The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina narrowly misses out on upset at Auburn

After losses to Missouri and Kentucky in its last two SEC games, South Carolina wasn't even supposed to belong on the same field as No. 5 Auburn Saturday night. 

But the Gamecocks, behind some radical play calling from head coach Steve Spurrier, gave the Tigers almost all they could handle in Jordan-Hare Stadium. South Carolina's explosive day on offense wasn't enough, however, as Auburn escaped with a 42-35 win. 

"We had a chance. We knew we had to play close to perfect on offense, and we didn't do it," Spurrier said. "We didn't play perfect on offense, so we got beat. But it was almost a fun one." 

South Carolina (4-4, 2-4 SEC) made it abundantly clear from the start that Saturday's contest wouldn't be the cakewalk Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC) was promised. 

The Gamecocks scored on their first drive, then the defense promptly forced a Tiger punt on the following Auburn possession. But that was about all the South Carolina defense did in the game. 

The two teams traded blows for the entirety of the game until the Gamecocks had one last shot at the endzone: a Hail Mary heave by redshirt senior quarterback Dylan Thompson that fell into the hands of Auburn's Jonathan Jones. 

In the offense's near-perfect day, the unit collected 535 yards and scored five touchdowns. Thompson accounted for 402 yards and every one of those scores through the air. 

"When you're a kid, playing NCAA on the video game, this is what you dream about," he said. "We really felt like every time we had the ball we were going to score."

The only blemishes on South Carolina's offensive performance came in the form of three interceptions from Thompson. The two that didn't come on the last play of the game would prove to be costly in the end. 

But turnovers come with the territory when you run the high-risk, high-reward offense Spurrier trotted out against the Tigers. 

The Gamecocks attempted six fourth-down conversions on the day, converting five of them. South Carolina also dialed up an onside kick in the third quarter that was successfully recovered. It's those kinds of gambles that had Auburn against the ropes for much of the game Saturday night. 

"We knew we had to do that. We knew (the offense) had to try to stay on the field," Spurrier said. 

Spurrier's unleashed offense featured a heavy dose of the Gamecocks' most dynamic playmaker, sophomore wide receiver Pharoh Cooper. 

Cooper caught seven balls for 127 yards and two touchdowns, while also getting two carries out of the backfield, completing one-of-two pass attempt and taking numerous direct snaps in the "Wildcat" formation. 

Junior running back Mike Davis was his typical workhorse self, taking 21 carries for 92 yards and catching six passes for an additional 85 yards. 

With four games left and essentially all of South Carolina's preseason goals out of reach, fans can expect to see more of that nothing-to-lose play calling. Spurrier is at his most comfortable when the offense is turned over to his imaginative gunslinger mind, and there's little reason for the Gamecocks to take an ultra-conservative approach going forward. 

Auburn was South Carolina's last chance at a major upset this season, but as far out of the SEC title conversation as the Gamecocks are at this point, they can't afford to lose anymore games. 

Whether it's to save face or just to earn a spot in a bowl game, South Carolina still has to field a competitive product against Tennessee, Florida, South Alabama and Clemson. 

And Saturday's near-miracle in Jordan-Hare stadium should serve as a better confidence boost for the Gamecocks than they could've asked for as they try to close out their schedule on a high note. 

"I'm really proud of so many of the guys. Then we had a lot of the same guys that struggled. We weren't good enough as a team to win the game. 

"It was almost a fun game, it really was," Spurrier said. "If Jerell Adams catches that Hail Mary and we make a two-point conversation, that might have been the greatest win I've ever had in my life, if it had worked out. But it didn't." 


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