Start believing: Gamecocks upset top-ranked Alabama, 35-21
USC knocks off defending national champions
Steve Spurrier had told his team all week how the Gamecocks were going to beat the nation's No. 1 program.
It didn't matter that Alabama was the defending national champion. Or the owner of a 19-game winning streak.
All that mattered was fate. And that fate was on the Gamecocks' side Saturday.
South Carolina built an early 18-point lead over the nation's top-ranked team behind the arm of Stephen Garcia before hanging on for a 35-21 victory, sending shockwaves throughout both the Southeastern Conference and college football landscape.
"I think that this game was meant to be," Spurrier said. "I used a line this week that I've never used in my life ... I said, 'Fellas, if fate means for us to win this game Saturday, then let's give it a chance. Let's give fare a chance to happen.'"
And while fate may have pushed the Gamecocks to their first win over a No. 1 team in program history, the embattled Garcia may have been the deciding factor.
The redshirt junior completed 17-of-20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns - tying a career high he set two weeks ago at Auburn - and led the Gamecocks to scoring drives on each of their first three possessions.
"Coach Spurrier told us to give fate a chance, so we did," Garcia said. "We hung in there, and we responded to every point that they scored. Every time they scored, I think the offense scored right back. I think what won the game was responding."
After Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) capped the first drive of the game with a field goal, the Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1) drove 63 yards on seven plays before Garcia found freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore drifting toward the goal line.
And after sophomore center T.J. Johnson gave him a critical block in the middle of the open field, Lattimore raced into the end zone to give South Carolina the early 7-3 lead - one the Gamecocks wouldn't relinquish.
"I'm still dreaming it right now," Lattimore said. "I don't think it has really sunk in yet. But it is a big win for us. We had to work hard. All we had to do was complete our assignments. Fate definitely kicked in."
After USC's defense forced a punt on the Tide's next possession, Garcia found sophomore Alshon Jeffery in the right corner of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown grab.
"I don't care about all the hype nobody's got. You've just gotta believe," Jeffery said. "Earlier in the week, in my interview with ESPN, I said we were going to beat them. So I felt pretty good."
But Jeffery wasn't finished. After Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy fumbled on a sack by junior Antonio Allen near midfield, Jeffery capped USC's next possession with a 15-yard touchdown grab in front of the student section, pushing the Gamecocks' lead to 21-3.
"That is a guy that you have to keep throwing at," Spurrier said. "When you get a guy that can fall forward for three or four yards, you have to just keep getting him the ball, so certainly that was in our plans."
Despite that, Alabama was intent on not going down without a fight.
A touchdown before the half coupled with a safety on USC's first possession of the third quarter pulled the Tide within a touchdown.
That's when USC responded with what could have been its most important drive in decades.
The Gamecocks drove 82 yards on 15 plays, chewing up nearly eight minutes in the process, before Lattimore punched it in from a yard out.
It was a drive in which Garcia converted on third down three times while senior reserve tailback Brian Maddox chipped in 30 yards on the ground.
"That is the best our offense has ever played since I've been here without a doubt," Spurrier said. "We scored five touchdowns out of about eight real possessions. Stephen Garcia played the best he's ever played."
But the Tide once again trimmed it to a touchdown game on a long reception by Darius Hanks. And after Garcia's pass to Jeffery on USC's next drive was intercepted, Alabama had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
But on fourth-and-11 at the USC 25, coach Nick Saban opted to go for the fake field goal, where A.J. McCarron's pass to Ed Stinson was dropped as the tight end attempted to turn up the sideline.
"I think the biggest play was the fake field goal that they tried to run," Garcia said. "I think they had the momentum after the reception, and then they missed that opportunity to take advantage of it. I think that was the turning point in the game."
Another late touchdown by Lattimore iced it from there, sending the 82,000 in attendance into a frenzy as USC grabbed its biggest win in school history.
"I think it was meant to be," Spurrier said. "Fate was on our side for us to beat the No. 1 in all three major sports om 2010."
"This win couldn't have come at a better time," Garcia added. "We had a great game plan, and we executed it the best we've executed any game plan this year. Actually, since I've been here, I can't recall the way the offense played like this."
Maybe fate had something to do with it.