For the second time in the month of December, USC saw its hopes for a statement victory fizzle out in the Georgia Dome. The Gamecocks lost big to Auburn in the SEC Championship game on December 4th, 56-17. They were much more competitive in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl game Friday night falling to Florida State 26-17.
Five turnovers and a early game ending injury to star running back Marcus Lattimore spelled disaster for the Gamecocks who finish their sixth season under Steve Spurrier with a record of 9-5. Their all time bowl record falls to 4-12. They are 1-4 in bowl games under Spurrier with three straight losses. The Seminoles wind up the season at 10-4 with their 24th bowl win.
Both teams lost key offense weapons to injury in the first half. USC’s Marcus Lattimore suffered a severe cut to his chin and lower mouth after a pass reception on the Gamecocks’ first drive. He was later taken to a nearby hospital for sutures. FSU quarterback Christian Ponder sustained a concussion during a second quarter drive and was replaced for the rest of the game by EJ Manuel.
Without Lattimore, the Gamecock offense seemed dazed for several minutes. Their first three possessions of the game ended with Lattimore’s fumble and two Stephen Garcia interceptions. Garcia would throw a third interception in the second quarter, and Alshon Jeffery lost a fumble after a reception down to the Florida State 27 in the third quarter.
Despite all that, the Gamecocks managed to keep the game within reach thanks to a defense that did not allow the Seminoles to convert those turnovers into touchdowns. They only scored two field goals directly from the turnovers. But the Gamecock defense did allow a late second quarter touchdown drive of 59 yards in 4 plays, and then a clinching touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of 63 yards in 13 plays.
After falling behind 16-3 early in the third quarter, the Gamecocks made it a two point game at 19-17 with 11:56 to play on a Brian Maddox 7 yard touchdown run. Florida State’s Greg Reid fumbled the ensuing kickoff but the Noles Kendall Smith recovered the ball. And USC was hit with a 15 yard personal foul penalty after the play. That set FSU up at its own 37 and paved the way for the final touchdown drive.
USC’s last drive was hurt by a holding penalty that wiped out a Garcia third down conversion run to the Gamecock 48. Two plays later the ball went over on downs and the Seminoles eventually ran out the clock at the Gamecock 5 yard line.