CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Steve Spurrier was smiling after Saturday's 21-15 win at North Carolina.
"We're very happy to come out of this," he said. "North Carolina kicked our tails in the second half."
South Carolina's coach seemed to set the example for his team. The Gamecocks didn't play well, almost giving up a 21-3 halftime lead with a second half of awful offense.
But they won, which was the most important goal.
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"Sometimes things don't work out like you want them to," quarterback Chris Smelley said. "We had some things go well, some things not so well."
It was another game against a team that was supposedly a pushover. UNC wasn't supposed to seriously challenge the Gamecocks -- USC is, after all, the seventh-ranked team in the country.
Saturday proved why rankings are just numbers. The Gamecocks again slipped into their Spurrier-era trap -- not putting teams away when the knockout blow is so tantalizingly close.
"An ugly win's a win," Eric Norwood said. "They help. They help the team a lot."
The reasons for the collapse were numerous. The offensive line dissolved as UNC stacked the line in the second half, shorting out the Gamecocks' hopes to run the ball for the final two quarters. When Smelley had to throw, the aggressive pass-rush cut his feet out from under him.
If it weren't for a few lucky bounces -- an onside kick going over Norwood's head and out of bounds before UNC could grab it, and a potentially tying touchdown sailing through Greg Little's hands in the end zone -- the Heels might have completed the comeback.
But somehow they didn't, and USC kept its super season alive.
Spurrier had all the reason in the world to belittle his team and question its manhood after the second half, which may have been appropriate. One stop or one first down would have made the game a lot more comfortable.
He didn't, which might be a sign he's figured out this team. Yelling and screaming hasn't seemed to help thus far, so he just keeps riding the wins out while the performances may not be win-worthy.
"I knew that before the season started," Spurrier quipped, pointing out his team isn't the kind of bunch that will ever win comfortably. "Hopefully, we can play better."
USC wrapped up its bowl-eligible sixth win and prepared for Vanderbilt next week. After that comes the season-ending stretch of Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson.
If history is an indicator, USC will play well with each of the final four and perhaps even win. The Vandy game, which should have USC a heavy favorite, might be the stickler.
At least the close win didn't hinder one opinion.
"We knew it was going to be tough," Norwood said. "We're going to finish every game."