Gamecock game preview

Just over two years ago, Tennessee and Florida had little competition in the SEC East. The University of South Carolina Gamecocks were bracketed firmly below Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the cellar of that same division, and Lou Holtz was analyzing games back in a television studio.

Now fast forward to the present, where Holtz is back pacing the sidelines every Saturday afternoon, the Gamecocks are already 2-0 in SEC play, and they are suddenly favored over the Alabama Crimson Tide in their upcoming match-up. USC's 2000 turnaround sent shock waves through the SEC, and they seem to have picked up right were they left off in a bowl victory over Ohio State: solid, unspectacular play that seems to "just win".

USC has ascended to 15th in the Associated Press national poll, which is the highest ranking they have achieved since 1988. This, along with an inspiring 16-14 road victory over Mississippi State, has given the Gamecocks plenty to be optimistic about.

However, Coach Lou Holtz is careful not let early success lull his team into being content. "We tried to approach this past game and look at the film as if we lost. There is a tendency as a coach after you win you sort of slide over things. Then you lose and go back and see this and that and go back and he has been doing it for three weeks."

The South Carolina staff may have scrutinized the game film like a loss, but their team's solid on-field performance has been enough to secure two wins against quality SEC opponents. Lack of offense, though, has been a concern. In last Thursday's Mississippi State contest, the MSU defense shut down the Gamecock attack led by starting quarterback Phil Petty and running back Derek Watson. Therefore, Holtz went to the bench, calling on mobile signal-caller Corey Jenkins and backup tailback Andrew Pinnock to provide a spark to the sagging offense.

Holtz names Bama's Freddie Milons as a threat returning kicks.

Although it looked like the Gamecocks totally switched gears with Jenkins under center, Holtz was quick to point out that the offense was in principal no different from the one used with Petty in the game. "We're running the same offense when Corey is in there," said Holtz. "We may just accentuate different phases of it."

Looking ahead to Alabama, Holtz once again pointed out the one glaring threat possessed by the Alabama offensive, the versatile Freddie Milons. "I think Alabama is a very talented football team. When you start with them on offense, you have to start with Freddie Milons. He is just an explosive punt returner as well as an outstanding receiver."

Holtz also has been impressed by the play of Tide quarterback Tyler Watts. "He is playing very well for them and making very few mistakes. (Watts) is a very gifted athlete who is giving them a great chance to win."

Defensively, Holtz expects the Tide to be characterized by two traits: speed and physicality. "Defensively they make things happen. Their front four is very strong and very physical. The linebackers can run and they have great speed in the secondary. I think defensively they are one of the better teams we will play this year."

According to Holtz, the Tide's Lou Groza Award candidate, Neal Thomas could prove the difference in Saturday's game.

When looking at the Crimson Tide's special teams, most coaches point out the speed, size, and athleticism of Alabama's return and coverage personnel. Sometimes overlooked, then, is senior kicker Neal Thomas, who has proven to be a deadly accurate weapon from 50 yards (or more) out. However, the well-seasoned Holtz does not look past the diminutive Thomas, who already kicked Alabama to one SEC victory this season.

As a matter of fact, Thomas is just one of many great kickers that Holtz has to worry about this season. "Their field goal kicker is one of the candidates for the Lou Groza Award. I think that is a requirement to play us on our schedule," Holtz quipped.

Analyze the Gamecock/Tide match-up on paper, the game to appears to be about even. However, the true ace in the hole for either team could prove to be the man pacing the sideline. Whether the games turns out to be an offensive shootout, a defensive stalemate, or something in between those two extremes, it should be interesting the see the chess match that will play out between Holtz and Franchione.

Holtz and Franchione: one name is synonymous with college football, the other is rapidly rising to the top. However, after Saturday's contest at Williams-Brice Stadium, only one will possess what he currently desires: perfection in their 2001 SEC record book.

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