It’s thirty minutes to kickoff and the flag-football game known as Bedlam just started the fourth quarter. Couldn’t see that coming, ESPN? And just as I’m googling how to bounce satellite signals Sneakers-style through Russia to catch the kickoff, Chris Fowler informs us that the Palmetto Bowl will kickoff on ESPNews. No HD, but I’ll live with it.
Noooo! We’ve come out in the All-Whites. Doesn’t Coach Spurrier know the All-Whites aren’t to be trusted? Doesn’t he remember the 2005 Auburn Experience? Or 2009 Arkansas? Just then my wife asks, “What’s wrong with the TV?” Too complicated to explain because we just got a stop. And, Ace! Very nice, Ace. I’m so glad you’re in my life, Ace.
While teaching my three-year-old to fist pump, I freeze. Then sulk. Dylan Thompson just trotted into the game. See, unlike most degenerate fans - and trust me, I am a degenerate fan- I enter media lockdown three hours before kickoff. As Lyman Zerga might say, “Mister Benedict, trash talk prior to kickoff does not interest me.”
Now I really am having Nam-like Auburn 2005 flashbacks. The All-Whites! Antonio Heffner! At least we get the first play off without calling a timeout. Memo to Columbia: the only idea worse than the All-Whites is a Black Out.
I knew Conner was hurting, but come on, he’s Conner Freaking Shaw! Dude beat Vandy with a cracked shoulder. My man is a straight-up junk yard dog. And there he is. On the sideline. Fingers tucked customarily under the collars of his shoulder pads. The light gleaming off his visor hides his eyes - or should I say, soul. I would try to find some hidden meaning, but this is how Conner always looks.
It’s officially going to be a long night. Back-up quarterback. Bedlam’s poised for quintuple overtime. And Matt Millen is uttering actual analysis like, “What’s important here is that South Carolina’s offense take the ball and score.” Joe Tessitore dutifully affirms the sage counsel. I don’t even bother to break out the in-game snacks.
By the way, does Joe Tessitore sleep? Is he possibly an ESPN-created announcer cyborg? I’m pretty sure Joe announced 94 college football games this season - and does a pretty good job, I might add. Last year he called a bowl game and the same night announced a motorcyle/snowmobile jump from Las Vegas.
“Well, it’s been a really great three-year run.” I sigh. “Football. Baseball. Even the basketball team came through in a couple spots.” My wife hisses back, “Honey. Enough already. It’s just the first quarter.” Yes, it is just the first quarter.
We punt and Clemson engineers that 16 play masterpiece capped off by Boyd keeping the option. Death Valley goes bananas. Yeah, yeah. Fight Tigers. Fight Tigers. Fight. Fight. Fight.
But then something happens. Bruce weaves his way for a nice kickoff return. Our receivers, accustomed to SEC defensive backs, are finding separation a little easier. Thompson, with his cap-gun right arm, is forced to throw the ball on-time and maybe even a little early to compensate for the parabola. This isn’t the Death Valley of Baton Rouge. Or at least not the same breed of Tiger. Give Clemson their due - they are the ACC Coastal Co-Champions. But still.
Thompson to Ellington’s back shoulder confirms the hope - we can score. The prospects are still grim. Perhaps we can keep it close enough to rob any joy from a Clemson victory - we’ll always have the Conner-Marcus corollary.
Two plays, 75 yards later and we’re back where we started a few minutes ago. But there’s a strange silver lining in all this. I remember the HBC saying something about hanging the defense out to dry. And let’s give credit - Boyd to Hopkins was perfect. Let ‘em try passes like that all night. We’ll see how many they complete. ESPN cuts to Tahj. Helmet off. Earrings glinting in the cool South Carolina night. He’s doing a victory lap. Turns out that touchdown was fool’s gold. And, yes, we did make them complete those balls all night. And, yes, they hit just one more. First quarter victory laps pretty much summarize Tahj’s career so far.
In my very uneducated opinion, Clemson gave the game away in the second quarter even though the teams fought to a stalemate on the scoreboard. The defense gets a quick stop. Clowney forces a hot-air balloon. And just like that our offense is afforded the most valuable of commodities - time. The game is slowing down for Dylan. He’s scanning the field and even keeps the zone-read a couple times. And on the other side of the ball, the myth of Hopkins/Watkins slowly fades. Are they really better than Tennessee’s duo?
It’s half-time and I’m hopeful. But it’s the worst kind of fan hope - we can do this, but everything’s going to have to break right. It’s been nice the last few seasons not to have that feeling too often. We’ve all said it, “If we can just catch a break or two ...” And usually the breaks never come. At least not in the SEC. I’ve been scarred by too many years of cold-hearted execution that leaves Gamecock nation heading to the parking lot early saying, “if only.”
So we take the ball and Kenny goes for ten. Thompson to Jones for 30! Miles again. Jones again. And have I mentioned how happy I am to have Ace in my life? Death Valley goes silent (thank you Todd Ellis). Perhaps Clemson fans had a few halftime worries of their own. Sure, the IPTAY Grand Poubas gathered around the urinals and predicted a win going away. But ... it was only a week ago when that defense made Mike Glennon look like a first rounder.
Roll that Mr. Football footage. Always a good sign.
While the teams are trading field goals and [bad] interceptions, two keys seem to emerge. First, we are getting all the breaks. The Tigers let two interceptions slip through their fingers. Tough catches, but still. And the refs are feeling a little generous. And before Gamecocks fans get their panties in a wad, Coach said as much in the post-game presser.
And second, our offense lacked a bread-and-butter. Yeah, Dylan was hitting those check downs and finding some short throws, but the offense was coming in fits and starts. And when Kenny went down, oye, whatever running game we had took a major hit (one big run from Davis withstanding).
But in a weird way, that lack of continuity was ... helping! Every series went to third or fourth down. Tick tick tick. A penalty here and there. Another third down conversion. Tick tick tick. ESPN’s showing unbelievable time of possession graphics.
And then, magic! Coach Spurrier pulls the rabbit out of his hat on a 3rd and 18 quarterback draw. How beautiful was that play call? It made no sense. Compared to Conner, Dylan scampers like Gumby in cleats. And since we’d run the same exact play thirty seconds earlier for a penalty-negated touchdown, it was the last play the defense expected. But, it made perfect sense. Why ask Dylan to throw into red-zone coverage? Worst-case, we turn it over to the defense with a six point lead. Like I said, magic.
We bleed another three minutes off the clock, Dylan hits Bruce, and I can’t believe it - there’s just four minutes left. More smoke and mirrors.
Now Gamecock fans get to say some of the most beautiful words in the English language: Sick-em, Jadeveon!
The War Daddy obliges by going Mortal Kombat on a dazed Tahj. Clemson fans are stupefied - those plays worked so well against Duke and Wake. Yes, Jadeveon was superb. But I want to give our interior line a shout-out. Sutton and Jerideau held Ellington in check just enough to allow Clowney to bring his immense talents to bear.
Reminiscing with some buddies in the waning seconds, I picked Swearinger’s big hit and celebration. Yeah, the taunting hacked off the 50-somethings wearing UA golf shirts. But it fired up the 20-somethings wearing the UA uniforms. It seems D.J. summarized the team’s sentiment - “We’re bigger, stronger, and better than you. Come get some.”
Maybe I’d be singing a different tune had things gone badly, but turns out, I don’t have to! 27-17. Come get some.