Holtz suffering through a rocky September

Lou Holtz can always find a way to joke about the deficiencies on his South Carolina team

Lou Holtz can always find a way to joke about the deficiencies - real, exaggerated or imagined - on his South Carolina team.

After seeing the first contact drills of spring practice, Holtz said "I told our team we either must improve our tackling, or we need to find some way to get it outlawed.''

Commenting on his team's lack of depth, Holtz quipped: "We could never get on Noah's Ark. ... We don't have two of anything.''

In the last two weeks, however, there haven't been many laughs from Holtz or his audiences.

There's nothing funny about the possibility of an NCAA investigation. There's nothing funny about giving away a game to Virginia with seven turnovers, including four by quarterback Corey Jenkins.

A week ago, Holtz was outraged about reports that the NCAA has been asking questions about possible rules violations involving former South Carolina running back Derek Watson.

This week, Holtz has been further subdued by the sloppy play in his team's 34-21 loss at Virginia last Saturday, a loss that left the Gamecocks 1-1.

Suddenly, after being the toast of Columbia, S.C., during back-to-back Outback Bowl seasons, it has not been quite as much fun to be Lou Holtz.

Jenkins says he has seen both sides of the coach.

"We have a good time together sometimes,'' Jenkins said. "We get out on the field and we joke and laugh. He'll tell me a joke or two every now and then. I'll say something to him and just smile and laugh a little bit.''

Added Jenkins: "But when he's serious, you don't want to say too many things to him. You'll see that bad side. Then you'll see that sense of humor. He'll sit there and yell and rip you up and the next thing you know, two seconds later, he'll look at you smile and laugh. It kind of eases everything.''

Late last week when he first heard news reports that NCAA investigators had visited the South Carolina campus, reporters saw the serious side of Holtz.

"I am violently upset,'' Holtz said. "I'm upset at the media. I'm upset at an awful lot of other things. It's ridiculous. People have such little regard for this university, which is outstanding, and look down on us, and have done so for so long, that they don't think we can win without cheating.''

Added Holtz: "It's a slap at the state of South Carolina. It's a slap at the University of South Carolina. It's a slap at this program that they don't think that we can compete, and that includes the media.''

When Holtz skipped his normal Sunday teleconference, there was reason to suspect he was still upset, but he assured South Carolina beat writers that he simply forgot about the appointment.

Holtz is known for poor-mouthing his team and talking up an opponent with generous praise. He was back in form  Wednesday when addressing concerns about Saturday's 3:30 p.m. home game against Georgia.

"We seem to be a very tired football team,'' Holtz said. "I always like to go into the season as a fresh team. We didn't overwork them. ... We have good team speed, but we play very slow. Why is that, I don't know.''

Other concerns from Holtz: "Our defense is having a problem taking the ball away. ... Third down has really killed us. ... We just have not played particularly well. ... I have not been real hard on our quarterbacks the past two years. I can tell you this, it was a mistake.''

The only coach to have four schools finish in the top 20, the 65-year-old Holtz won the 1988 national championship at Notre Dame and ranks third among active coaches with 234 wins.

A big part of Holtz' ability to revive the South Carolina program after 1-10 and 0-11 records in 1998 and 1998, respectively, has been his success against Georgia.

The Gamecocks' 21-10 upset of then-No. 9 Georgia in 2000 was their first SEC victory since 1997, and Holtz took a 14-9 win in Athens last season on the way to a 9-3 finish ¯ the most wins for South Carolina since 1984.

Holtz, in fact, is at his best when he is in his comeback mode. Usually, the more he criticizes his team and compliments his opponent, the better the chance that he is about to pull off another upset.

This week Holtz went overboard in his praise of the Bulldogs, saying Georgia ¯ again ranked ninth by The Associated Press ¯ has the best offensive line, best punt returner and best receivers in the nation.

Said Georgia quarterback David Greene: "To me, it was the same stuff he said last year. It's a mental game, really. As a player, we don't buy into what other people say or do.''

Asked his reaction when he first heard the comments from Holtz, Greene said "I just kind of laughed.''

That may be the first laugh from a  Holtz quote in two weeks.

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