Gamecocks roll to historic tenth win of season
Spurrier stopped and said a few quick words to Zimorski, who then gave the ball to Spurrier. Holding it high and tight, just like he instructs his tailbacks to do, Spurrier continued his journey toward Swinney.
"I said, 'Heck, I might as well grab it,'" Spurrier recalled when asked about the ball after USC's emphatic 34-13 win over its hated rival. "Nobody else seemed to want it. I like to fix them up."
The 2011 season of South Carolina football, the 109th in program history, will not be immortalized with a banner or signage on the walls of Williams-Brice Stadium. But it will be forever commemorated in the form of that ball, which will be placed in Spurrier's office after the date and final score are painted on it. And the garnet-wearing majority of the 83,422 who packed into Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday night will forever cherish it.
The magical, mystical fall of 1984 will always be hallowed in USC lore. But 27 years and a few days after the Blackest of Magic was conjured to engineer a come-from-behind 22-21 win at Clemson, another band of Gamecocks has finally found its way to 10 victories in a single season.
"It's very special," said quarterback Connor Shaw. "It's a heck of an achievement. I'm proud of our guys."
Perhaps the most integral part of USC's win was the sophomore signal caller from Flowery Branch, Ga., making his rivalry debut. Shaw didn't pull a Mike Hold and hand the football to a Clemson defender at the end of the game, but he did just about everything else. The sophomore threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 107 yards and another score. And he stole strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald's shirt after the game.
An explanation: When Shaw arrived to speak to the media after the game, he was wearing a white T-shirt with "Beast Mode" across the chest in bold capital letters. It was the same shirt Fitzgerald, a mountain of a man with an uncanny resemblance to comedian Rob Riggle and a seemingly endless supply of energy and intensity — he can make USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott look subdued sometimes — was wearing while leading the Gamecocks through pregame warm-ups and offering encouragement on the sideline during the game. When asked what the meaning of the shirt was and why he was wearing it, Shaw happily obliged an answer.
"I love this shirt, and I came up to coach Fitz and I said, 'If we win this game, I'm getting that shirt,'" Shaw said. "And he said, 'I'll take it right off my back.' So I figured I'd wear it in here (to the press conference)."
So he did. Fitzgerald held up his promise and let Shaw snag his shirt. You can't blame the guy, either. The way Shaw, and his teammates, demolished the Tigers deserved a little extra acknowledgment.
Yes, Clemson still holds a dominating 65-40-4 series lead. But you wouldn't have known it this time. The Gamecocks played their best game of the season. They were dominant in every phase of the game. It was such a stellar performance that when Alshon Jeffery put an exclamation point on it by hauling in the final touchdown of the game with 5:20 left, the jubilant USC fans in attendance didn't seem to know what to do with themselves.
They "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye-d" for a few moments. Then they chanted "SEC! SEC! SEC!" before breaking into an impromptu "wave." When that got old, a less savory chant unfit for print briefly broke out around the time Clemson burned its final timeout while impeding on USC's efforts to run the clock out.
But the profanity soon subsided. Then the SEC chants started back up as time wound down, the water was dumped on Spurrier and offensive lineman Terrence Campbell started running around with the Hardee's Trophy, which is ugly as sin but glistened like a jewel in the Gamecocks' eyes.
"It's neat to beat Clemson because historically, they've owned South Carolina," Spurrier said. "But they don't own us now, that's for sure."
Spurrier has a point. USC has now taken three in a row from Clemson. No USC team had accomplished that since 1968-70, when Richard Nixon was president, "Monday Night Football" was in its first season and Mick Jagger still had moves.
USC defensive end Melvin Ingram, one of the many seniors honored before kickoff, said earlier in the week it was important to his class to beat Clemson three straight times. It was something they wanted to be able to talk about when 10- and 20-year reunions rolled around.
Mission accomplished. In addition, now Ingram and his teammates will have something else to crow about.
"Of course we're going to talk about 10 wins," Ingram said. "But we're not trying to only get 10. We're trying to go out and get the 11th win in the bowl game."
About that. Like the 1984 team, USC still has a chance to record an 11th win in its bowl game, wherever that may be against whomever it may play. The 11th win proved elusive back then — USC fell to Oklahoma State 21-14 in the Gator Bowl — but this team is hopeful it can accomplish what that team failed to do and get win No. 11, which would set a new school record.
But first, there's some housekeeping to be done. Spurrier said his team set many goals before the season. They missed on the biggest one — win the SEC East — but came through on many others, specifically notching eight, nine and now 10 wins. But one goal wasn't established.
"We didn't set one to win 11," Spurrier said. "So we're going to set a new one when we meet back up Monday."
Reach that one, and Spurrier will have to chase down another referee on the way to his end-of-game pleasantries and get another ball to fix up.