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by | CBS Sports

Spurrier's stunning win over Alabama proves he's still got it

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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- They said the game had passed him by.

They said that without all of those great players, he was just another guy throwing a visor.

They said that the new rock star coaches in the SEC -- Urban Meyer and Nick Saban -- were the future and he was very much the past.

But on this day, Steve Spurrier -- all of 65 years young -- showed that he still had his fastball. He showed that he can still call plays with the best of them when he has the talent to make them work.

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And let there be no doubt, Spurrier had the plays and he had the players to execute them on Saturday as No. 19 South Carolina stunned No. 1 Alabama 35-21 in front of a delirious crowd of 82,993 who witnessed the biggest win in school history at Williams-Brice Stadium. South Carolina, which started playing football in 1892, had never beaten a No. 1 team until Saturday.

It took place in the same calendar year that South Carolina beat No. 1 Kentucky in basketball and the baseball team beat No. 1 Arizona State on the way to winning the College World Series last June. Spurrier saw that as a sign.

"I told our guys all week that if it was fate that we were going to win this game then we were going to have to give fate a chance," said Spurrier, who watched his team score five touchdowns against a defense that had allowed only three touchdowns in its first five games. "And fate was on our side today."

There were those who thought Spurrier was no longer capable of orchestrating a game like this. After winning six SEC championships at Florida (1990-2001) he returned to college football in 2005 after an unsuccessful stint with the Washington Redskins. He came to South Carolina, which has never won an SEC championship or played in the conference championship game, and said "Why not us?"

Now let the record show that Steve Spurrier has 107 career wins against SEC competition. He stands alone in second place to Alabama's Bear Bryant, who won 159 SEC games.

"I'm mighty proud of that record," Spurrier said with a big smile. "To get it, and to beat Alabama to set the record, is pretty special. I gave myself a game ball. The players wanted to give a game ball to fate. I told them I was going to accept it for fate."

Understand that there was nothing fluky about this win for South Carolina. The Gamecocks lined up against the No. 1 team in the nation, a team that had won 19 consecutive games and 29 regular-season games in a row, and beat them. When it counted, South Carolina's best players were better than Alabama's best players. South Carolina had eight possessions where it wanted to score as opposed to running out the clock. The Gamecocks scored five touchdowns on those eight possessions.

"Yeah, we really played ball tonight," Spurrier said. "It is certainly the best we've played since I've been here."

South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery could play for any team on the planet. He was magnificent with seven catches for 127 yards, including a 45-yard catch to set up a touchdown in the fourth quarter that had to be seen to be believed.

"What we had to do was keep being aggressive," Jeffrey said. "Alabama is the No. 1 team in the nation. You knew they were going to challenge us. We never backed down."

South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia who has been Spurrier's verbal whipping boy for three years, completed 17 of 20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. His lone interception bounced off Jeffrey's hands and into the arms of an Alabama defender. He had a bad play and took a safety in the third quarter but other than that he was brilliant. And Spurrier said so.

"Stephen Garcia played the best he's ever played for us," Spurrier said in a sentence many thought would never come out of his mouth. "He made some big-time throws when we really needed them."

After Garcia fumbled twice in the fourth quarter in a 35-27 loss at Auburn on Sept. 25, Spurrier made it clear that his quarterback would be on a short leash if he didn't protect the ball better. Freshman Connor Shaw was ready to go. But Shaw never came close to the field as Garcia completed 14 of his first 15 passes and drove South Carolina to touchdowns on their first three possessions.

"I don't have the words to tell you what this means," Garcia said. "I've had to develop a pretty thick skin the past three years. This is a great moment for our team and for our school."

Alabama has still gone 30 consecutive games without giving up 100 yards to a back. But freshman Marcus Lattimore came close with 93 yards on 23 carries. He made big play after big play and allowed South Carolina to keep moving the chains. Alabama had only 36 yards rushing on 29 carries. What this does to Alabama's hopes of defending its national championship is anyone's guess. If the Crimson Tide wins out they will get to the SEC championship game for the third consecutive year and a 12-1 SEC championship will still have a shot at the BCS championship game. But now Alabama's fate, which seemed so certain after last week's 31-6 beat down of Florida, is out of the Crimson Tide's hands.

"We didn't lose to them," coach Nick Saban said. "They beat us. They played a great game today. They were physical, aggressive, and had a good plan. We got outcoached today too.”

You won't hear Nick Saban say that very often. But on this day he had to salute the man in the visor. Spurrier proved again on Saturday that he is still one of the best coaches and game planners of his generation. There is a long way to go. But now South Carolina can TALK about having a realistic chance of winning the SEC East. And around here that is a really big deal.

"This is only a big win if we build on it," Spurrier said. "Hopefully we won't celebrate too much after tomorrow and start getting ready for Kentucky. If we lose to Kentucky or Vanderbilt then we'll just look back and say what a nice night it was when we beat Alabama. We want more than that."

Don't bet against the Head Ball Coach.

Watch the Tony Barnhart Show each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on The CBS College Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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