Published November 19, 2011
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Alshon Jeffery wasn't frustrated or anxious, just ready to contribute again.
South Carolina's star receiver caught his first touchdown in a month, a one-armed grab over a Citadel defender in the 14th-ranked Gamecocks 41-20 victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday.
The win earned the Gamecocks (9-2) back-to-back seasons with at least nine victories for the first time in 118 seasons of football. It also was the latest -- and perhaps one of the last -- chances to watch the 6-foot-4 junior wideout do his stuff.
Jeffery appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated's college football preview issue this summer and figured to have his best season ever after last year's remarkable 88 catches for 1,517 yards.
Instead, Jeffery watched as South Carolina's offense dealt with the dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia and season-ending injury to Marcus Lattimore and coach Steve Spurrier's shift to the running game simply to move the ball because he had inexperienced skill players.
Jeffery came into this game with a very ordinary output: 38 catches, 504 yards and five touchdowns. But he got a chance to shine against the FCS opponent when he reached out with his right arm to haul in the touchdown with safety Joseph Boateng right on him.
"You all may think I'm frustrated, but I'm not," Jeffery said. "As long as we win, I'm cool with that."
If that's the case, Jeffery's one very satisfied player.
The Gamecocks reached nine wins for just the fourth time in their history. They get a crack at win No. 10 in the regular-season showdown with No. 7 Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium next Saturday.
Spurrier wasn't focused on that one, yet. "We're happy to have won it and we'll enjoy having nine wins and regroup to see if we can give Clemson a game next week," the coach said.
Connor Shaw threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 90 yards rushing, including a 60-yard TD run. Tailback Brandon Wilds ran for two touchdowns and 109 yards, his third 100-yard game in four starts since replacing the injured Lattimore.
But it was Jeffery's play that wowed the 76,000 or so at Williams-Brice.
"It was a great throw and I just made a great catch," Jeffery said.
Jeffery grew up about an hour's drive from campus in St. Matthews and picked the Gamecocks after first committing to Southern California and then-coach Pete Carroll. Jeffery, though, chose to stay close to home and was part of Spurrier's first great recruiting class at South Carolina.
So it was a mix of celebration and hopefulness that led the crowd to chant, "One More Year" to one of the NFL draft's top projected players should Jeffery give up his senior season.
Jeffery acknowledged hearing the cheers. "I don't have any thoughts on that," he said, breaking up the room in laughter.
Shaw also had touchdown passes of 25 yards to Ace Sanders and 20 yards to Rory Anderson.
Shaw said Jeffery has never shown any disappointment about the way the season's developed. "He plays receiver to catch the ball," Shaw said. "But he hasn't been frustrated, he's had a positive attitude."
It was a satisfying victory for South Carolina, especially for the offense which had averaged just 18 points a game in its previous four games. The Gamecocks had 473 yards, nearly double Citadel's total of 249.
"We came in here and nobody blinked," Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said. "We're able to keep ourselves in the game until the fourth quarter when it got away from us a little bit. ... We just didn't get in the end zone enough and didn't stop them enough."
The victory improved Spurrier to 44-0 against opponents from outside the BCS automatic qualifying conferences.
Things don't figure to be easy with the high-flying Clemson offense. Then again, the Gamecocks figured to struggle against the Citadel's triple-option attack. The Bulldogs (4-7) entered the game as the third-leading rushing team in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Spurrier was fairly resigned to the idea that Georgia wouldn't stumble at home against Kentucky and end the Gamecocks' hopes of returning to Atlanta for the SEC title game. Spurrier didn't talk much to his players about their chances because South Carolina had done all it could.
South Carolina struck first, which was a little unusual since the Gamecocks hadn't done that in 13 games dating back to last season. Shaw completed two straight passes to Jeffery before Wilds took over, rushing for 37 yards and ending the drive with a 1-yard TD run.
Shaw was intercepted by safety Rah Muhammad on the Gamecocks next series. Darien Robinson recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a tying touchdown five plays later.
After Wilds' second scoring run, the Citadel held the ball for more than 8 minutes against South Carolina's defense. The series ended in Ryan Sellers' 32 yard field goal.
Shaw showed his speed when South Carolina got the ball back, breaking off a 60-yard touchdown run and sprinting through three Citadel defenders with 1:14 left in the half.
The Bulldogs recovered, though, moving 40 yards in 1:11 to set up Sellers' 41-yard field goal, his longest of the season.