For the first time since late December, Gamecock fans can finally say it’s game week. The faint and distant sound of Sandstorm is getting louder as the first game of the season quickly approaches.
And if you know Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks, the first game week of the season doesn’t last very long because the Head Ball Coach loves putting his team in one of the first college football games of the season.
Nine of his 11 seasons at Carolina have started on Thursday night, which will include this year’s matchup against North Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte this Thursday.
Throughout the years, the Gamecocks have fared well under Spurrier on Thursdays. In weekday openers, Spurrier is 7-1. Spurrier’s only loss in a Thursday night opener was last year’s drubbing by Texas A&M in Columbia. (I know most Carolina fans try to block that night from their memories, so Spurrier is technically undefeated in openers, right?)
He is also a combined 9-3 at South Carolina when his team plays on Thursdays.
Since the garnet and black faithful are mere hours now away from kickoff, we are going to relive the memories of South Carolina’s five best Thursday night games.
5. Aug. 30, 2012: South Carolina 17, Vanderbilt 13
South Carolina opened its season traveling to Nashville to take on the Commodores. The Gamecocks entered the season ranked ninth in the country and jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, but they found themselves trailing by three in the fourth quarter. Spurrier would then go to his workhorse running back Marcus Lattimore, who punched in a touchdown from the 1-yard line with about 11 minutes to go. Lattimore rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns against the Commodores. The Gamecocks would hold on to victory in Nashville, which set the stage for much lager victories during the season. The Gamecocks would cruise to their second-straight 11-win season that year behind their 35-7 embarrassment of Georgia and their third straight victory over Clemson.
4. Sept. 3, 2009: South Carolina 7, North Carolina State 3
I know this game wasn’t the offensive explosion Carolina fans are accustom to under the high-octane Spurrier, but it was one of the first dominant games for a defense that would reek havoc on teams for the next five years. The Wolfpack started Russell Wilson, a small quarterback with decent feet that kind of went on to have a good career in the NFL. (Two Super Bowls in three years would qualify as good.) Russell Wilson, who was just as elusive in the college game as he is in the pros, was sacked six times that night, only throwing for 74 yards. The Gamecocks held their opponent to 133 yards of total offense all night. It was a dominant night for the defense, a night that propelled them to an SEC championship the next year and three straight 11 win seasons after that.
3. Sept. 1, 2005: South Carolina 24, Central Florida 15
A victory over a Conference USA opponent doesn’t sound particularly memorable, except for the fact it was a certain visor-wearing, quip-spitting coach’s first game at South Carolina. The Gamecocks downed the Knights in Steve Spurrier’s first game, ushering in one of the golden eras in Carolina football. With Steve Spurrier winning that first game, he propelled the Gamecocks to a 7-5 record and took the team to its first bowl game since the 2001-02 season. Since that game, the garnet and black has been to nine bowl games (seven straight), one SEC Championship game, has beaten every team in the SEC except LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M, and beat that school from the Upstate six times.
2. Sept. 24, 2009: South Carolina 16, Ole Miss 10
Looking back at this Ole Miss team, there was no way they should have been ranked fourth in the country coming into Columbia that Thursday night. But they were. And they became one of the first ranked teams to topple at Williams-Brice Stadium under Spurrier. South Carolina led 6-3 at halftime and came out swinging in the second half. The Gamecocks scored 10 points in the third quarter behind a Spencer Lanning field goal and a link up between Stephen Garcia and Patrick DiMarco for a touchdown. Once the offense took a 16-3 lead, the defense stepped in and played lights out, only allowing one touchdown the rest of the way. Behind the play of Eric Norwood, who amassed seven tackles including two sacks, the defense didn’t allow Jevan Snead and the Rebels to get anything going almost all night. Oh, and in the fourth quarter, a certain Sandstorm song was played. The crowd got behind it, and it has become a tightly held tradition on Saturdays (and Thursdays) in South Carolina.
1. Sept. 20, 2001: South Carolina 16, Mississippi State 14
Yes, this game was not in the Steve Spurrier era, but this is one of those games that transcend football. Nine days before the game was played, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took place, leaving the nation questioning what would happen next and even if college football should continue that season. Well it did, and the first Division-I football game after the attacks occurred on that Thursday night with the Gamecocks defeating the Bulldogs. It was a capacity crowd in Starkville and served as a getaway from the despair that had plagued the country during the week prior.
With that being said, the Gamecocks are entering the season with a lot of unknowns on each side of the ball: unproven quarterback, rebuilding defense, young talent. This season, like the many before it, kicks off Thursday at 6 p.m. in Charlotte.
And, if the Gamecocks can beat their upstairs neighbors in North Carolina, the game could spark a 8 or 9-win season, and could make it onto next year’s list.