ATLANTA — South Carolina is at least making progress in bowl games.
The Gamecocks didn't win Friday night against Florida State, but, as opposed to the last two bowls, they did at least show up this time.
South Carolina was asked to overcome five turnovers and the loss of standout running back Marcus Lattimore early on, and it proved too much in Florida State's 26-17 victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome before 72,217 fans.
'It's unfortunate we didn't give ourselves much of a chance to win the game with the turnovers and interceptions,' USC coach Steve Spurrier said. 'Give Florida State credit. They played a (heck) of a game.'
Still, it was a far more competitive showing than the listless performances against Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl last season and against Iowa in the Outback Bowl the season before that.
Nevertheless, Spurrier is now 1-4 in bowl games at USC.
'We got beat,' Spurrier said. 'We got beat in the bowl game again.'
South Carolina (9-5) had cut FSU's lead — once 16-3 — to 19-17 with 12 minutes to play. But Florida State responded with a 13-play, 63-yard, 6½-minute drive, sealed by backup quarterback E.J. Manuel's 7-yard touchdown throw to Taiwan Easterling on third down.
It was the third of three crucial third-down conversions for the Seminoles (10-4) inside the USC 21-yard line.
Chris Thompson rushed for a yard on third-and-1 at the 21 for one of the Chick-fil-A Bowl offensive MVP's 147 yards against the SEC's top-rated rush defense.
After a timeout before the third-and-7 play at the USC 17, Manuel connected with Bert Reed on a slant for an 8-yard gain to move the chains.
Attempting to force Dustin Hopkins' fifth field goal of the night to keepit a one-possession game, the Gamecocks had one more shot on third-and-goal at the 7.
But the elusive Manuel avoided pressure by moving right. He spotted Easterling, who had come open in the back of the end zone. The throw, and Hopkins' PAT, made it a nine-point game.
South Carolina couldn't even get to midfield on the subsequent possession.
'Our team just kept scratching and clawing,' FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. 'Every time they would answer and come back, our kids would come back and answer.'
It would have been a fairly miraculous win, considering USC was without its first 1,000-yard rusher in a decade.
Without Lattimore's play-making ability, South Carolina needed nearly three quarters — and a trick play — to finally get in the end zone.
On third-and-2 at the FSU 3, Garcia zipped a lateral to freshman receiver Ace Sanders, who then lofted the ball over the defense to Garcia for USC's first touchdown.
Two possessions later, and USC was in the end zone again, cutting the FSU lead to 19-17 after Brian Maddox's seven-yard touchdown run with 11:56 to go.
Including the lopsided loss to Auburn in the SEC title game here a month ago, the Gamecocks missed two chances to tie the 1984 USC team's school record of 10 wins. In Fisher's first year since taking over for Bobby Bowden, it was FSU's first 10-win season since 2003.
'This is only the beginning,' Fisher said on the field with confetti flying around him.
Lattimore was hurt on South Carolina's first possession. He suffered a cut to his mouth and a concussion on a hit by FSU cornerback Greg Reid.
The hit forced Lattimore's first fumble in 278 touches this season, and FSU's recovery and 54-yard return led to the first of Hopkins' field goals.
Reid, the game's defensive MVP, had two forced fumbles and 71 return yards.
Spurrier marveled at Reid and FSU's special teams, citing the need for the Gamecocks to find more playmakers. Without naming names, he implored Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's top prospect and a Rock Hill native, to come help USC in the future.
As for 2010, even with the program's first SEC division title, Spurrier ended it with a shrug.
'Nine wins was the best we could do this year,' he said. 'It was the best we could do.'