A maligned South Carolina football team spent the last 24:25 of regulation play and two overtimes Saturday leaning on Dakereon Joyner, a quarterback who was taking most of his snaps at wide receiver just six weeks ago.
Against the No. 3-ranked team in the country. On the road.
Before 92,746 fans, green hedges and a cute little bulldog.
Where the Gamecocks’ 20-17 upset of Georgia stands among great victories in school history depends on how good the Bulldogs are in December. Right now it ranks as the guttiest big win South Carolina fans have ever enjoyed.
Not Dabo Swinney.
“North Carolina beats South Carolina, South Carolina beats Georgia. That’s college football,” the Clemson head coach said. “That’s just the way it rolls. I mean, you better show up every week. Anybody can beat anybody.”
And how ‘bout that Trevor Lawrence?
Clemson’s star quarterback and his right shoulder was the subject of much speculation and a Dabo Swinney rant this week.
Response: Lawrence had his best game of the season Saturday, and so did No. 2 Clemson, playing fast on offense and stingy on defense in a 45-14 over Florida State at Death Valley.
What a day for Palmetto State college football teams responding to real or rumored quarterback injuries.
The Gamecocks helped the Tigers by seriously damaging Georgia’s College Football Playoff hopes, always a key recruiting pitch. A Georgia team that lost to Alabama was set up as the prime potential argument for an undefeated Clemson team to miss the playoff.
The Tigers helped the Gamecocks by enhancing their defending national champ brand in a way that will get Williams-Brice Stadium louder on Nov. 30.
“South Carolina is a good team,” Swinney said. “They’re talented. They have great coaches down there. I’ve studied them a little bit already, getting ready for North Carolina. They’re a good team. … But nothing surprises me in college football.”
That includes Lawrence’s bounce-back Saturday: 17 of 25 passing for 170 yards, three touchdown passes (one interception), six carries for 40 yards and a score.
“He was awesome,” Swinney said.
Lawrence and Joyner
Lawrence suffered a shoulder bruise in a 24-10 victory over Texas A&M on Sept. 7 and later had an MRI. He told Larry Williams of TigerIllustrated.com as much on Monday after Williams asked Lawrence about an extra protective pad he apparently wore during a 21-20 win at North Carolina on Sept. 28.
That might partly explain the less than stellar statistics (including five interceptions) over the first five games.
Florida State got Lawrence at his best after the sophomore had two weeks to recover from Clemson’s Chapel Hill escape.
Joyner, a redshirt freshman, barely had time to get ready in Athens after Ryan Hilinski went out with a knee injury (five games after replacing injured starter Jake Bentley). Fortunately, the Gamecocks’ defense did the heavy lifting for a team coached by former Georgia safety Will Muschamp.
But that was the same poise Joyner showed while leading Fort Dorchester High School to win after win and a state championship.
That was the Trevor Lawrence the whole country saw during a 44-16 rout of Alabama in the last national championship game.
Not only does Lawrence’s performance Saturday bode well for the big picture, news of his MRI picture might eventually help if playoff committee members need an explanation for a slow start.
Swinney snapped at reporters Wednesday when the Lawrence shoulder question came up.
“That’s private information,” he said. “If I want anybody to know our medical stuff, I’ll tell you. We’ll put in on the injury report.”
Back to the Clemson task: getting Lawrence and friends ready to play Ohio State or Oklahoma or some other semifinalist in Atlanta or Arizona.
Lawrence is just fine, he reconfirmed Saturday night.
“I felt like we had a really good rhythm (Saturday),” he said. “I was really proud of the way we responded (from the North Carolina game). It was good to see. We knew we were going to play well.”
Bring on Louisville.
Clemson and South Carolina got some help Saturday.
There was a time not long ago when failing to score on fourth-and-goal from the 2 on one drive and missing a 24-yard field goal on the next would have cost the Tigers against Florida State.
Georgia made all kinds of uncharacteristic, unforced errors.
“There was a team here that showed up ready to go – mentally and emotionally. That team was not us,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said amid the crushed red and black metal in Athens.
Someone in garnet should have snapped a photo of a Lowcountry foursome with the Sanford Stadium scoreboard in the background:
• Israel Mukuamu (former Berkeley High School cornerback) had three interceptions.
• Javon Kinlaw (Goose Creek High School) was his All-SEC caliber self in the middle of the defensive line with four tackles and a sack.
• Parker White (Wando High School) kicked the game-winning field goal in the second OT and another from a career-long 49 yards.
• And Joyner.
Thanks, guys. You have helped make the build-up to Nov. 30 a lot more interesting.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff