Looking Back to 2012
Ten years ago, South Carolina football enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in program history. The 2012 Gamecocks went 11-2 for the second straight season with another impressive bowl win under coach Steve Spurrier. Although the Gamecocks lost several key players to graduation and the NFL draft from the previous year’s 11-2 squad, they expected to be just as good, if not better.
“We lost some great leadership with Stephon (Gilmore), Travian (Robertson) Alshon (Jeffery), and Terrence Campbell, but we knew we had guys who could be themselves and fill in with their talents,” said former linebacker Shaq Wilson (2008-2009, 2011-2012), who is currently a defensive analyst for the Gamecock football program. “We thought we could have a pretty big year after that 2011 season. We had won a pretty big bowl game. It was about staying healthy, being able to finish games and take one game at a time.”
“We lost all of our veterans who had pretty much built this thing from the ground up, but in 2012 we knew the expectation was to win the whole thing,” said former running back Marcus Lattimore (2010-2012). “We were just really strong. We were the team to be feared. We played together. We had great practices. Like any team, we were hit with a lot of adversity, but we stayed together. We knew we had a chance to win it all.”
“I never had a doubt in my mind that we would be good because we had a great rotation going,” said former defensive lineman Byron Jerideau (2010-2012), who is now an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Gamecocks. “My first two years playing here, I wasn’t a starter, but I was still getting a lot of snaps every game because we had a great rotation. We had great confidence that we could accomplish great things.”
“I think everybody on the roster felt that way,” said former quarterback Connor Shaw (2010-2013). “From what we did the previous two years, winning the SEC East in 2010 and winning 11 games in 2011, we built some momentum. We had veteran leadership. We had a lot of confidence.
“The end result was another very productive year, but what comes to mind is a rollercoaster. We had some injuries. I broke my scapula in the first game against Vanderbilt, and obviously Marcus had that gruesome injury midseason against Tennessee.”
“When I think about Williams-Brice, that game really stands out. That place was rocking. The fans helped us tremendously.”
Despite Shaw being out of action for games against East Carolina and UAB, the Gamecocks opened the season with five straight wins and were 3-0 in SEC play after back-to-back double-digit victories over Missouri and at Kentucky. That set up a showdown with an undefeated Georgia team in front of a record crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium. What was supposed to be a battle turned into a route as South Carolina scored 21 first quarter points, capped by Ace Sanders’ 70-yard punt return for a touchdown, on the way to a 35-7 blowout of the Bulldogs.
“That was one of the best moments in Williams-Brice in its history, I think” Shaw said. “We were all laser-focused going into that game. What set the tone early was on the very first drive. I threw an inside post to Damiere Byrd, and (Georgia’s) Bacarri Rambo jumped up and had it in his hands, but Damiere came up and plucked it out of his hands. We were able to score a few plays later. Then Ace returning that punt for a touchdown just took every bit of wind out of their sails. I also remember J.D. Clowney giving Aaron Murray nightmares all night!”
“When I think about Williams-Brice, that game really stands out,” Jerideau said. “That place was rocking. The fans helped us tremendously.”
“I remember how locked in we were for that game,” Wilson said. “The year before we won that game, but as a defense, we gave up too much. We just wanted to come out and prove that we were a dominant defense. All we were hearing about was their talented freshmen running backs (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall), but we were pretty talented too. Devonte (Holloman) had a big interception. Going into that game, we felt like we had the best offense in the nation, the best defense in the nation, and the best special teams in the nation. We just had to go out and prove it.”
“It was the loudest stadium I had ever been in,” Lattimore said. “I think Georgia was ready to go at halftime because we were clicking on all cylinders. We were executing our offense and executing our defensive scheme. It was a special night.”
South Carolina was now 6-0 and ranked No. 3 nationally, but the Gamecocks suffered back-to-back losses with a tough 23-21 defeat at No. 9 LSU before a sloppy 44-11 drubbing at Florida, who was then ranked No. 3 nationally, thanks in part to three costly first half turnovers. It was gut-check time as the Gamecocks returned home to take on Tennessee. Although the Gamecocks would prevail for a wild 38-35 victory, there was more adversity to overcome as Lattimore suffered his second season-ending injury in two years.
“The mood was upbeat going in,” Lattimore said. “We didn’t lose any confidence. We had some injuries. I had a really bad back strain against LSU, so I didn’t play much against Florida. We hit the gauntlet. It was a rough few weeks for me. They were physical games. Going into Tennessee, Coach Spurrier said, we need this one. Unfortunately, what happened, happened with my injury. We still ran the ball, and we still came out with a win. Clowney really turned it on. Vick Hampton turned it on. We needed that one.”
“My mindset personally, I was ticked off going into that game,” Shaw said. “I got pulled at halftime against Florida, so I went into the Tennessee game with something to prove. So did our team. We knew that we were coming back to our house, and we still had all our goals in front of us. We could respond one of two ways. That’s where having those leaders in the locker room really helped. It was on us to challenge each other.”
