What a Win over Kentucky Would Mean
Everyone who has read any pre-game analysis of tonight's game between #8 Kentucky and #11 South Carolina knows that the winner of this game will assume sole possession of first place in the SEC East, at least until Saturday's games are completed; and if that team keeps winning, they control their own destiny.
Two key facts that have not yet been discussed about the home field team:
1) This is the first game that South Carolina has ever been favored over a Top 10 team.
2) Should they win, it would be the Gamecocks' first victory over a Top 10 ranked team during the Steve Spurrier era.
Most analysts in the pre-season acknowledged that Steve Spurrier had the Gamecocks headed in the right direction, but looked at the killer road schedule this season and how very, very young the team is in key positions, and immediately relegated this year's team to fourth place in the SEC East, with talk of 2008 "might be the year."
When Jim Carlen was head coach at USC, the school's marketing department came out with a catchy bumper sticker that said, "This IS next year." That year turned out to be a good year, but not a great year.
With a win tonight, this year really could be "next year" for Gamecock fans.
The key to this and subsequent games this season will come down to "closing the deal." The Gamecocks have been here before, but haven't closed the deal. When USC played Florida State in 1984, they won a huge game that catapulted them to their highest ranking ever, #2 in the nation. The #1 team lost the next Saturday, and the stage was set for the Gamecocks to ascend to the top spot in the land. All they had to do was beat a mediocre Navy team, and they would be in the driver's seat to play for the national championship. Instead, the goats slaughtered them, the Gamecocks were delegated to a lesser bowl, in which they subsequently stumbled to a loss, and tumbled out of the Top 10. That was the best year for the team before 2007.
This year under Steve Spurrier, having shown the necessary signs of maturity and week-to-week improvement, the Gamecocks show that they can close the deal.
Despite a first half with which Spurrier was not pleased, the USC defense shut out Louisiana- Lafayette after their second score at 8:46 to go in the second quarter, while the USC offense scored the last two touchdowns of the game.
In the win on the road against Georgia, the Gamecocks held the Bulldogs without a touchdown, and shut down the Bulldog offense when they had to, again and again in the fourth quarter.
Against SC State, though the Bulldogs gained 196 yards rushing against the USC defense, they only scored once the entire game, and that was a gimme, when a Blake Mitchell interception gave them the ball on the USC 12 yard line. And SCSU could only manage a field goal that time. USC scored the next 35 points.
In their only loss of the season to now top-ranked LSU, Carolina held LSU scoreless after the six minute mark of the third quarter, and made the last two scores of the game against the top-ranked defense in the country.
Against Mississippi State, the Gamecocks came back after losing the lead early in the third quarter, to score the last 21 points of the game and shut out MSU in the last quarter and a half of the game.
If they can hold true to form against Andre Woodson and his potent Kentucky offense, the Gamecocks could begin to think about printing up some bumper stickers that the nation would recognize as truth: "Carolina Football 2007: This really is next year."
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