ATLANTA -- If you blinked you may have missed it. ESPN didn’t catch it and I don’t believe Steve Spurrier realizes yet either. Gamecock fans were treated to a performance never seen before. A 54-3 victory over an SEC opponent.
Mark it on your calendar. A new era has just begun for Gamecock football.
Steve Spurrier has a quarterback that can complete passes at a high percentage rate and talented athletes on both sides of the ball and on the bench. Everything is in place for the South Carolina Gamecocks to win week in and week out.
The foundations for the new era began with the hiring of Steve Spurrier in 2005 and getting to a new level has taken longer than most expected. However, it arrived on Saturday at the Williams-Brice Stadium.
Getting top SC talent Gilmore from Clemson was an early stone. Then Alshon Jeffery picked South Carolina over USC. Marcus Lattimore committing to USC and alumni investing big money in facilities was the next huge move. Big strong offensive linemen and talented defensive lineman chose SC. Then came Clowney, the No. 1 recruit in the country. There was hope, if Stephen Garcia can improve, this team can go undefeated. It was a reasonable dream for Gamecock fans.
There was so much promise with Garcia. Ranked #38 best athlete in the country coming out of high school, Garcia had all the tools to become the best quarterback in USC history. The potential showed itself at times, beating #1 Alabama, taking down the Clemson Tigers two years in a row and beating the Gators in the Swamp for the SEC East championship.
But overall, Garcia always kept you guessing on his performance. Big plays, bad plays, great throws, bad choices.
Spurrier gave Garcia every chance to succeed, and his wife even devoted significant time hauling Garcia to his community service projects that were part of his punishment for breaking team rules.
But in the end, Garcia couldn’t execute consistently. He was tough. The team and fans liked him, but his game management drove the fans and the Ole Ball Coach crazy. For most games, it was like Thanksgiving, and wondering if the brother bringing the turkey was going to show up or not.
But it all changed Saturday. When Connor Shaw hit Alshon Jeffery for a 20-yard touchdown, a light went off for Gamecock fans. Shaw in his first full SEC game was completing passes, and the chains were moving and the scoreboard was lighting up.
Shaw was finding open receivers. The O-line seemed to be giving the young quarterback time. The gamble to go with the young quarterback was paying off.
I’ve come to understand the genius of Steve Spurrier is his play calling. Play calling is a whole lot easier when players are executing the play called.
Finally after six years, Spurrier has a quarterback that could hit play maker targets. Shaw was 26 of 39 for 311 yards and four TDs, 67 percent completion rate.
Kentucky came into the game #4 in the SEC in pass defense, there in some pretty strong company. So picking apart the Kentucky defense was big feat for a young quarterback.
When it was all said and done the Gamecocks racked up 54 points, and for the first time Gamecocks got a glimpse of the Steve Spurrier who owned the SEC while he coached the Florida Gators.
Shaw didn’t play a perfect game, far from it. But he did complete 67 percent of his passes and that’s good enough to win most games. Shaw will get better too. And if he struggles, Garcia seems to do real well coming off the bench.
This South Carolina team will do well. Finally, a new era for South Carolina football has arrived.