College Sports

Win over No. 1, division title. But 2010 USC season ‘could have been so much better’

Before Marcus Lattimore exited Williams-Brice Stadium on Oct. 9, 2010, he spoke with the media. The questions came at South Carolina’s freshman running back in mostly positive tones — How are you feeling right now, man, you just beat the top-ranked team in the country? All the hard work you guys put in the preseason, was today just meant to be? Can you describe what the buzz and the atmosphere was like? — but one tried to push the narrative forward.

Yes, the Gamecocks had just upset No. 1 Alabama. But seven games remained on the regular season schedule, starting with a trip to Kentucky the following week.

Marcus, are you concerned at all about having to flush this and having to get ready for Kentucky? Obviously Kentucky’s not Alabama ...

“We got to get ready for Kentucky,” Lattimore said, “because it’s at their house. I know they’re going to be ready for us because they think we’re going to be sitting high after we beat Alabama.

“But that’s not going to be the case. We’re going to be ready.”

When The State asked Steve Spurrier for his best memories from the 2010 Alabama game, the former USC coach couldn’t go 10 seconds without bringing up what happened after that win.

“We really played well, but we really had a good team that year,” Spurrier said last month. “But I don’t think we maximized it. We went to Kentucky and got beat the next week. Some stuff happened.”

Nine years ago, South Carolina pulled off one of its more unique seasons in program history. The milestones: Beating No. 1 for the first time, winning at Florida for the first time, winning the SEC East Division championship for the first time, beating Clemson. The lowlights: Losing at Kentucky, losing the SEC championship game by 39 points, falling in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Fourteen games, nine wins, plenty of what-ifs.

“It could have been so much better,” said quarterback Stephen Garcia.

Alabama, which returns to Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, has lost just nine regular season games since it took its first of five national titles under Nick Saban in 2009. Of those nine Crimson Tide slayers, only South Carolina in 2010 and Auburn in 2017 lost the following week.

“We literally turned into like overnight celebrities and we all didn’t know how to handle it,” recalled receiver Tori Gurley. “We were young men, all of us are 18, 19, 20, 22 probably the oldest. It was just different. So when we went out and played Kentucky, we took them for granted because everyone told us how great we were. It was cool seeing our names being mentioned with the Alabamas and the Oklahomas as potentially contending for a national title.

“It was too much all at once.”

USC (4-1) moved up from No. 19 to No. 10 in the AP Top 25 following the Alabama win. It came to Lexington as a 6-point favorite against the Wildcats (3-3) — and looked the part through 30 minutes. South Carolina led 28-10 at halftime.

Things only crumbled when Lattimore, up to 212 total yards and three touchdowns, went down with an ankle injury early in the third quarter. The Wildcats responded with a 21-0 scoring run to end the game.

“The first play of the second half, he twisted his ankle or something,” Spurrier said. “The next thing I knew they said, ‘Marcus is out.’ And we didn’t go very far.

“And then I think they were nine out of 12 on third downs. They made every third down they could. We didn’t play our best on defense, obviously, the second half, and didn’t do much on offense, either, to lose it.”

Garcia, throwing from UK’s 26-yard line, was intercepted in the end zone with four seconds left.

The win was Kentucky’s first over USC in 11 tries.

“That Kentucky loss was fricking brutal,” Garcia said. “Once Marcus went down, the play-calling went to complete (crap), to be honest with you. You can ask Tori, you can ask all those guys. We threw a jump-ball to Lamar Scruggs at the end of the game. That was the play call. And it got picked off. I was like, ‘We have Alshon (Jeffery), why are we …?’ Anyway, that’s a whole different story.”

USC recovered with five wins over its next six games. Its 5-3 league record was good enough for the division title.

“The next three years we went 6-2 and never won the division,” Spurrier said. “So it just worked out that year.”

A rematch with Auburn in the SEC championship was hardly reminiscent of the Gamecocks’ narrow loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium a couple months earlier. Cam Newton stamped his Heisman season with 408 total yards and six touchdowns as the Tigers rolled in Atlanta.

“I think we win that Kentucky game and we continue to kind of steamroll through the rest of that regular season,” Garcia said. “I think it changes. The Hail Mary at the end of the first half against Auburn in the SEC championship game, that was an absolute dagger in the chest. That was kind of hard to come back from.

“And then losing to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl didn’t help either.”

The Gamecocks won 11 games in each of the next three seasons, finishing a golden era in the program’s history. But 2010 remains the only season that featured a win over No. 1.

“It was a thorough win,” Spurrier said. “I wish we could have played almost like that the rest of the season. But someway or another, we couldn’t quite do it. That’s a shame.”

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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