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. 25: The Switch
The game: Kentucky at No. 18 South Carolina, Oct. 8
The scene: Kentucky 3, South Carolina 0, 11:58, first quarter
The cast: Quarterback Connor Shaw, coach Steve Spurrier, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, quarterback Stephen Garcia
The setup: Spurrier, seething and forced to make a change after weeks of shaky quarterback play from Garcia had culminated in the season's first loss to Auburn the week before, yanked the fifth-year senior from the offense and re-installed Shaw, who had started the season. Shaw had been rattled in that start, shaky and nervous while East Carolina ran to a 17-0 lead, and Garcia had come in to electrify the Gamecocks, but Shaw didn't give up. With Garcia tossing interceptions far more often than touchdowns and USC coming off a loss, Shaw was given another chance as Garcia - although no one knew it at the time - was embarking on his last week at USC.
The game had an ignominious beginning. Bruce Ellington fumbled the opening kickoff and Kentucky recovered at USC's 26-yard-line. The Wildcats were held at the 8, though, and settled for a field goal and a quick lead. The next kickoff was downed in the end zone and Shaw came jogging out, ready to once more take his place as the Gamecocks' quarterback.
The first play was a short underneath pass to tight end Justice Cunningham, good for 5 yards. Following some incompletes and a false start, Shaw hit Buster Anderson for a 46-yard catch-and-run to set up shop at the Kentucky 20.
The play: Shaw dropped back and saw Jeffery, fabled as a Kentucky-killer for three years, preparing to do it again. He ran a post to the end zone and split toward the right corner as Shaw threw. Jeffery leaped, towering over the helpless defensive back, plucked the ball neatly from the air and stepped in for an immediate lead, and the start of a rout.
The aftermath: The Wildcats didn't score again as the Gamecocks turned in the most dominating performance against an SEC team in their history. Shaw directed USC to a whopping 639 yards of offense, collecting 311 passing and 42 rushing for himself, while tossing four touchdowns to no interceptions. USC blew out Kentucky 54-3 as the defense intercepted four passes and held the Wildcats to a scant 96 yards.
Three days later, Garcia used up his last chance. He was dismissed from the team after four and a half tumultuous years, but Shaw took the momentum from a great new beginning to quarterback USC to seven wins over its final eight games.
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