No. 12 Gamecocks back in the SEC East race

No. 12 South Carolina is a Missouri loss away from the
Southeastern Conference title game, something only the most
hopeful, rose-colored Gamecocks thought was possible a month
ago.

South Carolina’s chase for a league championship seemed finished
when the Gamecocks were upset 23-21 at Tennessee and trailed
undefeated Missouri 17-0 entering the fourth quarter on a cold,
damp night in Columbia, Mo.

But play by play and break by break. the Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2
SEC) have climbed back into an SEC East race that sure seemed
over.

South Carolina got some help on Saturday with No. 6 Auburn’s
improbable, tipped-ball touchdown for a 43-38 win over Georgia,
which had beaten the Gamecocks to start SEC play and held the
tiebreaker against them.

The Gamecocks took care of their part a few hours later,
wrapping up the SEC with a 19-14, come-from-behind win over Florida
behind Elliott Fry’s four field goals and some staunch defense down
the stretch.

”Somehow or another, it worked out again,” Gamecocks coach
Steve Spurrier said.

Now, South Carolina must wait as leader No. 8 Missouri finishes
league play the next two weeks, against a pair of SEC West
opponents with Mississippi (7-3) on Nov. 23 and Texas A&M (8-2)
and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel to close league play.

Gamecocks fans cheered and screamed as Williams-Brice Stadium’s
124-foot tall video board showed the final, frantic moments from
Jordan-Hare Stadium. Then they waited and worried as South Carolina
fell behind 14-6 before rallying to its 16th straight home victory
– the longest in program history.

”I’m proud of our players, our players play like winners,”
Spurrier said. ”At halftime, there wasn’t a lot of laughter or
much joy in the locker room. But afterwards, we had a happy bunch
of Gamecocks.”

The Gamecocks sent Florida to its fifth straight loss.

South Carolina struggled to find room to move early on against
Florida and its SEC-leading defense. No one panicked at half time,
star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said.

”We have tough guys that fight through a lot,” Clowney said.
”We came in at halftime and we were down but I told the team keep
your head up and keep fighting. Anything can happen in the
SEC.”

The Gamecocks allowed 169 yards rushing in the first half to a
Gators team that came in next-to-last in SEC rushing. Kelvin Taylor
had touchdown runs of 20 and 29 yards, the longest allowed by South
Carolina this year, to build the lead.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said he talked to his players
about playing up to their capabilities and they responded the final
30 minutes, limiting Florida to 31 yards on the ground.

”We try to make sure we stick together as a group,” Ward said.
”Bad plays are going to happen. Florida is a good football team.
They have great players and we feel like we have good football
players, too.”

For Florida, a tough season continued trending downward. If the
Gators don’t finish with wins over Georgia Southern and No. 2
Florida State, their 22-year bowl run will come to an end.

If you think it’ll be an agonizing two weeks of tracking Mizzou
for South Carolina, think again.

Spurrier says his team will focus fully all week on FCS opponent
Coastal Carolina, up next for the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice
Stadium. After that comes one of the season’s biggest game against
No. 7 Clemson, a contest that typically captures everyone’s
attention.

How much time will Ward spend thinking about Missouri this week.
”None,” he said flatly.

Still, it’s tantalizing for the Gamecocks to consider how close
they are to an SEC title shot after all but falling out of the race
a month ago. ”It’s a great feeling,” said Mike Davis, the SEC’s
leading rusher. ”Hopefully, things will play out in our
hands.”