Stephen Garcia appreciated the ovation, but wanted more.
The man forever associated with South Carolina-Alabama was welcomed to the field at Williams-Brice Stadium after the videoboard flashed highlights from his personal slaying of the No. 1 Crimson Tide in 2010. The 81,954 cheered appropriately. Then Garcia grabbed the microphone and yelled into the wild scene of garnet and black, “Get louder! Get louder!”
On the brink of USC’s first game against Nick Saban’s powerhouse in nine years, this little moment of nostalgia could have been the peak moment for Gamecock fans Saturday afternoon. Kickoff was still 10 minutes away. Carolina was a 26-point underdog.
In the end, the Gamecocks covered the spread, but lost to the No. 2 Tide, 47-23. They became Alabama’s 25th straight SEC East victim.
So are you allowed to be encouraged by a lopsided loss to a giant?
The crowd went nuts when Garcia led the “Game! Cocks!” cheer in the pre-game. They turned their volume up more, though, for Ryan Hilinski’s perfectly threaded touchdown pass to Shi Smith, for Javon Kinlaw’s sack and Bryan Edwards bullying of an Alabama defender.
Garcia’s presence wasn’t the peak moment because after that South Carolina proved, in spurts, it’s improved since the disappointing Week 1 loss to North Carolina.
Most pundits didn’t have the Tar Heels topping the Gamecocks on Aug. 31. No one had the Gamecocks upsetting the Tide two weeks later.
But here South Carolina was late in the first half, driving with a chance to cut the Bama lead to seven at the break.
“I thought we made some nice strides today,” said USC coach Will Muschamp. “We didn’t get what we wanted, and that’s to win the game.”
That theme of “no moral victories” was present with each South Carolina post-game interview. Players echoed their coach’s message. For all the good they did, the Gamecocks still had too many red zone shortcomings (see coming up empty with on that 77-yard march at the end of the second quarter), too many missed tackles and too many untimely penalties. Added together against a team like Alabama and you’re destined for a sound beating.
The Tide, with five-star talent at all positions, does this to opponents. Its average margin of regular season victory since the beginning of last season is now 35.8 points.
We learned both good things (Hilinski’s 324 yards in his second career start) and bad things (allowing Tua Tagovailoa’s 444 yards) about the Gamecocks on Saturday. The key is how they spin it forward.
At the start of the season, no one was circling Alabama as a must-win. At 1-2 — and with the quest for bowl eligibility still on everyone’s minds — that label can applied on the next two matchups.
Hosting the Tide was fun. Traveling to Missouri (Sept. 21) and then hosting Kentucky (Sept. 28) were always more important.
“Moving forward,” said senior center Donell Stanley, “we’re going to be desperate, we’re going to be hungry. We need wins.”