Beast of the East

By upsetting Alabama, a young Gamecocks team showed that in the SEC East nothing is finer than Carolina
October 17, 2010

The two quarterbacks met on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., last Saturday afternoon following South Carolina's 35--21 thumping of No. 1 Alabama, the most important win in Gamecocks history. Alabama's Greg McElroy spoke, and South Carolina's Stephen Garcia smiled. "He said, 'We'll see y'all again,' " Garcia recalled. Translation: McElroy believes the two teams will have a rematch in the SEC title game, on Dec. 4 in Atlanta.

Thanks to a nucleus of young homegrown players, the Gamecocks have the tools to not only reach the Georgia Dome—and win the SEC—but also to become a fixture in the title race. Since joining the conference in 1992, South Carolina has been an East also-ran, never winning the division. Nevertheless, over the past few years coach Steve Spurrier has persuaded some of the state's best players to resist the urge to attend other SEC schools and instead play in Columbia.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a sophomore, terrorized McElroy on Saturday, sacking him twice and locking down his favorite target, receiver Julio Jones. The tight coverage helped South Carolina's front seven smash the Tide's quarterback, who was sacked seven times. After the game, Gilmore, who had been courted by Alabama when he was at South Pointe High in Rock Hill, S.C., reflected on his school choice. "I don't regret my decision," he said. "Alabama is a good program, but we beat them."

Meanwhile Marcus Lattimore, a freshman from Duncan, S.C., who was Rivals.com's No. 1 running back in the class of 2010 and picked South Carolina over Auburn, ran for 93 yards and two TDs. But the biggest contribution came from 6' 4", 233-pound Alshon Jeffery, a sophomore receiver from St. Matthews, S.C., who had originally committed to Southern Cal; he snagged seven passes for 127 yards and two scores.

The Gamecocks (4--1), who jumped nine places to No. 10 in the AP poll, remain a work in progress. (Witness their four fourth-quarter turnovers in a 35--27 loss at Auburn on Sept. 25.) But the talent is there—and perhaps more is on the way. On Saturday the Gamecocks hosted top recruits, including Jadeveon Clowney, a 6'6", 247-pound sack machine from South Pointe. Clowney, the nation's No. 1 player in the 2011 class according to Rivals.com, is considering South Carolina and Alabama. One could imagine Spurrier's sales job to Clowney and other in-state stars: You don't have to leave home to play for the SEC title.

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PHOTOBOB ROSATO (JEFFERY)STATE OF MINE Jeffery (1) is just one of South Carolina's stars who stayed home to play their college football. PHOTO
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