State of the Hogs: Spurrier

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They call him The Ol' Ball Coach. Sometimes, perhaps when he was much younger, he's been Visor Boy.

You don't hear any of that from Arkansas coaches or players. South Carolina's head football coach is simply, "Coach Spurrier." Respect drips from their every reference.

There may be some debate over who calls the plays at Arkansas. There may be some debate at Alabama or other schools around the SEC. But there just isn't any discussion about who does anything at South Carolina.

It's Steve Spurrier. The head coach has total control and he doesn't even have to say it for you to understand.

If you listen to Arkansas senior cornerback Matterral "Red" Richardson talk about South Carolina, it doesn't take but a couple of seconds for him to remind a reporter, "We are going against Coach Spurrier this week." Words like honor and challenge pop into the discussion.

It's exactly the same when Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring talks about Spurrier. It's Herring who will be most directly matching wits with Spurrier when the Gamecocks and Razorbacks hook up at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Herring talked about the challenge, too. You get the feeling he's emphasized the presence of Spurrier to his players. The one word he shook off was awe.

"It's not that," he said. "You aren't in awe of anyone on the other sideline. You don't ever feel that. It's more a thing of great respect, not (awe).

"Hey, I coached eight years at Clemson. I know that state. I know where South Carolina has been through the years. I coached against them. What I see now is very impressive, where Coach Spurrier has taken that program. No average coach could do that.

"What you know about Coach Spurrier is that he is one of the greatest coaches ever in the college game, if not the greatest. I have great respect for him."

Herring knows what will happen Saturday night. Spurrier will put his system to work, prodding and probing against the Arkansas defense. He'll test it in every way with an offense equipped to take advantage of any weakness.

"It is a system, a tested and tried system that works," Herring said. "What he's going to do is see if he can run it on us and if he can, he'll run it down our throat. And, he'll see if he can go over the top, hit us with the vertical pass.

"If we sit back too much, he'll throw underneath. But more than anything else, he's going to be prepared to run it down our throat. If he finds something that works, we'll keep getting hit with that over and over until we can stop it or we can't."

That's what happened in the third quarter in Columbia last year. The Gamecocks put on a throw-and-catch show that may be as good as anything Herring has ever seen.

"Two years ago here, we did pretty good against them," he said. "They had a short field once and got a touchdown and then hit a deep ball against us. Otherwise, we did OK. Last year, we pretty much shut them out in the first half then they got red hot in the third quarter.

"That quarterback (Blake Mitchell) started putting it in tight spots and they caught everything he threw. We were actually playing it pretty good, but when a team is that hot, really there isn't a lot you can do about it."

South Carolina hasn't been that hot in the passing game since. The vertical game — fades and go routes — have not been spectacular this year. The Gamecocks have probably used the tight end to complement the running game a lot in recent weeks. It may be that's where they concentrate again this week.

Hence, it may come down to a smashmouth battle between two teams using a horizontal passing game — to backs and tight ends — matched with a solid ground attack.

Unless there are a rash of turnovers, it could be a low-scoring game headed into the fourth quarter. The strength of the Carolina defense is downfield coverage by its corners and safeties. The Arkansas defense has been getting better in that area over the last month.

"That's the goal, get to the fourth quarter with a chance to win," Herring said. "Our offense has been working on hanging onto the ball this week. Eliminate turnovers and you probably can get to the fourth quarter with a chance. We've been able to do that the last few weeks. That's basically what happened last year in Columbia and our offense was able to run out the clock at the end."

That may be what it comes down to this week, and perhaps this entire month.

"We hope we've grown some and we can finish games," Herring said. "It comes down to making plays in the fourth quarter. You practice making plays all week and talk about just that, making them in the fourth quarter."

If they can do it this week, it'll mean a lot. "Yes, when you know that Coach Spurrier is on the other sideline, it does mean a lot if you can somehow come away with a victory," he said. "You know it's going to be a challenge. It means a whole lot. If you beat a team he is coaching, you know you beat a very good team."

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