Beating No. 1: Fate helps Gamecocks upset top-ranked Alabama

September 25, 2013 

This excerpt from “100 Things South Carolina Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Josh Kendall is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.

For more information, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/ 100ThingsSouthCarolina

Alabama was coming off a national title. It had won its past 19 games, and it was ranked No. 1 in the nation.

South Carolina, meanwhile, was still wondering if it belonged in the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference. The Gamecocks, who never had beaten a top-ranked opponent, finished 7–6 in 2009. They were 3–1 on Oct. 9, 2010, and coming off a disheartening loss to Auburn.

Steve Spurrier, never known for his rah-rah pregame speeches, had a simple message for his team before they took the field.

“Fellas, let’s give fate a chance,” he told the Gamecocks. “If fate is going to smile on South Carolina, we’ve got to give it a chance. Who knows? If you give it a chance, something big may happen. If you don’t give it a chance, it’s not going to happen.”

It happened, and in a big way. South Carolina scored five touchdowns on what was the No. 1 scoring defense in the country.

The Crimson Tide had surrendered three touchdowns in five previous games combined.

“I think it was just meant to be,” Spurrier said. “Fate was on our side.”

The victory capped a historic year in South Carolina sports. The men’s basketball team and baseball team had knocked off the No. 1 teams in their respective sports previously in the calendar year, making South Carolina the first school in history to complete that feat.

“We have a lot of guys on our team who haven’t lost a game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “This is a lesson for everybody about what you have to do to prepare, what it takes to play with consistency in this league.”

Junior quarterback Stephen Garcia, who had been benched two weeks prior to the game only to win back his starting job, completed 17-of–20 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think we responded unbelievably to the questions that were asked of us, the questions that were asked of me,” Garcia said. “It was an unbelievable feeling. I’m not really sure how to describe the feeling, but it’s unbelievable.”

Garcia was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week, and the victory stands as the high point of his tumultuous career at South Carolina, which included five suspensions and an eventual dismissal from the team.

“Stephen Garcia played the best he’s ever played,” Spurrier said that day.

The defense didn’t play badly, either, holding the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, running back Mark Ingram, to 41 yards on the ground.

“I think we, basically, stopped the run, which I did not think we could do,” defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. “There was a never a time as we managed the running game that we didn’t feel like we had control of it.”

When the game was over, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy told Garcia, “We’ll see y’all again,” anticipating a rematch in the SEC Championship Game.

McElroy was half right. The Gamecocks would go on to win their first SEC East title and play in the SEC title game, but their opponent was the Crimson Tide’s top rival, Auburn, which beat the Gamecocks 56–17 on the way to the national title.

The Gamecocks would lose their next game despite being heavily favored against Kentucky, but the win over Alabama helped establish South Carolina as a contender in the conference and powered them to a three-year period that would see a school-record 31 victories.

The victory gave Spurrier 107 SEC wins, second to legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who won 159 conference games.

“It’s sort of neat to get that (milestone), I have to admit,” Spurrier said. “It was neat to get it against Alabama. I didn’t think about it until the game was over. Bear Bryant holds the record, which no one will ever catch, which is fine. But to be second to him against Alabama, the No. 1 team in the country…

“I gave myself a game ball. The players wanted to give fate a game ball. I said, ‘I’m accepting for fate.’ ”

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