Navy linebacker Mike Taylor, who intercepted two South Carolina passes and was in on 16 tackles in his team's 38-21 upset victory today, looked up as the Orange Bowl representatives in their bright blazers slipped by him on their way out of the locker room.
"You could always take us," he said forlornly.
The bowl reps laughed. It was either that or cry.
Their dream match -- No. 1 Nebraska vs. No. 2 South Carolina -- went down the tubes today. Oklahoma's 17-7 victory over the Cornhuskers was expected by some; Navy's victory over the Gamecocks was expected by none.
How does a team fresh off a 29-0 loss to Syracuse upset perhaps the hottest team in the nation?
You start with a bend-but-not-break defense. South Carolina has the nation's sixth-ranked offense (448 yards per game) and gained 388 today, but only scored one touchdown until the final 10 minutes.
Navy Coach Gary Tranquill said he was worried about the Gamecocks' running game, in particular its sweep and quick trap.
So he told his defense to move around, to shake up the picture the South Carolina quarterbacks saw.
"We're jumping a guy from inside to outside," Tranquill said, "and all of a sudden, he's there, but he's not supposed to be there."
Defensive tackle Eric Rutherford was one of those guys. He blocked a field goal and had four sacks -- and said they were easy.
"I don't think they're adept pass blockers," he said. "The quarterback just ran around so much, we just stayed where we were and he came to us."
Strategy aside, this game swung on emotion. Said Rutherford, "They didn't take us seriously. As we kept scoring points and coming up with big plays, they kept looking at each other and figured they're undefeated, they would come back.
"It just got too late for them."
"I don't think they came to play," Taylor said.
South Carolina defensive back Joe Brooks said as much. "We just took them too lightly."
In the films of previous South Carolina games, the Midshipmen were struck by the emotion this team showed. "I've never seen a team get so excited," Taylor said.
If South Carolina needed any excuse to go flat, tailback Rich Clouse's 53-yard touchdown run early in the second half is a good one. On Navy's first play from scrimmage in the second half, Clouse gained 13 yards up the middle.
When he walked back to the huddle, quarterback Bob Misch noticed something was wrong. "He wasn't sure where to go," Misch said.
"I got knocked silly," Clouse said.
He came out for one play, then went back in. Misch called a play named "31 Trap," and handed the ball to Clouse. He ran through a huge hole and outraced three defenders to the end zone. "I don't think anybody even touched me," Clouse said.
But he isn't sure. "I was just trying to figure out what the plays were," he said. "I didn't know what was happening."