“It was tragic what happened to Marcus, and it definitely motivated us that game to dominate for him,” Jerideau said. “We got our momentum back against Tennessee and finished the season strong.”
“The night before the Tennessee game, Coach Spurrier asked the captains to get up and talk, so we all talked,” Wilson recalled. “I remember thinking we have to have as much energy as possible. I remember running through the Gamecock Walk, slapping hands and trying to keep the energy up. Tennessee had a great offense. We knew we had to take care of business at home. That’s something that was instilled in us throughout the winter and into the summer workouts: protect home.
“After the game, Coach Spurrier told us to take a day to mourn (about Lattimore). We spent a lot of time with each other as a team that Monday. Then it was time to lock in.”
“That game summarized our year. We were constantly overcoming adversity and making plays when it counts”
Losing Lattimore hurt, but this team had already handled adversity as Shaw missed some time early in the season, and it wouldn’t be the last time they’d go into a big game without some of their star players. The Gamecocks would knock off Arkansas and Wofford by double digits before heading to Clemson to close out the regular season. Already missing their star running back, quarterback Connor Shaw was also injured and couldn’t play against the Tigers. After trailing 14-7 in the first quarter, the Gamecocks dominated the rest of the way with a 27-17 victory.
“I was out that game with a Lisfranc injury,” Shaw said. “That’s another story of that year with guys stepping up. Dylan (Thompson) came in and played his tail off. Guys rallied around him. I think that third and twenty quarterback draw was kind of the dagger in that game when Dylan ran for a first down, and you had the D.J. Swearinger hit on (Andre) Ellington.”
“We had a confidence in Dylan,” Jerideau said. “He had a really good arm. We had so much depth that when the backups names were called, they were ready.”
“I remember Clowney just going off!” Wilson said. “I remember Dylan having the game of his life! We all had so much faith in him. It was fun to go and do that at their home.”
“We had a lot of confidence that we were the best team in South Carolina,” Lattimore said. “We had starters, but our backups were just as good as the guys that were starting. We built such a great roster. Our whole backup defensive line could have been starting anywhere. When I got hurt, it was just business as usual. We just had confidence.”
The Gamecocks were now 10-2 and accepted a bid to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., where they’d face off against Michigan. Both Shaw and Thompson played quarterback, and the Gamecocks rallied in the fourth quarter, spearheaded by “the hit” from Jadeveon Clowney, causing a huge turnover after a controversial official’s spot of the football that gave Michigan a first down.
“The hit! That was huge,” Jerideau said. “I heard it! I had contain on that play, and I just remember him coming through and then grabbing the ball. It was big.”
“Clowney came off his stunt, and I’m scraping on the outside,” Wilson said. “It sounded like a train wreck. I saw him hit him. I saw the helmet come off. I went over and was wiping off his shoulder pads. I told him he had to look good for the cameras! We always celebrated together with a lot of great, positive energy. There was a play earlier in that game where Vic Hampton got a sack, and there was that same love and passion as the Clowney play. You could see that all throughout the game.”
“It was a relief because I didn’t play against Clemson, and I knew I was going to have surgery after the game,” Shaw said. “With how much of a rollercoaster it was for me with injuries, it was a rollercoaster for our team. We had to play another Big Ten matchup after beating Nebraska the year before. For us to play in a New Year’s Day Bowl Game and battle our butts off in the fourth quarter in a back-and-forth game, it was great. We had to convert to fourth down plays late. Dylan came in when I got hurt again and threw a great seam route to Bruce (Ellington). That game summarized our year. We were constantly overcoming adversity and making plays when it counts.”
The Gamecocks beat the Wolverines 33-28 for their second straight 11-2 season and finished the year ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll.
“We had so much talent on the field at the same time,” Lattimore said. “Personally, it was a year that was a little bit weird because I was never 100 percent, but with my passion for the game and the love of my teammates, I pushed through it and willed myself through. Like anything in life, you can will yourself through anything if you have enough ‘want to.’ As a team, we were feared, and we knew it. We went into every game knowing that we were going to win. You look back, and so many of those guys played in the NFL or still are.”
“What stands out about that team was resiliency,” Wilson said. “Guys went down with injuries and other guys stepped it up. The biggest thing is that we finished the season strong. With Coach Spurrier, it was the confidence he instilled in you. I never went into any game in my career at South Caroling thinking that we weren’t going to win. It was the way we practiced. My head coach had so much swag! I think that confidence rolled over into our lives afterwards where we’ve all been successful. We felt like we could win at anything we do in life. To have that confidence paid dividends in a lot of our lives.”
“What stands out to me was the connection we had with each other, the accountability that we had, and the standard we held everybody to, in practices, on the field and off the field,” Jerideau said. “It got to the point where we were practicing so hard and so physical, that the games were easy. Coach Spurrier is a great guy. He’s smart and he understood his players. He came to my wedding! That meant a lot.”
“We were just finding ways to win,” Shaw said. “We were tested throughout the year and found a way to finish strong. I think you can sum up 2012 as, that’s life in the SEC. Every week was a battle.”