Sporadic Gamecocks still bidding for SEC East crown

There are up-and-down, Jekyll-and-Hyde football teams … and then there is the 2013 South Carolina Gamecocks, a team so schizophrenic that its coach, Steve Spurrier, looked as though he’d given up on it three times this year before it finally clawed back into contention in the SEC East.

Now, after a thrilling overtime win against Missouri, the Gamecocks have an opportunity to win the division and play in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7 — a game Spurrier felt confident his team would play in when, back in the summer, he seemed to wear a perpetual smile and said things like “I like this team; I like our chances.” But by mid-October he seemed to have given up hope, especially after the Gamecocks fell to rebuilding Tennessee. 

“Seems like we always get penalties on kickoff returns and punt returns. Our guys can’t play by the rules,” Spurrier said, one of many laments he offered up after the loss in Neyland Stadium. “We didn’t play well offensively at all. We had, what, 22 passes. We sure called more than that. Connor (Shaw) took off (and ran) a lot. He made some pretty good run-outs, I guess, but there were times when he had some guys open … he got pressure, I guess.”

Spurrier sounded more like a disgruntled fan posting comments on a blog than a head coach of a team that was still in contention for a divisional title. 

But those comments were mild compared to earlier in the year when he was so negative toward his coaching staff that he pulled his weekly post-game television show after eking out of a 28-25 win over Central Florida. 

“I don’t mean to be so negative towards some of our players, some of our coaches that coach secondary, including myself,” Spurrier said the week following the decision to pull the show. “I try to always include myself when we are not coaching well so we decided not to show the thing. … It was like most of my shows I thought, but I was too negative in it.” 

He certainly wasn’t negative after the Gamecocks’ came from 17 points down to upset Missouri and claw their way back into good shape in the division. 

“It was a game where I thought we were dead for three quarters anyway, but Connor Shaw brought us back, scored some points and the defense stopped them,” he said. “I’m happy, myself, since this is my first overtime win as a college coach. I was 0-for-3 prior to this one and I thought for a few minutes that I was going to be 0-for-4. 

“We’ve stunk it up in the first half many a time this year and did tonight until the third quarter. It was do-or-die. We had no chance in the division unless we won this one. We came back and our defense played well and kept us in it. Now, hopefully, we can move on and get some more wins.”  

The schedule certainly favors the Gamecocks. 

Their last four games are at home and only two are against conference opponents. They have Mississippi State on Saturday followed by a Florida team that is putting up pathetic offensive numbers, averaging only 21.1 points a game. Then they have Coastal Carolina before ending the regular season against in-state rival Clemson.  

Missouri, on the other hand, finishes the year with Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. And while the Vols are obviously dangerous and playing better than ever – as evidenced by their close overtime loss to Georgia and their upset win over South Carolina – the two most likely obstacles for the Tigers will be the Rebels in Oxford and at home against Johnny Manziel and the Aggies. 

The Gamecocks need to win out – no easy task given how they’ve played at times – but if they can finish the season the way they finished the Missouri game, Spurrier could be back in Atlanta in one of the unlikeliest division comebacks in recent memory.  

“We just have to keep winning games,” he said this week. “We keep doing that and maybe things will work out our way.”