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The best single-game QB performances in USC history
Spencer Rattler's six-touchdown outing against Tennessee has sparked a fun debate.
As you might have noticed, Spencer Rattler played well last weekend against Tennessee. There have been some people scrambling to anoint it as the best single-game performance in South Carolina history. Rattler had a really good game, but I felt squeamish about signing on to such a bold take without at least reacquainting myself with some of the more notable achievements in Gamecock quarterbacking.
Stats Don’t Lie Division
2022: Spencer Rattler vs. Tennessee
Rattler’s dominant performance against Tennessee ticks nearly all the boxes for an all-time classic. Against the Vols, Rattler …
threw six touchdown passes, breaking the school record for touchdown passes in a single game (5)
had the fourth-highest single-game passing output (438 yards) of any Gamecock quarterback, surpassed only by Steve Taneyhill (473) and Jake Bentley (510)
The only way to upgrade this performance would be to have something more tangibly on the line. Clearly, whipping the piss out of Tennessee does wonders for morale and proves that, under Shane Beamer, better things are indeed possible. But when we look back 10 years from now, the practical difference between 6-5 and 7-4 won’t seem very big. (Unless, of course, he follows it on with a comparable performance against Clemson.)
1975: Jeff Grantz vs. Clemson
Jeff Grantz was co-owner of the single-game passing touchdown record Spencer Rattler broke last weekend, having set it in a 56-20 beatdown of Clemson. On Nov. 22, 1975, Grantz’s offense was just as efficient as Rattler’s was, scoring on nine of their 10 possessions and rolling up 616 yards of total offense. USC’s dominant rushing attack gained 458 yards, to which Grantz contributed 112 yards and a score. Grantz only attempted 12 passes during the whole game, but five of them were caught for touchdowns.
His fifth touchdown pass came with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and drew out complaints that USC coach Jim Carlen was running up the score.
“What play should we have called in that situation?” Carlen asked reporters after the game. “A punt?”
1986: Todd Ellis vs. Virginia Tech
A missed field goal — the third USC miss of the game — with two seconds remaining regulation left this one knotted at 27 apiece. And since regulation was all you got in 1986, this one went into the books as a tie. South Carolina fans might have taken that result in the first half, when they were looking up at a 24-7 deficit. But a record-setting performance from redshirt freshman Todd Ellis powered the Gamecocks to a 20-0 scoring run that saw USC briefly take the lead.
Ellis’s 394 passing yards were a new school record at the the time, and this performance put Todd well on his way to shattering the single-season passing yards record — which stood for a whole year, until he broke it again in ‘87.
Two interceptions (including one in the end zone) and the outcome hold this one back from being a true all-timer, but until relatively recently it would have been in most people’s top five.
This was the final season for Virginia Tech’s all-time winningest coach, Bill Dooley. Would hate to be the guy following that act.
2013: Connor Shaw vs. Wisconsin
The only reason Connor Shaw’s final outing as a Gamecock isn’t more highly regarded is that these sorts of performances had, for Shaw, become utterly routine.
None of the individual stat lines are gaudy enough to show up in the record books, but in the end he had a solid day at the office as a quarterback (22-for-25, 312 yards, 3 TDs), a running back (47 yards, 1 TD), and a wide receiver (1 catch, 1 TD).
Early in his career, Shaw’s virtues were that he was pretty fast and didn’t make mistakes. But by 2013, he could keep USC in games using his arm or his legs, and there were days like the 2014 Capital One Bowl where that was very much needed.
2013: Connor Shaw vs. Missouri
We all know the story. Shaw gets knocked out of the Tennessee game and spends the run-up to the Missouri game with two sprained knee ligaments. Dylan Thompson starts, but the Gamecocks sputter and end up in a 17-0 hole on the road in a do-or-die game against the No. 5 Tigers to stay alive in the SEC East.
Connor Shaw comes on and engineers a comeback and double overtime victory, including a laser-guided out route to Bruce Ellington to keep the game alive on fourth-and-14.
What has been somewhat lost to time is that for half of Connor Shaw’s career, there was a vocal minority of fans who thought Dylan Thompson, not Shaw, should be the starter. This game made it so that no one remembers that Shaw-or-Thompson was an argument we were ever having.
Mizzou ended up winning the East anyway, which remains one of history’s greatest injustices.
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2012: Dylan Thompson vs. Clemson
A thing about the way Connor Shaw played was that, every season, he was inevitably going to get knocked out of a game or two. Up until Nov. 2012, Shaw’s only full-game absence had been against East Carolina; Dylan Thompson stepped in ably and oversaw a 48-10 victory. But now, with Shaw ruled out for the regular season finale, Thompson would have to make his second start on the road against No. 11 Clemson.
But instead of a quarterback injury spoiling South Carolina’s three-game streak over Clemson, Thompson stepped in and extended the streak to four. The stat line is solid (310 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) but somewhat undersells just how clutch Thompson was throughout the game.
There were plenty of nice throws, but this unathletic 20-yard scamper on third-and-19 is, for me, what lives on in the memory.
2001: Phil Petty vs. Alabama
There weren’t many games during the good Lou Holtz years where the quarterback carried the defense, but that’s exactly what happened on the day South Carolina notched its first-ever win over Alabama. With Crimson Tide QB Tyler Watts ripping Charlie Strong’s defense to shreds, Phil Petty matched him, throw-for-throw.
The Gamecocks fell behind early and faced a 23-10 deficit at halftime. USC never led until there were 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter; walk-on tight end Rod Trafford had just collected Phil Petty’s third touchdown pass of the day.
Stephen Garcia vs. Alabama, 2010
My memory of the day and the 35-21 scoreline suggest something of a shootout, but the story told by the box score is a defensive struggle, with South Carolina having a near-flawless day finishing its drives and Alabama only scoring one touchdown from its four red-zone entries. This discovery has helped me make sense of the fact that Stephen Garcia was only 17-of-20 for 201 yards.
My 12-year-old recollection was that Garcia played the game of his life and simply could not miss. And that’s mostly true. But what’s also true is that South Carolina got out to a 21-3 lead on Garcia’s three touchdown passes — all occurring within the first 16 minutes — and were happy to sit on the ball for most of the rest of the game.
But when Alabama narrowed the lead to 28-21 in the fourth quarter, Garcia switched back on and connected with Alshon Jeffery for this iconic catch, setting up Marcus Lattimore’s game-sealing touchdown:
There’s also the eternally perplexing matter of this game having been made a lot closer by virtue of Stephen Garcia recovering a bad snap and throwing it out the back of his own end zone for no discernible reason.