South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier met with the media for his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon. Spurrier, like the rest of South Carolina fans, is still trying to grasp the death of former Gamecock receiver Kenny McKinley.
"OK, first, we want to offer our condolences, our sympathy to Kenny McKinley's family," Spurrier said. "Certainly, this is a tragic loss for all Gamecocks, especially his teammates, coaches that knew him very well. Our players will hopefully do our grieving here the next day or so. We will remember Kenny for the good times, and, again, it is hard for us to comprehend how this all happened. So we will handle it the best way we can in the next day or two."
Receiver Tori Gurley, who was on the scout team in McKinley's senior season, shared his thoughts on Tuesday as well.
"Our hearts are going to be heavy, but when we saw Kenny two weeks ago, he told us just to go out and have a good time and play hard," Gurley said. "We've just got to grab that by the horns and play as hard as we can. We know he's looking down on us and hopefully when we go into Jordan-Hare Stadium, we'll come out successful."
Spurrier spoke to the media Monday night shortly after the news broke. Spurrier's initial reaction was disbelief. Even on Tuesday Spurrier still couldn't believe it happened the way it did.
"My initial reaction is something happened funny," Spurrier said. "If he wasn't here, it was hard to comprehend that he would take his own life. That's... Of course, all of us are saying that right now. We don't know what caused it or exactly how it happened, but it was just hard to figure out."
McKinley seemed to have a special relationship with Spurrier. McKinley was the first commitment for Spurrier at South Carolina, and Spurrier has said McKinley was one of the best receiver's he's ever coached.
"My favorite memory of Kenny was really the first player to commit to South Carolina although he committed about two days before I was hired," Spurrier said. "During recruiting, I asked him, 'Why did you commit to South Carolina?' He said, 'I read in the paper that they were going to hire you, and I knew the ball would be in the air and I would get a chance to play wide receiver.'
"I just remember when he first showed up, he must have weighed 150 pounds, a real skinny kid and of course he is the all-time leading receiver, yardage leader, probably the first big game was the Tennessee game of '05 that we snuck in there and won it 16-15. He made several, several third down catches. A slant route and the fade routes, he could run them as well as any receiver I have ever coached. He was very quick, and of course we compare Ace Sanders to Kenny McKinley in terms of quickness and able to get out of routes and so forth. Kenny was always a wonderful team player, well liked by everyone, never complained if he didn't get any passes. He would block down field. He would do whatever you asked him to do."
Spurrier said that team psychologist, Dr. Timothy Malone, and team chaplain, Adrian Despres, will meet with the team today to begin the healing process. Spurrier, while not sure how the team will react in Saturday night's game with Auburn, hopes the team will carry in the right attitude.
"I don't know," Spurrier said of being in the right frame of mind Saturday night. "We will have our team psychologist, Dr. Malone, come over today and our team chaplain Adrian Despres will be over here and we will do a little counseling and we'll do a little talking and they will try to answer the questions that need answered to some of our players who were very close to Kenny. Whatever the attitude we are supposed to have going into Saturday night, I hope we can get there. I believe we can get there."
Spurrier said he will talk with the older players - players that played with McKinley - and team captains to decide how they want to honor the memory of McKinley.
"I will talk to the older players and see if there is something we want to do as far as decal on the helmet or something of that nature," Spurrier said. "I will talk to the captains and our older players about that."
Spurrier said at this time he has not received any information on the funeral arrangements and if the team would be able to be in attendance.
Hitting the Road for the First Time
The Gamecock football team will be on the road for the first time this season when they travel to Auburn Saturday night in a key SEC battle between two top 20 teams. Spurrier has been impressed with what he's seen so far out of the Tigers.
"Looking forward to the game with Auburn Saturday night," Spurrier said. "National TV game, big game for us, big game for us to go on the road and see if we can beat a really good team. They have been very successful obviously this year, and they closed with a good victory in the Outback Bowl last year so they have a lot of momentum going. They have the big crowd. It should be a loud, exciting game. We are looking forward to seeing how we match up with Auburn this coming Saturday night over there."
Spurrier says his team is battle-tested for the most part, but there will be a few new things the team will have to do differently with the up-tempo no-huddle offense.
"Well, we have been in loud places before," Spurrier said. "We haven't tested our new at-the-line call the plays up there on the road yet and we haven't used a silent count yet. Hopefully, we can pick up our foot and snap it, stay onside and things like that. We are working on our snaps. T.J. has been throwing a bunch of low, left ones over here that has made it tough on the quarterbacks and we have to get that straightened out. Other than that, it'll be a challenge doing some things differently as far as the way our offense goes about."
Auburn will bring in a defense that has struggled at times early on in the season. Auburn is tied for ninth with Vandy in points per game (21.3), 11th in total defense per game (342), and 11th in pass defense per game (226.3). Spurrier believes that, despite their struggles, they are a tough defense that will try and confuse their opponents.
