The national story for South Carolina's 31-10 thumping of Missouri will be that the Tigers are not ready to compete with elite SEC teams on the road. The story for Gamecocks should be that their team is starting to look like an elite SEC team, even if there is room for improvement.
Connor Shaw decided to steal the spotlight from Missouri and put on a historic performance. The junior put to bed any murmurs of a quarterback controversy by completing 20-21 passes for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns. He completed his last 20 in a row and is only a few more completions away from setting the SEC and NCAA records.
He also looked good in the pocket. He seemed to have more time and made the most of that time. He didn't run too early or too often, but he did maximize his talents by running when he needed to. And on those occasions he took care of himself better by finding sidelines and sliding. He'll need to stay healthy for USC to have a year to remember, and he stands a better chance of doing that if he avoids unnecessary contact.
The offensive line also did a good job keeping Shaw upright. They are still a work in progress, like most lines around the country, but they are improving, and Saturday was another step forward. I'm not as convinced as Flounder that Corey Robinson is the answer at left tackle, but I think he certainly deserves another start.
For yet another game Marcus Lattimore didn't record 100 yards. And you know what? That's fine. Lattimore's job isn't to put up certain numbers; it's to help his team win games. Anyone who watched a minute or two of Saturday's game knows Lattimore succeeded there. He is being used differently this season. He isn't getting 25-35 carries a game unless the offense needs him to. Thus far, the offense hasn't needed him to, and as a result, Lattimore should be one of the freshest running backs in the conference for this stretch run.
The defense played great as they have all season. Even without Swearinger in the starting line up they shut down one of the more explosive offenses on the schedule. Missouri has been an offensive force under Gary Pinkel, but they weren't on Saturday. Only a touchdown in garbage time kept the Tigers from their worst performance in nearly a decade. Even so, it was one of their worset.
Shaq Wilson led the defense, as he has for some time. He doesn't get enough credit for not only being a strong linebacker but also for being a strong leader. His presence on the field makes this team better. Over his years in Columbia he has grown into the type of senior middle linebacker an SEC defense needs to be successful.
Oh yeah. All of a sudden we have a return game. How much of a luxury is it to have Ace Sanders returning the ball the way he did. I think there is still some room for improvement on our special teams, but our return game looked outstanding. Both Sanders and Ellington are weapons that the remaining teams on the schedule will not want to kick to.
Saturday's team performance was everything Gamecock fans could have hoped for. The team won, and they won by a comfortable margin. They didn't let any upset bid ever gain any steam, and they asserted themselves at home. Until they beat elite teams it is premature to call them elite, but in the last three weeks they have performed like elite teams do.
Get more great South Carolina sports analysis over at Leftover Hot Dog.