Spurrier has a contender again after reshaping Gamecocks, deflating Georgia

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- On the night of Oct. 6, 1996, the Ol' Ball Coach was masterful with the playcalling, the Fun-N-Gun was smacking around the SEC East and the stadium crowd was shaking the press box.

Scratch that, the year was 2012. And maybe it's more of a Fun-N-Run now. But much of Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium was too nostalgic, too vintage Spurrier not to evoke memories of his dominant days at Florida with a 35-7 heart-ripping of Georgia.

These are the wins Spurrier used to hand-deliver, and apparently he still can after three years of reshaping the program and giving himself one last chance at glory at age 67.

South Carolina fans must feel like they are dreaming, only they can wake up to a title contender now. 

When your team buries a top-five opponent within the first 10 minutes, it's about as real as it gets. Posting 177 yards of first-quarter offense with no trickery -- just a clean pocket, a few timely Connor Shaw throws and a steady rushing attack -- provided a comfortable 21-0 lead with 5:18 left. 

That's all a stingy run defense needed to reduce Georgia’s "Gurshall" tandem to Vandy or Kentucky for a night. Tailbacks Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley entered the game with nearly 1,000 combined yards but managed 58 total yards through three quarters.

Losses to Florida State, LSU and Georgia could vault South Carolina to No. 3 in the top-25 polls, the school’s best ranking since 1984's 9-0 start and No. 2 spot before losing to Navy.

Three years ago, running back Marcus Lattimore hardly envisioned this. The Duncan, S.C., native wondered whether his home-state team would ever ascend. Then, Steve Spurrier told him the Gamecocks were dedicated to running the ball.

Fast-forward to Saturday night, when South Carolina's 51 rushes for 230 yards to 10 passing attempts from Connor Shaw (6 of 10, 162 yards, two touchdowns) made Georgia's death slow and painful.

The whole country will notice the Gamecocks after this game, Lattimore said. Surely LSU, next week's opponent, will notice. And Lattimore has noticed some things over the years, too.

"This is not the old South Carolina," he said.

Three years ago, Spurrier's identity in South Carolina was seven wins and a golf membership. The depth was thin, the recruiting was mediocre and Spurrier's SEC mystique got lost on the way to Urban Meyer's house.

Spurrier could no longer live off his Florida rep, no longer let top in-state recruits go to Clemson or Alabama or anywhere but Columbia.

So he decided when he wasn't on the treadmill, he'd be working on in-state prospects.

He started winning the in-state battles for players such as Lattimore and surefire first-round defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a frightening sophomore who played tetherball with Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray. The Gamecocks had two sacks but what felt like two-hundred hits and pressures on Murray. Clowney hurdled the Bulldogs' futile attempts at chip-blocking and swam past left tackle Kenarious Gates as if it were a pre-game drill.  

Spurrier grew tired of hearing about recruits from Atlanta or Charlotte asking him why they should go to S.C. if he can't even keep his own guys.

Now, he's got dark horse Heisman candidates staying with him -- along with 26 wins since 2010.

"[Boosters] are getting a return on their money," Spurrier said.

It helps when Spurrier finally has a quarterback he likes. Last time that happened, he coached Wuerffel and Grossman. Shaw is tough and heady and likes to run, but he still handles some retro 90's Spurrier offense under traditional sets and receivers running cross routes to stretch the field.

The Gamecocks went deep on two of the first three passing attempts, gashing Georgia on the second play with a 42-yarder to receiver Damiere Byrd.

A traditional Spurrier quarterback doesn't rush 14 times for 89 yards and a score, but Shaw can run the option smoothly -- "you’ve got to hold the ball just right," Spurrier said -- while making the tough throws when necessary.

And he comes after the Stephen Garcia era, which automatically enhances his value locally.

"He's everything you want in a quarterback," Lattimore said. "He has every intangible."

Georgia hadn’t faced a test like this through the first five games and likely entered Saturday's matchup overvalued, but getting engulfed by South Carolina isn't such a preposterous thing. This game was never in doubt, and even when Georgia drove successfully downfield, they squandered a First-and-goal appearance from the 4 after the Gamecocks defense got four straight stops.

And to think South Carolina was maybe considered the fourth-best SEC team in the preseason.

Everything was almost too perfect for South Carolina -- the team didn't suffer a single injury -- which seems to have Spurrier a little uneasy because he now faces the dreaded "how does your team handle success?" question.

"If we can play like this, we have a chance for a real big year," Spurrier said. "Maybe. Who knows if we can continue playing like this?"

If they do, Spurrier could be talking about 1996 Florida big in January.

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