COLUMBIA — The fourth-down play that saved South Carolina’s season came from above. Literally.
High on top of Faurot Field, sitting in the visiting coaches’ box, Gamecocks offensive coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. noticed Missouri’s secondary switch to man-to-man coverage. He knew the perfect play to run against that defense. He sent the idea down to his father on the sideline, and the resulting 15-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal sent the game to double overtime.
The rest was history — literally.
“We got a good call from up top,” head coach Steve Spurrier said. “Steve Jr. said, ‘Try the corner route, maybe they’re playing man again.’ And, sure enough, they played man instead of their usual zone.”
The play call was anticipatory brilliance. Which player to call it for was obvious.
Every time USC needed a big play during its furious comeback at Missouri, receiver Bruce Ellington delivered. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw got most of the praise and credit — all of it well deserved — but the Gamecocks don’t win without Ellington having the best game of his career.
Ellington finished with a career-high 10 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns. The first was a spectacular maneuver in the end zone, tapping his left foot in the end zone before falling out of bounds. The pass was initially ruled incomplete, but after a short conference on the field the ruling was overturned and confirmed on video replay.
Ellington’s final touchdown catch came in the first overtime — the fourth-and-goal from the 15 that came from above.
“Actually, I thought they were going to go zone,” Ellington admitted after the game. “You’ve got to run your route to get open, so that’s what I did.”
Ellington’s highlight-reel touchdowns stood out. So did his numbers. It was the little things that kept South Carolina’s comeback hopes alive.
Take the first play of the fourth quarter. South Carolina had a fourth-and-4 from Missouri’s 46-yard line. Punting wasn’t an option. Down 17 points with 15 minutes left, the Gamecocks had to score.
Ellington extended the drive with a 10-yard catch. The possession ended with his first touchdown.
“Bruce really had an excellent game,” said the Head Ball Coach, who offered Ellington a game ball in the locker room afterward. “Can’t say enough about the catches he had in this game.”
After a slow start this season, Ellington’s numbers have steadily risen. The former Berkeley High star ranks 11th in the SEC with 31 catches, ninth with 468 yards and tied for fifth with five touchdowns. Of course, the two biggest of his season came against Missouri.
Before Saturday, all the hype went to Missouri’s talented and tall receivers. Ellington, a 5-9 junior who plays point guard for the Gamecocks’ basketball team, finished with more catches, yards and touchdowns than any of them. Afterward, as Shaw received the praise from fans and reporters alike, he made sure to direct some to his top receiver.
“Bruce had an outstanding second half,” said Shaw, who didn’t play until the third quarter. “He really had a good game. Made some good routes, some good catches.”