College Sports

USC's dream season lives on

COLUMBIA -- Oct. 20, 2007 ... yet another day the dream died.

Maybe.

South Carolina is still in first place in the SEC East, battling with Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia in a five-way logjam of two-SEC loss teams. The Gamecocks hold tiebreakers over Kentucky and Georgia but play the Volunteers next week before Arkansas and the Gators in consecutive weeks after.

So yeah, USC still has a chance, a great chance, to win the East and advance to the SEC Championship.

But I don't think many folks were comforted by that following Saturday's belittling 17-6 loss to Vanderbilt.

Understand, it's not that Vandy is a bad team. The Commodores are a smart, disciplined bunch, taking the talent they can get from an academic magnet and letting coach Bobby Johnson use his proven winning skills to get good results. Not on the scoreboard -- a great Vandy team goes 6-5 -- but on the field, where wins aren't so much as important as playing hard.

Losing to Vandy is still a stigma, though. SEC teams aren't supposed to lose to Vanderbilt, much less an SEC team coached by Steve Spurrier, the evil genius who'd won all of his previous 14 games with the Commodores by an average of 20.8 points.

And yet USC did. Badly.

As in, the Commodores kicked USC's rear end up between its ears on most every play and seemed to be thumbing their noses at the stellar No. 6 ranking the Gamecocks had picked up.

So it wasn't unusual for me to hear the same old moans and groans from the USC faithful as I weeded through them on the way to the postgame -- 1984, Navy, etc.

In case you've been living in a cave for 23 years, the 1984 loss to Navy is regarded as one of the worst losses in school history, if not the worst. The Midshipmen destroyed the Gamecocks 38-21, sinking a 9-0 start and a No. 2 national ranking.

The loss to Vandy -- played with a singalong to "Anchors Aweigh" during the halftime salute to the Armed Forces, no less -- won't be as bad as Navy if USC takes care of business for the rest of the year. The Gamecocks win out and go to the title game and they won't care in the least that Vandy beat them.

The problem is, getting to that point. USC's offense was again pantsed and left with its trousers around its ankles, thanks to no pass-blocking, which led to shoddy quarterback play.

To me, it seemed neither Blake Mitchell nor Chris Smelley is the answer to the offense's woes, because it's hard to judge them when the line can't give them room to throw. The strongest arm I saw Saturday belonged to wide receiver Kenny McKinley, a former high school quarterback who had two passes -- a trick double pass to Weslye Saunders in the end zone (incomplete) and a spiral across the field to Captain Munnerlyn on a punt return.

McKinley said he was going to stick to receiving and Spurrier said they haven't really explored that option, so USC's back to square one. Spurrier's again going to have to swallow a chunk of pride and turn to tailbacks Mike Davis and Cory Boyd, letting the running game handle the offensive load.

"No question we need to try to get back to what we were doing at the beginning of the year," Spurrier said Sunday. "We beat Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas two years ago, so we've got hope."

The season isn't over, not by a long shot. It's absolutely true USC played miserably Saturday and Vanderbilt just showed the world how to beat the Gamecocks -- rush the quarterback and don't worry about the other stuff.

Was Saturday as bad as Navy? We'll all have to wait and see until after the season. The boos that rained from the Williams-Brice Stadium crowd Saturday seemed to think so already.

"I would hope the booing would cease," Spurrier said, pointing out it was fine for fans to boo him and his coaches but the players shouldn't be booed for his play-calling. "Hopefully we won't give them a lot of reasons to boo. But we're 6-2 and we weren't 6-2 at this time last year."

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