"They play a lot of coverages," Spurrier said. "They disguise them all very well. They mix their man-to-man and zones in there. Clemson actually ran the ball a little bit the first half, but they shut them down in the second half. Obvioulsy, we are more of a running team now than a passing team so we will try to mix it up, see if we can't get a little bit better blocking. We had some not very good blocking last game, but anyway, they are a good defense. They are active, good athletes, well-coached team. It'll be a challenge for our quarterback, offensive line, so forth."
Receivers Stepping Up
The Gamecocks will be looking to attack the secondary of the Tigers that has been struggling thus far. Sophomore Alshon Jeffery leads the team in receptions with 19 and his 306 yards are second in the SEC behind Arkansas' Joe Adams.
"We were sitting in there talking a few minutes ago that Alshon, you have to figure that these other teams and going to start saying, 'They only throw it to Alshon so we better put about two guys on him,'" Spurrier said. "We need to get some of the other receivers more involved."
Tori Gurley is second on the team in receptions (8) and yards (78) and has one touchdown reception. He had three catches for 52 yards and the touchdown in win over Furman.
"Tori caught a few last week and we need to get more of the other guys involved," Spurrier said. "But again we need to complete more passes. But again, we've been winning so we are not going to throw just for the sake of throwing more passes. We need to do whatever we think gives us the best chance to beat the opponent."
Spurrier says that his receivers have played well as a whole, but he would like for them to be a little bit better.
"They are doing OK," Spurrier said. "They are doing OK. Everybody is doing OK. We just haven't been a real great passing team. We are not bottom of the league in passing, but we are sort of in the middle I think right now."
It's hard to believe that a Spurrier offense would be considered a running offense, but it has been so far this season. The Gamecocks are fifth in the conference with just under 200 yards rushing per game. Freshman Marcus Lattimore is second in the conference behind Kentucky's Derrick Locke in rushing, averaging 111 yards per game. His five touchdowns tie for the league lead with Locke and Alabama's Trent Richardson.
"We need to do whatever we think gives us the best chance to beat the opponent," Spurrier said. "We have excellent running backs - Marcus, Kenny Miles, Brian Maddox. We've got three real good ones there. Brian and Kenny haven't had many carries yet. Football there is only one ball out there every play so as coaches you try to utilize your players the best to win the game and that's what we're trying to do. Everybody can't be the star player every week. It goes around a little bit."
Spurrier is hesitant to say that his team is completely reliant on on the run, but it is giving his team the best chance to win the game.
"We are not real good throwing it as we have been running but we throw successfully at times also," Spurrier said. "I shouldn't say that, that we're completely a running team, but we would hate to start throwing it 45-50 times, just history tells you something good doesn't happen when you have to throw that many times so we will try to take care of the ball a little better when we are throwing and give ourselves the best chance without some big mistakes that we had last week."
One of the things that has led to South Carolina's success offensively is it's efficiency. The Gamecocks are a perfect 12-for-12 inside the red zone, scoring 10 touchdowns and 2 field goals. The Gamecocks have also been much improved on third down, converting 56% of their third down plays (22/39).
"What we have done very well is score some touchdowns in the red zone and make a bunch of third downs," Spurrier said. "We haven't always been all that good in those areas, and those are your crucial areas right there - score touchdowns when you get down there and convert some third downs. Our quarterbacks have been pretty good scramblers, made a bunch of those third downs."
Two QB's Will Play
Spurrier said that you will likely see both Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw Saturday night. Shaw has split some time with Garcia in the Southern Miss and Furman game and will likely get in the game at Auburn.
"We've got two quarterbacks we think that can play very well so we are going to go into the ball park with two ready to play, and I would say that Connor is going to get to play some this week," Spurrier said. "I thought he was going to play against Georgia but we got sort of just in a running game and handing it off. I tell you one thing; Stephen has been very good at grabbing those bad snaps and Connor's pretty good at that too. It's difficult back there when you get that low left one and then you've gotta try and look at the defense and guys are coming at you pretty consistently. We probably had better pass protection against Georgia than we did Furman so it's difficult for the quarterbacks back there when that happens. Anyway, we've got both of them ready to play and Connor will probably see some action somewhere."
Robertson Playing Big
Defensive tackle Travian Robertson has been a force up the middle the last two games. Robertson had eight tackles and two sacks in the game's against Georgia and Furman. Spurrier is very happy with the way Robertson has been playing.
"Travian's last two games have been pretty good," Spurrier said. "Southern Miss game didn't have quite enough opportunities, but the last two games he's been very good in there. Dominant. He's a big, strong guy that's hard to block. He's a good run defender and he gets pressure on the quarterbacks too. He's one of the strongest on the team. Sort of interesting he came here as an outside linebacker, came here about 225 I think, now he's a good solid 280 or something like that."
Other Notes and Injury Updates
Junior defensive back C.C. Whitlock did not practice yesterday. His brother was shot and killed Sunday night. Spurrier says that Whitlock told the staff "want to be with my team and play" against Auburn
Rokevious Watkins practiced some last night and Spurrier feels that he should be able to play against Auburn.
Garrett Chisolm was back on the field last night after missing the Furman game due to the death of his father.
Hutch Eckerson did not practice last night and is doubtful for the Auburn game.
As was reported last night, Shaq Wilson was back at practice last night and will play against Auburn.
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