COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Steve Spurrier was happy to see South Carolina again play like he expected when the year began.
For the 10th-year coach, the schedule's been largely a series of disastrous losses and unmet expectations. The Gamecocks (5-5) turned that around for at least one week with a miraculous finish to defeat Florida 23-20 in overtime last Saturday.
Spurrier was proud of how his players persevered when they could've shut down when faced with what looked like another Southeastern Conference loss. Instead, the Gamecocks blocked a field goal and a punt, the latter leading to a tying touchdown at the end of regulation.
South Carolina capped the comeback with Dylan Thompson's 4-yard TD run in overtime.
The win put some pep in the Gamecocks' step heading into the final two games, starting Saturday against South Alabama (6-4).
South Carolina entered the season with an 18-game home win streak, the longest in the NCAA. But things have not gone well at Williams-Brice Stadium from the start with a 52-28 loss to Texas A&M in college football's opening week. There were also two major meltdowns at home, with Missouri rallying from 13-points down in the fourth quarter to win 21-20 and Tennessee coming back from 14-points down with less than five minutes left to win 45-42 in overtime.
The Gamecocks felt as energized as they had in some time, Spurrier said, perhaps since their 38-35 win over Georgia more than two months ago.
"We were a little bit in the dumps after the last one here two weeks ago" against Tennessee, Spurrier said. "But our players, I'm really proud of how they got over it. Nobody pointed fingers, who did this, that or the other. We played well as a team."
And Spurrier's hoping that can continue. The Gamecocks will honor their seniors like defensive tackle J.T. Surratt and quarterback Thompson in their final home game this weekend.
Junior tailback Mike Davis, who said before the season he'd consider jumping to the NFL a year early, will be honored in Senior Day ceremonies, as star junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was before declaring for the NFL draft.
Then comes the yearly showdown with Clemson on Nov. 29, a game where a victory can take the sting out of even the sorriest of seasons.
Reaching the postseason and beating your rival may seem paltry goals for a club picked to the SEC Eastern Division back in the summer. Still, it's all that's left for the Gamecocks and Spurrier wants to see them achieve it.
"That's what the challenge is for the entire team and especially the seniors," he said. "Let's finish strong. Let's try our best to get bowl-eligible and go from there."
Spurrier's already warned his players about South Alabama's strengths. The Jaguars qualified for a bowl last week with their 24-20 win over Texas State last week. Defeating an SEC team is a bonus the Jaguars are ready for, said South Alabama linebacker Malaki Harris.
"It's just another team, another set of players who put their pants on one leg at a time," he said. "We're never going to back down or shy away from a challenge. Hopefully, we'll all rise to the occasion and give them a run for their money."
It won't be easy if South Carolina's defense plays like it did against Florida. A unit that had been last in SEC yards allowed on the season gave up just 278 yards overall and only 60 on the ground
"We were really locked in last week and that's going to carry over to South Alabama," defensive end Gerald Dixon said.
Spurrier said the defensive linemen didn't get blocked by opponents the way they had most of the season, while linebackers and defensive backs made surer, more secure tackles to bottle up the Gators.
"That was, I think, by far our best defensive game of the year and they hung in there all the way through the fourth quarter when it didn't look very good," he said. "So really proud of the entire team."