USC offense’s gamble on fourth down pays off

Shaw’s run before half helps put game out of reach

dcloninger@thestate.comOctober 12, 2013 

— It came down to trust.

The odds said to kick it. The logic said to kick it. South Carolina already had given away points in the red zone when Connor Shaw and Mike Davis couldn’t connect on a first-down handoff, after a drive where the No. 14 Gamecocks narrowly avoided two turnovers.

But USC held a 17-7 lead with time running out in the second quarter, and the Gamecocks’ maligned defense had done its job with two straight three-and-outs after the fumble and a punt out of USC’s own end zone. With time to drive the field and get a comfort-providing touchdown, coach Steve Spurrier decided to go with the guy who has played such a big part in the success of the past three seasons.

So on fourth-and-2 at the Arkansas 7, 25 seconds on the clock and freshman kicker Elliott Fry, who hasn’t missed a field goal this season, ready to go, Spurrier called for a play. The Razorbacks called timeout to give Spurrier one more chance to change his mind, but he never wavered. Shaw had the play, Shaw went in, Shaw lined up under center.

The gutsy senior took the snap and let his feet do the talking. Shaw headed left, going low for 3 yards and a first down and then hurried to spike the ball.

With 13 seconds remaining, he put Arkansas to bed.

Shaw had Bruce Ellington running across the goal line and fed him the ball for the touchdown and a 24-7 lead. Even with USC’s recent defensive woes in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks had more than enough room to dispatch the Razorbacks for their fourth straight win — their third win ever in Arkansas.

“We felt like another field goal wouldn’t look as good as another touchdown,” Spurrier said. “If we had missed, you’d have said I was stupid. But that’s OK. We made it, so that makes me smart, I guess, or us smart.

“I’m still a big believer, if you go for it once and miss twice, you’re one point ahead. Seven is better than two threes.”

It was indeed. The Razorbacks allowed 52 straight points in a drubbing that quickly had a Homecoming crowd streaming to the exits. The Gamecocks exorcised several demons on a field where they had suffered their own crushing defeats, started a three-game road swing with a huge win and, as an added bonus, got back into the SEC East championship race after Missouri topped Georgia.

Shaw, who has faced some criticism this year despite giving USC its best chance to win, ended with another big day, rushing for 37 yards and a touchdown while completing 19 of 28 throws for 219 yards and three more scores. With all four of his career losses coming on the road, Shaw won a big one and came through when his coach wanted him with the ball in a crucial situation.

It was the same reason Shaw wanted to come to USC. Spurrier would take that chance. Shaw wanted to be the guy who made it reality.

“It means a lot,” Shaw said. “The momentum going into halftime, being able to score like that instead of kicking the field goal. As coach Spurrier always said, he likes to score points instead of kicking field goals in the red zone. So that’s what we did.”

Spurrier said that if had it been fourth-and-3, he probably would have kicked. But it was a yard shorter, and he knew more than anybody that Shaw could run and trusted himself to get the first down.

Trust plus trust equals success.

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