Could history repeat itself?
The Tennessee game was one of the more disheartening Carolina losses in recent memory. Never before had the fan base been taken on such a roller coaster ride, as they probably felt anger, sadness, and disbelief in the first half only to be a part of what was arguably one of the best comebacks in USC football history in the second. The second half likely brought fans to a high not often experienced in sports, only for the balloon to pop and all the air let out when Ryan Succop's 40 yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, there were still many positives South Carolina can take away from the game as it had many similarities to the Florida game a year ago.
Last season against Florida, it was Blake Mitchell returning from the bench for his first game back as starting quarterback. During the Tennessee game last week Blake Mitchell also finally firmly took grip of the reins of the offense and proclaimed it his again. Mitchell led South Carolina to a dominating performance, yardage-wise at least, in each situation. He led the Gamecocks to 507 yards of total offense to Tennessee's 317 as the USC offense was unstoppable in the second half. The '06 Gamecocks outgained Florida 410-401 total yards. The yardage difference against Florida was obviously not as disparaging as it was against Tennessee, but it was one of the first times the South Carolina offense looked like a real Steve Spurrier-run offensive machine against a quality opponent in both cases.
Mitchell threw for 290 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee while also throwing for 275 yards against Florida. In both cases Mitchell had a few throws he probably wants back as they could have meant the difference in the game, but he looked like a true Spurrier quarterback in both contests. His strong performance led to a balanced offensive attack in both games and allowed the Carolina running game to get going. Against Florida it was Mike Davis who reeled off 94 yards on the ground, while Cory Boyd had a career day rushing for 160 yards while getting eight yards a pop. Despite the gaudy numbers the Gamecocks came up just short against Florida a year ago and Tennessee this year because they just weren't quite ready to win a road game of that magnitude. The offense played at a level in the second half that could lead to championships if they can continue that level of play.
Both games also saw the Gamecocks lose to some eerie bounces and breaks. USC played their hearts out but couldn't seem to get the ball to bounce their way. Against Tennessee it was a fumble that advanced forward and two Gamecock defenders could not fall on and a questionable pass interference call and no-call, among other things. In the Florida game USC had a pass bounce right out of the hands of cornerback Fred Bennett for a Florida touchdown, a PAT blocked, and a game winning field goal attempt blocked. The Tennessee game came down to special teams as well. A 37 yard kickoff return by LaMarcus Coker set up Tennessee for the game-tying field goal in regulation as well as a 40 yard miss by the usually reliable Succop that put the nail in the coffin for the Gamecocks.
As comparable as the games were, they will only truly be mirrors to each other if South Carolina can finish off the 2007 season much like they did the 2006 campaign. The Florida game was a stepping stone for the Gamecocks, one where they learned they could compete with the big boys and thus developed the momentum for a three game winning streak to close the season, as well as a six game winning streak overall. After the Florida game, USC would go on to beat Middle Tennessee State 52-7, Clemson 31-28, and Houston 44-36 in the Liberty Bowl. The Gamecocks would feature an offensive prowess over those final three games rarely seen in the garnet and black.
Now the Gamecocks find themselves about to head to Arkansas to face the team Blake Mitchell returned against last season. The Razorbacks play a lot of man-press defense, and if the USC wide receivers can get open it should be the type game Mitchell can thrive in. If the Gamecocks lose, it could spell disaster for the season and lead to a finish no Gamecock wants to think about. But if the Gamecocks can pull off the huge road victory, USC would return home for a mammoth showdown with Florida in an electrifying Williams-Brice atmosphere that despite Carolina's three losses may still have major SEC East implications. They would then, of course, face Clemson as Steve Spurrier looks to be the first USC coach to beat Clemson two times in a row in many USC fans' lifetimes. After that, the sky is the limit as the Gamecocks could go on to have one of their greatest seasons yet.
It all depends on how the Gamecocks respond to the overtime loss against Tennessee.
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