Sapakoff: From misery to Missouri break, a Gamecocks rally for the ages
COLUMBIA, Mo. – When it was finally over, game-winning quarterback Connor Shaw got a long hug from starting quarterback Dylan Thompson.
Chaz Sutton lifted fellow defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney high off the Faurot Field turf.
Columbia never felt so good.
“It was a game I thought we were dead,” head coach Steve Spurrier said after the No. 20 Gamecocks’ 27-24 double-overtime victory over No. 5 Missouri.
A beaming defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said he wouldn’t trade Shaw for a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I love that that man to death,” Quarles said after Shaw threw for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and in the two overtimes.
South Carolina spotted arch-conference nemesis Georgia the SEC East lead in September and let Missouri go up by 17 points Saturday night.
So, of course.
Suddenly it’s almost time for Spurrier to start breaking down Alabama tape.
The Gamecocks are in firm control of an unexpected SEC East free-for-all, for three obvious reasons:
- After a rally like that, Mississippi State and Florida don’t stand a chance in (the real) Columbia.
- You can’t like Missouri’s psyche, or its chances against at Ole Miss and against Texas A&M.
- Georgia is limping along.
Oh, sure. The tougher-than-expected Tigers (7-1, 3-1 in the SEC) maintain a one-game lead in the SEC East over the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2). Georgia is 4-3, 3-2 with a win over South Carolina.
But South Carolina is the road-tested, Clemson-tested bowl-winning bunch.
The Gamecocks coming off their first overtime win ever.
They are on an old mission with new life.
That sad statistic about Shaw going 0-for against ranked teams on the road?
The rugged, injured senior leader didn’t practice this week because of a sprained knee but came off the bench to stage a comeback for the ages, one that will ring in one Columbia for years, sting in the other.
“We didn’t have any points,” Spurrier said when asked why he inserted Shaw in the third quarter. “We had to try something new.”
Picked for 6th
South Carolina showed what balance and depth on offense can do when a defense gets off the deck and plays hard-nosed football.
Berkeley High School grad Bruce Ellington and supremely confident running back Mike Davis make for such a 1-2 punch with Shaw at the helm.
How many other teams dig such a hole and leave with smiles?
None in the SEC East.
Missouri deserves credit for almost completing a trifecta win streak against Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. The Tigers were picked to finish sixth in the SEC East at SEC Media Days in July.
The Gamecocks, expected to challenge Georgia for an SEC Championship Game trip to Atlanta, knows they might have gone several more overtimes with Missouri if not for Andrew Baggett’s missed 24-yard field goal.
“Last week he made five (field goals against Florida),” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “It’s not just one guy.”
South Carolina struggled for long stretches, missing tackles as they often have this season. But what an emotional difference, the chance to tweak after a win and the alternative, almost no shot at a division title.
Against most odds
There are a few differences in this Columbia. Fans of the home team drive around with tiger tails hanging off the back of vehicles, and gas is $2.89.
They sing strange sustaining songs. “Fight Tiger” is among them:
“Fight, Tiger, fight for old Mizzou
Right behind you, everyone
is with you”
Well, not everyone.
SEC East aristocracy thinks Missouri atop the division standings is like giving an Oscar to “Bad Grandpa.”
This SEC rivalry is only two games old, but long-suffering similarities bond South Carolina and Missouri in their pursuit of a conference title.
The Gamecocks went to the SEC title game in 2010, but their only league championship was the 1969 ACC crown.
Missouri reached Big 12 Championship Games in 2007 and 2008, but Dan Devine led the Tigers to their last title – also in 1969.
The chase is on for 2013.
Against all first-half odds, South Carolina still has a chance.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff