Florida was the worst SEC East team on Saturday afternoon, and Georgia was the most painful to watch. But of the three coaches whose favored teams lost—Will Muschamp, Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier—South Carolina's was by far the most futile.
All three coaches were dealt severe injury problems: Florida's on defense, Georgia's on offense and South Carolina's with quarterback Connor Shaw leaving the game.
But whereas those injuries were primarily responsible for Georgia and Florida's failings, two perplexing decisions by Spurrier are what cost the Gamecocks most.
With 2:55 left in the game, USC failed to convert a 3rd-and-8. Tennessee called a timeout to stop the clock on 4th-and-2 at the Gamecocks' 26-yard line.
That's when the madness began.
Spurrier lined up to go for it but called a timeout—South Carolina's first of the half—before running a play. Then, inexplicably, he came out of that break and did the exact same thing. It cost him another timeout.
Finally, now with just one clock-stopper left to his name, Spurrier did what any sane coach would have done two minutes earlier and punted the ball back to Tennessee. The Vols took over with 2:48 on the clock at their own 35.
Marquez North made a crazy downfield catch, and in the blink of an eye, Tennessee was right outside the red zone. There was still plenty of time on the clock, but thanks to the wasted timeouts, South Carolina had no way of stopping it:
Tennessee was able to play conservatively, running the ball four times. It lined up for a field goal with three seconds left on the clock. The ball flew through the uprights when the clock read all zeroes.
When the dust had settled and the upset was complete, Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports made an astute observation:
Those looked like some silly timeouts when Spurrier called them. Now they look stupid.— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelCBS) October 19, 2013
He's got an interesting point.
Spurrier is easy to love and hard to hate. At the time, before Tennessee came back and won, his timeout hijinks seemed more funny than egregious:
Like Spurrier, I would love having extra timeouts at the end of games to mess with people.— Chip Patterson (@Chip_Patterson) October 19, 2013
Ha ha, love this Spurrier.— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) October 19, 2013
It was poor football strategy, sure, but it was "Spurrier being Spurrier."
Until it wasn't.
South Carolina might not have won the game had Spurrier saved those timeouts, but it would have at least had a shot. The combination of his coaching and North's catch salted things away, well before that should have been the case.
According to Michael Haney of 107.5 The Game, Spurrier said that he was planning to go for it on fourth down, as opposed to just bluffing away his timeouts:
Spurrier said they were going to go for the 4th & 2. Said UT changed D second time. "Looking back, I always tell myself to go for those."— Michael Haney (@Haney1075) October 19, 2013
In case you missed it the first time: He was on his own 26-yard line. With a two point lead and under three minutes on the clock. Looking back on that situation, Spurrier "always tells himself to go for those."
Which is insane.
Going for it on 4th-and-short, in more cases than people realize, is a very good decision. Spurrier's head was in the right theoretical space.
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But this was one of the cases where it wasn't a good decision. This was a case where punting was undoubtedly the right play, and the fact that he needed to burn two timeouts figuring that out cost South Carolina a shot to win the game.
Spurrier wasn't near midfield or in Tennessee territory, he was flirting with his own red zone. Punting should have been his first and only instinct. And now the Gamecocks have a loss to show for his inexplicable consideration.
Blame the Shaw injury if you want, and give Tennessee some much-deserved credit. Those were both key elements beyond Spurrier's control that factored into Saturday's surprising outcome.
But don't let the Head Ball Coach escape your pointed finger.
Muschamp and Richt should not be absolved of blame. The former admitted that his offense stinks (which, at the end of the day, is his fault), and the latter's play-calling left a lot to be desired en route to a blown fourth-quarter lead.
All three guys looked pretty bad.
But on an afternoon where three SEC East powerhouses fell—and none of their coaches looked good—Spurrier was head, shoulders and visor worse than the pack.