Sapakoff: Pace yourself, more scoreboard watching for the Gamecocks
COLUMBIA — A bunch of South Carolina football players, trailing underdog Florida early Saturday night, huddled on the Williams-Brice Stadium sideline for advice from head coach Steve Spurrier during a TV timeout.
Meanwhile, the crowd went nuts.
Gamecocks football management certainly didn’t try to hide the Georgia-Auburn result from the team. The final play of Auburn’s victory was shown live on the giant video board above the end zone student section.
The spontaneous roar for Auburn — or against Georgia — was as loud as anything in No. 11 South Carolina’s 19-14 victory over Florida. So loud that some Gamecocks coaches motioned for fans to simmer down.
Yes, on to the business of finding a conventional path to the Sugar Bowl.
Step 1: Southeastern Conference nemesis Georgia’s heartbreak on The Plains, even though knocking Georgia out of the SEC East title race, gives Auburn a big edge over South Carolina for a Sugar Bowl at-large berth if Alabama plays in the BCS championship game.
Step 2: Getting off to a frighteningly slow start but eventually getting around to edging the severely wounded, much-maligned Gators. The modest victory margin means players will listen more carefully over the two weeks of preparation (interrupted by a Coastal Carolina game) for Clemson’s arrival at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“We didn’t want our players even thinking about it or talking about it,” Spurrier said of the Georgia- Auburn game. “And I
The Gamecocks can still aim for New Orleans. Not via at-large hopes tied to fickle poll voters or BCS standings fluctuation.
Via the same way MapQuest advises drivers: Atlanta.
“We kept ourselves alive,” quarterback Connor Shaw said after his 24th win as a college starter.
Admittedly, Steps 3 and 4 in this Gamecocks-to-The Big Easy scheme are a bit tricky.
USC vs. Alabama
Missouri has to lose at Ole Miss next week, or to Texas A&M on Nov. 30.
South Carolina has to, uh, dethrone Nick Saban, Inc., in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.
South Carolina won’t back down, not after finishing 6-2 in the SEC for the third season in a row.
“Maybe something bigger is going to happen for us down the road,” Spurrier said. “I don’t know.”
The Gamecocks didn’t look up to anything bigger than Florida most of Saturday night, but the Gators despite all their injuries still have a very good defense. South Carolina still has a smart veteran quarterback (Shaw), an explosive and versatile running back (Mike Davis) and speedy receivers.
They just played their second game in a row without a turnover. The defensive line is much closer to playing up to its collective potential than it was in September.
“The younger guys are getting smarter,” defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said of the defense as a whole. “The older guys are stepping up. We’re trying to play our best at the end.”
Probably not convincing anyone in Las Vegas, I know.
But Spurrier wouldn’t have it any other way.
At-large bids are small change. He is all about championships.
He’s the one who insisted on the “1969 ACC CHAMPIONS” sign inside Williams-Brice Stadium honoring the only South Carolina team to win a league title. Spurrier knows a rare and precious SEC title shot when he smells one.
The Gamecocks didn’t get in this spot the easy way.
They needed Shaw’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington on fourth-and-goal in overtime at Missouri.
They needed Auburn’s fourth-and-18, 73-yard tipped touchdown pass on Saturday (“I guess that’s why people watch football on television,” Spurrier said).
They still require fans to sweat through scoreboard watching, which might come down to video board watching, even if Gamecock coaches have to tell people to quiet down during the Clemson game.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.