Six years. Six years of promise, expectations, letdowns and everything in between for Steve Spurrier and the University of South Carolina. Six years of searching for the right formula that was so easy to concoct when he was running up the score in Gainesville, trying to implement his offense in Columbia, South Carolina but to no avail.
Six years… and finally the Gamecocks and their fans got what they had searched for and wanted, a win. Not just any win no, but a signature win. One that they can hang their hat on and show to the country that they are for real.
It came this Saturday and the victim was number one ranked Alabama.
The Crimson Tide rolled into Columbia fresh off of an impressive beatdown of former Spurrier employer Florida. They were number one with a bullet, the best running back in the country and the best defense in the land. They left beaten up, bruised and with lots of questions.
Their run game was trounced by South Carolina’s front 7 as they were limited to 36 yards on the ground. Their defense allowed much maligned quarterback Stephen Garcia to have a field day as he threw for a career high three touchdowns as Spurrier’s air assault finally seemed to get going. The Gamecocks were the best and most prepared team on Saturday and now can claim to be the best team in the SEC.
This was way more than overdue for Spurrier.
Spurrier strolled into Columbia six years ago after a failed stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins and immediately expectations soared. The folks in the area new Spurrier as the offensive genius that tormented them in his first stint in the SEC with Florida as he routinely made the Gamecocks his Saturday snack. However, with him South Carolina was hoping that the tide would turn and they would be the ones crowing at the top of the conference.
Unfortunately Spurrier’s “Fun and Gun” has never quite taken off. The Gamecocks have been ranked sparingly and haven’t won more than eight games in a season and have lost 5 games in each of his six seasons. Before the beginning of this year many wondered if Spurrier was on the hot seat if he couldn’t deliver the SEC title that South Carolina so coveted. Even after a 3-0 start the Gamecocks, ranked 12th in the nation threw away a certain victory last week versus Auburn when Garcia lost two Fumbles which led to two scores and an eventual loss and the grumblings began again.
This week’s showdown with Alabama was not a must win but it felt like… and Spurrier finally delivered the goods.
The Gamecocks started out red hot and jumped to a 21-3 lead stunning the defending champs. Then the Tide roared back thanks to a Greg McElroy touchdown pass and a weird safety by Garcia which more than irked the ol’ ball coach. It was looking like the same old same old for the Gamecocks.
Then after a Jeremy Shelley field goal cut their lead to 21-14 the Gamecocks put together a 15 play, 82 yard drive capped off by a Marcus Lattimore touchdown that put South Carolina up by 14 and they never looked back.
Nick Saban uncharacteristically tried a fake field goal to no avail in the fourth quarter and Spurrier’s boys put the game away with another Lattimore score. After that the party was on and rightfully so. The Gamecocks finally got the kind of win that they imagined when Spurrier arrived years earlier and are in position to win their first conference title since they were members of the ACC in 1969… yeah it’s been awhile.
What stands in the way of that conference title are two pivotal matchups versus Arkansas and a homecoming for Spurrier versus Florida. The Gamecocks control their own destiny and realistically could find themselves in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl in January.
This is what they had envisioned six years ago when the ol’ ball coach arrived in Columbia. It took a few heartbreaking losses, disappointing seasons and mind boggling missteps but after a long time South Carolina finds themselves as the team to beat in the SEC East and with the possibility of a BCS bowl game in the future.
Its vindication for South Carolina and for Spurrier. Saturday’s win over Alabama gives South Carolina the spotlight victory it’s needed to make them a major football program and it gives Spurrier his swagger back as one of the best coaches in the land. Spurrier finally has the team and the athletes that he has coveted and it shows on the field. It took a little longer than expected but ask the 92000 that were in attendance yesterday if they cared how long it took. Their Gamecocks are major just in the nick of time.