Two football giants battled as equals to the very end Thursday night. They matched each other blow for blow until one team emerged victorious, and one fell just short. In a football battle for the ages, one team was undefeated and ranks #2 in the country, the other was widely regarded and unranked. But Thursday night, if no one told you who was who, you would have been hard pressed to know which was the more highly regarded team.
Carolina's coaches, players, and fans left Williams Brice Stadium somber after the close 24 - 17 loss to the number 2 ranked Auburn Tigers. After last year's devastating 48 - 7 loss to the same Auburn Tigers, Carolina went on a surprising 5 game SEC winning streak. No one should be surprised if Carolina does equally as well, or even runs the table the rest of the 2006 campaign. This year's USC football team played the #2 team in the country to a standstill for most of the game and easily could have won.
There is no comfort in moral victory and yet another oh-so-close loss to a good football team. But once again, the USC faithful have no reason to hang their heads after this well-played game. Syvelle Newton played probably the best game by a USC quarterback in the last five years. He looked nothing like the player from 2004, who would tuck the ball and run if his primary option wasn't open. He didn't look like the quarterback we saw two weeks ago, who had similar tendencies.
Instead, he looked like a Steve Spurrier quarterback who could also scramble when needed. His scrambling ability enabled him to roll out of the pocket and complete passes that, in all likelihood, would not have been made by a traditional, drop-back passer. Of course, he also scrambled on several occasions for key first downs when the pass wasn't there. He threw for 240 yards in only three-quarters of play, hitting seven different receivers on the night.
The Auburn game is over. At the end of the day, it took a trick play in the form of an unexpected onside kick for the #2 team in the nation to beat Carolina Thursday night. As long as the players don't allow the pain of this loss to affect them, USC should easily take care of business against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. This team proved they could play with anybody in this game, and if they maintain that level of ply for the remainder of the season then there is not a game remaining on the schedule, including SEC showdowns with Tennessee and Florida, that is unwinnable. They will be expected to beat Middle Tennessee State, and anything can happen when USC plays Clemson.
No garnet colored glasses here. I watched a team grow up tonight before my very eyes. As Syvelle Newton said, "We didn't play our ‘A' game tonight. It's scary to think what this team is capable of if we did play our ‘A' game."
After a disappointing loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, and the surprisingly close win over the Wofford Terriers, Carolina fans lowered their expectations for this season. After Thursday night, there is no reason not to raise the expectations once again.
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