South Carolina season recap

Lasting impressions are what count. At least, that’s the word coming out of South Carolina this season.

The Gamecocks (7-5, 3-5) waited until their last game of the regular season to play their best game. The wait was worth it, as South Carolina thumped arch-rival Clemson 34-17 and put it all together offensively and defensively. That win also stopped the bleeding. South Carolina had lost three in a row entering that game, and a full-scale collapse for the third straight season looked imminent.

But in winning over Clemson for only the second time since Steve Spurrier arrived in Columbia in 2005, South Carolina now heads to its Papajohns.com Bowl matchup with Connecticut with a little momentum.

Ellis Johnson’s defense was pretty sturdy all season, and that’s despite being painfully young in the secondary and shorthanded up front because of injuries and suspensions. The Gamecocks finished the regular season ranked in the top 15 nationally in total defense for the second straight year.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia made a nice jump from his freshman season, but the Gamecocks still struggled to run the ball. They were last in the league in rushing offense and also gave up the second most sacks (34) in the SEC.

Offensive MVP: Alshon Jeffery, WR. While Garcia deserves a lot of credit for the way he improved, Jeffery’s the one who pumped some life into the South Carolina offense with his ability to make big plays. The 6-foot-3, 217-pound freshman had 43 catches for 735 yards, scoring six touchdowns and averaging 17.1 yards per catch.

Defensive MVP: Eric Norwood, OLB. He cooled off somewhat after his blazing start, but Norwood was still the guy defenses schemed around when they were facing the Gamecocks. He broke the South Carolina career sacks record and finished in a tie for third in the SEC this season with seven sacks. He also led the Gamecocks with 11.5 tackles for loss.

Turning point: This had a chance to be an eight-win or even a nine-win season, but South Carolina laid an egg against Tennessee on Halloween night after going into that game 6-2 and ranked No. 21 nationally. They turned the ball over three times in the first half against the Vols and lost 31-13. They were also beaten soundly the next week at Arkansas.

What’s next: Spurrier insists he’s sticking around a while longer and is intrigued by the young talent in this program. Recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer has done a bang-up job since taking over last year. Jeffery was one of the best freshman offensive players in the league, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore was one of the best freshman defensive players in the league. If the Gamecocks can improve on the offensive line, they have a chance to make some noise next season in the East.