The University of South Carolina football team certainly didn’t play like everything was on the line Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium … but an uninspired effort against the unranked, undermanned Florida Gators wound up being enough to keep their conference championship hopes alive anyway.
The tenth-ranked Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 SEC) turned in their worst offensive performance of the season – as senior quarterback Connor Shaw struggled to find open receivers and sophomore running back Mike Davis struggled with injuries.
Shaw completed just 14 of 28 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown – a 32-yard strike to Bruce Ellington on a fourth down play early in the third quarter that wound up being the team’s only touchdown of the night.
Davis – the SEC’s leading rusher – was held to just 54 yards on 13 carries although he missed most of the second half with a leg injury.
Still, thanks to four field goals from freshman kicker Elliott Fry – and a 102-yard rushing performance from backup running back Shon Carson – South Carolina eked out a 19-14 victory over embattled head coach Will Muschamp’s Gators (4-6, 3-5 SEC), who began the 2013 season ranked No. 10 in the nation.
Florida has now lost five straight games – the first time that’s happened since 1979. Meanwhile South Carolina has won sixteen straight games at home – a new school record.
More importantly, South Carolina did what it had to do to stay in the hunt for a shot at the SEC Championship Game on December 7 in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact the Gamecocks’ win (coupled with the University of Georgia’s heartbreaking 43-38 loss to Auburn) means USC can claim its second Eastern Division championship in four years if ninth-ranked Missouri loses either of its two remaining conference games.
South Carolina owns the tiebreaker against the Tigers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) by virtue of its thrilling double overtime victory in Columbia, Missouri last month.
Missouri travels to Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3 SEC) next weekend before wrapping up its conference slate at home on November 30 against No. 11 Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC).
South Carolina plays Coastal Carolina next week before wrapping up its regular season against arch-rival Clemson. Both of those games will be at home.
While concerns abound about the Gamecock offense, USC’s defense settled down nicely after giving up a pair of big early touchdown runs to Florida running back Kelvin Taylor (son of NFL great Fred Taylor). In particular Jadeveon Clowney – whose 2013 season hasn’t been the non-stop highlight reel Gamecock fans had hoped for – turned in perhaps his best game of the season.
Clowney had five total tackles including two for a loss and played at a high level despite injuring his foot during the half.
Also turning in a big game was fifth-year senior defensive back Jimmy Legree of Beaufort, S.C. – whose interception of redshirt freshman Florida quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg sealed the Gamecocks’ win late in the fourth quarter.
Mornhinweg completed 10 of 13 passes for 107 yards in his first career start for Florida – which has seen its top two quarterbacks (and numerous other impact players) go down with injuries this season.
(Courtesy of award-winning photographer Travis Bell, below are some images from the game. Click on each thumbnail to enlarge …)