COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Based solely on Steve Spurrier’s body language late Thursday night, it would have been impossible to guess that outside Williams-Brice Stadium, delirious South Carolina fans were debating whether the Gamecocks’ had just pulled off the biggest victory in the history of the program.
Spurrier can be forgiven for not celebrating too much; he’s the playcaller for an offense that had to rely on its defense to save its drumsticks. Still, it’s a legitimate question. Was Thursday’s 16-10 win against No. 4 Ole Miss the best win in Gamecocks’ history? It certainly was one of the biggest in Williams-Brice Stadium history. South Carolina beat No. 3 North Carolina in 1981, but that win came in Chapel Hill. The Rebels were the highest ranked team ever to fall in the spaceship that sits between Bluff and Shop roads.
“It probably is the biggest win here in forever,” said Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia, who threw for 220 yards and a touchdown. “I’m not really sure of the whole tradition here.”
South Carolina won the ACC title in 1969. Gamecocks back George Rogers won the Heisman in 1980. The 1984 team beat Georgia, Notre Dame and Florida State and rose to No. 2 before it got drilled at Navy in November. That’s about it as far as tradition goes.
But did South Carolina actually upset an elite team Thursday? Ole Miss finished last season strong, but the Rebels hadn’t played anyone this season. “Who knows how good everybody is? This isn't the No. 1 or No. 2 team from last year,” Spurrier said. “Ole Miss is a good team, but it's early in the year. Who knows where they'll end up? You can remember two years ago we were No. 6 and managed to lose our last five. It's early.”
So it’s probably too early to suggest that South Carolina might cause trouble for heavyweights Alabama and Florida. The Gamecocks go to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 17, and the Gators come to Columbia on Nov. 14. South Carolina has wilted down the stretch in recent years, so fans of upsets shouldn’t get their hopes up just yet. Still, the Gamecocks showed some promising signs. Garcia lost a first-quarter fumble, but he didn’t throw an interception. He made judicious choices with the football, even in the face of tremendous pressure. Garcia also made the understatement of the night when asked what he would have said had someone told him Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead would complete only seven passes.
“That we have a damn good defense,” Garcia replied.
Thursday, South Carolina had a great defense. The Gamecocks allowed the Rebels only 22 plays in the first half, and they held Ole Miss to 109 passing yards. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt wanted to use Wild Rebel Dexter McCluster more in the first half, but he said that every time he looked up, it was third-and-13 again.
South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood led the charge with 10 tackles, including two sacks. Three of defensive end Cliff Matthews’ six tackles were for loss. Gamecocks defenders didn’t seem the least bit intimidated by the Rebels’ lofty ranking. “We weren’t going to put them on a pedestal,” Norwood said.
So the Gamecocks treated Ole Miss like any other opponent — and maybe the Rebels were just any other opponent. We won’t know for a few more weeks until both teams put together a more complete body of work. All we do know is that they threw one heck of a party in Columbia on Thursday. “It was a pretty ugly win, but it was a win,” Garcia said. “We’ll take it every time.”