COLUMBIA - Cory Boyd wasn't part of South Carolina's losing effort at the Independence Bowl last year. He knew, though, that the Gamecocks' attitude wasn't what it should've been.
"We had some selfishness going," Boyd said Monday. "Some people were just ready to go home."
This season's Gamecocks (7-5), Boyd says, are giving maximum effort as they get ready for Houston (10-3) at the Liberty Bowl. They have a chance to finish with three consecutive wins, something the team hasn't done since 1973.
"We have a young squad and everyone's focused," said Boyd, a junior running back who missed last season because of a suspension. "Great things can happen off this game."
That was supposed to be the case a year ago. In coach Steve Spurrier's debut season last fall, the Gamecocks shook up the Southeastern Conference with stunning victories over Tennessee and Florida. Instead of building on that momentum, the Gamecocks fell with an equally surprising thud with losses to Clemson and Missouri in the Independence Bowl.
The most disappointing, for Spurrier, was the bowl defeat. South Carolina led by three touchdowns in the first half before Missouri rallied for a 38-31 win.
In the aftermath, Spurrier said too many of his older players didn't hurt enough about the loss. It was a lazy, lackadaisical attitude Spurrier pledged to purge.
Bit by bit, it seems to be happening.
The Gamecocks hung with four ranked SEC powers (Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida) until the end this season, losing each by a touchdown or less.
South Carolina finally broke through for its signature win this season, rallying from 28-14 down in the second half to beat rival Clemson, 31-28. Tigers kicker Jad Dean missed a tying field goal in the closing seconds as the Gamecocks broke a four-game losing streak to Clemson.
"The guys have done a little bit better at finishing," Spurrier said.
Not that it's all there yet, he said. He got calls from friends saying his team "clobbered" Clemson. "Yeah," he told them, "I said, 'Our guy made a field goal and their guy missed.'"