lay face-down on the turf in frustration. He got a little greedy, went for too much, and Swearinger made him pay for it.
USC took over and ran out the clock, taking an intentional safety to set the final score. The Gamecocks had found a way to win, just as they did several other times throughout the year.
Top 25 plays of 2011
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